Driving policy and participation

Driving policy and participation

Advocate united


The data shows that systemic inequities are the root causes of intergenerational poverty among people of color. Despite our best efforts through broad support of our communities in need, our progress to date has been hampered by these systemic inequities.

That’s why equity, particularly racial equity, needs to be at the forefront of decisions in municipal, state and federal policy. Until we can make sure everyone has an equal shot at the starting line, our work will never reach its full potential. Moreover, investments in the most critical areas of need in Rhode Island, such as housing and education, have seen dramatic reductions over the years, rather than improvements in line with the demand.



is how much a Black household earns in Rhode Island for every dollar a white household earns



is how much more likely it is for Black Rhode Islanders to be incarcerated compared to whites



is the fraction Rhode Island invests in affordable housing compared to Massachusetts


Driving systemic change via public policy and research

United Way of Rhode Island will continue to fight for access to critical services, as well as advocate for equitable representation on state boards and commissions. Additionally, we are proud to support community and neighborhood mobilizing organizations that are focused on breaking the barriers to racial equity.

United Way of Rhode Island has long been the leader and early funder of organizations that are bringing innovative ideas to our state. We are expanding these efforts, as well as expanding tools to scale these important missions.

We will also expand our data and research efforts to be a state leader in analyzing and evangelizing data pertinent to our mission. This year we’ll be refining data collection systems and funding research to improve the ability to disaggregate data by race and income level.

Larry Warner

Encouraging civic participation

United Way of Rhode Island is committed to creating spaces and support that help Rhode Islanders be the best community champions they can be. We are expanding existing programs like our Advocacy 101 empowerment program and creating new programs to inspire Rhode Islanders to vote, run for office and advocate for the platforms they are most passionate about. Our aim this year is to expand our Advocacy 101 training to be delivered in every city and town in Rhode Island. (Learn more about ways you can advocate today to support our mission.)

Reforming the criminal justice system

United Way of Rhode Island intends to work extensively to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, as well as advocate for policies that help our neighbors get back on their feet during and after incarceration.

what our "ADVOCATE UNITED" goals are

LIVE United 2025: Advocate United

Driving Policy and Participation

Through our Advocate United pillar, we're driving systemic change through public policy and research. And, because democracy isn't a spectator sport, we're training Rhode Islanders to be advocates and working to increase voter turnout.

Group of people
Goal: Trained Advocates

Triple the number of trained advocates

Source: UWRI Volunteer Data

Goal: Voter Participation

Increase Voter Participation in the 2024 Presidential Election by 25%

2022 Legislative agenda

The 2022 Legislative Agenda supports the Strategic Plan 2025 by increasing legislative activity and investments that produce improved outcomes for Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) Communities and creates a more inclusive process for drafting, advocating, and executing Rhode Island’s general laws and investments

Our work supporting each United Way Strategic Plan 2025 pillar can be seen below.

LIFT UNITED: Building economic security

Drive the Low-Mod and Land Use Commissions to address systemic barriers to increasing the supply of affordable housing, including equitable changes to the 10% threshold, comprehensive zoning reform, and insuring we have adequate enforcement and accountability in the distribution of building subsidies.   

  • Only 6 municipalities in Rhode Island meet the statutory goal of maintaining 10% of their housing stock as long-term affordable homes, with the Low-Mod Commission we have a chance to lay the groundwork to advance affordable housing goals and tracking throughout the state 
  • Antiquated zoning regulation is the number one barrier to building more housing in our state, much of our limited supply of buildable land is not zoned for housing, we have the chance to create livable communities for future generations through changes to our zoning laws on the Land-Use Commission 

State Housing Plan: With the hiring of the new Deputy Secretary of Housing, Rhode Island has the chance to create its first statewide plan to address the housing crisis and lay the groundwork for an equitable housing system. United Way of Rhode Island supports the development of the plan and encourages Community level input, to include individuals and families with extremely low, very low, and median incomes. The plan should incorporate a thorough analysis of every facet of the housing system; including: 

  • Emergency Supports: This includes addressing the gap in emergency shelter as well as a permanent emergency rental assistance program and eviction diversion program 
  • Permanent Supportive Housing: Permanent Supportive Housing is the best way to stabilize our residents experiencing homelessness  
  • Affordable Housing: The lack of supply of long-term affordable housing options is one of the biggest issues facing our state in every community. Investment and new strategies are needed to expedite development and stabilize our families and workforce throughout the state 
  • Stabilization and Standards in the Private Rental Market: We have seen rents rise and thousands of households displaced over the pandemic. Addressing known gaps in making our rental housing safe, affordable, and stable is urgent. This includes considering rent stabilization, requiring a Certificate of Rental Suitability, enforcing Minimum Housing Standards and Lead Safety requirements for all rental properties, as well as a right to counsel in eviction hearings.  
  • Prioritizing Racial Equity in Homeownership Programs: State and federally funded programs to support homeownership and mitigate foreclosure should be administered with a priority to advance racial equity as the racial gap in homeownership continues to increase in RI.  

Promote awareness of Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit are tools that, when combined with increase minimum wage, they help to lift families out of poverty. Our work here is to promote these products to eligible families that do not typically file income tax returns to increase resources in families that need them desperately.  

Support the effort to Cover all Kids campaign to expand health insurance to allow access to healthcare to all of Rhode Island’s children. Access to health care coverage will bolster the health and financial self-sufficiency of many low-income families who continue to have to choose between taking their children to the doctor and paying for other basic needs such as food, rent, utilities, or car insurance. The campaign has strong support from over 20 organizations including Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Economic Progress Institute, and The Latino Policy Institute. 

ACHIEVE UNITED: Advancing childhood learning

Campaign for investment in Out of School Time Learning from State budget, ARPA funding and ESSER III dollars to ensure access for over 59,000 children and youth desperately in need of a quality afterschool programming to supplement learning and exploration of topics they find interesting. 

Youth-centered design promotes the cultivation of relationships among providers who know and care about the community and cultures served. The Afterschool Alliance reports that 72% of kids in afterschool programs are safe and out of trouble and 81% of kids build valuable life skills in afterschool programs. 89% of parents support public funding for afterschool. Additional information can be found here. United Way of Rhode Island continues to focus on various equity indicators, such as social-emotional supports, climate and culture of the afterschool space and local environment, and family involvement and understanding of youth development.

Greater Access to Broadband The RI Afterschool Network works to close the opportunity and access gaps for kids of color and kids in poorer communities. When our youth have greater choice they can explore afterschool in a more meaningful way. Broadband access is one of the oldest barriers to learning and earning in Rhode Island.  

INVEST UNITED: Expanding philanthropy

Nonprofit organizations as essential part of Rhode Island Infrastructure and service delivery. Nonprofits are small businesses and corporations however have been left behind in terms of investment during the Covid-19 pandemic. The nonprofit sector, including the ed’s and med’s make up 18% of the RI workforce however the investments in the sector have forced far too many to close their doors for good.  

State Budget Cycle Exploration Explore creating a two-year or multi-year budgetary cycle for the state of Rhode Island. Our team will explore implications both anticipated and unanticipated should Rhode Island move to a multi-year budget cycle. We will also ask the question, does this promote a better, stronger democracy? 

ADVOCATE UNITED: Driving policy and participation
  • Advocacy 101 is a training that is part of the larger participatory governance strategy to support beginner's advocacy on issues important to you. Our goal is to provide you with the tools to better understand how policy and advocacy are essential components of democracy. We explore basic governmental functionality and United Way Priorities.  We cover why we focus on Racial Equity, how and where to connect with your elected officials and lastly, how to craft your pitch to them. We call on you to join us at the State House to advocate for your causes. 

    Justice Reform In order to achieve a more just society, we must look at racial equity and the systems that cause extreme disparities from both preventative and restorative perspectives. Our work focuses on the Out of School Time Learning spaces and Adult Basic Education and Workforce Development opportunities while taking a very specific look at the Criminal Justice realm. Our aim is to mitigate the long-term negative impacts for BIPOC communities and design new policy the aids Rhode Islanders to return to a full life complete with inclusive and engaging prospects for home, work and life. 

    Cash Bail Reform – The U.S. jail population has grown dramatically in recent decades. This increase is due almost entirely to the rise of pretrial detention, the practice of holding a person in jail before trial, while they are presumed innocent. One factor drives most pretrial detention, confining an estimated 2.5 million people each year behind bars: unaffordable cash bail. We will call on you to join the dialogue on how to improve this system to ensure our collective safety and make meaningful change to the existing system. 

    Increased Advocacy for Housing investments from ARPA funds to supporting the Housing Trust and the use of the new line item for housing development, we will continue to advocate for the equitable distribution of investments to ensure housing options are increased for extremely low- and low-income households.  We advocate for supporting new construction as well as preservation of affordable housing, advocating for more vouchers and the building of additional public housing units, and maintaining a close watch to ensure barriers to accessing these programs are mitigated for BIPOC and low and modest-income communities. 


Democracy is not a spectator sport. Join us.


Sign our equity pledge to join us in eliminating policies that disadvantage Rhode Islanders of color.


Advocate alongside us or sign up for Advocacy 101.


Support our work with a tax-deductible charitable contribution.


Rethinking how one of R.I.’s largest nonprofits can grow

The Boston Globe

In October, [Idrees "Lanre"] Ajakaiye was appointed the new chief development officer at... United Way of Rhode Island where he'll be in charge of helping... United Way achieve its current strategic plan, which outlines the nonprofit's investment of $100 million over five years to help achieve racial equity.


THE PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL gave the second and final approval on Wednesday to a $10 million spending plan for racial reparations. / PBN FILE PHOTO/CHRIS BERGENHEIM

City Council gives final approval to $10M reparations budget

Providence Business News

A two-yearslong effort to bring racial reparations to Providence achieved a milestone Wednesday... The approved funding largely mirrors recommendations set forth by a city panel based on community input, but with one major change that shifts some money into a COVID-19 Equity Fund to be managed by United Way of Rhode Island.


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How you can save money amidst Rhode Island Energy rate hike


With rates rising starting Oct. 1, Rhode Islanders have many ways to save money and energy this fall... [For] anyone... need[ing]... financial assistance... United Way of Rhode Island’s 211 service may help... 'We’re here to help the community navigate resources,' said Courtney Smith, director of... 211... The service is available online at 211 United Way of Rhode Island or over the phone.


New Survey of R.I. Nonprofits Highlights Dire Need

As Rhode Islanders… prepare to participate in Giving Tuesday, the results of a new survey paint a stark picture of the challenges facing the state’s nonprofit sector. Local community-based organizations continue to provide services for communities still facing pandemic-level needs, while facing inflation-driven costs and inadequate staffing caused by the physical and emotional toll of the last two years.

United Way of Rhode Island Appoints Four to Its Board of Directors

Four community leaders have been appointed to the United Way of Rhode Island Board of Directors… Elected for three-year terms are David Bonenberger, president, Rhode Island Energy/PPL Corporation; Anthony Botelho, senior vice president, team leader, Washington Trust; Courtney Hawkins, health and human services industry executive, Salesforce; and Yahaira “Jay” Placencia, senior vice president, private client advisor, Bank of America.

I. Lanre Ajakaiye Joins United Way of R.I. as Chief Development Officer

Following a broad, competitive search for its chief development officer, United Way of Rhode Island has hired a community leader known to be an innovative changemaker. The organization has chosen Idrees “Lanre” Ajakaiye, who brings a deep, diverse range of experience to United Way’s work to transform the future by building racial equity and creating opportunities for all Rhode Islanders.


401Gives Open House

Join us for a 401Gives Open House on Thursday, Dec. 8 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Rhode Island College. Learn about Rhode Island's statewide day of giving and how your fabulous nonprofit can be a part of it.

Information sessions will be held at 4:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided.

This event is free and open to the public.


The State of the RI Nonprofit Sector

Join United Way of Rhode Island and Grantmakers Council of Rhode Island for a virtual conversation about The State of the RI Nonprofit Sector on Friday, Dec. 16 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

Together, we'll explore the challenges facing Rhode Island nonprofits. We'll also discuss opportunities to build capacity and support nonprofit work in 2023.

This event is free and open to the public.