A new approach:

How Metro United Way is building trust, creating an equitable community through United Neighborhoods

Metro United Way has a powerful new approach to promote sustained neighborhood change—United Neighborhoods. At its foundation are the neighborhood’s residents and existing community resources, which are the key to driving transformative change.

With a commitment to collective impact and sharing power, we set out to intentionally invest in neighborhoods whose assets and residents have historically been neglected. This is rooted in our efforts to create a more equitable community, ensuring a person’s zip code doesn’t affect their wellbeing or opportunities in life. This work is part of our three priorities in the Greater Louisville region: Thriving Kids, Strong Households, and an Equitable Community.

After examining neighborhood data across the city, we began this work in 2022 with a sole focus on the California neighborhood in west Louisville. Because of historical injustices, residents experience disparities in quality of life compared to those in other parts of the city. These conditions have created opportunities to improve life-expectancy, health and wellbeing, and increase rates of homeownership as more than half of renters pay more than 30% of their income on housing.


The California neighborhood has experienced high levels of exploitation, neglect, lack of follow through, and if there was investment, it was without resident input. We came to the residents with a different approach—working to get to know residents and organizations, building trust, making decisions together, following through on commitments, and collaborating on projects and ideas.

In United Neighborhoods, residents R.U.L.E.—Recruit, Unite, Lead, Engage. By partnering with residents as active collaborators, we ensure our investments align with the aspirations of the neighborhood, laying the foundation for inclusive and impactful work.

“It’s their community – their neighborhood,” Antonio Readus, Senior Manager of Equity at Metro United Way, explained. “We don’t live there. At the end of the day, it’s about their wellbeing, so who better to be at the helm but themselves?”

The insight and context gained from working with and listening to residents is invaluable.

“They told us a lot of times organizations would go in and have different things that they said they’d do and then you don’t see it. Or they would do something and not consult with the residents first,” Readus continued. “So it makes sense that if these people have the biggest stake in this community that they would be at the table with the power to make decisions and steer the direction of investments.”

After we took the time to learn about the strengths and aspirations of the California neighborhood, we planned and strategized for progress.


In our first year, we invested in major repairs to 38 resident-owned homes, led volunteer projects that poured more than 500 hours of service into the community, and sponsored established neighborhood events like California Day and Light Up California, as well as a back-to-school supply giveaway. We initiated partnerships with locally known organizations like The Sparrow House, 2not1 Fatherhood and Families, the California Neighborhood Leadership Council, New Directions Housing Corporation, Brightside Foundation, and a newly formed nonprofit, The Descendants of the California Neighborhood.

Metro United Way’s team supported a powerhouse resident organizer, Ms. Mary Hall, to assist her with filing the paperwork and laying the groundwork to see her vision for The Descendants of the California Neighborhood come to life. Her organization achieved 501c3 status in November 2022. Already, she has recruited 50 members for her cause and is better able to raise money for projects important to her and other residents. One of those is a home repair program to help residents stay in their homes and have opportunities to improve and modernize them, which will increase their value. Being able to remove barriers and build capacity of these resident-led organizations is key to this work.

“Ms. Mary has been great in helping us stay in tune with the current aspirations of the community,” Readus said. “She’s passionate about the community, passionate about advancement and passionate about making sure that peoples’ wellbeing is not overlooked.”

Through intentional investments, residents also set up a community shed with shared gardening and landscaping tools and storage space. The Descendants utilized the equipment to create summer jobs for young people in the neighborhood, like providing lawn care and street cleaning. Another local nonprofit, Change Today Change Tomorrow, which helps provide healthy food to the neighborhood and hosts community baby showers, was able to use the shed for storage when they were transitioning to another location.

“What makes us unique is that we’re building that partnership and relationship with grassroots organizations and saying, ‘We trust you. We know that you can do this. We know what you’re already doing, and we want to expand and build on what you’re already doing,’” Readus said.

We also focused on key partnerships with Brown-Forman, Heaven Hill, Louisville Metro Government, and the Center for Neighborhoods to form collective investments and action. We will continue our work with these partners to make sure we are informed and aligned with the plans and that we share and that we wield our power and resources to realize neighborhood aspirations.

All in all, in our first year, Metro United Way invested $516,136 into the California neighborhood. Going forward, 25% of our entire community investment budget will go to neighborhood-centered investments. As laid out above, this approach is rooted in trust-based philanthropy, which recognizes that resident-led grassroots organizations are powerful changemakers in community.

Looking to the Future

In recent strategy meetings with residents where we gathered their input, we got unanimous acceptance from them for our shared goals for our second year of work. Those include:

  • Increased resident homeownership
  • Increased business ownership in the neighborhood
  • Modernized homes
  • Safe and healthy environment
  • Walkable neighborhood
  • Accessibility to basic needs in the neighborhood

Another resident priority in our second year is revising the 1982 Neighborhood Plan created by the city. Metro United Way has provided zoning maps and land code books to inform residents’ work and drive the progress they want to see.

We will also focus on helping The Sparrow House raise money for renovations to a historic family home from which it will operate, in line with its motto: “Don’t sell grandma’s house!

While we remain committed to this work in the California neighborhood for the long-term, we will expand and scale the United Neighborhoods program to advance equity across the Greater Louisville region in the future across our 7-county footprint in Kentucky and Indiana.

Together with residents and partners, we are excited to continue this journey toward a more equitable community for all, neighborhood by neighborhood. Learn more about this work by clicking or tapping here.

Thriving Kids | Strong Households | Equitable Community


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