CHARLOTTE, N.C. — United Way of Greater Charlotte is working to make residents' wishes a reality, one neighborhood at a time. 

What You Need To Know

  • United Way of Greater Charlotte is helping to empower residents in the communities they serve 

  • One way is by holding volunteer events to assist residents with beautifying their neighborhoods 

  • Dozens of volunteers and residents showed up to a cleanup event in the Lakeview neighborhood 

  • The Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance says these actions are helping to create an E-hub to support with improving economic mobility across their ZIP code

United Way recently held Live United Day, an opportunity for people to volunteer and work alongside residents with beautification projects in four Charlotte area neighborhoods: 

  • Lakeview
  • Hidden Valley
  • Grier Heights
  • Camp Greene

Director of community initiatives for United Way of Greater Charlotte Jamese Ivy says these projects reflect the organization's goals to empower residents, while helping to improve economic mobility in the communities they serve. 

"We have a program called United Neighborhoods, what that means is we are investing in communities, in neighborhoods," Ivy said. "We believe stakeholders and residents can help make whatever changes and visions they have [happen] in their communities. We walk alongside those residents to make that vision happen. With our community investments, residents help us to decide where to put our funding. They're also helping to pick the nonprofit partners that will come into their neighborhood and provide a program of service and how much money those nonprofits will get to provide that service to them. We believe the residents know exactly what they need."

Ivy says it's important for Charlotte to feel like home to residents in all neighborhoods. 

"Charlotte is growing, and I think we're all proud of the growth of Charlotte, but that is leaving some of our residents out of that growth and the opportunity to really experience positively in that growth. So us being in neighborhoods and listening to what residents need, being able to help them stay in their communities if they choose to, is the most important part of this," Ivy said. 

Dozens of residents and volunteers showed up to the Lakeview neighborhood's cleanup day during the Live United Day events to clean out an old preschool and the former Lakeview Elementary School, a decaying building that hasn't been in use for years. 

Residents are working to turn the former school site into an Economic Mobility Hub, a space to empower Lakeview neighbors in many areas of their lives, such as education, finances, and health and wellness.

Volunteers included members of the West Side Community Land Trust, an organization working to combat gentrification in west Charlotte. Executive director Charis Blackmon says the group is also a development partner with getting the E-hub created for neighbors who can use the facility for years to come. 

"The Lakeview community in conjunction with a variety of West Charlotte communities [represents] largely historically Black communities in Charlotte where residents have been living here for generation after generation," Blackmon said. "These communities have experienced divestment where we see funds being removed out these neighborhoods. We've seen people relocate to other parts of town. We've seen crime increasing.

"We've seen a lot of things happen in these neighborhoods, but the residents that live here have remained resilient and strong. As the city continues to grow in the name of progress, we see these communities shifting where the very people that have made them as strong as they are, are now at risk of being displaced. It's extremely important we continue to preserve [a place and space] for residents to continue to live and thrive where they've lived for so long." 

A Lakeview resident says this cleanup is only the beginning as they continue strengthening and creating additional resources in their neighborhood. 

Jamall Kinard is the executive director for the Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance. He says this recent cleanup was the third to take place at the former Lakeview Elementary School site. 

"Everybody who can barely walk to senior citizens are here," Kinard said. "It shows when you have initiatives and vision and people coming together what can be accomplished."

Kinard is proud to call Lakeview his home. 

"This is the west side, you're talking about from West Boulevard to Beatties Ford Road," Kinard said. "The historic west side. You have a lot of people that want to come in and want to rebrand [it] with different names. At the end of the day, we're going to know this as the west side. We need to preserve that history — what it means to be Black, from a diaspora standpoint, global standpoint, all they way down to representing the importance of neighbors. That's what we want to encapsule in the E-hub."

Kinard says the hub also aims to improve economic mobility, a person's ability to change their wealth or income over a defined period of time, something for which Charlotte is known to rank low, according to the Land of Opportunity national study conducted in 2014. 

Years later, Kinard and others say economic mobility continues to be an ongoing issue in many Charlotte neighborhoods. 

"28208 and 28216 are the most impoverished ZIP codes in Charlotte. It's the ZIP codes where people are least likely to achieve economic mobility," Kinard said. "Our goal is to be self sufficient. Part of the E-hub will be our greenhouse and a bistro. We're going to grow our own food in the greenhouse and use it inside the bistro, and then give the excess food to the residents for free. This [E-hub] is just not going to benefit us. This is going to be a model that can be duplicated across the city." 

The neighborhood alliance is taking steps to acquire the school building for the Lakeview community, so neighbors can work together with changing the mobility tide. 

The Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance has laid out a four-part plan to get the E-hub up and rolling: 

  • Acquisition
  • Design
  • Impact
  • Sustainability

The neighborhood alliance says they'll be seeking approval from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners so they can buy back the school site from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, at market value. This will allow the successful transfer of ownership to the Lakeview community.