The goal of OpportUNITY is to increase the percentage of central Iowans who are financially self-sufficient to 75%.


OpportUNITY is driven by the belief that:


Poverty and barriers to financial stability prevent central Iowans from thriving in our community.

We can, through our collective action, eliminate these barriers and reduce poverty.

Change cannot happen without ALL OF US. We need you to advocate, educate, participate, and communicate.

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To reach our goal of reducing poverty, we use a collective impact model built on five interconnected components proven to lead to large-scale results:

• Common agenda: A shared vision for change
• Shared measurement: Agreement on how success will be measured and reported
• Mutually reinforcing activities: Diverse stakeholders across sectors
• Continual communication: All players engage in frequent, structured, and open communication
• Backbone support: Independent, funded staff dedicated to the initiative of community improvement



uniteIn June 2014, more than 100 community members came together to learn about central Iowa’s strengths and the struggles of those living in poverty. The group represented four sectors in equal number: business leaders and philanthropists, government and school leaders, nonprofit and faith leaders, and community members who have lived with the stresses of poverty.

We engaged a lived-experience group, which included single parents, low-wage and low-skilled workers, immigrants and refugees, young people, and those burdened with too much debt. They provided tangible and real-life accounts of the challenges of living in poverty.




After the summit, a Leadership Roundtable of 14 members representing the four sectors formed and met every other week to learn about poverty and develop a plan to reduce it in our community. Organizations shared their insights and initiatives. A group of 46 community members representing the four sectors engaged 184 individuals in Listening and Learning Sessions to understand:

- What kind of life do people in poverty want to live?
- What is helping to create that life?
- What is getting in the way of creating that life?
- What would most help people to get out of poverty?

This input was used at the second summit where more than 120 community members reviewed, revised, and committed to a draft of the OpportUNITY Plan. Since then, more than 2,000 individuals from all walks of life and across central Iowa have signed on to support the community plan.




Many of those who attended the summits, as well as other stakeholders in the community, joined work group meetings for each priority area of the plan and provided additional input into the action steps needed to meet targeted performance measures. The final draft of the OpportUNITY plan reflected the work most crucial to making progress in an 18-month period.

The work groups continue to meet regularly to implement the action steps needed to meet established goals in each area. Each work group has identified the most effective ways to approach their work, including collaborating with other community groups, revising goals and action steps to address evolving community needs, and forming subroups to better manage workloads.




Along the way, we are evaluating our work to keep moving toward success. This plan is our renewed commitment to achieving our vision. We have laid the groundwork for the next 2-3 years that will drive our collective efforts.




OpportUNITY Work Groups

New Iowans 150


More than 5% of Iowa residents are immigrants.

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re-entry 150


70% of children with an incarcerated parent will follow in their footsteps.

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Nearly 22% of Polk County households were food insecure at some time during 2016.

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Iowa's Child Care Assistance program creates a disincentive to advance toward higher wage jobs.

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housing 150


In recent years central Iowa has lost 2,526 units that rented at $650 a month or below.

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adult education 150


Only 32% of working Iowans have the skills and credentials needed to work in the middle-skill positions that make up 55% of Iowa’s jobs.

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Research indicates that students at risk of dropping out can be identified as early as sixth grade.

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Less than 7% of all Des Moines regional transportation spending will go toward transit and pedestrian projects.

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United Way of Central Iowa provides the backbone support for OpportUNITY’s efforts as a key component of the collective impact model. United Way staff members work to raise awareness of poverty and engage community members in Polk, Warren, and Dallas Counties. Staff help eight work groups implement action plans and lead advocacy efforts with more than 2,000 individuals signed on in support of OpportUNITY. In addition, several United Way staff provide expertise and leadership in work groups, as well as communications and administrative support alongside many dedicated stakeholders.


Quarterly OpportUNITY Update Newsletter