An innovative new initiative empowers parents and caregivers

Issues and Impact | Blog | 3 mins.
Written By: Kelsey Thompson | Posted On: 03/22/2023

“The chance to be heard as a parent.”

“I am very much interested in how to better our community.”

“I wanted to be a voice for myself and my community. To give my perspective as a person that has utilized these services.”

“As a parent, I wanted to get involved so I can learn and share how we can make our community better for both parents and kids.”


These are just a few of the reasons why parents in central Indiana volunteered to join the United Way of Central Indiana’s (UWCI) new Parent Advisory Council (PAC.) 

A participant described it best, “The PAC is a group of parents and caregivers who come together to learn about nonprofits, share feedback on community needs based on our unique experiences and gain tools to address those needs. It empowers parents and caregivers to drive solutions.”

The PAC, which is currently composed of 14 participants, has been meeting once a month since January 2022. Beginning in early 2023, the group will begin to manage and distribute grants from its own dedicated fund—which they named the Power to the Parents Fund. 

The PAC and its fund are a result of UWCI’s focus on the 2Gen approach to poverty alleviation as advanced by Ascend at the Aspen Institute. The 2Gen approach holds that in order to lift families out of poverty, the entire family unit must be supported simultaneously. 

The PAC puts the 2Gen approach into action. Parents who volunteer their time receive resources such as child care, continuing education and a $150 stipend per meeting while providing their lived experience and having a say in funding offered to their community.

“UWCI launched the PAC with an intentional mindset of creating a space for parents to convene together and serve as thought leaders and influencers on solutions supporting our Central Indiana neighborhoods and community,” said Shannon Jenkins, the senior director of family opportunity at UWCI, “For our community to thrive, parents must have a voice in identifying and supporting solutions that make a difference for households and families through Central Indiana.”

So far, the initiative has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, the community and UWCI’s staff. It’s already making a tangible impact.

In an anonymous survey at the end of 2022, PAC members identified the biggest issues their community faces. Responses ranged from food deserts and lack of affordable housing to crime and lack of educational support for children with special needs. Each member identified how the PAC is addressing these critical issues—from raising awareness to providing grant funding to contributing their experiences and ideas to drive more effective solutions. The parents on the council are empowered to be voices for their community.

Feedback from the PAC has also changed the way UWCI approaches its work. “Convening parents in this way has not been done before. We are ensuring that parents feel connected to our work by offering opportunities for them to sit on workgroups, panels and in discussions where funding decisions are being made,” explained Dionna El-Marshall, who is the family opportunity project associate at UWCI and manages the day-to-day operations of the PAC.

UWCI has plans in the works to go even further, including adding PAC parents to their grantmaking workgroups, increasing grant funds available to the Power to the Parent Fund, and decreasing UWCI’s facilitation of the PAC while increasing parent facilitation. 

For the parents’ part, they continue to be excited about the impact they are making and the possibilities for the future. They have high hopes for the PAC and their own paths.

One said, “I hope the PAC will continue to come up with new projects and training opportunities for the parents involved. I am very inspired to learn to start a nonprofit organization myself to benefit parents with special needs kids who often worry about their kids’ future and independence.”