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There’s a parable about two towns along the same river. The town downstream begins to notice their once clean water is becoming polluted with trash and waste. After first attempting to clean the trash out of the river, the town downstream realizes they must visit the town upstream to address the source of the problem. Here, they discovered the citizens in the town upstream saw the river as the most efficient solution to keeping their town clean, never realizing that somewhere down the river, people are suffering because of it.

This is an example of systemic issues creating big problems in the long run. It is by addressing these challenges to make a positive, lasting impact that United Way is improving the quality of life in Northeast Florida.

Program Information

As a team or an individual, submit your idea for positive social change in any one of our grand challenge topic, see table below. We invite creative and strategic solutions that get to the source of systemic community issues.

You’ll be challenged, mentored and inspired by a network of experienced leaders and coaches who will help you develop your idea and create a plan for real-world implementation.

Seed grants for up to $40,000 are available for the winning ideas.

Upstream applications for 2017-2018 are now closed. For questions, please contact Sydney Solan at


Upstream believes our community’s issues end with you—your ideas, your creativity and your commitment to finding the root cause of challenges in areas like youth success, financial stability, health and basic needs.

For this social innovation challenge, we welcome all ideas on improving basic needs for those living in underserved communities. We’re asking for your ideas in exchange for the chance to win up to $40,000 in seeds grants to bring them to life in the Jacksonville community. Below are some example topics concerning basic needs, feel free to build off these or create your own!

Basic Needs

  • Proper shelter to protect from the elements
  • Access to clean drinking water
  • Providing nutritional food
  • Access to good clothing
  • Early health screenings

Applicants whose ideas benefit the following groups will be given priority:

  • A.L.I.C.E represents those who work hard and are above the poverty line, but due to high costs and factors often beyond their control, must live paycheck to paycheck. For many, a small emergency can quickly become a major financial crisis. When this happens, families, employers, and our economy suffer. Read more about A.L.I.C.E. 
  • Families and individuals living in underserved communities. See our community indicator maps to learn more about the disparities in Northeast Florida.

An Innovation Challenge

The challenge proposed for Upstream have been identified by leading local nonprofits as critical needs. Whether it’s helping provide emergency assistance or nutritional food for local students, you have the chance to make valuable recommendations. Upstream will help you take your idea through a research-based, data-driven model for community change and build it out into a viable solution.

After months of research and planning, finalists will submit a formal proposal and present to a panel of esteemed business and community leaders at the Upstream Pitch Party March 7, 2018. These leaders will select the top  ideas and bring them to life by awarding up to $40,000 in seeds grants. Winners are required to partner with a community agency to implement their idea and measure outcomes to demonstrate success.

Training, Development and Networking

Selected applicants will kick off the Upstream experience with a series of workshops in late October. Here, we’ll look at the nuts and bolts of putting together a proposal, managing a budget and navigating the unique waters of the social sector. We want you to feel as informed, prepared and supported as possible, but we also want you to have plenty of room to grow and learn new skills .

You’ll also get a chance to meet with your young-professional coaches, some of whom are members of United Way’s Stein Fellows program, at the Upstream Meetup on Oct. 26, 2017. Our coaches will bring personal, professional and philanthropic expertise to your project. They’re leaders in community change, and they will be your guides throughout the development process. You’ll leave training with connections to a network of students, agency leaders and young professionals who are committed to developing participants and bringing great ideas to life.

A Really Good Time

Upstream will be a challenge. You’ll run into bumps along the way, and you’ll uncover unexpected obstacles to making social change happen. But you’ll also build relationships with some of the smartest and most driven leaders in our community. You’ll make friends with your competition and become besties with your coaches. Ultimately, you’ll get one of the most unique experiences available to young adults in Northeast Florida.

To participate in Upstream all participants must be:

  • 18 – 24 years old.
  • Be a resident in Northeast Florida for at least one year after winning a SEED Grant.

2016-2017 Upstream Winners:

$10,000: Food Fighters by Courtney Hogan and Brianna Ballard
A food recovery program that fights to eliminate food waste on UNF’s campus

$10,000: Gents for Jax by Vaughn Sayers and Farouk Smith
A mentoring program for young men in Jacksonville

$10,000: Project Brush Up by Tylyn Dagsaan and Noelle O’Connor
A public art initiative that is a collaboration between local artists and middle-school students

People’s Choice: Elevating Refugee Peers by Julia Driscoll
A plan to help refugee students assimilate more easily to Northeast Florida



Thank you to our generous investors

Availity - United Way Leadership Award Winner     dvi

We’re seeking forward-thinking investors who will make a positive change by supporting creative and strategic solutions for community challenges.

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