United Under the Wings

YAAW students and UW staff posing in front of mural

Written by United Way

May 30, 2023

“Creativity is essential in all of our lives, but especially in the lives of children.”

For kids in our community going through challenging times, living in shelters and foster care, the opportunity for creative play and art making are essential forms of bringing hope and inspiration into their lives.

As part of the United Way of Greater Toledo’s celebration of the end of its 2022-2023 campaign, we’re coming full circle with an art project for kids closely inspired by the mural that kicked off our season last summer.

In August, 2022, United Way of Greater Toledo celebrated its annual Campaign Celebration and Kick-off event in Live United Plaza at its new headquarters, co-located with SSOE. The highlight of the event was the official unveiling of a new mural on the rear streetscape side of the building under the United Way sign. Measuring 20 feet tall and more than 30 feet long, the brightly colored artwork is a welcomed enhancement to a streetscape that has suffered from blight and neglect for decades.

The mural was painted by teen apprentices in The Arts Commission’s Young Artists at Work (YAAW) program. The Arts Commission is Ohio’s longest-standing arts commission and is the public art organization for the City of Toledo. The organization has offered the YAAW program since 1994, employing youth ages 14-18 for a six-week summer apprenticeship where they learn job skills and create public art in the city.

“Our experience working with these teens was remarkable. This was no small task we gave them. We met them in their classroom and said, ‘We want a mural that talks about corporate-social responsibility where for-profits and nonprofits come together to solve problems. AND, we want it to show how health and human services and architecture and engineering converge to impact people and inspire beautification and streetscape enhancement.’ It was a tall order! But, they came back to us just two days later and said, ‘How’s this?’ What they developed is what you see on the wall. They designed and painted this mural in less than 4 weeks,” said Wendy Pestrue, CEO at United Way of Greater Toledo. 

The mural is not only beautiful but features symbolism with nods to both United Way and SSOE. This year, United Way celebrates its 105th year serving Northwest Ohio while SSOE, a global architecture and engineering firm headquartered in Toledo, celebrates its 75th anniversary. The mural was the first step in building a platform for beautification, bringing the long-forgotten 10th Street corridor into the conversation of a downtown Toledo that has seen significant investment and development in recent years.

  • The Cardinal – The Ohio state bird and similar to the SSOE brand primary red color.
  • The Toledo Skyline – Both SSOE and United Way have deep roots here. Many of Toledo’s most prominent buildings were designed by SSOE and this highlights the community United Way serves.
  • The Book – This element represents education and knowledge as a foundation for the work of both SSOE and the United Way.
  • The Rainbow – This represents both United Way and SSOE’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
  • The People – These represent community and partnership.
  • The Red Feather and The Poppies – These are traditional United Way symbols for collaboration and peace.
  • The Building Blocks – These represent the ongoing physical and social work both United Way and SSOE are doing to build a better, stronger, more secure future for our city.

The mural inspired the creation of a coloring book that will be distributed to kids in shelters, foster care, and the community. A collaboration with Toledo’s cultural community, United Way partnered with The Arts Commission and Toledo Museum of Art to supply fun coloring pages that inspire creative visions for different parts of the city.

The gem of the local arts community, Toledo Museum of Art is a world class museum that opened its doors in 1901. It is open for free to the public daily during regular business hours. Its Family Center is designed for young children and their grown-ups to explore art together. Each session includes all the supplies needed to create a unique work of art inspired by the art and artists in TMA’s collections and special exhibitions. The Family Center is free to attend Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Page from Live United Coloring Book

The partnership between United Way and SSOE is rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion and access and assessment. The organizations are excited to tout their unique partnership and want to inspire other businesses to look at similar opportunities for how they can provide more affordable space to nonprofit organizations. As more and more companies in both sectors transition to hybrid work spaces, less office space is becoming the norm. Consolidation limits overhead and provides a unique opportunity for companies to synthesize their giving and values with organizations implementing the work.

The coloring book is just one of the ways that United Way and SSOE are working together to support the community. By using the mural as a catalyst for inspiration, they are able to create a tangible way for kids to engage with the artwork and learn about the important work that both organizations do. The coloring book will be a lasting legacy of the mural and a reminder of the power of partnerships to create positive change in our communities.


Most importantly, some of the most vulnerable kids in our community will have a bright spot of fun in their lives, where the arts can help open their hearts and minds, and parents and family members can find resources that bring social and cultural resources into their lives. Books will be distributed to area youth service partners and at United Way events throughout the summer.

This book is made possible by the generous support of The Scott and Margy Trumbull Family.

Learn more about our work and Get Involved today!

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