08/21/2013 12:39 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2013

Politics or Nonprofits: The Spectrum of Public Servitude

Serving one's community can take many different forms. The obvious, due to its visibility and high-profile nature, is politics. Nonprofits, on the other hand, offer a more subtle philanthropic approach to aiding local communities.

While both industries serve the public, the similarities between the two become few and far after that. Politics is often filled with red tape and money -- lots and lots of money. Politicians work for the people, but politicians -- despite best their intentions -- work for the people that give them money. There is a major discrepancy with this model; poor people don't have money and often don't receive the necessary attention.

Still, urban communities across the country need the intervention of politics to help fix its broken systems. Cleveland, for example, is facing many challenges with poverty and education. Since 2006, poverty rates have risen from 27 to 34 percent in 2011. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in an emergency academic state, currently meets zero of the 26 state indicators.

"Working for the greater good is caring for the least of us," says Ken Lanci, a former/current Cleveland mayoral candidate.

Lanci, a life-long resident of Cleveland, decided to serve his community by running for mayor. Unlike many politicians, local or national, Lanci's background is rich with nonprofit experience.
While politics can be slow-moving, nonprofit organizations can help reach those in need on a more personal level. Project Love, a character-building, education and training organization in Northern Ohio, is one of those organizations that have shown success in reaching at-risk young adults.

Project Love is dedicated to promoting "kindness, caring and mutual respect among, for and through our children," as stated in their mission, and through these guiding principles, the organization has given these youth an outlet to be involved and do something that's fulfilling in communities where those opportunities are slim.

"With Project Love, it's important to let these kids know that we care, and your past does not dictate your future. We want them to understand that no one can tell you what you can't do, and if you set your mind to that and we support you through this process," Lanci says.
While the educational system is near rock-bottom in Cleveland, nonprofits like Project Love are impacting the community on a smaller, more personal scale. Lanci has seen success through Project Love first-hand.

"Among 72 at-risk girls in the program, we had an 80 percent graduation rate. Historically, these girls had a 29 percent graduation rate and their school was at 55 percent. They had the same teachers as everyone else, but these girls had access to faith, love and hope through Project Love. Once they realized they could succeed, they did," says Lanci.

One Sight, another Ohio-based nonprofit, helps communities and at-risk students in a completely different way. The optical company's philanthropic arm provides free eye exams and eyeglasses to children and adults.

"This organization is crucial for children who have vision problems but can't afford proper glasses or exams. This is huge problem that I wasn't aware of until about seven or eight years ago," says Lanci, "These kids can't see the board during class, but once they get the right eyewear, you start seeing their grades improve."

One Sight has provided eye care for about 12,000 children to date, or about 2,000 per year. Both politics and nonprofits are necessary for declining communities like Cleveland. At a time when politics is slow moving and driven by money, nonprofits continue to impact groups on a smaller scale.

"I've been in politics and I've been in nonprofits. At the end of the day, it's about serving my community the best way I can," Lanci adds.

Note: Ken Lanci is the author of Working for the Greater Good of All Really, due out at the end of September.

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