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Program aims to capture history in Buckeye-Shaker, build community

Most of Cleveland’s neighborhoods were established in the late 1800s by a wave of Eastern Europeans coming to the region looking for manufacturing work. A predominantly-Slovenian population was drawn to labor opportunities in Collinwood, while Hungarians flocked to Buckeye-Shaker.
 
Over the years, those concentrations dispersed into the suburbs and today both neighborhoods are quite diverse. But that diversity can sometimes come with a loss of community connection, says Cindy Washabaugh, a poet and therapeutic arts practitioner.
 
So In 2015, Washabaugh had an idea for bringing Cleveland communities together through writing. She went to Collinwood and began Who We Are, Where We Live, a place-based community writing program.
 
“I really wanted to do a project with writing in a community where people would have a chance to connect with people they wouldn’t necessarily meet,” she says. “Everyone has memories of doing different things in the community. I thought, what if I could go in and do workshops with every facet of the community.”
 
The success of the Collinwood project resulted in a printed anthology that compiled the participants’ thoughts, memories and perceptions of their community. “The idea was to bring these folks together and really sharing their memories and what their hopes were for the community,” she explains. “It provided a sense of witness, a sense of understanding and trust in their neighbors.”
 
Today Washabaugh aims to extend the momentum through a partnership with Literary Cleveland, a non-profit organization committed to building a community of readers and writers in Northeast Ohio, to launch Buckeye-Shaker: Who We Are Where We Live.
 
The program will engage people who live and work in the neighborhood to learn about its history by writing and sharing stories about the community’s past, and understanding the experiences of their neighbors.
 
“Cleveland is filled with untold stories of our neighborhoods and the people who live there,” says Washabaugh.
 
While many of the Collinwood memories stemmed out of the Slovenian Workmen’s Home, Washabaugh expects similar memories to come out of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church on Buckeye, believed to be the first Hungarian catholic church built in the United States in the late 1800s.
 
The writing workshops will allow participants to write their stories down and share them — this time on a website anthology — in hopes of remembering Buckeye’s past and preserving its history for future generations.
 
The Ohio Humanities Council is sponsoring the Buckeye-Shaker project, and Washabaugh has recruited Mark Souther, history professor and director of the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University, and Michael Fleenor, director of preservation services at the Cleveland Restoration Society.
 
“The Ohio Humanities Council challenged us to bring in historians, so we found two,” says Washabaugh, who says Fleenor and Souther will talk about the architecture, how the neighborhood has been represented, how to research your own home’s history, even if you no longer live in the neighborhood, and what makes a neighbor.
 
“It’s really exciting stuff,” says Washabaugh. “It allows everyone to appreciate each other, at least for a little while.”
 
Washabaugh encourages participants to write, give oral histories or even contribute a sketch to the anthology. “Writing is a focus that lets you leave something behind or have something to share,” she explains.
 
Literary Cleveland will host the launch party on Saturday, Apr. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Loganberry Books, 13015 Larchmere Blvd. Souther will speak at the event, which will also have program information and writing activities.
 
The community writing workshops will be held Saturday, Apr. 29 from 12 to 2 p.m. and Saturday, May 13 from 2 to 4 p.m., both at the Cleveland Public Library’s Rice Branch, 11535 Shaker Blvd. The last workshop will be held Wednesday, May 17 from 1 to 3 p.m. at East End Neighborhood House, 2749 Woodhill Road. Fleenor will speak at the first workshop.
 
The project will culminate with a reading and celebration on Saturday, July 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Loganberry Books.
 
The launch party and readings are free and open to the public, while the workshops are reserved only for people who live or work in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood.

'Immigrant Narratives' to be part of Cleveland Humanities Festival

On Saturday, March 18th and Sunday, March 19th at 7 p.m. in the Cleveland State University student center ballroom, 2121 Euclid Ave., SC 319, the local nonprofit Literary Cleveland will present Crossing Borders: Immigrant Narratives. This event is free and open to the public and includes a reception after each show, but registration is encouraged.
 
Cosponsored by Case Western Reserve's Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities and CSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the two 90-minute presentations will feature staged readings of short essays, fiction and poems performed by a set of professional actors assembled by director Marc Moritz. The stories depict the emotional journey of crossing borders, both literal and metaphorical, and what it means to be both an immigrant and an American.
 
In “Crutches,” Jill Sell writes about her Czech ancestors’ uncertain passage through Ellis Island. “Food and Family,” a piece by Hathaway Brown student Crystal Zhao, describes a second-generation Chinese immigrant bonding with her mother over stories of childhood rebellion. The poem “Genesis” by Daniel Gray-Kontar addresses the journey of African-Americans from the south to cities such as Cleveland during the Great Migration.
 
Stories focusing on more recent immigration experiences include “Struggling to Survive,” in which Syrian immigrant Bayan Aljbawi writes about leaving her troubled homeland for the United States, an experience she describes as “escaping from one suffering to another: new culture, new country and different language.” In “American Promise,” award-winning novelist and Case professor Thrity Umrigar – who immigrated from India more than 30 years ago – confronts the current political climate and asks if the United States “will be a country that is as small and narrow as its fears” or “as large and glorious as its dreams, as splendid as the hopes of millions of its citizens, immigrant and native born … ?”

"Immigrant Narratives" is part of the second annual Cleveland Humanities Festival (CHF), which runs from March 15 through mid-May.
 
Per event literature: "The theme for 2017 is 'Immigration.' The CHF will utilize the resources of Cleveland’s leading intellectual institutions to explore the challenges and opportunities caused by the movement of people. Exile, immigration, deportation, migration — in the history of every nation, demographic shifts have been a part of the fabric of civic and cultural life. Nowhere is this more true than in the life of our own country. The forced deportations of the Middle Passage, the wholesale immigration of eastern Europeans in the nineteenth century, the recent relocation of refugees from Middle Eastern conflict, are only a few of the movements that have left their mark on American communities. The CHF will explore from a humanistic perspective the impact of immigration across time and within our own time through a series of coordinated events, including lecture, exhibits, theatrical performances, academic symposia, tours, and films."
 
This year's festival includes more than three dozen eclectic and provocative programs such as An Irish-Appalachian Journey (musical performance), a film screening and discussion of From Refugee to Neighbor, a field trip to Cleveland's ethnic markets and Immigrants in Ohio, a discussion about how newcomers enhance communities. That short list is a scant sampling of the extensive offerings, a full list of which is available here.

Some activities require ticket purchase and registration. Event venues are at points across the region.
 

From West Africa to West Boulevard: an artist's journey

Born in Accra, Ghana, West African artist Harry Larweh uses African mahogany and Rosewood for his craft. He reimagines the beautiful wood into meticulously carved tables, wall hangings, chairs and both small and enormous works of art. Touring the vast inventory throughout his garage and backyard workshop in his West Boulevard neighborhood home, Larweh explains a simple premise for his artistic process, “All these creations, I see the wood and I just start creating.”
 
Young and with a passion to travel, Larweh moved from Ghana to Holland where he met his wife. In Holland, Larweh continued to explore his love of woodworking. Visits to antiques shops and galleries reaffirmed a passion that he'd nurtured his entire life.

“I didn't realize when I started, I just grew up doing it,” Larweh notes of his journey into the arts. After a decade in Holland, Larweh returned to Ghana and then finally made the move to Cleveland to be with his wife, who had moved to Ohio to be closer to family.
 
Most of Larweh's family still remains in Ghana, and his passion for his homeland is apparent. “I am a self taught artist," he says. "I have very good people back home.” After an eight-week visit earlier this year, Larweh arranged to have a freight container full of Mahogany planks shipped to the United States. “It is difficult and expensive”, he describes of the delivery.

The move was enabled in part by the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), and allows him to use materials from his homeland, keeping him focused and excited to create. ECDI relationship manager Rebecca Mayhew, who worked directly with Larweh, explains, “I love Harry's work. It is just marvelous, that here we are in Cleveland, and we have an artist carving this amazing African mahogany furniture...Not everyone is in the position for a bank loan, and that is why ECDI is so important. We help the individual start a business or continue their business with our loans.”

ECDI, a statewide SBA lender, started in Columbus in 2004 before expanding to Cleveland in July 2012 and Akron in November 2014. Since 2004, ECDI has benefited local communities with small business loans throughout the state of Ohio, and assisted over 8,500 individuals - people like Larweh.

Not only does ECDI provide loans to small business owners, but they also provide contact and network information to the clients. Mayhew continues, “We are hoping to connect him (Larweh) to the appropriate contacts so he can find potential markets for the raw wood planks and his art.”
 
Even with the assistance, Larweh says it can be difficult to find a niche and earn enough to make a living in the art community, but he has found an audience. “I do things differently, I just create … I am finding people who are admiring a lot.” As Larweh explains, however, making a living as an artist is a challenge of its own, “It is early. As for the art, I knew it wouldn't be something that would be selling just like that.” He soldiers on nonetheless, continuing to design his own pieces and looking forward to providing high quality materials to his fellow artisans.
 
Larweh's work is available for sale on etsy.

ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Presentation to highlight unique history behind Lee-Harvard neighborhood

As Cleveland’s eastern suburbs were just beginning to establish themselves in the 1920s, Cleveland’s Lee-Harvard neighborhood, bordering Shaker Heights, Warrensville Heights and Maple Heights on the the city’s south east side, was thriving in its own right.
 
The Lee-Harvard neighborhood, once known as Miles Heights Village and the Lee-Seville neighborhoods, was historically an integrated community of notable firsts. Ohio’s first African-American mayor, Arthur Johnston was elected in 1929 when the neighborhood was mostly white. His house on East 147th Street still stands today.
 
The neighborhood established many of the first citizen's councils and neighborhood associations in the region and had an interracial police force.
 
On Thursday, October 6, the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS), along with Cleveland Ward 1 councilman Terrell Pruitt, the Harvard Community Services Center and CSU’s Maxine Levin Goodman College of Urban Affairs, will present “Cleveland’s Suburb in the City: The Development and Growth of Lee-Harvard.”
 
The free discussion will be led by Todd Michney, assistant professor at the University of Toledo and author of Changing Neighborhoods: Black Upward Mobility in Cleveland, 1900-1980.
 
“We at CRS have been so impressed with the neighborhoods of Ward 1, Lee-Harvard and Lee-Seville,” says Michael Fleenor, CRS director of preservation services, "because they reflect our recent history – Cleveland’s last expansion, progress in Civil Rights, and the growth of neighborhood associations and community development corporations in the late 20th Century."
 
In 1932, Miles Heights was officially annexed as part of Cleveland, but the neighborhood remained a popular choice to settle for African-Americans who were looking to move to the suburbs. Many residents moved to Lee-Harvard from the Central, Glenville and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.
 
“It was an integrated community so early,” explains Fleenor. “During World War II the neighborhood served as temporary housing for returning soldiers because it was already integrated and many families came by train from the south and other parts.”
 
In the 1950s and 60s, the neighborhood really caught its stride, with modest brick homes going up all over the area. “A lot of the people who live there have been there for 50 years,” says Fleenor. “It’s been very stable. It’s a middle class neighborhood.”
 
Arthur Bussey, an African-American builder, began building the mid-century brick homes in 1949 on Highview Drive and Myrtle Avenue, off of Lee Road just south of Miles Road, and continued building until the late 60s. Bussey targeted African-Americans and designed the modest homes to be attractive to higher-income buyers.
 
The homes built during this period are all well maintained today, and many of the original residents are still living there or they are leaving them to their children. Fleenor also predicts that the neighborhood is potentially attractive to Millennials thinking about buying homes.
 
“Perhaps there’s an opportunity because the houses aren’t huge – about 1,200 to 1,500 square feet,” Fleenor says. “There’s an opportunity for young people who are struggling now and open to smaller houses. There’s a great opportunity to build on the rich history.”
 
Fleenor also notes that the Lee-Harvard neighborhood has plenty of greenspace and parks.
 
Early on, the north end of the neighborhood was made up mostly of Eastern European and Italian families, so there was a large catholic concentration that transitioned as the neighborhood became African American.

Throughout the years and changes, churches have played a prominent role in the area.
 
The former St. Henry Church parish at 18200 Harvard Ave. opened in 1952, with a convent and school added in 1954 and an administrative building added in 1959. After experiencing financial difficulties in 1969 the church closed the convent, which then became the Harvard Community Services Center.
 
Archbishop Lyke School, took over St. Henry’s school before St. Henry’s merged with other area Catholic churches in 2008 and relocated to 4341 East 131st St. The rectory was recently for sale.

What is now Whitney Young Middle School was formerly Hoban Dominican High School for Girls.
 
Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1962.* The congregation bought a beer market with a bad reputation in the neighborhood and converted it to a church before hiring a prominent African American architecture firm to design a contemporary building in 1965. The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd was built in 1945.

*CORRECTION: On May 5, 2017, Fresh Water received a communication from Rev. Dr. Leonard Killings, Pastor, Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church that said, "Advent's founder is indisputably an African Descent person and it was founded by African Descent persons."

The original reporting stated that the church was founded by a white minister. Fresh Water apologizes for the confusion.


John F. Kennedy High School was built in 1966.

The Lee-Harvard Shopping Center, built in 1949, became the first African American owned and managed shopping center in the country in 1972. Neighborhood residents bought the center when they noticed the property and surrounding area declining.
 
Also in the 70s, a group of residents formed an auxiliary police force to help patrol the neighborhood. The force operated out of small building on a used car lot. A taxi service donated two cars for patrol, while ladies in the community would provide coffee and pastries for the officers.
 
The auxiliary police would hold costume parties on Halloween and bicycle rodeos for the community. “The kids got to know the police officers and the officers got to know the kids,” explains Fleenor. “It was so successful, they got federal funding to increase officers in the neighborhood.”
 
Such community involvement and pride is what has kept the Lee-Harvard area steady over the years. “Lee-Harvard has one of the first community development corporations in Cleveland,” says Fleenor. “There are very few abandoned properties, and if there’s one property abandoned it’s the talk of the town.”
 
While Carl Stokes was mayor of Cleveland, residents lobbied in Columbus to keep liquor licenses out of the neighborhood. “It shows how politically active they were,” Fleenor says. “Then they fought Mayor Stokes to keep public housing out and Mayor Stokes called them “black bigots.’ They didn’t want to jeopardize the middle class lifestyle.”
 

“Cleveland’s Suburb in the City” will be held at the Levin College of Urban Affairs, 1717 Euclid Ave., from 4 to 6 p.m. this Thursday. Click here to register. The program is part of the Levin College Forum.
 

Bridging the racial divide through art

The Campus District is a divided segment of Cleveland. It is divided by race. It is divided by income. And, since the 1950s, it is an area divided by Interstate 90 and the E. 22nd Street Bridge.

To the north are Cleveland State University and Downtown, full up with a diverse mix of students and business. The Central neighborhood on the southern end is predominantly African American and home to some of the country’s oldest, and once densest, public housing.
 
Like many Cleveland neighborhoods, the construction of highways segmented the communities, creating access to the rest of the region while simultaneously cutting some neighborhoods off. The Central neighborhood is one such example.
 
A group of people who live, work and go to school on either side of the E. 22nd Street bridge have come together to talk about issues of race and prejudice through a collective public art project called A Bridge that Bridges.
 
“We had opportunities for people who wouldn’t talk to each other otherwise about race in the neighborhoods, the different levels of racism,” says Kaela Geschke, Campus District community organizer. “We were crossing lines we wouldn’t have in our daily lives.”


 
The group of 17 participants, led by Geschke, ioby (In Our Own Back Yards), Cleveland action strategist Indigo Bishop and artist Gwen Garth, founder of the Kings and Queens of Art, have met biweekly since last spring to discuss race and racism while designing a community mural.
 
“We are trying to cement that racial divide,” says Garth. “A diverse group of people of different ages, races, walks of life came together to sit down and discuss the levels of racism and create works of art.”
 
Some of the conversations revolved around preliminary painting/planning sessions. “The artwork they are creating is depicting the difference between how we see ourselves versus how others see us,” Geschke says. “We did this early on when talking about interpersonal racism. The [preliminary] images did not end up in the mural but were a stepping stone for conversation. There were a lot of different perspectives, and it was a really good process for everyone.”
 
Over the past weeks, the group has been painting the mural they designed along the E. 22nd Street Bridge. The mural spans 80 feet on both sides of the bridge, yet is only two-and-a-half feet tall.
 
“The mural shows legs of different types of people walking across the bridge on one side,” explains Geschke. “On the west wall it uses words to name the systems and thought patterns that keep racism and segregation in place in the center. Then as it continues out towards the north and south end, [where] the words change into steps that a person can take to address these inequities.”
 
The group has raised more than $1,300 toward its $2,095 ioby fundraising goal. They also received a $5,000 grant from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and a $500 grant from the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program.
 
The mural will be unveiled on Thursday, Aug. 25 during the Campus District’s E. 22nd Street Festival.
 
But organizers hope that the mural’s completion will not be the end of race discussions in the community. “It cannot be a one-and-done thing,” says Garth. “It took a long time to get there, so it’s going to take a long time to undo it.”
 
Geschke agrees. “People of all races would say race is not a problem,” she says, “but people also say this is just a start. Let’s look ahead and see what can be done. I think this is a good starting point.”

Joint health education campus facility under construction in Cleveland

The future of healthcare in Cleveland is now under construction, say proponents of an educational partnership meant to bring students from the disciplines of medicine, dental health and nursing together under one roof.

Foundation work on the $515 million Health Education Campus (HEC), a joint project from Case Western Reserve
University (CWRU) and the Cleveland Clinic, began late last year following an October groundbreaking. Steel construction is slated to start in April and run through October, while erection of a central atrium will begin by year's end, says Stephen Campbell, CWRU's vice president of campus planning and facilities management.

The 487,000-square-foot space going up south of Chester Avenue is on schedule for completion in April 2019, with the building welcoming its student population that July. Configuring the four-story facility with an atrium accounts for a major portion of the extended time table, Campbell says.

Classrooms, high-tech simulation labs and auditorium space will all be part of a finished building with an enrollment reaching over 1,800 students. A pair of Cleveland-based construction firms, Donley's and Turner Construction, are the builders on a project designed by London architect Foster + Partners.

Size matters for a facility its supporters believe can be a world-renowned epicenter of medical know-how. Located on East 93rd Street between Euclid and Chester Avenues, the education campus is intended to promote collaboration among students from the Clinic's Lerner College of Medicine and CWRU's school of medicine, dental medicine and its Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.

The idea behind the interdisciplinary mash-up is to encourage cooperation in an evolving healthcare landscape, officials note.

"The practice of medicine is a team sport where education has taken place in silos," says Campbell. "This is a level-setting of the process, meaning health professionals will be better (collaborators) right out of the gate."

A dental clinic planned for the Hough neighborhood along Chester Avenue is part of the larger campus, Campbell says. The free-standing building will be three stories high, and include about 150,000 square feet of space. The dental clinic is scheduled to open alongside the main building, with both facilities set to host CWRU dental students.

On a larger scale, the partner institutions expect the venture to attract grad students, post-docs and other new residents to the University Circle area. Campbell can envision health campus students filling up Innova, a high-end mixed-use development adjacent to the Clinic's main campus and in close proximity to CWRU.

In a few years, these students may be working side-by-side in an environment designed to mold them into team players.

"The Clinic has always been progressive in improving healthcare delivery," says Campbell. "We expect them to do the same from the partnership side."

Collaboration brings home sweet home to disabled Cleveland veteran

An ex-Marine has found a new home thanks to a pair of veteran-friendly groups and a Cleveland suburb willing to support disabled soldiers with affordable housing opportunities.

Elyria native Corp. Leo Robinson signed the final closing documents for his new house in South Euclid during a Feb. 18 ceremony at Cuyahoga Land Bank (CLB). The organization partnered with national nonprofit Purple Heart Homes and the city of South Euclid on the project.

Robinson, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who sustained brain injuries and other ailments overseas, was set to move into his renovated home late last week, says Howard Goldberg, assistant secretary and chief real estate officer with Purple Heart Homes.

The 1,300-square-foot domicile, donated in 2012 by CLB, was rebuilt from the ground up, says Goldberg. Nearly 200 volunteers offered financial and material support for the approximately $70,000 undertaking.  

Plumbing, electrical, HVAC and insulation work was supplied gratis, while a local furniture company provided the home with a new bedroom set and other necessities. Members of the Notre Dame College football team, meanwhile, helped demolish the structure's interior prior to rebuild.

"This shows how a community can come together and make something great happen," says Goldberg.

Robinson will live in the house with his therapy dog, Kota. The finished structure has a new garage, laundry room, basement recreation space, and second-floor bath off the master bedroom. The former Marine will pay a mortgage equal to 50 percent of the home's appraised value.

Eligibility for the ownership program requires an honorable discharge and a service-connected disability, Goldberg notes. Robinson is the second veteran to receive a home in South Euclid through the venture. A third residence is planned for the inner-ring community, while two more projects are in talks for Old Brooklyn and Euclid, respectively.

"South Euclid's done a good job of sustaining their housing stock so the values go back up," says Goldberg. "The timing for us was excellent."

The collaboration also meets Purple Heart Homes' stated goal of improving veterans' lives one home at a time. The organization, launched by two disabled Iraq War vets, has found stable partners among the leadership and general population of South Euclid, Goldberg says.

"The one thing this shows is how people rally around their veterans," he says. "They're not only willing to help, but they want to make a veteran feel welcome in their community."

Further reading: East Cleveland duplex now permanent housing for veterans

Salvation Army to break ground on $10m family shelter downtown

Earlier this month, the Salvation Army of Greater Cleveland announced a $35 million capital campaign in part to celebrate the organization's 150th anniversary.
 
Thus far, the Army has raised more than $24 million of its goal, which includes $10 million for the new Zelma George Emergency Family Shelter for homeless families and adult human trafficking victims. Groundbreaking is slated to begin by year's end at the site of the former Mad Hatter building downtown, which the organization purchased last year and demolished. The long-abandoned building was adjacent to the Army's existing Harbor Light facility at 1710 Prospect Avenue.
 
"There are several programs in that facility," says Major Lurlene-Kay M. Johnson,
divisional secretary for the Salvation Army of Greater Cleveland, referring to Harbor Light. "We have the family shelter. That is 110 beds. We also have homeless men there," she says, noting that the facility has a medically supervised detox program.
 
Harbor Light also houses 150 clients that are in a corrections program.
 
"They spend six months with us as kind of a halfway house," says Johnson. "In some cases, it's in lieu of them going to jail. If they've been incarcerated for many years they'll spend the last six months with us to allow them time to get a job and find a place to live."
 
That diversity of service is one of the main reasons the Army is building a new facility.
 
"We have mixed populations, so right now you have children and mothers coming through the same security system that everybody else has to go through," says Johnson, adding that the security portal is not very kid friendly.
 
Having the new shelter adjacent to Harbor Light has other advantages. The two buildings will be connected, allowing both to utilize the existing industrial kitchen, which serves 1,200 meals a day. The new shelter and Harbor Light will also share staffing. Both sharing measures constitute significant financial savings. Furthermore, the land on which the shelter will be built is already zoned for shelter use, a designation that is difficult to come by.
 
The Welty Building Company, headquartered in Akron, is the contractor on the project. Perspectus Architecture of Shaker Square designed the two-story, 29,000-square-foot facility, which will feature 35 individual family units and an apartment-style area for six adult human trafficking victims. Construction is scheduled for completion within 18 months.
 
Above and beyond those brick and mortar statistics, however, the new Zelma George Emergency Family Shelter offers something that is difficult to measure.
 
"When people come in, they are residents," says Johnson. "They stay with us—unless they leave on their own accord—until they have permanent housing. They don't have to come in each day, which gives them continuity. They have a place where they belong."
 
The new facility will include a green space and playground for the children who stay at the shelter. Services also include transportation to the school systems the kids came from to maintain consistency in that aspect of their lives.
 
"We're looking for stability," says Johnson, adding that the Army looks forward to having a shelter that is designed specifically for children and families. "We really want the family to do well and we really want their lives to be disrupted as little as possible."

Tony Sias prepares to take the helm at Karamu

Last Friday, Tony Sias stepped down from his position as director of arts education for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) in order to become the chief executive officer of the storied Karamu House, which marks it's 100th year in 2015.
 
Fresh Water sat down with this charismatic Clevelander to get the low down on where he's been, where's he's going and how he intends to measure up to one the area's most beloved and historic cultural venues.
 
What's your priority list when you step into Karamu?
 
The first thing is really building a relationship with the staff, to hear what their dreams are and get a better understanding of what people do. The other piece is communicating to community that the doors are open and there's a place for you -- the community -- to come to Karamu, to understand programming, to have an influence on what we do and how we do it.

That’s to say whoever comes through the door, that we celebrate who they are and use their culture, their ethnicity as a positive; and that we learn and build off of that.

This also goes so far beyond race and ethnicity. It's around the economic differences, or those who may have special needs. How do we reengage the millennials? How do we celebrate all of these people? How do we integrate them into the larger Karamu family?

It's really about community.

How do you make that happen on the ground?

I would love to see a more robust education program that is skill based and sequential in its instruction so that we can develop young talent over the years, so that Karamu is truly a performing arts training ground—visual and performing arts.
 
I also see us providing a culturally responsive pedagogical approach to instruction so that we are a place where anyone -- children, families -- can come to get formal training in the arts. This isn't only about young people; this is about lifelong learners.

We'd like to be able to contribute to being a premier place where, if films or commercials are being shot, that we have the talent to be a "first stop." That would be important to me.
 
How does that fit into your at-large vision of Karamu?
 
Being an administrator that has a strong arts background will really help bolster moving this agenda forward in terms of three very distinctive buckets while aligning all of them. When I say three buckets, there is the theater, the day care center and the educational program. How do these things become aligned and sequential in all of the services?
 
That's exciting to me: to be able to say, how do we not only create an alignment, but how do we solidify and crystallize the brand, the mission, the vision, and the core values?
 
It's a whole bunch of great ingredients. How do we sequence this recipe? How do we put it together at the right time to make it what we want it to be?
 
It's building on the success of past and re-envisioning what this should be for the next 100 years.
 
Are you a bit melancholy that you're leaving the school district just as the dazzling new Cleveland School of the Arts building is finally open?
 
After 15 years, it's been fantastic run at the school district. To have watched students come into various programs, to see the power of the arts with them and to see them move on and graduate; I feel like the completion of that building was a completion for me.
 
When I got to the school district, there was all this conversation over whether this building was going to happen or not going to happen. And to be so Intimately involved in design process, to have worked with community stakeholders making that happen, it's a dream come true.
 
And it's a great end to a chapter—or to a book—or to a chapter. I don't know if it's a book or a chapter (laughs).
 
What has driven this big change?
 
I have told people I left a very secure job with a great pension and great benefits, but it's so important take a risk and look at the potential of how my life can change and how Karamu's life as an institution can change. It was important for me to say, 'Hey, you have a passion for this. You only live once. You love this institution. Why not go and invest all that you have in it to make it a better place?'
 
I'm passionate about Karamu. It's a national treasure.

Edwins begins expansion into Buckeye with its Second Chance Life Skills Center

Brandon Chrostowski, the founder and CEO of Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute at Shaker Square, is moving ahead with his vision of revitalizing the nearby Buckeye neighborhood and providing housing for his restaurant workers.

Construction began in late July on the Edwins Second Chance Life Skills Center – three buildings on 20,000 square feet of property located at South Moreland Boulevard and Buckeye Road. The campus includes a 22-bed dorm, an eight bedroom alumni house, fitness center, library and basketball court, as well as a test kitchen. Edwins students will also have the opportunity to take life skills classes.
 
Edwins students will live in the dorms, rent-free, but $100 a month will be taken out of their paychecks. When they graduate, that money will be given back to them for a deposit on their own apartments. Graduates of the program who can’t find housing can live in the alumni house for $150 a month.
 
The point of the campus is to give Edwins students, who get a second chance at a productive life after being incarcerated through learning the art of working at a French restaurant, a free or affordable place to stay while they get back on their feet.

Edwins Restaurant has graduated 89 students since opening in November 2013 and has a current class of 30. Additionally, Chrostowski teaches classes at Grafton Correctional Institution, where 37 students have graduated.

Chrostowski has lived in some shabby neighborhoods around the globe while working in the finest restaurants. “The way to bridge that is teaching,” he says. “If you can teach those skills, you can work your way out of anything. I’ve hit bottom twice in my life and I got back through good, hard work. Every human being, regardless of the past, has a right to a future.”

Even though construction on the buildings will not be done until November, some of the Edwins students are already living on the property. “Five guys are living there right now, as construction is going on, because they don’t currently have a home,” says Chrostowski. “We have gotten a warm reception there.”

Chrostowski held a fundraiser in February for the $1.6 million project and raised $152,000 on top of two anonymous donations totaling $1 million. Additionally, a slew of community business leaders donated their time and services to Chrostowski to make the idea a reality. Jones Day helped the center to gain nonprofit status, structured the purchase agreements and guided the diligence for the three real estate deals.

“Edwins is a brilliant and unique concept to change the face of re-entry in the United States, and it's consistent with our commitment to doing the right thing," says Chris Kelly, partner-in-charge of Jones Day's Cleveland office. "We take tremendous pride in the civic-minded efforts of our people. The lawyers in our office here were -- and remain -- overjoyed at the prospect of helping Brandon with his bold ambitions. We are extraordinarily proud to be part of his endeavor." 

Other companies include Lightning Demolition, which has done everything at cost, and RDS Construction, which provided its services at below market costs and helped with the planning. “RDS Construction has been guiding and attending meeting after meeting throughout the process,” Chrostowski says.

St. Luke’s Foundation has contributed financially each year toward Chrostowski’s mission. Bialosky and Partners Architects also provided design services.

The Second Chance Center is just a small part of Chrostowski’s vision for the Buckeye neighborhood. He has been working with a team of partners on the area’s revitalization, including housing projects, bringing retail to Buckeye and revitalizing the old Moreland Theater.

“Buckeye’s got the energy, it’s got soul,” he says. “I believe if we rally up the right people for the right projects, we can get ourselves a revitalized street and go from there.”

Guide To Kulchur set to expand to larger digs in Gordon Square

Next week, Guide to Kulchur (GTK), the quirky bookstore and self-described "incubator for emerging and marginalized voices," will move from its tiny storefront at 1386 West 65th Street to roomier digs at 5900 Detroit Avenue.

"It's part of our 20 job initiative," says GTK founder RA Washington. "We're adding 20 jobs over the course of 18 months. We're going to target the youth first and set aside jobs for kids with juvenile records." He plans to start by hiring six people, with some future slots slated for recently released prison inmates.

The new 1,800-square foot space will feature more of what Gordon Square loves about GTK and then some, with a large stock of new books, a performance space, outside seating and even a coffee spot that will offer snacks made off site. And there's more to come.

"In the next 18 months, we'll take over the second floor and that will be an artist in residence space," says Washington, adding that the additional 1,800 square feet will also house a community/meeting area.

GTK's old home on 65th Street will transform into a regional warehouse for the Cleveland Books 2 Prisoners operation, which furnishes books to prisoners in Ohio, although Washington notes, "we get letters all the way from Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania." He also supplies books to the homeless and invites community organizations and social justice advocates to take books free of charge for distribution from the warehouse. Regular janes and joes are free to peruse the stacks as well.

"People can also buy books at a pay-what-you-want rate," says Washington.

Amid all this development, Washington has recently launched GTK Press, which he also plans to expand at the new location in the 500-square-foot garage with more advanced equipment for printing and binding. Once established, he aims to bring in more youth employees to learn about publishing and the associated skills, from on-screen design to binding.

He estimates the total cost of the endeavor at $23,000. Although he is still $7,000 short of his goal, an Indiegogo campaign helped raise nearly $7,000. GTK's pitch performance at last month's Startup Scaleup event garnered an additional $5,000. Washington has also worked with Kent State to get funding via the Common Wealth Revolving Loan Fund, which helps sole proprietorships such as GTK to transform into cooperatives.

"The final step of the expansion is to transform Guide to Kulchur from a sole prop. to a worker owned co-op," says Washington.

The grand opening of the new space is slated for September 4th.

PRE4CLE issues grants for four new classrooms

PRE4CLE, an extension of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District that aims to expand high-quality preschool options across the city, has awarded three grants totaling $120,000 to start four new classrooms, each of which will house 20 preschoolers.
 
The Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland will open two of the new classrooms at the Oakwood Child Development Center, 9250 Miles Park Avenue. Another will be the first preschool classroom at The Citizens Academy, 10118 Hampden Avenue, which is operated by The Centers for Families and Children. The fourth will be at the Buckeye-Shaker Fundamentals Academy, 12500 Buckeye Road, under the umbrella of the Fundamentals Early Childhood Development Academy.
 
"The grants cover things like furniture, small tables, chairs and shelves," says Katie Kelly, PRE4CLE director, adding interactive toys, enrichment activities, books, puzzles and blocks to the list. "It's all the basic -- but very critical -- parts of a high-quality early childhood classroom."
 
The grants, which total $30,000 per classroom, will not cover any new construction, but the funds may be used to cover minor facility upgrades to make the spaces safe, healthy and inviting. In addition, the funding will cover staffing, but only for a short time.
 
"They have to hire the staff and have them on board before the state will give them their license," says Kelley of the chicken-or-egg dilemma. "That is a upfront cost; so the funds from the grants will also cover very short term staff costs that are related to that startup effort."
 
The areas impacted by the grants (Glenville, Buckeye-Shaker Square and Union-Miles) all have a demand for those preschool slots and are near the top of their supply capacity.
 
"Part of our effort is to strategically expand high quality programs in neighborhoods that are in the highest need," says Kelly. "These neighborhoods that were chosen have a variety of needs. We wanted to make sure that we continue to build access."
 
The Buckeye Road classroom is slated to open this November, with the CEOGC classrooms in Union-Miles opening by year's end. Citizens Academy in Glenville expects to have its preschool classroom ready for an early 2016 opening date. All of the grantees have space that's available and ready to be used for programs.

"These early childhood programs that are community based (and not within the public school district) operate on tight margins," says Kelley. "So something like opening up a new classroom can be cost prohibitive. We don't want that upfront cost to be a barrier and often it is."
 
While the grants do not fund tuition, which is usually covered by the families, childcare subsidies and federal and state funding, Kelly is glad to be creating high-quality learning spaces for the area's preschoolers.
 
"The grants are only for classrooms, but we think it’s a great start," she says. "This is really our first brick and mortar venture into making sure that those neighborhoods have what they need," she adds. "This will serve 80 children, which we're really happy about."

Esperanza Threads offers organic handmade goods in Detroit Shoreway

Last month, a small business with a big heart opened a storefront in the Gordon Square Arts District. Founded in 2000 by Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, Esperanza Threads sells 100 percent organic cotton clothing, baby items, towels and blankets that are handcrafted right across the street. Esperanza had heretofore offered their goods online and at local craft and fair trade events.
 
"We use the funding we get from that to fund our real mission," says Lucretia Bohnsack, Esperanza's executive director, "which is to train people in the art of industrial sewing and help them get jobs."
 
Stepping into Esperanza's retail shop at 6515 Detroit (formerly Retropolitan) is like stepping back in time. The superlative quality of the fabrics and handcrafted composition is unlike anything lining the shelves of Target or Macy's. The lush cotton begs to be touched. Pricing is surprisingly reasonable. Washcloths are just $5.50. An adult tee shirt featuring a design by Cleveland artist Kevin Fernandez or Chuck Wimmer (among others) goes for $24. Considering the irresistible hooded baby bath blanket will last long enough to swaddle three generations (or more) of clean wet babies, the $28 price tag is a bargain. Other offerings include a catnip cat toy, scarves, robes and a few items made by different suppliers such as socks.
 
Shop hours are 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, although Bohnsack is happy to accommodate other time slots by appointment (call 216-961-9009 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday). The storefront venture, which is a collaborative effort between Esperanza and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Corporation, will be open through October, after which plans are tentative.
 
"We'll see what happens," says Bohnsack. "We'll see if we're able to stay."
 
All of Esperanza's items are made by a staff of four sewers in a shop adjacent to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. Three of them are graduates of Esperanza's unique training program, which gives a leg up to the most vulnerable among us: international refugees and locals in need of a helping hand. Approximately 75 percent of the trainees are refugees from other parts of the world and 25 percent are from Northeast Ohio.
 
The program gives Sister Mary Eileen and Bohnsack a different perspective on the horrors unfolding in countries such as Syria or Afghanistan or Sudan, which so many of us watch from the comfort of our living rooms.
 
"We get those people here," says Bohnsack, recalling the day one trainee learned that his entire village had been destroyed and his family killed. Sister Mary Eileen describes another woman from the West African nation of Benin.
 
"She came here on her own seeking asylum because she had been in a very abusive situation all her life," she says, adding that the woman is scheduled for an interview at National Safety Apparel this week. "Hopefully she'll get the job."
 
The program takes in six people every six weeks for a three-week training course.
 
"In 2014, we had a 72 percent hiring rate," reports Sister Mary Eileen.
 
Esperanza works with a network of organizations to identify candidates for the program, including Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, Building Hope in the City, US Together, Asian Services in Action and West Bethel Baptist Church. They also take referrals from satisfied clients.
 
It all culminates with the honorable ideologies driving Esperanza: fair wages, a safe and welcoming working environment, sustainability, hard work, products and practices that respect the earth and, most importantly, people helping people.
 
"If every one of us did something little to make a difference," says Bohnsack, "the world would be a better place."

CPL 'book bike' set to ride this summer

Engaging with patrons and the community has always been a priority for Cleveland Public Library, says youth services librarian Maria Estrella. CPL is taking this all-important mission on the road this summer with a brand new "book bike."

The bike, actually an oversized orange tricycle, will serve nearby neighborhoods as a roving book depository and check-out station. Community members will be able to sign up for library cards on the spot, and search for reading materials in the system catalog thanks to the bike's capability as a traveling Wi-Fi hotspot.

"We'll have popular books and new releases as well as children's books," says Estrella.

The bike, introduced to the public on May 29 in the main library's Eastman Reading Garden, will act as a roaming literacy advocate and outreach tool at downtown events like Walnut Wednesday. Daycare and school visits will also be part of the bike's hot weather agenda.

"Local branches can borrow the bike, too," says Estrella. "It's going to be all over the place."

The three-wheeled library joins CPL's BookBox, a mobile unit of the main library that will offer its wares this summer at University Circle for the Wade Oval Wednesdays concert series. Both book-distributing entities are meant to reach communities lacking easy library access, with the hope of catching interest from downtown Cleveland pedestrians.

Ultimately, CPL's newest initiative is pedaling a creative way to implement library services, Estrella maintains.

"The bike is a wonderful opportunity to get information to people and show them what we're about," she says. "It's great to be able to bring the library to the community." 

indian street food, international sports bar coming to campus district

If the student can't get to Mumbai, Mumbai shall come to the student … and teacher, and regular Cleveland joe and anyone else who's interested in a plate of vada pav or pani puri.
 
Those dishes, along with an entire menu of classic Indian street food will be available at the new eatery Bombay Chaat, 2044 Euclid Avenue, as early as March 1st. Entrepreneurs Hetal Patel and her husband Nehal are putting forth the venture. 
 
"They wanted to do something interesting and unique," says building owner Richard Bole. "This is the first dedicated Indian street food concept in Cleveland."
 
Bole is leasing the entire first floor of his building, 8,000-square-feet, to the Patels. Half of the space is under construction, including the kitchen, restrooms and seating for 60. The space will also feature a mural by local artist Erin Mazza. Work on the other half of the project, an international sports bar, is slated for later this year.
 
Plans for the bar include a limited late night menu and showings of international sporting events such as Premiere League games and cricket matches from countries afar (think India versus Pakistan) in an effort to attract international students.
 
"That's kind of the niche they're looking for," says Bole. The couple also manages a convenience store at 1900 Euclid Avenue Lofts and some Subway franchises.
 
Tentative future plans include bringing an actual street food stall from India and nestling it right on Euclid Avenue, from whence hungry passers-by will purchase exotic paper-wrapped snack foods.
 
"I think it could be very popular and I think it has a lot of appeal to the younger demographic on campus," says Bole. "Everything they're doing is trying to authenticate what you would see in India."
 
Bole purchased the 66,000-square-foot building in 2007.
 
"When I bought it," he says, "it was a 70 percent vacant, Class C office building."
 
He went to work converting much of the space into apartments. The 22 units range from 720- to 2,000-square feet with monthly rents from $800 to $1,950. Plans for five more units are in the works, with construction slated to begin once the restaurant is complete. The existing units are fully leased, with 80 on the waiting list.
 
The building also houses 8,000-square feet of office space. Tenants include Donley's Construction and Dorcherty Talent and Modeling.  
 
Most of the work on the project, which Bole characterizes as "long and difficult," was completed last year. Doty & Miller were the general architects; however, Mahler & Associates were the architects for the restaurant. Investment details for the project are confidential.
 
Bole muses on the meteoric rise of Downtown's residential scene. "As recently as 2003," he notes, "the population on our block was pretty much zero and now it's got to be three or four hundred."
 
The impetus for Bole's development effort was born during a stint living in New York City. "I thought we had the same architectural bones as some of those neighborhoods and the potential to do something similar," he says.
 
"I'm kind of a crazy dreamer like anyone else in this business."
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