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'courage fund' created to help cleveland kidnap survivors

The brave escape of three women held captive in a Cleveland home has garnered a philanthropic response from local political and business entities.

The Cleveland Courage Fund was established by Cleveland City Council members Brian Cummins, Matt Zone and Dona Brady to benefit kidnap victims Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Berry's daughter. The funds were set up at the Cleveland Foundation and Key Bank two days after the release of the survivors, and have raised $650,000 to date. The total includes a $50,000 gift from the Cleveland Foundation and a $10,000 donation from Key Bank.

Money can be donated through the foundation's website or at KeyBank branches throughout Northeast Ohio, says Tom Stevens, the bank's vice chair and chief administrative officer. Prospective donors also can mail funds to the Cleveland Courage Fund care of the Cleveland Foundation, 1422 Euclid Ave., Suite 1300, Cleveland, Ohio, 44115.

KeyBank is providing pro bono financial council to the affected women and their families."We hope that through the generosity of the public, we can help these women get the resources they need," Stevens says. "We are delighted to serve as advisors to help ensure that Gina, Michelle and Amanda are able to use the money for their well-being."

Since its inception, the fund has received contributions from all 50 states as well as overseas. Groups including Jones Day, which is providing free legal council to the women, and The Centers for Families and Children are working to get every penny of the donated dollars into the right hands.

"People have been very generous with their contributions," says Stevens.

SOURCE: Tom Stevens
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

produce perks improve fresh food access for needy county residents

Cuyahoga County residents needing food assistance now have some healthy alternatives thanks to a new program developed by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition.

Twenty farmers markets and two farm stands throughout the county are partaking in the “Double Value Produce Perks” initiative, which offers incentive dollars to customers utilizing the Ohio Direction Card. Produce Perks are tokens given to customers at participating farmers markets who use the card to purchase food. Customers swipe their cards at a central terminal, with the market providing tokens for the transaction in addition to Produce Perks that can be spent on fruits and vegetables. The incentive is a dollar-for-dollar match to every dollar spent (up to $10) using an Ohio Direction Card at the market.

The project addresses healthy food gaps in the region, says Erika Meschkat, program coordinator for community development at Ohio State University Extension-Cuyahoga County, one of the entities making up the local food policy coalition. In creating the program, the coalition has partnered with several Greater Cleveland philanthropies as well as Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit focusing on food access in underserved communities.

"Some people don't feel comfortable using their Ohio Direction Card at a farmers market, or there's a perceived cost barrier," says Meschkat. "The program incentivizes them to have a good experience."

The impact of Produce Perks has grown since its inception in 2010. Last year, 16 farmers markets contributed to over $27,000 in Ohio Direction Card sales with over $18,000 in incentives redeemed to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

"We want 2013 to be even bigger," Meschkat says.

SOURCE: Erika Meschkat
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

cleveland hostel raises awareness, signatures for marriage equality

The Cleveland Hostel welcomes travelers from all over the world, so it makes perfect sense for owner Mark Raymond to expand that welcoming attitude to an important issue impacting both the country and the state of Ohio.

On April 18, Raymond's Ohio City-based hostel hosted an event that raised awareness and signatures for the Freedom to Marry Ohio movement dedicated to ending marriage discrimination.

Over 75 attendees gathered to support the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom amendment, which would grant two consenting adults the right to marry regardless of gender. In addition, the amendment would not infringe upon religious freedoms, meaning religious institutions would be free to recognize or not recognize the marriage.

"I don't see why government would get in the way of gay marriage," says Raymond, 32. "That's not what we're about here [in the U.S]."

Among the hostel event's speakers were Freedom to Marry Ohio co-founder Ian James, who married his partner in Canada in 2003. Changing the state constitution’s definition of marriage while protecting religious groups' freedom to recognize that union is a tricky balance, one Raymond hopes at least get a chance to succeed on the November ballot.

Supporters of the amendment have until July 3 to file at least 386,000 valid signatures with the Ohio secretary of state.
Raymond is proud to be part of the grassroots effort, and would consider hosting another awareness-raising event should the opportunity arise.

"This can be something that leads to change in our country," he says.

SOURCE: Mark Raymond
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

providence house's new wellness nursery to take in kids with chaotic home lives

Providence House wants to take some of the strain off local hospitals dealing with non-medical family issues. The solution, believe crisis nursery officials, is a forthcoming facility that will care for children whose households are dealing with emergencies that doctors cannot touch.

It's true that Elisabeth's House -- The Prentiss Wellness Nursery will take in kids with minor medical needs, notes executive Providence House director Natalie Leek-Nelson. But those children might come from such chaotic home situations that even their manageable conditions could blow up into something worse.

"These kids don't have the medical care at home to sustain them, and insurance won't pay for their hospital stays," says Leek-Nelson. A typical wellness nursery client would be a child with diabetes who is not getting the proper insulin treatments living with a drug-addicted or homeless parent.

The model also will offer family support and crisis intervention services for children with family stability concerns. In practice, the operation will allow hospitals to focus on the most serious cases, as children who could otherwise be discharged can now leave the hospitals and be cared for at the wellness nursery. Elisabeth's House is expected to serve newborns to children up to the age of 10.

The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Foundation gave $1 million to Providence House to create the wellness nursery and aid the agency's ongoing campus expansion. The nursery, scheduled to open in September, will be located across the street from the newly expanded "Leo's House" on the Providence House campus at W. 32nd Street.  

SOURCE: Natalie Leek-Nelson
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

retro gaming fun the aim of coin-op cleveland crowdfunding campaign

Memories of flashing lights, digitized explosions, rock music and quarters being ritually plunked into plastic coin slots have a happy place in the minds of many folks of a certain generation. Two Clevelanders want to bring those sights and sounds back to the city this summer in the form of a pop-up arcade.

Coin-Op Cleveland is a Kickstarter project helmed by John Stanchina and Mike Scur. While arcade gaming collapsed in the 1990s with the ascension of home consoles, the duo believe putting an old-school retro arcade in a West Side neighborhood will attract people seeking to mash some buttons with a few nimble-fingered friends.

Put simply, the pair wants to create a fun, unique place to hang out away from the "barcades" that have a few arcade cabinets alongside the plentiful booze.

"The vibe is being a kid again," says Stanchina, an Ohio City resident. "It's about interacting in a different kind of space."

The $35,000 Kickstarter campaign, which ends at midnight on May 13, will fund the arcade's installation and 30-day operation in Ohio City, Tremont or Gordon Square. A large part of the cost will go toward purchase and maintenance of the arcade machines themselves.

The plan is to run the arcade for a month, but if it receives additional funding, a permanent installation is possible, says Scur of Parma Heights.

The two friends envision a community space that becomes part of the downtown Cleveland nightlife scene, just with neon lights, popcorn and rows of game cabinets instead of a bar.

"Arcades are all about the social element," says Scur. "They've always been a place to play games with people on the same wavelength."

SOURCES: John Stanchina, Mike Scur
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

program connects students with opportunities in own backyard

During the mid-2000s, local newspapers ran stories with evocative phrases like "quiet crisis" and "brain drain" in lamenting the flight of young, talented minds from Cleveland.

Bob Yanega saw those negative headlines, too, and decided he wanted to do something about it. Yanega, a self-professed "serial entrepreneur" with a background in commercial construction and real estate, is the creator of Choosing Success Programs, a Cleveland-centric advocacy project aimed at area high school students.

The program provides live, in-school presentations showing students how to connect with the opportunities right in their own backyard. The goal is to motivate youth to become passionate, lifelong residents of Northeast Ohio.

"Many kids don't have parents who expose them to what's great here," says Yanega, of Larchmere. "We need to sell Cleveland to young people."

Yanega has been giving Choosing Success talks at local high schools for the last 18 months. Along with providing students with tips on college and career choices, he also mixes in a "sales pitch" about Cleveland, pointing to the city's affordability, increasing job rate and wealth of cultural options.

Choosing Success, under the umbrella of its parent organization The 1990 Project, recently received a boost as one of the winners of The Cleveland Colectivo's fast- pitch presentation event. The program now has a chance to get some much-needed funding from the giving circle, and Yanega believes his brainchild is worth it.

"We're presenting facts about the city," Yanega says. "Keeping the next generation in town is a powerful, broad-based message."

SOURCE: Bob Yanega
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

county vote-off secures grants for two large-scale arts projects

Cuyahoga County residents have picked which two large-scale projects will get funding through the Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) Creative Culture Grants competition.

* Dancing Wheels received $130,421 for a television documentary that will expand on the dance company's performance of the multi-media ballet, Dumbo. The film will explore issues of bullying and social injustice using the life stories of artists and community figures.

* LAND studio was awarded $150,000 to fund a multi-faceted light installation illuminating public spaces in downtown Cleveland.

Both projects were selected by 6,500 county residents in a public voting process held February 1-20. The winning arts programs, scheduled for completion in 2014, were chosen from a list of six finalists selected by an independent panel of arts and culture experts.

Officials from competition sponsor CAC were pleased by the voter turnout, and believe the winning projects will engage the region in creative ways.

"All six finalists had a different spin on how to connect arts and culture to the community," says CAC executive director Karen Gahl-Mills. "The two winners did a great job of reaching out to the general public."

CAC's pilot voting program revealed just how much creativity exists in the area, Gahl-Mills maintains. "It was delightful to see it come forward in new, exciting ways," she says.

The nonprofit is now assessing the program for possible future iterations. Gahl-Mills is not certain CAC will put on an annual public vote, but she can certainly envision county residents stuffing the ballot boxes for future arts projects.

"It's a great investment of public dollars," she says. "It isn't just the organizations that win; the community wins, too."

SOURCE: Karen Gahl-Mills
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

ohio city rec league adds bowling to growing roster of youth sports

Last summer, the Near West Recreation League's t-ball league was a hit for Cleveland kids. Organizers believe a recently debuted bowling league will play a similarly big "roll" in the health of a community that didn't have much in the way of organized sports.

The bowling program, open to 70-plus youngsters between the ages of 6 and 10, launched February 16 at Corner Alley in downtown Cleveland. The league is part of a two-year partnership between Ohio Savings Bank and Ohio City Inc. to support recreation activities on the Near West Side. Downtown Cleveland Alliance is also a partner in the new program.

The bowling league was created for children from Tremont, Detroit Shoreway and other West Side enclaves, although similar to the t-ball league, kids have been coming from other parts of the city to participate.

"Sports are a great way of bringing people together at a young age," says Eric Wobser, executive director of Ohio City Inc.

They're also a method of keeping people in the neighborhood, maintain the rec league's leaders. Retaining young families in the 25- to 34-age group has been problematic for Ohio City and downtown. Sports can be another amenity that grows a neighborhood population, while also integrating a community of diverse backgrounds.

"It's improving the quality of life," Wobser says.

If the bowling league proves successful, the rec league will add other sports throughout the year. Plans for the remainder of 2013 include youth-oriented baseball, soccer and basketball. The league may "age up" as well, from young kids all the way to junior high students.

"We've struck a chord with the community," says Wobser.
SOURCE: Eric Wobser
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

literary lots aims to transform cle's vacant spots into reading zones

If  Kauser Razvi has a say in it, underutilized spaces in Cleveland will be a place where a child's imagination can run wild, all thanks to power of the written word.

Razvi, founder of the Cleveland-based project management organization Strategic Urban Solutions, is the book-loving brains behind Literary Lots,  a program that aims to "brings books to life" in a vacant lot, playground or other outdoor space.

To pilot this idea, Strategic Urban Solutions plans to launch its first Literary Lot this summer in Ohio City's Novak Park. In conjunction with Cleveland Public LibraryLAND Studio, and Ohio City Writers, Razvi's group will recreate places, concepts, and adventures from select children's books. The space will also host educational programming, with the goal of bringing Cleveland's kids together through the cooperation of the city's cultural institutions.

"Libraries are community anchors," says Razvi. "We thought it would be cool to marry the idea of bringing books to life in places near our libraries."

The summer program spot will have books (of course), poetry readings or a movie based on the book the space is built around. Artists will enliven the space, perhaps decorating a small sandpit in which kids can dig for buried gold,  just like the young adventurer from Treasure Island.

"I think of it as a 'comfortable artistic backyard,'" Razvi says.

Building a nice "backyard" isn't free. A Kickstarter fundraising campaign for the project begins at the end of February, with a minimum goal of $5,500. Razvi believes transforming an underused space into a reading zone for kids is well worth the price of admission.
SOURCE: Kauser Razvi
WRITER:  Douglas J. Guth

cpac roundtable asks how arts can foster sustained economic prosperity for cleveland

Arts and culture can define a community, creating a critical mass that translates into jobs, business opportunities and, ideally, sustained economic prosperity. These were the words of Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium Initiative (NEOSCC) director Hunter Morrison during a January 25 roundtable hosted by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC).

These also are words that CPAC president and CEO Tom Schorgl likes to hear. The focus of the roundtable event was sustainability, and how the arts and culture community can assist the region as it evolves through population and land use shifts. The local arts sector becoming engaged in these issues can help keep Northeast Ohio resilient, vibrant and sustainable, said Morrison, a notion that the CPAC president shares.

"We have cultural clusters throughout the region, and the ability to communicate on a larger basis with the population about those clusters," says Schorgl. "We need to continue to reach our audience."

The roundtable, which drew over 50 attendees to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's main gallery, was CPAC's first such event of the year. The nonprofit will sponsor similar forums through November, with an overall aim of connecting the arts and culture realm with professionals from sectors including community development and health and human services. Past roundtable speakers have included Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, and City of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

"The idea is to provide a forum for new ideas around a common cause," Schorgl says.

SOURCE: Tom Schorgl
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

expansion allows providence house to help more of the region's neglected children

Providence House has spread its arms just a little bit wider to Northeast Ohio abused and neglected children with the recent expansion of its facilities.

The Ohio City-based agency, which stands as the first crisis nursery in Ohio, renovated its current at W. 32nd Street and Lorain Avenue location and added 6,500 square feet of space, which combines the children’s shelter and services. As a result of its growth, Providence House will be able to serve an additional 125 at-risk children each year, notes executive director Natalie Leek-Nelson.

"All of our kids are moved over," Leek-Nelson says.

The expansion is the first part of a $2 million, three-phase project designed to allow the nonprofit agency to better serve Northeast Ohio families in crisis. Providence House has raised $2.3 million since launching its "Protect the Promise" campaign in spring 2011. Not only will the agency be able to provide more short-term housing for kids unsafe in their homes, it will also increase the ages of children served from newborn to six up to the age of 10.

"Now the older brothers and sisters in the same crises as their younger siblings will be helped," says Leek-Nelson. "We've created unique educational spaces with computers and academic resources so these kids can catch up on their schoolwork."

The second phase of the “Protect the Promise” capital campaign will include a new family center that will take over an existing building across the street from the expanded facility. The third and final phase involves construction of a 60,000-square-foot children and family campus.

SOURCE: Natalie Leek-Nelson
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

educational fair to attract private, charter, public and parochial schools

The motto of the Near West Family Network (NWFN) is "Stronger Families, Stronger Cleveland." Good schools are an important means of bringing those families into town, maintains the volunteer group's founders, hence the forthcoming Near West Cleveland PreK-8 School Fair.

The fair takes place February 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Ignatius High School. Sponsored by NWFN and advocacy group Ohio City, Inc., participants will get information about the private, charter, public and parochial schools found in Ohio City, Detroit Shoreway, Tremont and other Near West Side neighborhoods. School representatives will be on hand to provide information and answer questions.

"There will be a gamut of educational options available," says NWFN co-founder and Ohio City resident Norma Polanco-Boyd.

The mother of two daughters expects between 18 to 20 schools to be represented at the fair. "The goal goes back to the reason we started this organization [in November 2012,] says Polanco-Boyd. "We wanted to create a resource-based organization to retain families or attract them to these neighborhoods."

Along with the schools, Polanco-Boyd expects attendance from a handful of non-academic groups as well. These entities will provide yet another source of information for participating parents.

The NWFN website has a list of schools serving the Near West Side. Polanco-Boyd, a community affairs officer with a bank regulator, moved to Cleveland from Chicago with her husband, Joe. At the time, the couple didn't know anyone; Polanco-Boyd helped create NWFN for young families in similar straits.

The school fair is a critical to her group's mission, Polanco-Boyd believes.  "We want to grow Cleveland and help maintain its vibrancy," she says.
SOURCE: Norma Polanco-Boyd
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

'gardens that teach' contest imparts to local students the importance of healthy eating

A school garden is a real, living world, a type of lab that offers teachers a way to embed creativity, collaboration and love for nature into their curriculum, believes Carlton Jackson, a farmer, self-described "food evangelist" and proprietor of Tunnel Vision Hoops, a provider of hoop houses that allow for year-round food production.
The Cleveland-based company is offering Cuyahoga County public school students grades K-8 a chance to win a hoop house for their school. The Gardens that Teach contest, which runs through February, asks students a series of questions about the preparation, construction and maintenance of a theoretical school garden. Answers will be reviewed by a panel of experts from the realms of food policy, botany and community gardening.
The winning school will receive the greenhouse-like hoop house, while the other participants will learn about the benefits of plants, year-round gardening and healthy eating, says Jackson. "We wanted kids to use their math skills," he adds. For example, "how many pounds of tomatoes can they get? What will the do with the food once it's grown?"
Hoop houses provide a high-temperature environment that protects crops from strong winds, cold and frost, allowing fruits and vegetables to grow during gardening's so-called "off-season," Jackson says.
The concept also is in line with the city's Sustainable Cleveland 2019 project, a movement that in part aims to increase the percentage of locally produced food. Mayor Frank Jackson also proclaimed October 24 to be Food Day, a national venture with the overriding objective of "eating real" and promoting healthy diets among the population.
The Gardens That Teach contest is certainly a nourishing exercise for Northeast Ohio's young students, says Jackson.
"There's a wonderment in watching something grow," he says. "If we can kids back to that, it would be a beautiful thing."

SOURCE: Carlton Jackson
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth

artist's film documents the surprising transformation of euclid square mall

Euclid Square Mall is hardly abandoned or dead, you just need to take a closer look to witness signs of life, maintains Cleveland artist Jef Scharf. Walk into the mall on a Sunday morning, in fact, and you may hear songs of worship reverberating through its halls.
The former large-scale retail center now has nearly 30 churches renting space for services, Bible studies and choir practice. Scharf, an artist-in-residence at SPACES Gallery, spent a year interviewing church-goers and congregational leaders for his documentary, simply titled "Euclid Square Mall Project." 

The film was officially screened at SPACES on October 11, but is available in the gallery's video viewing room until the middle of November.
First-time documentarian Scharf is a designer, screen printer, installation artist and musician. His 30-minute movie is a fairly typical talking heads-style venture that concentrates on the people running the congregations rather than the worship services themselves. How the vacant retail space shifted its function from retail to a faith-based community is a subject of fascination for the artist.
"There are so many stories to tell," notes Scharf. "You'd walk into this public space and the sounds of singing would bleed into each other. It filled the mall with incredible warmth."
The project's genesis was borne from simple curiosity. On a Sunday afternoon in fall 2010, Scharf was shopping at a nearby retail outlet when he stepped into the mall. He was impressed enough by the space's renewed energy to film some of the activity going on that day on his cell phone.
"It just stuck with me," says Scharf. "I realized I wanted to explore [the mall] further in that format."
It's strange to walk into a retail complex scrubbed clean of bright signage and other signposts that exemplify the typical American mall, Scharf says. Today, the signboard that once carried familiar names like Gap and Banana Republic now are stamped with names of congregations.
The film project, in its way, is a story of survival, believes Scharf. "These are people keeping their dreams alive by preserving the vibrancy of a space," he says. The movie "is a documentation of transformation." 

Source: Jef Scharf
Writer: Douglas J. Guth

earth day coalition co-founder retires after 23 years with the organization

Steadfast. Tenacious and uncompromising. Someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of the issues at hand.

Those are just a few of the plaudits Earth Day Coalition (EDC) executive director Scott Sanders has for his retiring compatriot, EDC co-executive director Chris Trepal, who will be honored on Friday, Nov. 9 during the organization's Instrumental Evening for the Earth.

Trepal co-founded the nonprofit environmental education/advocacy group with Sanders in 1990. As a devoted environmental advocate, she has played an integral role in the community projects EDC is best known for, Sanders says.
Among Trepal's career highlights:

* Helped establish the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve opened to the public in February 2012. The former Dike 14 has 80-plus acres of "wild" activity, including 300 species of birds that live and migrate on site.

* Spearheaded EDC's NatureHood project, which has restored native plants to 32,500 square feet of neighborhood-maintained vacant land. An additional 16,500 square feet of empty lot on the West Side has been converted into a plant nursery.

* Worked on such clean air issues as Diesel Hot Spots, idle reduction, mercury-fish consumption and Cleveland's proposed waste-to-energy project.

Trepal has a drawer full of awards recognizing her accomplishments, including the Greater Cleveland Woman of Achievement Award from the YWCA of Cleveland. These honors are well-deserved, says Sanders.

"Chris is masterful in terms of her knowledge and approach," says the EDC director. "She's one of the hardest working people I've ever known."

Trepal's executive director position retires with her. Earlier this year, EDC named Elaine Barnes as its development and program director. The organization will also be hiring additional advocacy staff to make up for the experience lost with Trepal's leave-taking.

"Our vision has crystallized in the last year," says Sanders. "We want to strengthen our neighborhood focus as well as continue collaborations with groups like the Metroparks."

Regardless, Trepal's leadership will be missed, notes Sanders. "I learned a lot from her over the years," he says.

Source: Scott Sanders
Writer Douglas Guth
66 Ohio City Articles | Page: | Show All
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