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CMHA makes connections, bridges digital divide for residents

In terms of internet access, Cleveland is not the most well-connected city. Approximately 31 percent of residents have no online availability at home, according to statistics from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).
To better that statistic, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) is bridging the digital divide through a federal initiative providing Clevelanders with computer training and internet access. Called Cleveland Connects, the program recently graduated 22 CMHA residents from a four-week training class covering proper mouse usage, keyboarding and email skills.
Microsoft Word and Excel program basics were also part of the course package for adults and seniors from three CMHA properties - Scranton Castle, Crestview Apartments and Manhattan Tower. Classes were taught at the Connect Your Community Center on Pearl Road, a satellite location of the Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center (ASC3).
"For a lot of people, technology is intimidating," says housing authority chief executive officer Jeffery Patterson. "This program focuses on digital literacy."
Cleveland Connects is the locally branded version of the ConnectHome pilot venture utilized in 28 communities nationwide. Residents who attended a minimum of six classes received a free desktop computer during a October 19 certification ceremony. Students can use their new skills to apply for employment, pay bills or tackle any number of other issues one faces in a technology-based society.

"Having a computer at home means they can compete on a level playing field," says  Patterson. "Just having email is going to put them in a position for jobs or school."
CMHA officials are working with the city of Cleveland on getting newly connected learners free or low-cost broadband access. When not coaching up the adult population on computer use, Cleveland Connects makes available mobile WiFi devices to K-12 Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) students.
Cleveland's housing group owns more than 4,600 family units, with over 50 percent of those units having at least one child. A personal computer serves as a writing tool for young people and a communication device for their parents.
"People with kids can communicate with teachers over email, or be able to read a syllabus," Patterson says. "Having access to the internet opens so many doors."
Less than half of the country's poorest families have a wired Internet subscription at home, and more than 60 million Americans lack basic digital literacy, according to the Federal Communications Commission. ConnectHome aims to offer affordable online access to more low-income Cleveland families, bringing them technological awareness and increased opportunity in our online world. 

All City Candy celebrates three happy years of sweet treats, community events

"Nice matters" at All City Candy, whether simply greeting customers at the door or creating treat-filled gift baskets for corporate events, owner Elisabeth Sapell says.
Kindness as a core value has served the Richmond Heights candy store well over the past three years, during which it's offered up 4,000 tasty items from 100 manufacturers and distributors. All City Candy has grown 25 percent annually since October 2013, when Sapell first opened her colorful, candy-scented 6,000-square-foot space at 746 Richmond Road.
Sapell points to the store's atmosphere of joy and nostalgia that keeps sweet-toothed consumers coming back. Wide aisles provide bulging bins of hard-shelled chocolates and jelly beans customers can mix and match themselves, while nearby racks overflow with familiar brands and an assortment of retro taste treats.
"We're trying to inspire fun and happiness," says Sapell. "It's like a little wonderland here."
All City Candy expanded its line to include the Pretzelicious brand of gourmet chocolate pretzels, which are packaged with chocolate-dipped Oreos and other goodies for corporate getaways. Over the last 12 months, the has store sent upwards of 1,000 treat baskets to its business clients. Weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and birthday parties get bulk orders, too, resulting in steady growth for the megastore.
An October 23 third anniversary celebration reflected the fun-loving attitude that's brought All City Candy such success, its owner says. About a thousand visitors enjoyed games and giveaways throughout the day, along with a Halloween-themed candy buffet and chocolate pretzel dipping display. 
Community and charity events are another piece of Sapell's business model. In recent months, the store hosted a party pairing wines with different candies. All City Candy also supplied sweet snacks to young patients at University Hospitals during the holiday season.
"Our mission is to inspire people to be creative, kind and giving," says Sapell. "What did we do today to make someone happy?"
Sapell is glad to bring fun to the retail experience, a state of beings she recalls from working in the family grocery store, Sapell's Bi-Rite in Lakewood. Happiness spreads from customers via social media, or a visitor gleefully calling a friend while walking the aisles and seeing the deliciousness on display.
"We looked at our core values, and it's more than just selling candy," says Sapell. "It's about creating a place where people can have a good time and get away from what's stressing them out." 

Maker Faire to showcase innovation via Fluxmonkey, pumpkin toss and more

Northeast Ohio's rich maker culture stretches back to a strong manufacturing and engineering foundation, one bolstered in recent years by innovative efforts in the biomedical, design and even the food space.
All are invited to celebrate the region's maker culture on November 5 when Cleveland Public Library (CPL) hosts its fourth annual Cleveland Mini Maker Faire (CMMF). Supported by Ingenuity Cleveland, the day-long event is designed as a family-friendly showcase of imagination celebrating the maker movement.
"It encourages people to be creative, to understand that making can be a hobby, not just a job," says Aaron Mason, head of programming at CPL.
Highlighted by 70 free workshops and tech-based exhibitions, this year's program includes glitch art sessions where participants create media around defects in digital technology. Electro-acoustic musician Fluxmonkey will teach attendees how to make their own electronic audio devices, while CPL's on-site TechCentral MakerSpace leads classes on 3D papercraft, paracord crafts and robotics. Meanwhile, Rockwell Avenue will be closed for a trebuchet pumpkin toss.
CPL is ready to welcome 3,500 guests for additional activities like Drone Zone, where amateur techies control library-supplied flying vehicles in a netted off indoor space. NASA Glenn Research Center and the The Children's Museum of Cleveland will also present various installations and demonstrations.
CPL officials expect Clevelanders of all ages to come out and support their hometown's most exciting innovators.
"We get city residents and people from the suburbs, as well as all races and cultures," says Mason. "This is the most diverse event we have."
Maker Faire has an opportunity to reignite a spirit of innovation that harkens to Cleveland's long manufacturing history, Mason adds. Children can be an especially active baton-carrier leading Northeast Ohio into the next generation of design.
"Technology is a closed system and can be a mystery for kids," says Mason. "Our exhibitors are sharing what they've learned and showing the secrets behind their creations."
Ultimately, Maker Faire is a collaborative effort using the CPL's glittering main downtown branch as a natural convening space for makers, companies and people who are simply interested in new and interesting knowledge.
"People are getting to view technology and art while also being a part of it," says Mason. "They're learning about new technologies that could be applicable later in life."

EDWINS, Food Bank amid five nonprofits vying for funding at annual 'Nurture an Idea' event

Cleveland has rebounded in numerous ways, but there are still communities being left behind amid the city's renaissance, notes Mark McDermott, vice president and Ohio market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.
The locally based national nonprofit is attempting to fill that gap via its third annual Nurture an Idea Award, which supports change-making community development initiatives in Cuyahoga County. Five finalists will have their projects voted on by a live audience and a panel of judges during a public event at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown on October 24. Event partners are Ohio Savings Banka division of New York Community Bank, and the JP Morgan Chase Foundation.
Each idea from area nonprofit organizations addresses inequalities and creates opportunities for Cleveland's underserved population, says Kathy Matthews, program director at Enterprise. Finalists will present their plans at the free event from 4 to 7 p.m. Two winners will receive $10,000 each.
"We're looking to promote ideas that make a positive impact in the areas of available housing and community resources," says Matthews. "These ideas haven't been implemented, but require visibility and financial resources."
This year's finalists include:
- Cosmic Bobbins Foundation's "Cleveland Sews," a workforce development and wealth-building sewing collaborative that stitches together Cuyahoga County's social fabric
- EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, which seeks to add to its culinary institute with a butcher shop located in the Buckeye/Shaker neighborhood
- ESOP Realty, Inc.'s home ownership program
- Greater Cleveland Food Bank's "Food as Medicine Initiative," which aims to provide healthy meals to low-income residents diagnosed with diabetes and other food-related illnesses
- Tremont West Development Corporation and Famicos Foundation for a joint real estate investment cooperative that would acquire and redevelop affordable workforce housing in Cleveland neighborhoods
CrowdRise campaign is raising money for implementation of the finalists' ideas and will conclude on October 24 to coincide with the public event.
"There's five different approaches to creating opportunity here," says McDermott. "That's what makes this program special."
Involving the public is key to both raising awareness and making proposals a reality, adds Matthews.
"Having people attend will expose them to ideas and get some creative thinking to take place," she says. "Hopefully this will give these projects an even stronger chance to get implemented."

Women's conference gathers a cross-section of empowered Cleveland professionals

A grassroots leadership event designed for women from an array of professional backgrounds is returning to Cleveland later this month.
The Women’s Leadership Conference of Northeast Ohio, founded by Hinckley resident Robin Doerschuk, takes place October 27 at the Intercontinental Hotel. Doerschuk expects 400 to 500 attendees representing a multitude of industries and titles.
Diversity is what sets the conference apart from other professional women's events tied to awards or upper-level management, notes Doerschuk, who is by day the director of learning and development at Alliance Solutions Group in Independence.
The proof is in the conference's speaker list: Doerschuk invited a dozen influential female speakers from industries including STEM, marketing, government, finance and education.
"If you have a STEM background, I have somebody from Lubrizol speaking," Doerschuk says. "Or if you're from a nonprofit, I have a doctor focused on women's healthcare. Entrepreneurs will be on hand, too."
Gathering a cross-section of women from entry-level to c-suite aims to "empower, educate and inspire" all involved. Keynote speakers and breakout sessions will cover women's health, entrepreneurial leadership, marketing and other topics relevant to the modern businesswoman.
Doerschuk has seen the event's impact herself, pointing to an audience member at last year's inaugural event who formed a business relationship with a speaker. Then there were the two former classmates who reconnected at a breakout session and are now working together.
"For me, this is an opportunity to get hundreds of women linked up and networking," says Doerschuk. "It's a deeper dive of support that results in a relationship after the conference."
Last year's meeting drew 350 women to Landerhaven, having enough of an influence that Doerschuk switched venues this year with assistance from a team of volunteers.
"We created the conference to retain top female talent and create networks for women," says Doerschuk. "To see it grow means what we're doing has value."
The conference founder recognized a need for a built-in support system of women upon joining the professional ranks a decade ago. Her brainchild's networking and education focus could extend next to college students readying themselves for a competitive employment market.
"If this conference existed when I was 24, I'd be further along in my career than I am now," says Doerschuk. "I've had women approach me and say this is something they've needed for a long time."

Naked Trump sculpture heads to auction block next week

A six-foot-tall nude sculpture of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has generated its share of controversy and commentary since its short-lived (ahem) erection in Cleveland Heights, along with four other replicates that popped up in American cities this summer. The statue's newest purpose is bringing more public art to Cleveland Heights, thanks to an upcoming auction at Gray's Auctioneers.

Entitled The Emperor Has No Balls, the piece by Cleveland-born artist Joshua “Ginger” Monroe will be lot No. 1 in Gray's October 26 auction. A private preview is available for bidders on October 19, 20, 21, 22 & 24, 25, with Gray's displaying a life-size photograph of the sculpture throughout the week.
Available for auction live and online, the salmon-colored Trump effigy is estimated to garner $10,000 to $20,000. Proceeds will benefit public art funding in the Coventry Village Special Improvement District, along with public projects developed by community arts nonprofit Heights Arts. Artist Monroe will also get a piece of the Trump pie once the sale is complete.
Coventry Village is where the sculpture was initially placed by activist collective INDECLINE, says Angie Hetrick, executive director of the Coventry SID. Cleveland Heights police confiscated the piece 24 minutes after it was set up near the corner of Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard.
Monroe liberated his work in mid-September for a $110 impound fee. Of the five statues created by the Garfield Heights native, the Cleveland piece is the only one he reclaimed. The others were destroyed (New York), still in police custody (San Francisco) or picked up by a private business (Seattle). A Los Angeles sculpture going up for auction October 22 was not claimed by either Monroe or the INDECLINE group.
"It's a really unique piece for an interesting political season," says Hetrick. "We're honored that our neighborhood, of all the cool neighborhoods in Cleveland, was chosen for the statute."
Coventry and Heights Arts leaders are excited to put the auction proceeds to good use. Hetrick points to possible new public art projects similar to the arch at Coventry P.E.A.C.E. park.
"This is a wonderful thing that will bring long-lasting public pieces that beautify the neighborhood," Hetrick says. "What's beautiful about is that street art becomes more street art."
The arts-focused effort is a perfect remedy for a contentious election cycle, adds the Coventry official.
"(The auction) is a chance at a piece of history," says Hetrick. "Love or hate Trump, nobody can disagree this is going to a great cause."

Starting at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 26, Fresh Water's editor, Erin O'Brien, will cover the auction live from Gray's on her twitter feed, @erin__obrien.

Off the gridiron, Browns foundation supports education, youth development

Northeast Ohio education and youth development is the centerpiece of $275,000 in grants recently awarded by the Cleveland Browns Foundation.
The four grants announced in late September support nonprofits and education-based organizations. Dollars were garnered through the foundation's annual radiothon event, which raised $137,000 from listeners of ESPN 850 WKNR. Team owner Jimmy Haslam and his wife, Dee, matched the amount to give students throughout the region access to learning opportunities, says Renee Harvey, foundation vice president.
The radio event, which occurred September 15-16 and included more than 50 interviews with Browns personnel, is one of three major fundraising programs orchestrated by the foundation. A spring golf tournament and 50/50 raffle at Browns home games round out the organization's charitable ventures.
"The focus is on a solutions-based, holistic approach that ensures Northeast Ohio youth have educational support," says Harvey. "We believe all kids regardless of ethnicity, race or where they live deserve a high-quality education."
Grant beneficiaries are the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), Shoes and Clothes for Kids (SC4K)Ginn Academy and The Centers for Families and Children. A planned $65,000-plus gift to CMSD will be used for  the "Get to School, You Can Make It" campaign promoting attendance within the district. Ginn Academy received $65,000 in support of its Life Coach program, which provides students at the all-male public high school with a 24/7 mentor.

The Centers will utilize a $65,000 foundation grant to implement its 2,000 Days Pledge initiative, designed to engage parents, teachers and communities in a child's first 2,000 days of life, a period during which 90 percent of brain development occurs. Shoes and Clothes for Kids, meanwhile, will distribute school supplies and uniforms to disadvantaged CMSD learners via a $100,000 grant. 
"The majority of what we support is on the educational side, from birth through college," Harvey says. "Parents need to understand the role they play as their child's first teacher, and how they choose a high-quality learning environment. These choices can set a child on the right path." 
Harvey says critical collaborations with community partners make these improved educational outcomes possible.
"Along with the Haslams' leadership and support of kids from Northeast Ohio, we have the ability to partner with amazing nonprofits," she says. "We're diving deep into issues and finding ways we can move the needle. There are so many entities here focused on strengthening the community, and we're proud to be part of the mix." 

Burton D. Morgan Foundation celebrates 50th with Aviation hackathon, other grants

A high-flying hackathon is among the programs to benefit from Burton D. Morgan Foundation's latest round of grants.
At their September meeting, the Hudson-based organization approved nearly $700,000 in grants to organizations that promote regional entrepreneurship, including a grant of $65,000 to Kent State University Foundation for an aviation-focused hackathon event set for next year.
Called "Sky Hack - Innovation Takes Flight," the hackathon will celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the foundation and KSU's flight technology program. Students from across the region are welcome to develop solutions to issues related to the aviation industry. The event, which organizers say is the first of its kind in the country, is scheduled for Oct. 13-15, 2017.
Foundation president and CEO Deborah Hoover says the unique competition will not only recognize a pair of shared milestones, it will also highlight nonprofit namesake Burton Morgan's passion for flight, which included building and designing aircraft during his student days at Purdue University.
"We were looking to celebrate our anniversary next year with a special project that hasn't been done before," says Hoover. "There's a strong flight training program at KSU, so that gave us the idea to do the hackathon."
Other grants are slated to benefit groups supporting innovation and entrepreneurship at the youth, collegiate and adult levels. For example, Cleveland Water Alliance was awarded $50,000 to bolster programming and services to participants of "AquaHacking 2017," a hackathon designed to advance Northeast Ohio's growing water innovation cluster.
"Lake Erie is a great asset and we hope to grow water-related industries in the region," Hoover says. "We're focused on fresh water innovation, technology and stewardship."

Additional foundation grants include:
- $50,000 to Hebrew Free Loan Association to create a loan fund for small business owners and entrepreneurs
- $32,500 to Entrepreneurial Engagement Ohio for a series of science and technology forums
- $25,000 to the Hispanic Business Center in support of bilingual Hispanic and Latino entrepreneurs
Since May, the foundation has approved a number of smaller grants that align with its business-building mission. Among the recipients were 87.9 WKSU, which received $8,500 for sponsorship of its Exploradio program. Girl Scouts of North East Ohio ($10,000), Launch League ($20,000) and Hathaway Brown School ($15,000) garnered funding for programming and operational support. 

Basic Health program offers multiple services to Cleveland's underserved

The nonprofit May Dugan Center has been addressing the basic needs of low income West Side residents for 70 years. New times create new necessities, to which the center has continued to answer the call, proponents say.
May Dugan's Basic Health program is a multi-faceted effort offering screenings and medical guidance for Cleveland's underserved and uninsured. These benefits are intertwined with ongoing food and clothing distribution and support services the nonprofit is already providing.
Each month during its food and clothing program, the center, in collaboration with St. Vincent Charity Hospital, gives check-ups on blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels to visiting clientele. Nurses on hand answer questions about medication interactions and other health topics, while podiatry residents consult with visitors about proper foot care.
In 2015, May Dugan performed 802 screenings on 200-250 returning individuals, says May Dugan deputy director Andy Trares.
"Forming relationships with a primary care physician is important to stay on top of your health," says Trares. "For many of our folks that come in, the screenings are the strongest relationship they have with a healthcare provider."
Some clients use the free service as a supplement to care from their general practitioner.
"We had a woman with high blood pressure who realized there was something wrong with her medication," Trares says. "We called her doctor and made the change right there."
Assistance with insurance applications is another program perk. As Healthcare Insurance Marketplace season approaches, certified application counselors will guide participants through what is often a confusing process. Meanwhile, insurance workshops will be led at May Dugan's facility at 4115 Bridge Ave. by a health and wellness coordinator.
The newest program under the Basic Health umbrella, meanwhile, invites senior citizens to drop into the center twice weekly for art and music therapy sessions, nutrition classes and free meals. Launched last year, the venture has brought 1,400 hours of socialization to 35 attendees.
Trares expects Basic Health's robust programming to continue into 2017, with help from foundational partners such as the Thatcher Family Fund as well as The Music Settlement, the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and other organizations giving their time for a much-needed service.
"We have clients picking up food and getting their health screenings on the same day," says Trares. "(Basic Health) looks at people holistically through issues that are tied together like food security, health and housing." 

Get out: Wheedle app connects consumers, venues and promotions

Clevelanders like to go out, and local establishments want nothing more than to bring those folks in the door. A new app aims to make that connection happen.

Called Wheedle, the free mobile app allows consumers to view promotions from 60 area restaurants, bars and clubs, then request and book reservations directly with their favorite eatery or entertainment venue.

Want to know which bars are offering drink or appetizer specials? Wheedle's got the 411 right now.

Establishments using the app, meanwhile, can utilize Wheedle's ticketing platform to market and sell tickets, or customize promotions depending on time of day and other factors.
Launched last month by founders John Weston and Brian Stein, the app has 1,900 users on board. Wheedle's creators, housed at the Flashstarts technology and software business accelerator downtown, want to meld venue discovery, booking and ticketing into a single platform.
"The app can be used to find a place that serves lunch, or if you need a romantic table," says Stein. "Whatever your specific request, you can send it out and get back multiple, competitive offers."
Services like Open Table and Groupon only provide variables on what Wheedle collects in one place, its founders maintain. Stein and Weston, whose respective backgrounds include mobile app development and hospitality marketing, say they recognized a need from both consumers and venues that was not being fulfilled.
"I was a marketing consultant for clubs and bars in the area," Weston says. "We were always looking for a tool like this, but it didn't exist."
The business partners began working together in April 2014 after meeting at LaunchHouse. Obtaining funding and sending the app through a beta period took up the years before Wheedle hit the market.
Early reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, Stein notes. Wheedle recently won the FUND Conference in Chicago and was awarded $125,000 from North Coast Opportunities Technology Fund. The entrepreneurs have raised $725,000 in early funding, and next year look to garner between $3-$7 million once their brainchild is established.
Life for the innovators has been busy since Fire owner Doug Katz booked the very first Wheedle at another app customer's restaurant. Future plans include an expansion into Chicago, with New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Orlando also in the offing.
"We've been at this for two-and-a-half years, and momentum has built up until we're ready to shoot out like a bullet from a gun," says Stein. "We're excited for the ride." 

Fresh and fun: recessCLE

This series of stories, "Grassroots Success: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods," explores how meaningful impact on our communities grows from the ground up. Support for "Grassroots Success" is provided by Neighborhood Connections.
Alex Robertson is smart, ambitious, and successful. And after leaving Glenville to attend Ivy League Columbia University in New York City, he returned home to share what he has gleaned and improve his neighborhood by making it more fun.
Robertson threw a birthday party for his entire community when he first formed the pop-up game and event organization Recess Cleveland (recessCLE). Its first event was held on his 31st birthday, August 9, 2015.
“Birthdays are always a good time to get people out to an event,” says Robertson. “I told my friend, for my birthday I want to throw dodge balls at you.”
Approximately 50 people showed up. They divided the group into age 21 and under and age 22 and older.

”The highlight of the day was a 65-year-old grandma pitching to five-year-old kids,” Robertson says. “When she was kicking, she kicked a line-drive to the outfield. So all the kids were like, ‘Granny’s got legs!’ We did get her a designated runner, though.”

Continue reading.

Pitch contest gives teenagers real-world business experience

A pitch contest for Cleveland teenagers aims to prove you're never too young to gain real-world business experiences.
Teen Pitch Tank, a program of the Young Entrepreneur Institute (YEI) at University School, invites high school students to produce an elevator pitch on the business, service, nonprofit or product of their choice, with winners receiving a four-year college scholarship and other prizes. The deadline date for entries is Oct. 16.

YEI will narrow the field to 20 finalists, while a panel of judges and a public vote is tasked with cutting that figure to five. Each winner gets a tablet device, $150 in cash, a year's supply of Coca-Cola beverages, and a scholarship to Cleveland State University's Ahuja School of Business.
Any grade 9-12 student residing in 21 Northeast Ohio counties is contest eligible, notes YEI director Greg Malkin.
Now in its second year, Teen Pitch Tank does not require a business plan or prototype. Merely creating a business pitch teaches critical thinking and public speaking proficiencies students can use for a future job or college interview.
"Persuasively presenting an idea in 60 seconds is a life skill," says Malkin. "We provide workshops and curriculum for schools that will help kids put together their elevator pitches."
In general, enthusiasm and a polished presentation make for the best pitches, adds the program director.
"The purpose is to make people curious and then be quiet," Malkin says. "You want people engaging with your idea."
While proposals are only limited to the imagination, an idea must have a realistic application, meaning time machines and other fantastical notions are not accepted.
"The ideation process is a big part of it," says Malkin. "One student is really into cheeseburgers, so he came up with an idea for a cheeseburger restaurant. We want students to realize they can make a career out of their passion."
In addition to prizes, winners will present their pitches at Enspire 2016, a November conference for entrepreneur educators and program directors. Though not part of the YEI contest, the event is another means to expose students to a competitive business ecosystem. Ultimately, the competition prepares contestants for all manner of employment-related situations, proponents say.
"You never know when you have an opportunity to make a pitch, like at a party and someone asks you about your job," says Malkin. "The contest is readying students for many different situations." 

Made in Cleveland: boobs & belly

In 2008, Courtney Micatrotto was teaching Cleveland moms pre- and post-natal fitness when she noticed a problem - her pregnant participants were frustrated with the lack of truly comfortable maternity wear options. When the issue started to affect attendance, Micatrotto knew it was time to take action, and a new business was born.
Well, not right away: Seven years after generating the idea, Micatrotto is now launching boobs & belly, a Cleveland-based activewear company designed to keep its child-bearing clientele both active and comfortable throughout pregnancy. 
Boobs & belly offers a line of tank tops, pants and bandeaus that Micatrotto says blend high-end fashion and functionality. Made to fit moms through pregnancy and into motherhood, each locally manufactured piece boasts moisture wicking and shape retention capabilities.
For example, the "ultimate tank" has expandable side panels and adjustable straps, while a capri waist band sewn into the pant allows for higher-impact activities as well as support for a growing belly. With maternity activewear being such a niche market, creating a line that combines functionality, versatility and style gives the startup a unique flair, its founder says.
"I want moms to be motivated to work out and feel good about how they look," says Micatrotto, a licensed trainer and Pilates instructor. "Pregnant women do Crossfit and run marathons, so you can't limit what your line's going to be."
As a mother of three, Micatrotto bills boobs & belly as a venture made for moms, by a mom. Navigating the textile industry as a novice was no simple task, however. The Aurora resident's search for a manufacturing partner took her to New York, Florida and Michigan. She eventually found both a pattern maker and manufacturer in Cleveland, a pair of discoveries that fill her with hometown pride.
"To work with my pattern maker and manufacturer face to face has been incredible," says Micatrotto, who also received much-needed branding and business advice from her siblings, Candace Moore and Bobby Kingsbury. "Having labels that say 'manufactured in Cleveland' is a pretty cool thing."
Micatrotto's inventory of 35 tanks, 50 pants and 60 bandeaus is currently available on her website. The newbie entrepreneur has been hosting trunk shows on her Facebook page, and recently had a showing at the Womb Wellness Center in Solon. Plans for a winter pregnancy self-care event, meanwhile, include a showcase of boobs & belly clothing.
Initial product runs will be smaller, but Micatrotto expects those to pick up as word of the business spreads. Among her fans is Meghan King Edmonds, otherwise known as a "Real Housewife of The OC."
For now, Micatrotto is excited to sell Cleveland-made maternity clothes that "make women feel beautiful at every stage."
"Everyone who's put on the outfit has been extremely happy," Micatrotto says. "As long as I do my job spreading the word and getting moms interested, the company can do really well." 

Purveyor of hemp denim touts sustainability, eyes pop up locations

For some, the word "hemp" conjures up images of burning joints or bongs filled with white smoke.
Brian Kupiec is looking to change that perception with a new denim jeans brand that harnesses what he believes are the endless opportunities of hemp fiber. Called Magu Studios, Kupiec and his partners Val Garkov and Garrett Durica started the company in Cleveland two years ago.

After months of preparation, the trio is readying its first run of Japanese Raw Hemp Denim Jeans. The name delivers what it promises, interweaving industrial hemp with cotton for extra durability and bacteria resistance. Hemp carries environmentally-friendly properties as well, needing half as much land for growth as cotton. The leafy plant requires little to no pesticides and needs less water per growing season than "the fabric of our lives."
Brian Kupiec"We're highlighting sustainability and want to use our brand as inspiration for others to utilize hemp in their clothing," Kupiec says. "Industry trends are leaning toward more sustainable fabrics and ethical consumerism."
Magu Studios' hemp - which is cultivated in China, then shipped to Okyama, Japan - is known in fashion circles as a source for high-quality denim. Kupiec, 22, a Kent State University double major in fashion and business marketing, says he and his partners saw a hemp-sized hole in the market and decided to fill it. His company name derives from the Goddess Magu, also known as the Hemp Maiden.
Kupiec and other supporters of the oft-misunderstood fiber point to the plant's myriad industrial applications, from medicine to building materials. Though hemp can't be used as a narcotic, the startup owner has fielded numerous queries about his company's relation to cannabis.
"People automatically ask us if our jeans are made of marijuana," says Kupiec. "Hemp gets grouped in with weed, but they should be viewed as two separate things."
Despite the stigma, Kupiec has gotten mostly positive responses to the business model, a trend he expects to continue in the next month when Magu Studios opens a pop-up shop in either Gordon Square or Ohio City.
Wherever it lands, the shop will carry the company's first 100 pairs of slim jeans in standard deep indigo. Different colors and fades will be available next year. By that time, Kupiec would like to be a budding voice for fashionable, sustainable garments.
"Creativity and innovation are what drives us as a business," he says. "We want others to have that same innovation and not be afraid to offer sustainability along with quality."  

CAC grant panel reviews region's newest art projects

Arts experts from around the country are converging on Cleveland this week to evaluate grant submissions from 193 nonprofit groups seeking dollars for their culture-related activities.
Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is hosting its annual panel review meetings at Playhouse Square's Idea Center for the second straight day following the event's September 26 kickoff. CAC's Project Support grant program promotes cultural efforts of all sizes, with applications reviewed this week set to impact the community in 2017.
Panelists are weighing 77 grant submissions of up to $35,000 during CAC's first round of evaluations, with the drama unfolding in front of a live audience comprised of applicants, media and interested citizens. An online panel is assessing the remaining 116 applications for entries capping out at $5,000 each.

CAC executive director and Karen Gahl-Mills says the transparent process allows residents to see exactly how CAC grantmaking backs projects that benefit the region.
"Whenever you're dealing with public dollars, it's important the public has an ownership of the investment," says Gahl-Mills. "We take that very seriously."
Eligibility rides in part on how much a group is already spending on arts programming, as well as the amount of the grant they can match. Fresh, interesting projects that connect with the community can run the gamut from music therapy to science experiments carrying a creative twist. For example, last weekend's Ingenuity Fest is eligible for funding due to its experimental fusion of art and science.
"Show us your budget and how this is a good investment," Gahl-Mills says. "Prove to us that you can carry out your plans."
Final grants for 2017 will be announced at a public meeting of CAC's board of trustees on November 14 at the Mandel Jewish Community Center. Since 2006, the organization has invested more than $140 million in 300-plus groups, paid for by a penny-and-a-half county cigarette tax. So far this year, CAC has bolstered 152 organizations with $1,651,624 in project support, to go along with ongoing general operating support for area cultural institutions.
CAC will continue to get citizens involved in its decisions, thanks to an online survey that asks respondents about their favorite area arts experiences. While the questionnaire won't impact the 2017 panel review, it will help shape how CAC uses future funding.
"We work hard to answer how we can support the region's cultural life," says Gahl-Mills. "The survey draws a picture of what people are doing, and that can relate to grantmaking." 
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