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For local firm, virtual reality imparts new dimension to design

Cleveland architecture and design firm Vocon is employing virtual reality software to give its clients a sense of depth and space on their projects before a single brick has been laid.
 
Utilizing the HTC Vive headset, Vocon creates "walkable" renderings precisely to scale with a client's plans. Users get a full visual representation of their work, allowing them  to identify potential design issues ahead of time.
 
"We're giving clients a tool to understand their plans earlier in the process than we've ever been able to do," says project architect Michael Christoff.
 
Vocon integrated 3D software late last year, with a half dozen clients using the technology so far. Real-time views of a space let users study, for example, the visual difference two feet can make in the height of a ceiling. One company changed the placement of maintenance equipment after getting a virtual viewing of how it would appear in reality. Layouts are even changed on the fly — to the point where renderings can be studied in different types of sunlight.
 
"When people put on a pair of goggles, they have a better understand of the decisions they're making," says Christoff. "It helps them walk through the space and look at every nook and cranny."
 
Before VR, Vocon made 360 degree panoramic renderings that were static and fell short of delivering real immersion.
 
"Now clients can walk from one room to another, or sit in a space and look around," Christoff says. "Walking around a space gives them peace of mind about a design. It's not a mystery anymore."
 
As part of its marketing process, Vocon sends a headset and digital files to out-of-town companies. Vocon technology guru Brandon Dorsey schools clients on how to use the Vive software, which can be mapped to an XBox One controller.
 
"It takes about 15 to 20 minutes teach someone," says Dorsey. "It's an intuitive technology that anyone can use."
 
Christoff wants to roll out VR to more Vocon customers this year. The technology, he adds, is not limited to office spaces. For instance, city planners can harness the software for citizens interested in studying a virtual master plan design. And while high-end headsets are expensive, budget-conscious residents can purchase a Google Cardboard headset for $15.
 
Whatever the case, Vocon officials are satisfied with their leap into the virtual world.
 
"I'm seeing us make better design decisions earlier in the process," says Christoff. "Any tool that allows us to make a better looking project is an important tool for us to have."

Trending: Cleveland healthcare sector attracts nearly $200M

Cleveland healthcare companies attracted almost $200 million in new equity investments in 2016, continuing a strong local trend of ideas translating into investment dollars, say authors of an annual industry study covering the Midwest.  
 
Forty-six Northeast Ohio companies raised $198 million last year, according to the BioEnterprise Midwest Healthcare Growth Capital Report. The figure put Cleveland fourth in regional venture investment, just behind Minneapolis ($422 million), Chicago ($323 million) and St. Louis ($241 million). Ohio also ranked third among Midwestern states in drawing $291 million in healthcare investment funding, trailing only Minnesota ($424 million) and Illinois ($327 million).
 
“We are encouraged that Cleveland, again, ranks near the top of Midwest regions in number of companies and investment attracted,” says BioEnterprise president and CEO Aram Nerpouni, whose local nonprofit is tasked with assisting biomedical startups.
 
Medical device companies led the charge with $89 million raised, followed by $58 million garnered by local biotech and pharmaceutical firms. Matching a national trend, funding in Cleveland's health IT and services sector more than doubled, from $20 million to $50 million.
 
Drug development company BioMotiv raised $37.5 million in 2016, representing the region's largest deal. OnShift, a developer of software for post-acute care and senior living, had the next largest deal at $18 million. ViewRay, makers of a clinical MRI-guided radiation therapy system, raised $13.75 million.
 
Since 2012, Northeast Ohio's healthcare sector has acquired an average of $200 million in private investment capital, a trend that Nerpouni says is emblematic of the area's strides in the industry.
 
"A decade ago we were getting $30 million a year," says Nerpouni. "The consistency we're seeing now is exciting."
 
The region has also had more than 60 exits since 2002, meaning global entities are consistently grabbing up area companies, although many of these businesses are staying in the region after being acquired. Nerpouni cites Explorys, a healthcare data analytics company and division of IBM Corp. now building its headquarters near Cleveland Clinic.
 
Nerpouni expects local healthcare funding to break $200 million in 2017 as Cleveland's biomedical industry continues to find its legs.

"Look at the talent we have moving into Northeast Ohio," says Nerpouni. "The rest of the country is catching up to the fact that if you're a biomedical company, this one of the places to grow." 
 

New strategic alliance aims to build on CLE's immigrant culture in high-tech world

Startup accelerator Flashstarts has partnered with Global Cleveland in an effort to add international flair to Cleveland's entrepreneurial scene.
 
The new strategic alliance combines Flashstarts' expertise in startup and innovation with Global Cleveland's talent attraction endeavors. Officials backing the new venture also expect to deliver solutions for international entrepreneurs struggling with their immigration status.
 
"Global Cleveland is spreading the word about the city, while we're recruiting the best entrepreneurs we can find," says Charles Stack, CEO of Flashstarts, a technology/software accelerator and venture fund. "This program will allow us to draw talent from anywhere in the world”
 
The partnership also acts as a stepping stone for formation of a Flashstarts Global Entrepreneur-In-Residence (GEIR) program with Northeast Ohio universities, says Stack. Immigrant founders who apply to the program through Flashstarts will be chosen through a competitive selection process. Successful applicants then link up with a partner university in exchange for a cap-exempt H-1B visa, splitting work between the school and their startup.
 
"We'll offer them a spot in our accelerator program and give them $50,000 in exchange for equity," Stack says. "At a university they could be supporting an entrepreneur program, or recruiting students to the school from their home country."
 
Uncertainly over the Trump administration's immigration policy makes the partnership with Flashstarts a necessity, notes Jessica Whale, Global Cleveland's director of global talent and development.
 
"Getting proper visa status can be challenging," Whale said in a press release. "This program aligns perfectly with our vision of transforming Cleveland into an international hub of innovation.”
 
Proponents believe the collaboration can grow the region's job base and build wealth. Stack says the newly minted affiliation is especially unique due to Global Cleveland's robust links to immigrant brainpower.
 
"They have ties to countries and marketing opportunities all over the world," he says. "That's going to make what we're doing stand out."
 
Pending strong outcomes, the partners aim to expand their effort to universities throughout the region. Even one successful startup can create hundreds of jobs, a numbers game that heavily relies on the attraction of new talent.
 
"If we want to grow our employment base as a region, the way to do it is with startups," says Stack.

"Cleveland has always been a great city for immigrants. We want to continue that trend." 

New "Palettes" show lingers like a lover's kiss


Billed as "Palettes for the Senses: Art + Scent Demystified," HEDGE Gallery's new show may be described any number of ways, but "demystified" probably isn't among them. Instead, the visual and olfactory show evokes things profoundly mystifying.
 
A collection of 11 local and national artists presents works in various media, each of which is paired with a scent carefully curated by Ann Bouterse of Indigo Perfumery.
 
Next to each offering, a glass cloche upon a pedestal houses a vial of perfume. Visitors are invited to lift the dome and inhale deeply of its upturned interior. The scents are immersive to the point of sensuality and beyond. They also impart an unexpected new dimension to the artworks that is surprisingly effective.
 
Try Nikki Woods' Sugar Shack paired with Sulmona by Coquillete Paris, Liz Maugens' Fractured Atlas and funky neon Facts of Life accented by Molecule 02 by Escentric Molecules or Rebecca Cross's Sheild (pink spikes) and Shield (green spikes) floating upon notes of Dupont Circle by monsillage.
 
This author will not attempt the journalistic version of a "dancing about architecture" faux pas and apply awkward descriptions to these transcendent and unique perfumes. Suffice it to say when you leave the show, the quiet and personal experience stays with you like the impression of a lover's gentle lips.
 
Readers are invited to judge for themselves at the opening reception tonight from 5 to 9 p.m. A  when Bouterse of Indigo will be present to discuss the creation of custom fragrances and the complex nature of the scents she curated for the show. This event is free and open to the public.
 
The gallery's regular hours are Tuesday through Friday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and every third Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Weekends and evenings by appointment. HEDGE is on the second floor of the 78th Street Studios.
 
"Palettes for the Senses: Art + Scent Demystified" will be on view through March 3.
 

"Year of Awareness" sessions examine impact of racism on low income neighborhoods

Race is at the forefront of national debate once more following a contentious presidential election. Through a forthcoming series of workshops, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will determine the impact the complex and controversial topic is having on Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods.
 
CNP, a nonprofit community development group, is convening a cross-section of civic leaders and stakeholders to discuss the effects of persistent racial inequality on marginalized populations. The work began in 2016 after CNP partnered with the Racial Equity Institute on "Year of Awareness" training sessions touching on racism in all its forms. Efforts with the North Carolina-based organization re-launched in January with history-based training aimed at any resident willing to attend. Scheduled every month through the rest of the year, half-day sessions are $75, while two-day training events are $250.

"We want to get this out to as many people as possible," says Evelyn Burnett, vice president of economic opportunity at CNP. "We're trying to cast a wide net." The next half-day event is Monday, March 6. The next two-day event is the following Tuesday and Wednesday, March 7 and 8.

Per CNP fund development manager Mordecai Cargill, "Year of Awareness" sessions will be led by the institute's alliance of trainers and community organizers. Law enforcement professionals and social justice activists teach the sessions, imparting historical events that highlight America's institutional disparities. Earlier this month, organizers screened "13th," a documentary centered on a U.S. mass-incarceration system that disproportionately imprisons African-American men.

Other talks will highlight the problems encountered in high-poverty, racially segregated regions; among them diminished resources, underperforming schools, deteriorating physical environments, and the constant threat of violence. Session planners expect to reach 1,000-1,500 participants before year's end.
 
Cleveland has its share of long-standing inequities, CNP officials note. Even thriving neighborhoods like Ohio City, Detroit Shoreway and Tremont won't reach their full potential until the ongoing renaissance becomes more inclusive. 
 
"It's good this development is happening, but there are people in those places not participating in the same way, and that often falls along racial lines," says Burnett. "We have to address these issues to do our work."
 
Uplifting the underserved means having uncomfortable conversations about the systemic reasons American society is divided between the "haves" and "have-nots," Cargill says.
 
"We've got to become familiar with some of the barriers people face," he says. "Creating solutions tailored to the needs of residents requires this kind of understanding." 
 

Guild builds community amid professional women of color

An organization serving as a voice for young professional women of color in Cleveland is getting a rebrand.
 
The Women's Leadership Guild (TWLG), formerly The Cleveland Young Professional Minority Women's Group, changed its name and logo earlier this month. While its handle is a little shorter, the organization is still long on enhancing the careers of members through networking, mentorship, community engagement and leadership development.
 
Now with 150 paid members — along with 5,000 to 6,000 social media contacts — the guild provides a supportive space for minority women. Members are typically age 21-32, and derive from a diverse range of industries including the nonprofit sector and real estate. While the organization is geared toward women of color, it welcomes all women into the fold.
 
"What's great is that everyone's aspirations are so different," says Lauren Welch, a marketing manager at Cleveland History Center who founded the leadership venture in 2014 with Jazmin Long. "You get women in the community together, and there's a thread of camaraderie and wanting to learn from one another."
 
"Women in Action" is a typical professional development event held by TWLG, offering its young members an opportunity to connect with mid-level female executives. In the last couple of years, the group has hosted Kristen Baird Adams, chief operating officer with PNC, and Cleveland Clinic gynecologist Dr. Linda Bradley. This year, the organization will welcome WKYC-TV director of advocacy Margaret Bernstein and a host of other top-level professionals.
 
After-work social activities are another important component of guild membership, notes Welch. Yoga classes, brunch get-togethers and sexual wellness talks foster a much-needed sense of community, she says.
 
Welch and Long initially launched the networking group to meet what they saw as an unmet need in the Cleveland networking community
 
"When we first started there wasn't an organization giving women of color a voice in this city," Welch says. "We created a space where they can talk about their office experiences."
 
In many cases, women of color are one of only a few minority women in their workplace. This sense of "otherness" finds them encountering unique challenges as compared to their co-workers.
 
"They're asking themselves how they should wear their hair, or what they should dress like," says Welch. "We want them to make the best of their time here while living authentically."
 
TWLG strives to position minority females as assets within the community, with new recruits engaged through the group’s website, social media marketing and networking. Organizational partners like Engage! Cleveland and the Society of Urban Professionals refer additional potential members to the guild. As the only Cleveland organization with a database of women of color, TWLG will move boldly forward in adding names to that list, its founders say.
 
"Cleveland is a place of opportunity," says Long. "We want more women rising in the ranks."
 

Fun and colorful salon caters to pint-sized clients

Any parent will tell you that taking a child for a haircut can be adventure — but of the stressful ilk. Deborah Gideon knows the drill. As owner of the kid-friendly Cuts N Curls salon, she's built a thriving enterprise around eliminating anxiety from the periodic trim.
 
Gideon's Solon-based business is a salon, toy boutique and party center all wrapped up into one colorfully energetic package. The surroundings are fun and upbeat, with brightly painted walls and a checkerboard floor. Children watch movies from the comfort of car-shaped styling chairs, while the electronic ping of video games ring out in the background.
 
"Kids love it here, and parents are de-stressed because it's so chill," says Gideon. "It's a happy vibe."
 
Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Cuts N Curls has become a destination stop for busy families, Gideon notes. The Pepper Pike resident started the salon in August 2007 with a focus on children, but expanded her services to include adults. After moving to a larger space following her initial launch, Gideon offers cuts for kids and their parents, as well as ear piercings, color and highlights, and manicures.
 
The fun doesn't stop there, as Cuts N Curls hosts birthday parties that invite little girls for a day of glitter spray, temporary tattoos and age-appropriate dress-up. Gideon also sells a selection of organic and nontoxic hair products, accessories, nail polish and toys.
 
Put together, these elements are designed to create a relaxing atmosphere that makes a potentially scary experience enjoyable. Gideon's staff has also been trained by Autism Speaks Cleveland to accommodate special needs children.
 
"The word-of-mouth from the autistic community and mommy blogs has been unbelievable," says Gideon. "People have had terrible experiences over haircuts, and they cry with relief when they're here."
 
While the salon has nearly 6,000 clients in its database, Gideon's staff caters to the needs of individual customers; all the more to make them feel safe and comfortable, she says.
 
"We have notes on kids with food allergies or if they like Elmo or the pink car," says Gideon. "It makes them feel good, like there's something special going on here."
 
Creating an accessible environment has fostered bonds not just between stylists and their pint-sized clients, but with parents as well.
 
"People say we've made their lives easier," says Gideon. "I don't take that lightly." 

Central-Kinsman resident advocates for 'Nature's Best Choices,' healthy community

Quiana Singleton believes you're never too old to learn a healthy way of eating, a fruitful lesson the Central-Kinsman resident was happy to impart upon a group of interested Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) seniors during a program of her own creation.
 
Called Nature's Best Choices, the February 1 event invited 16 seniors from CMHA's Outhwaite and King Kennedy communities to Asia Plaza, 2999 Payne Ave., for a day-long session on Asian culture and delicious new food possibilities. Fruits and vegetables were the focus of the trip, allowing participants to get their taste buds turned on to delicacies like star fruit, a juicy tropical fruit popular throughout Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and parts of East Asia.
 
"I wanted to open people up to another culture," says Singleton, a Cleveland community leader on tree-planting activities, gardening and healthy eating. "We picked out fruits and vegetables they've never tasted, seen or touched before."
 
Following the shopping excursion, the group visited CornUCopia Place, 7201 Kinsman Road, a community facility that provides nutritional education and cooking classes. There Chef Eric Wells prepared a fettuccini dish using ingredients from the seniors' healthy haul.
 
"Chef Wells mixed in another vegetable like a cabbage with the fettuccini," Singleton says. "It was an educational experience, because even though Asian fruits and vegetables look different from what we're used to, looks can be deceiving."
 
Elderly attendees also learned a new way to prepare their meals, notes Singleton.
 
"Older people use the same seasonings all the time," she says. "Asian stuff is organic, and they saw they could use olive oil instead of butter in their cooking."
 
Singleton secured a grant from nonprofit neighborhood development organization Burten, Bell, Carr (BBC) to fund the day out. The Cleveland native is continuously coming up with innovative ways to create a healthier community for her neighbors. Among her duties is serving as a neighborhood "climate ambassador," representing a group of concerned citizens aiming to combat the adverse effects of climate variability.
 
Nature's Best Choices is another means of teaching residents the value of a healthy lifestyle, Singleton says.
 
"I plant those seeds in people and water them, then let them teach others," she says. "If I can change one person's life, then I've done my job." 

Who's Hiring in CLE: Rick Case, Hyland Software, Cleveland Foundation...

Welcome to the latest edition of Fresh Water Cleveland's “who’s hiring” series, where we feature growing companies with open positions, what they’re looking for and how to apply. Please send your freshest job tips and postings to innovationnews@freshwatercleveland.com.
 
Rick Case Automotive Group
Rick Case Automotive Group is hosting a career fair on Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Rick Case Honda, 915 E. 200th St., in Euclid. Candidates can apply for product specialist and sales consultant jobs as well as dealership service advisor positions. For more information, call 216-416-6847 or visit the dealership website.
 
Cleveland Foundation
Cleveland Foundation is seeking a media relations officer to oversee external communications and support the chief marketing officer in providing counsel to the foundation team. Responsibilities include enhancement of the nonprofit's media outreach footprint. A minimum of eight to 10 years in media relations required. To apply, send resume and cover letter indicating salary requirements to resumes@clevefdn.org by February 19. Candidates selected for interview will be contacted on or around the week of February 27.
 
Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is searching for an administrative program coordinator to identify operational improvement opportunities and coordinate policy implementation and evaluation. The successful candidate will work from the Clinic's Beachwood campus and is expected to lead multiple complex projects, assist with scheduling, and act as a liaison with committees, employees and vendors. Bachelor's degree in business administration, finance, communications, healthcare administration, or related field required. Apply through the company's career page

CBS Radio
Broadcast media company CBS Radio needs a full-time reporter for its in-house traffic team based in Cleveland. Duties include writing, editing and voicing traffic reports for broadcast on CBS Radio stations. Knowledge of broadcast area geography and transportation systems preferred. Apply through the company's website.
 
Hyland Software
Hyland is looking for a network and security engineer to perform general maintenance  and vulnerability assessments on its systems. Qualifications include experience as an IT security administrator, proficiency with Microsoft and Linux operating systems, and experience using various security tools. Apply through the company's website.
 
Rockwell Automation
Mayfield Heights industrial automation firm Rockwell Automation is hiring a senior-level mobile software engineer to develop large scale applications. Hires will work with software engineering areas such as SPA architectures, mobile platforms and test automation. Minimum four years of software development experience and a bachelor's degree in computer science or equivalent required. Apply through the company's website

Women Who Code launches new tech network in Cleveland

An international nonprofit that empowers women to pursue and succeed in high-tech industries has chosen Cleveland for its newest chapter.
 
Women Who Code, with 60 locations in 20 countries, is an 80,000-member strong organization supporting an underrepresented demographic in technology-based fields. Upon joining Cincinnati as Ohio's second WWCode network, the Cleveland group kicked off at a JumpStart-hosted launch event on January 31, complete with programming activities and a brainstorming session to determine the group's future outreach.
 
The local chapter, which already consists of over 100 members, is led by Nicole McGuire, a technical architect at IBM's global consulting company Bluewolf. McGuire is tasked with guiding the group through regularly scheduled events, promotions and relationships with venues and sponsors.
 
Cleveland was selected as a chapter due to what WWCode global leadership director Joey Rosenberg calls the city's "vibrant tech spirit"
 
"We saw Cleveland having this movement around technology and entrepreneurship," says Rosenberg. "There's a buzz here we thought would support Women Who Code. Under the steady guidance of Nicole, this network has a chance to have an incredible impact on the city of Cleveland."
 
Hackathons, technology study groups and fireside chats with female tech leaders are currently being planned for WWCode's first year here. McGuire says bringing the group to Cleveland will galvanize the area's tech sector and create an immediate, and much-needed, system of resources.
 
"Women need to believe they belong in what is a heavily male-dominated field," says McGuire, a 16-year industry veteran. "We'll introduce them to role models that will let them say, 'Hey, I can become a vice president or CEO (in tech) and here's some women who've already done that.'"
 
College-aged women and those already pursuing tech careers are WWCode's target audience. Encouraging more female participation is critical in diversifying a field where only 17.6% of computer science graduates are women, organization officials maintain.
 
McGuire has always loved coding, dating back to 1983 when her parents bought her a Commodore 64 for Christmas. She looks forward to spreading that love to Cleveland-area women hoping to excel in technology careers.
 
"We want to find as many women as we can get to help drive the organization,"  McGuire says. "There's a chance here to mentor women, and produce more mentors to help junior coders or people already in the industry."
 

Women, Wine & Web Design aims to boost digital literacy

Tech Elevator founder and CEO Anthony Hughes believes digital literacy drives the modern economy. In order to put more women behind the wheel, he's created a Cleveland coding boot camp geared specifically toward them.
 
Women, Wine & Web Design is a free beginner's workshop that teaches the fundamentals of front-end web development. Hosted by JumpStart, the February 7 program will familiarize women of all ages and skill sets with HTML/CSS, directing them toward building a basic webpage.
 
Hughes, whose organization is sponsoring the event alongside e-commerce firm OEC, says the three-hour workshop is a casual, if intensive, introduction to coding principles. Tech Elevator alumni will guide attendees through the class led by software designer Nicole Capuana.
 
Program registration closed quickly, says Hughes, who points to a waiting list of would-be coders as further evidence of an increasingly in-demand skill set.
 
"There's a huge demand from women who are interested in exploring this path," says Hughes. "This program is a good vehicle for them to try programming and have fun at the same time."
 
Tech Elevator's objective with its web-related venture is to bring more women into a male-dominated field.
 
"Giving folks a sense of creating something is a great way to plant a seed and get them more involved," Hughes says. "Technology can be intimidating, but we're creating an event that's accessible."
 
Ideally, women leaving the class will pursue further coding knowledge via free online sources or more formal educational pathways. Program officials want to foster an uptick in the percentage of women graduating with computer science bachelor's degrees. Currently, the numbers are pretty dismal. Per ComputerScience.org, "as of 2010-2011, women made up just 17.6% of computer science students."
 
"Diverse companies have diverse thought processes," says Hughes. "Finding ways to bring more women into the field is only going to be better for all of us."
 
Cleveland is a first-time host for Women, Wine & Web Design, but Tech Elevator hosted a successful iteration of the program last fall in Columbus that drew 70 people.

Though the Buckeye State ranks below average in nationwide digital literacy, Hughes says additional introductory programming classes will only drive that ranking higher. To that end, Tech Elevator already has another women-friendly web event in preparation for later this year. 
 
"This could be a quarterly program," says Hughes. "If it helps women explore career paths more deeply, we'll keep doing it." 

In brightest day or deepest night, Clevelander's invention keeps outdoor athletes in sight

For John Kulbis, inventor of Safety Skin reflective skin spread, the light bulb went off in 2010 when he leaned against a wall while painting a home interior. A dash of white paint from the wet surface striped Kulbis's arm, leading to a creation meant to make joggers, cyclists and pedestrians easier to see on the road.
 
Today, Safety Skin is the first product of Road Wise, Kulbis's Cleveland-based startup. The reflective spread is applied directly to the skin before or during activity, with the aim of bouncing headlights back to drivers in a variety of weather or nighttime conditions.
 
"Without light the spread has a subtle gray hint to it," says Kulbis, a Cleveland native and Euclid resident. "When light hits the product, it reflects back to the light source."
 
Safety Skin is made of natural ingredients and can be placed anywhere on the body. Kulbis tells outdoor athletes to run the deodorant-like applicator down their legs or along their arms and sides, especially in warm weather where less reflective garments are used. Kulbis's product stands up to perspiration, but can be removed easily enough using a wet wipe or soap and water.
 
A former competitive cyclist and runner, Kulbis has been perfecting his invention for the last two-and-a-half years. Safety Skin is now available at area athletic apparel and bike shops.
 
"Safety" is in the name for a reason. In 2014 alone, 4,884 pedestrians and 726 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That said, Kulbis wants to keep his product message positive and upbeat.
 
"I'm not selling this on scare tactics or fatalities on the road," he says. "I wanted to create something that people are actually going to love to use."
 
Looking ahead, Kulbis envisions Safety Spread having fashion and art applications. A hot pink or bright orange product could be used to make a mural, or be placed on a model for a colorful photo shoot. 
 
For now, the athletic entrepreneur is increasing brand awareness through expos and other events. Empowering runners, cyclists and late-night walkers to take control of their visibility is all the motivation Kulbis needs.
 
"Right now, it's about getting people to believe in the product," he says. "All the stages of this have been really exciting."
 

Partner content podcast: What does Neighbor Up do?


The latest episode of "Neighbor Up Spotlight" is now available.

"Neighbor Up Spotlight: What does Neighbor Up do?" is a 15-minute kitchen table conversation between host Carol Malone and Neighbor Up member Tom O'Brien focusing on how Neighbor Up came together and what members are doing to make change in Cleveland.

Hosted by Malone, a Cleveland resident and activist, each episode of "Neighbor Up Spotlight" focuses on members of Neighbor Up, a network of approximately 2,000 Greater Cleveland residents making positive change in their neighborhoods. This resident-driven social change movement is about bringing equity to all Cleveland neighborhoods.

Listen to “Neighbor Up Spotlight" on Soundcloud or download episodes from iTunes. Or just click below to hear the latest edition right now.




Support for this series, "Grassroots Success: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods," is provided by Neighborhood Connections.

Birthing Beautiful Communities educates, advocates and supports

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 and NewBridge Cleveland Center for Arts & Technology.

An overwhelming number of babies are dying in Cleveland neighborhoods, and a group of strong women have come forward to prevent those deaths through education, advocacy and support.
 
According to Birthing Beautiful Communities, 22 babies in Hough die for every 1,000 born, which is a stark contrast to the national average of six. Meanwhile in Cleveland's Central neighborhood, approximately 30 babies die annually.
 
“Infant mortality is not a new problem,” Birthing Beautiful Communities founder Christin Farmer says. “We’ve always known that our babies die at a higher rate and maternal morbidity rates are high amongst African American woman too.”
 
She blames the disparity on racism. Understandably so, as infant mortality rates are three times higher for black babies than white.
 
“A lot of the supportive services we provide have to do with us having to attend appointments with the mothers because they’ve been treated unfairly," says Farmer. "They don’t want to receive care or assistance out of fear of being judged because this is their third or fourth child.

"There’s a lack of wealth within communities, and education and achievement gaps in communities," she continues. "These are all day-to-day stressors that African-Americans face. Also, when you look as mass incarceration rates within communities—the men in the community are being incarcerated at a much higher rate—and that’s leaving women to take care of the babies and the children by themselves, and that is a stressor. It boils down to institutional and structural racism.”  
 
Farmer formed Birthing Beautiful Communities in 2014 to combat these alarming realities and resulting statistics. She had previously studied to be a midwife and volunteered as a postpartum doula. Upon deciding on birthwork as her career path, she began seeking out other African American doulas in the area.

"I became acquainted with a few other woman and we began to form a little commune of birthworkers who were interested in supporting moms in our own communities where we live and decreasing the rates of infant deaths,” notes Farmer, adding that the volunteers started out by meeting weekly and garnering clients through referrals.
 
“More so than doula work, we began to connect them [our clients] to a lot of other support services that they needed,” she says. “We did a lot of navigation with them, helping them through a lot of issues pertaining to housing, social service and caseworkers. By the time we get to the labor and delivery room, it’s a little too late if we don’t provide support beforehand.

"What we found was that the women really lacked support through family, through friends, and they a lot of times lived in isolation… Women not having support around them during their pregnancy can cause stress. Stress can lead to prematurity, and prematurity is the leading cause of infant mortality.”

Birthing Beautiful Communities provides free services to local women including childbirth and parenting education with workshops and classes on breastfeeding, stress relief, bonding with baby, co-parenting and healthy eating. They also offer support for labor, delivery and postpartum health including depression. Other issues they assist with include infant loss, anxiety, panic or fear. They also advise in family, life and goal planning.
 
“Our focus is always on what is going on in this mother’s life,” Farmer says. “We make it mandatory for anyone who comes through our door to participate in our SOS circle, which is all about mental health and emotional trauma—we work with a psychologist on that. We have our birthworkers facilitate these circles. They’ve been largely successful because they really hit at the core," she adds, noting that some of the clients don't even realize they are being exposed to stressors because it’s just their norm.
 
"It’s not normal to not know where your next meal is coming from or where you’re going to sleep that night or why you have these sorts of feelings, so we have that family support structure among ourselves where we can help in such circumstances," says Farmer, adding that the group promotes healthy eating, breastfeeding, and togetherness. "It’s collectivism that has left our communities so we’re just bringing it back. We’re building communities through babies.” 
 
The organization also trains women to provide these services through an eight-week course on prenatal, birth, and postpartum support; breastfeeding; contraception; and stress, anxiety, depression and panic support. All birthworkers are required to obtain CPR credentials. The infant CPR classes are open to the public. 
 
They are currently training their second class of women. The first class had nine trainees; the current class has 10. The group is  planning to offer community birthworker training once a year that would include doula training in addition to training on the many other services they provide. Birthing Beautiful Communities aims to eventually hire those graduates. Beginning in April, the organization will also offering a course for doula-only training (labor, delivery and postpartum support).
 
“We don’t turn anyone away and we have never charged anyone anything,” Farmer says of the training, which is valued at $1,800. “Since we’re paying for the training, we expect our trainees to come back and take on one or two pro-bono cases so that we can accommodate those woman who live outside of our scope but still need the services.”
 
The Cleveland Foundation awarded the Greater University Circle Community Health Initiative (GUCCHI) $500,000 in April 2015, $125,000 of which went to Birthing Beautiful Communities to provide their services in the Hough neighborhood.
 
“Christin Farmer was the first person to inform me about the infant mortality crisis in 2014. I knew nothing of it,” GUCCHI project manager Neal Hodges says. “What Christin was doing was addressing the social determinants that play a part in the infant mortality crisis by training Glenville residents to become doulas to then help Glenville women who were pregnant and facing challenging situations to help ensure they would have a healthy, live birth."
 
He continues: "We started a marketing campaign in the communities as it became apparent that the community was unaware they were in the middle of a crisis (infant mortality) that rivals third world countries." The effort, however, does not stop with women.

“We are creating a Dude-la experiment program to address infant mortality from a two-parent approach,” says Hodges. “Most often—and rightfully so—infant mortality is geared toward the mother but not the farther. We aim to change that, and we are partnering with 100 Black Men and Cuyahoga County Fatherhood Initiative to support the concept.”
 
In addition, Ohio Medicaid funds Birthing Beautiful Communities in neighborhoods outside of Hough deemed at high risk for infant mortality including Central, Buckeye-Woodhill, Ohio City and Lee-Harvard.
 
So far, the nine-person staff, which includes seven birthworkers, has assisted close to 50 women and is currently serving 23 pregnant mothers and three postpartum mothers. They have not suffered any deaths.
 
“Because we hire the women that we train, we are a workforce development agency, and we integrate the practice of birthwork with community development,” Farmer says. “It’s where community wealth meets community health.”

YWCA's "It's Time to Talk" to be held Feb. 3

On Friday, February 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., YWCA Greater Cleveland will host, It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race – Foundations for Change. This is the third such event for the organization.

This year, the forum is part of "Stokes: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future," which is a yearlong, community-wide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Carl Stokes' election as mayor of Cleveland. YWCA Greater Cleveland is a partner in the initiative.
 
The 2017 "It's Time to Talk" forum will be held at the Cuyahoga Community College's Eastern Campus, 4250 Richmond Road, in the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center and will feature a public discussion led by Jane Campbell, the first woman mayor of Cleveland, and her mother Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, an activist and local leader who helped organize volunteers for the election of Carl B. Stokes. The duo has much to say about being a “first woman,” intersectionality, civil rights, and the Stokes legacy.
 
"It’s Time to Talk" will also feature an excerpt from Playwrights Local’s performance of Objectively/Reasonable, a play about the 2014 shooting of Tamir Rice. Two actors will perform portions of the play, and a member of Playwrights Local will discuss the creation of the work, which originally ran from August 18 through September 4, 2016, at the Creative Space at Waterloo Arts. Directed by Terrence Spivey, the play was praised by Broadway World as “a must-see experience for anyone interested in the real world around them.” Cleveland Jewish News said of the work, “These slice-of-life monologues come in varying shades of anger and disillusionment that do not shy away from ardent social commentary…they pulsate with purpose and artistic integrity.”
 
David Todd conceived Objectively/Reasonable, which was written by an ensemble of playwrights including Mike Geither, Tom Hayes, Lisa Langford, Michael Oatman, and Todd.
 
After two successful years hosting the "It’s Time to Talk" forum, YWCA Greater Cleveland has engaged more than a thousand individuals in conversations about race, discrimination, unconscious bias, and cultural competency. YWCA has trained more than 65 Racial Justice Facilitators who are now able to lead this dialogue in organizations and the community.

Click here to register for "It's Time to Talk," purchase tickets, see schedule information and to find out how to become a Racial Justice Facilitator. Tickets are $60 for adults and $25 for students, non-profit workers, teachers, and seniors.
 
In March 2016 the American Jewish Committee of Cleveland recognized YWCA Greater Cleveland for its work with It’s "Time to Talk" with the Isaiah Award for Human Relations. This award acknowledged YWCA Greater Cleveland for empowering the community to begin conversations around race and racism in Cleveland.
 
Fresh Water Cleveland is a media partner on this event.

 
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