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One thousand turkeys heading to Central neighborhood

A pair of Cleveland entities are partnering to spread good cheer and nutritious food to underserved Central neighborhood families this holiday season.
 
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Cleveland (SVDP) will distribute 1,000 frozen turkeys and five-pound bags of potatoes in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland parking lot, 2561 East 59th St., on Wednesday, December 14.
 
The giveaway starts at 8:30 a.m. and will continue while supplies last, says Natalie Schrimpf, marketing and development manager with the century-old human services organization. Providing the food is Fortney & Weygandt, Inc., a North Olmsted commercial construction firm now in its 10th year of supplying holiday nourishment to needy residents.
 
Volunteers from the construction company and SVDP Woodland Food Center will hand out goods to people from Central and surrounding communities. No advanced registration is required, but attendees must present a driver's license or other form of identification, notes Schrimpf.
 
According to Greater Cleveland Food Bank statistics, Central is home to 10,717 impoverished, making SVDP's food donation critical in residents' ability to serve a Christmas meal.
 
"For people who are food insecure, everything from having money to pay rent or buy clothes for their children can be a crisis," says Schrimpf. "Aid for hunger relief is magnified for low-income families, especially around the holidays."
 
Schrimpf, who has attended the last two giveaways, says the event is far from dour or downbeat. Coffee and cocoa are available for folks waiting in the cold, while volunteers greet attendees with smiles and warm words.
 
"We make it a happy occasion," Schrimpf says.
 
The Christmas food drive is one facet of SVDP's service to an economically-disadvantaged population. Last year, the organization provided $7 million in aid to more than 240,000 low-income individuals in the form of food, clothing, school supplies and assistance with utilities and rent. 
 
Similar to its work throughout the year, SVDP's holiday-themed helping hand wouldn't happen without the generosity of area donors, volunteers and organizational partners, Schrimpf says. Face-to-face assistance for those suffering from generational poverty, regardless of race, ethnicity or religious background, must be a year-round endeavor.
 
"We value our partners," says Schrimpf. "We wouldn't be able to help people in our community without them." 

Student-run nonprofit supports charities through competitive sporting events

A new nonprofit founded and run by area high-school students allows participants to break a sweat and flex their competitive muscles while raising much-needed dollars for their favorite charity.
 
Launched in January by Shaker Heights High School senior Andrew Roth, Champions for Charity has thus far raised $21,000 through soccer tournaments and other sporting events. Athletes compete directly for their personally selected cause, forging a rare and precious link to those in need.
 
"Representing the charity of their choice allows teams to feel a personal connection," says Roth, 18. "Our focus is to empower kids to make a difference."
 
Squads pay an entrance fee for the March Madness-like competitions, collecting money from losing teams as they move ahead in the bracket. In August, Champions for Charity raised $18,000 through a three-on-three soccer event created in honor of Kevin Ekeberg, a Shaker Heights alumnus who died of stomach cancer in 2015. All donations went to the No Stomach for Cancer charity.
 
Meanwhile, 30 two-person teams gathered this summer for spikeball, a combination of four square and volleyball using a hula-hoop sized net placed at ankle level. The tournament raised $700, with the winners donating prize money to the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group dedicated to protection of the world's beaches.
 
"We've had success because students realize now it's not difficult to donate to a charity," says Roth. "We're making it fun and accessible to people who normally don't do this in their spare time."
 
Roth heads Champions for Charity with help from two friends, Wyatt Eisen and Liam Prendergast, and five other SHHS students. The organization founder is also working with an economics teacher and a community member with a nonprofit background.
 
Roth's sports-centric nonprofit was spawned from an unrelated charity soccer event he organized. The experience inspired him to incorporate future athletic happenings under an umbrella of competition, but with an expanded fundraising focus.
 
"It's cool to represent something you're passionate about," Roth says. "I'm motivated to motivate other people."
 
The young spearhead of the inventive nonprofit graduates next year, but that won't stop Champions for Charity from continuing its mission, thanks to three juniors and two sophomores Roth recently brought on to continue the operation.
 
"My generation of teenagers can make changes to the world," says Roth. "If we're not developing that drive to change now, then we may never do it." 

By empowering the people, Neighborhood Connections enables lasting grassroots change

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.
 
Increasingly, people are feeling that elected officials, leaders, and large institutions do not reflect or respect their interests, concerns, or needs. People feel polarized, left out, unseen, and not represented. At times, it can even feel like it's us verses them. One local organization, however, Neighborhood Connections and its program director Tom O’Brien, wants residents to know that we are all in this together.
 
“We don’t need to go into our corners; we need to find common ground,” says O'Brien. "This [organization] is about love and power. The love is breaking down barriers, and the power is creating change.”
 
Established in 2003, Neighborhood Connections attempts to empower Cleveland and East Cleveland citizens through grassroots programs while working with local institutions to create lasting positive change.
 
“We want to invest in human capitol,” O’Brien says. "This is neighborhood folks getting together to do good in their own neighborhoods.” He adds that the group tries to help with financial, technological, and community assets to build leadership capacity in local community members.
 
Neighborhood Connections boasts the largest small grants program in the nation, investing in resident-led projects ranging from $500 to $5,000 per grant, The organization has funded approximately 2,300 projects since 2003 totaling more than $7.5 million. Sometimes a grant is si.ply about brightening up a little corner of the world; others inspire folks to let off steam with old fashioned fun.
 
Approximately four years ago and with guidance from Trusted Space Partners’ Bill Traynor and Frankie Backburn, the group also launched Neighbor Up, which currently has more than 2,000 members. That effort encourages community members to exchange resources, support each other, and collaborate on transformative projects.
 
O’Brien says the group formed to change the environment of how people come together. It focuses on supporting individuals, providing timely information and working together to make change in the community. Residents get together to decide what they want to work on, including issues such as health and jobs. There is even an artists’ collaborative.
 
“Being involved in the public discourse can be very difficult and deflating,” notes O'Brien. “So what we’ve tried to do is change that and provide a space that is more hope-filled – and people actually get value out of it. Creating the space for people to come together to say, 'what’s the reality of what we want to create for ourselves?' instead of institutions saying 'this is what you need' – this is the plan. This is getting the people most affected together to say, 'this is what we want; this is what we need.'”
 
Organizers strive to help create an equal environment where no one dominates the meeting. There is no agenda as people sit in a circle, raise questions, and share information. Then they break off into smaller groups to discuss grassroots organizing and specifics.
 
During the initial meetings people were asking how to get jobs with large, local institutions. These discussions inspired the innovative Step Up to UH jobs pipeline project.
 
“It started as a conversation among people in this network,” O’Brien says of the effort, which identifies good candidates for jobs at University Hospital and then trains them for those positions.
 
Members also developed the Greater University Circle Community Health Initiative in hopes of lowering the infant mortality rate and abating the hazards of lead paint in Greater University Circle (Fresh Water will take a closer look at this initiative in early January).
 
During monthly Network Nights in the Greater University Circle and Buckeye neighborhoods (and in Glenville beginning in January), people make exchanges with one another, requesting and offering help and services from a ride to the doctor's office and tips on who’s hiring to assistance on painting projects, etc.
 
“We make sure there’s a level playing field in the room,” O’Brien says, “and people get value as soon as they walk [in]. It’s a place where people want to be.”
 
They also invite representatives from local institutions so community members can get to know them face to face, thus narrowing the social distance between people.

“In many ways these practices are an antidote to the rural/urban divide,” O’Brien explains. "They break down the walls between community and institutions to create something new together or get good information. There are people who are part of those institutions who can create real change. We bring people into rooms where these meetings normally wouldn’t happen.”
 
Members can also build leadership skills at Neighbor Up University, attending workshops on creating meaningful places in neighborhoods, training on community network building, and learning a variety of member-led skills on everything from marketing to running for political office.
 
O’Brien says they hope to build their network out, expanding west and even into suburbs.
 
“This approach can really make significant change,” he says. “We want to continue to crate an environment for people to come together while making bigger change. We want to make more spaces like this. We are bridging age, gender, race, orientation, social, economic differences – thousands of people from all walks of life – to make the world we want right here right now.”
 

"Dealership Debut" set for this Thursday in Shaker

The Shaker Heights Development Corporation (SHDC) and the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI) have partnered to create The Dealership, a co-working, event and office hub that will be unveiled to the community this Thursday, Dec. 1, from 4 to 7 p.m. during the “Dealership Debut" at its location, 3558 Lee Road. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged.
 
The innovative new space will offer its members short- or long-term office space rental amid 16 offices and a co-working area for up to 50 members. They will also have access to lighting-speed fiber optic Internet and will be able to host meetings in three conference/training rooms. The facility will be available to them around the clock.
 
As for the ECDI partnership, SHDC sought out to find an organization with a proven track record to operate the co-work space and conduct programming.
 
"We talked with a handful of qualified potential partners and ECDI rose to the top of the list," says SHDC Executive Director Nick Fedor, adding that they maintain a consistent presence at The Dealership, with ECDI's marketing and communications coordinator Alexis Coffey staffing the space five days a week. The organization's relationship managers and trainers also work out of the iconic Lee Road building on a regular basis. 

Known as the largest non-profit economic development organization in the state, ECDI will provide The Dealership's members with services addressing all stages of business development. That includes training, one-on-one technical assistance, advice regarding networking events and access to capital services.
 
"To my knowledge," says Fedor, "there isn't another co-working space in the region that is operated by a small business lending and technical assistance provider such as ECDI."
 
And ECDI's track record spells success. It has provided more than $35 million in startup or expansion capital to small businesses in Ohio since its 2004 inception. With the organization’s help, more than 1,680 loans have been disbursed to innovative entrepreneurs over that time, creating or retaining 6,100 jobs in Ohio.
 
Fedor believes ECDI’s partnership will benefit future tenants and Shaker’s business community at large. He adds that the early response to the venture has been strong, with more than half of the office tenants remaining when the property transitioned earlier this year from LaunchHouse to The Dealership.
 
"Since then, two new office tenants have leased space and three new co-work members have joined," says Fedor. "There is a robust pipeline of potential office tenants and co-work members."
 
Of the transition, he adds that continuing to provide a flexible office solution and co-work space for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Shaker was important. The move has also included some freshening up in the funky space, with updates such as new furniture, interior paint colors, a new coffee bar and an entrepreneurship resource library provided by the Shaker Library.
 
The SHDC-ECDI partnership’s dedication to the area’s business community will be on full display at the Dealership Debut event. Shaker Heights businesses that met a Nov. 15 deadline will compete in a pitch contest, presented by Huntington Bank. The most convincing entrepreneur will receive a $2,500 first-place prize. Second place will receive $500.
 
The Dealership’s name plays on the building’s history as the former site of the old Zalud Oldsmobile dealership.
 
"The name came from a brainstorming session," says Fedor. "We hired the branding and design firm Little Jacket to develop the branding and they did a great job. We are very happy with their work."
 
The venture is part of the effort to revitalize Shaker’s Moreland District as an emerging neighborhood in the city and region.
 
"A vibrant co-working hub is important to SHDC's broader vision for the Chagrin-Lee commercial district," says Fedor. "The Dealership provides a jumping off point for small businesses and entrepreneurs to start – and hopefully grow – their businesses into other buildings on Lee Road and in Shaker."

The City of Shaker Heights and ECDI  are both members of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.
 
Erin O'Brien contributed to this article.

New corrections housing unit eases transition for Cuyahoga County veterans

While Veterans' Day comes but once a year, help for this much respected sector of the population is needed year round. And while Nov 11, 2016 is almost a week behind us, Cuyahoga County has established a special housing unit its creators say is a critical support system for jailed veterans transitioning back into society.

Via a partnership with veterans groups and community service providers - along with a nod from local leaders including county executive Armond Budish - the new Veterans Housing Unit provides programming and camaraderie to ex-military.
 
Founded in the wake of a new Veterans Treatment Court in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, the unit is already paying dividends, officials say. The 26 men currently housed in the newly formed space at Cuyahoga County Corrections Center are utilizing services from the Veterans Administration and other military support networks. While additional programming is still being processed, sheriff department regional corrections director Ken Mills says participants will get financial assistance and critical job information.
 
Inmates will also receive interview training through enrollment in the Ohio Means Jobs program. Mental health and substance abuse programs, meanwhile, are set to give veterans connections that most short-term corrections facilities don't offer.
 
"We're providing links to veterans before they leave jail," says Mills. "The goal is to help get these guys back on track."
 
A corrections inmate may be incarcerated for mere weeks, or as long as a year, making their initial identification as a veteran a top priority, says county common pleas Judge Michael E. Jackson. New inmates wishing to join the veterans housing unit must finish a questionnaire classifying their service history, an option available for current inmates as well. Eligible inmates are placed together to share hardships that only other veterans may relate to.
 
"Being able to share experiences results in less recidivism and less new cases after leaving jail," Jackson says. "There's a level of trust and understanding there. It makes a big difference."
 
About 500 to 600 veterans cycle through the county corrections system annually, the judge notes. Programming inside puts war vets on a positive path to an outside world they may have difficulty navigating otherwise.
 
"They're taking active steps now instead of waiting to see what will happen to them," says Jackson. "Now they know there's places where they can access the services they require."
 
Hamilton County in southeast Ohio has a similar veterans housing program, one its northern neighbor would like to emulate.
 
“It’s our responsibility to assist those that have fought for and served our country, regardless of their circumstances," says Mills. “We hope that these services, coupled with the camaraderie of being housed with others of similar experiences, assists with making a successful transition." 

"Promise" initiative aims for transformative impact on youth, residents

Residents of Cleveland's Central neighborhood are leading the charge in sustaining their youth population's academic success through creation of a community-wide support network.
 
The Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood works to transform educational outcomes by training adults to be leaders, or "promise ambassadors." After a ten-week course conducted by the Neighborhood Leadership Institute (NLI), citizens
act as boots on the ground, interacting directly with students as well as their parents.
 
Nine new ambassadors graduated from the program on Nov. 9, adding to the 55 residents already on the streets, says Peter Whitt, a trainer with NLI. That's nine new faces impacting Central by getting kids school-ready and supporting them so they stay engaged. Ambassadors are also encouraged to join school boards and other regional decision-making entities while connecting additional community members to the cause.
 
"Creating a culture of education is the primary goal," says Whitt, an NLI graduate himself. "The undercurrent here is empowerment and providing resources for ambassadors to have a platform in organizations."
 
Outreach efforts include Fathers Read, an initiative in which male ambassadors read at daycare centers and preschools, making men more visible to community youth. Graduating participants also educate families on kindergarten registration, address absenteeism issues for older students, and work to convert vacant lots into gardens to foster a sense of healthy community.
 
"The educational system across the nation hasn't done the best in providing resources to the urban core," says Whitt. "This program is needed to develop innovation around education and help students succeed right in their neighborhoods."
 
Central, located between East 22nd and East 55th and bordered by Euclid and Woodland Avenues, has 90 percent of its population living below the poverty level, according to city data statistics. The Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood was founded in 2010, with partners that including nonprofits, early child care providers, schools, public housing, libraries and businesses to maximize communication.
 
The project was modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, which provides education and other services for underserved families from birth to college and career. Whitt says a comprehensive, place-based approach to education can have a powerful impact here as well, with residents at the forefront of the change.
 
"We recognize this isn't an overnight thing; its has to be sustained and evaluated," he says. "We want this to be a model for programs across the country." 

Organization stresses unification for African-American professionals, others

Sometimes people need a little push to access business opportunities in Cleveland - and one umbrella consulting venture is providing that motivation for area African-American professional groups.

The Consortium of African-American Organizations (CAAO) serves as a referral source for entrepreneurial, professional and leadership development across eight member groups communicating with over 30,000 Cleveland black professionals.
 
Benefits include job referrals and business leads, says executive director William Holdipp. With entrepreneurial development a primary focus, CAAO (pronounced K-O) works with diversity programs at Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic to foster relationships between high-level officials and business owners. Forging those strong links teaches entrepreneurs how to organize future business meetings with Cleveland's executive class.
 
"We educate our members to the point where they no longer need us in the middle," Holdipp says. "We want business owners to make such good connections that they're comfortable meeting top executives in the future."
 
About 20 to 30 local high-ranking officials also volunteer with CAAO. An executive from General Electric recently flew a pair of newbie entrepreneurs by private jet to two company sites, showing them the intricacies of a smoothly running enterprise.
 
"We want to take local businesses to the next level, and that includes access to these types of opportunities," says Holdipp.
 
Individuals who donate to CAAO, meanwhile, receive coaching and other perks aimed at new entrepreneurs and folks changing careers. In addition, the consortium connects with young people between the ages of 10 to 19 by teaching them the critical thinking skills needed to make the transition from high school to college.
 
CAAO's range of activities is designed to narrow an information gap exacerbated by established networks that may not be welcoming to new members, Holdipp says. Under the consortium's umbrella are local chapters of national associations as well as community development corporations. All share a mission to build the African-American community, a goal that for CAAO has evolved over the years to welcome Hispanic and Caucasian members.
 
Unification is needed now more than ever, considering the economic uncertainties of the forthcoming Trump administration, Holdipp says.
 
"Cleveland is challenged by segregation; it's a struggle we have to figure out," he says. "It doesn't just mean working with the African-American community, but working with all communities to make things happen." 
 

Arabella Proffer's "Garden Party" evokes, beautifies inner space

Consider the quiet moment when you nestle your ear against the warm hollow of your lover's belly and listen to the universe inside of her. Mysterious gurgles, bubbles and pops erupt as all those internal systems filter, pump and process.

Behold a manifestation of the human experience that is simultaneously intimate and foreign - so much so that if the sounds were isolated and removed from the fleshy contact, one might assign the orchestration to outer space.
 
Noted and uniquely qualified, local artist Arabella Proffer has visually realized that symphony, particularly amid the works in her forthcoming show Biomorphic Garden Party, which will open next Friday, Nov. 18, at the HEDGE Gallery in the 78th Street Studios with a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. The show will run through Dec. 17.
 
"Biomorphic" is a departure for Proffer, who is well known for her devastating femme fatale portraits, but it is also profoundly personal.
 
Proffer, who has battled an aggressive form of lipo sarcoma since 2010 that required removal of part of her thigh, received an Ohio Arts Council Grant through the Artists with Disabilities Access Program. The resulting work includes efforts in “Biomorphic,” a series that combines Proffer's interests in the evolution of cells, mutation, botany and microbiology; but don't expect loose translations of medical and scientific images. Those varied inspirations have moved her to create surreal hybrids of flowers, cells, and symbols evocative of otherworldly organisms
 
"Biomorphic" is born from Proffer's body and soul - a characterization that might be trite in any other circumstance, but not with these works, which conjure her cancer. Proffer once described the disease's physical invasion as "a big nasty tumor with wandering tentacles in my thigh."
 
While the portrayal is wholly earned, her artistic interpretations of that terrible and formidable muse are beautiful and complex while managing to be abstract and highly detailed. There is also an unmistakable sexuality characterizing the series that is at once sensual and medical.

"Biomorphic" earns all the adjectives: jarring, compelling, disturbing; and for those who appreciate contrast at its most subtle and sincere, Proffer's work will not disappoint.
 
For questions, contact gallery director, Hilary Gent at hilary@hedgeartgallery.com or 216.650.4201. Viewing hours are Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., evenings and weekends by appointment.
 

Innovation and economic development are the heart of CSU, St. Vincent collaboration

St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and Cleveland State University are a long-standing pair of downtown Cleveland economic and academic anchors. Now the two entities are combining forces to cultivate new research innovations that could have further impact on the city, proponents say.
 
Announced at an October 12 St. Vincent fundraising event, the collaboration focuses on expansion of the existing Campus District medical and academic hub. While early in its lifespan, the partnership has realized 35 projects in various stages of progress, says Thom Olmstead, the medical center's director of university collaborations.
 
"With CSU down the street, there were some obvious opportunities to collaborate," says Olmstead. "A multi-disciplinary approach can drive these concepts."
 
Work over the last 11 months has included crossover between St. Vincent and faculty from the university's engineering, science, nursing and law colleges. The medical institution also currently serves as a teaching site for CSU's joint degree program with Northeast Ohio Medical University, which trains its charges to meet the unique healthcare needs of urban neighborhoods.
 
An alliance between St. Vincent’s Spine & Orthopedic Institute and CSU’s Washkewicz College of Engineering, meanwhile, has resulted in new prosthetic technology and rehabilitation techniques.
 
With more than a half-million dollars earmarked for future projects, institution leaders are planning additional partnership endeavors. Among them is St. Vincent residents using CSU's simulation lab for training in cardiac events and other medical emergencies. In addition, hospital trainees are now embedded as observers at the college's speech and hearing clinic.
 
"The model is an academic medical campus, and CSU is only a couple of hundred yards away," says Olmstead.
 
This latest collaboration reinvigorates ties between the institutions fostered six years ago by St. Vincent president and CEO David Perse. New projects will not only further bind the involved groups, but increase in scope and sophistication to have a wider influence on Cleveland's economic development future as well.
 
"This partnership isn't just marrying capabilities on either side, it's showing how we can be significant in revitalizing the neighborhood," Olmstead says. "We're happy to work with CSU. The impact they have on the community is very important to them, and aligns very well with what we're doing."
 

Next stop for entrepreneurs in search of unique housing is Shaker Heights

Shaker Heights is bringing in creative folks via refurbished homes designed with the entrepreneur in mind.
 
Nine rental units are available at two homes on Chelton Road in the city's Moreland district. As spearheaded by the Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland (NHS), these private units are short-term living options for people willing to share common space with their fellow entrepreneurs.
 
Renters sign month-to-month leases for $394.50, which includes a private bedroom and access to common kitchen, bathroom, living room and dining room areas. All utilities are included, as are entrepreneur-friendly perks like high-speed internet from the OneCommunity fiber network. Living rooms and attic space, meanwhile, come with a built-in "whiteboard" walls for sharing innovative ideas.
 
"Entrepreneurs are only responsible for their own lease and can stay for a particular time frame," says Marge Misak, land trust program director at NHS. "It's an easy in for business people."
 
The idea is to provide single start-up owners with an inexpensive option to help jumpstart their businesses. Since the program launched three years ago, tenants have been mostly app creators and other tech-related innovators. Some worked nearby at The Dealership (formerly Shaker LaunchHouse).
 
More recently, the homes - one a single-family, the other a double - have been occupied by students from the Tech Elevator coding boot camp. Program supporters including NHS expect more business owner occupants once The Dealership settles into the community.
 
Ultimately, coordinators want the homes to be part of a larger innovation hub - a plan on the books since the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program provided grants for renovation work in 2013.  After the suburb restored the structures, ownership was turned over to NHS, which sees the Moreland district as an "innovation zone" with the potential to become a focal point of Shaker Heights - an assertion Fresh Water has previously explored.
 
"There's an excitement in the neighborhood as a place for artists and the creative class," says Misak. "When you do that, you get everyone thinking about the talents they can bring to the table."
 
Talent retention is another program facet, Misak notes. High demand for creatively reused rental units could be a springboard that attracts an economy-driving start-up demographic searching out more permanent lodging.
 
"This is very aspirational," says Misak. "We want to make connections between entrepreneurial residents and the neighborhood." 

The City of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

PRISM looks to unite second cohort of racial equity leaders

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.

Like light through a prism, each of us is a unique individual amid our respective neighborhoods, organizations, and jobs. But it's actually the multifaceted spectrum that makes up any group. Partners Neighborhood Connections and the Community Innovation Network at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) examine this phenomenon in PRISM, a racial equity leadership program led by Erica Merritt, Equius Group, and Adele DiMarco Kious, Yinovate, LLC.

Launched in June 2016, PRISM was created to assist area non-profit, social service, corporate, neighborhood, and other formal and informal leaders address racial equity in a safe environment. By bringing together different experiences and racial perspectives, PRISM strives to create productive dialogue in a safe environment.
 
“Twenty participants completed the PRISM experience and have continued to stay connected to each other and [further] racial equity work in our community,” Merritt says. “In fact, in November we will be launching monthly sessions for this group as a way of continuing to support their growth. This work is challenging and difficult to sustain over time without a strong support system.”
 
Erica MerrittThe first five-session program examined racism on four levels: internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural. Participants were provided tools to assess the state of their organizations and communities. They also had the opportunity to participate in caucus groups.
 
The program consists of interactive sessions using film, mini-lectures, experiential exercises, short videos, and articles. Designed around a cohort model, a maximum of 20 participants attend five workshops, each building on the last. Interpersonal relations are also established through the sessions.
 
“We strive for a racially diverse group of participants representing a variety of institutions, community organizations and neighborhoods,” Merritt says. “The intention is for us to collectively equip and empower each other so that we may unite to truly make a change.”
 
She says participants of the first block of sessions ranged from people representing the Cleveland Public Library, CWRU, and charter schools, as well as others who came to learn how to address issues in their own neighborhoods.
 
PRISM strives to leave participants with greater self-awareness and an individualized plan with an improved capacity to dismantle racism in their neighborhoods and organizations. Many participants have kept in touch socially or have begun to work together to implement things they have learned through the sessions.
 
“Our goal is to continue striving toward racial equity in Cleveland by building a network of leaders, formal and informal, who are working towards it in large and small ways every single day,” Merritt explains, adding she'll know they have achieved this goal when Clevelanders' racial identity no longer predict how one fares statistically.
 
In addition to the next five-session PRISM program that will run from February through April, PRISM will be launching a monthly version beginning in November called R.E.A.L. (Racial Equity and Leadership) Workshops, which will serve as an entry point for individuals who want to build personal awareness around racial equity. The REAL sessions will examine the difference between equality and equity and explore practices and policies at the structural level. Merritt says the workshops will teach people about racism that extends past individual acts of meanness. Scheduled dates include Nov. 30, Jan. 10, Feb. 15, March 15 and April 12. All programs are from 6 to 8 p.m. and will be held at Neighborhood Connections, 5000 Euclid Ave., suite 310, inside the Agora.
 
“I do this work out of a great deal of optimism that we can have a better future,” Merritt says. “It’s about not wanting to repeat the past, and knowing we can create a better country. It [systemic inequity] is something that we created, so it’s something we can dismantle.”

Old Brooklyn business competition winners aim for steady growth and progress

It's been more than a year since the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) held a unique business plan contest that worked one-on-one with participants to determine how their ideas fit into the neighborhood.
 
The three winners of the 2015 Business Competition - Cleveland Jam, Connie’s Affogato and JAC Creative - have grown since being selected from a pool of 10 finalists. While not all developing at the same pace, these ventures are finding their entrepreneurial footing through new storefronts and other upgrades, says Rosemary Mudry, OBCDC's director of economic development.
 
"Each of these businesses has taken a different path," says Mudry. "Our role is helping them wherever they are in the process."
 
During the competition, finalists received Small Enterprise Education Development (SEED) training from the Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI) and met with OBCDC staff to discuss possible locations for their enterprises. Mudry helped them hash out their pitches over a period of several months, an education now paying benefits as entrepreneurs settle into the community.
 
Before the contest, Cleveland Jam was displaying its jams made from locally sourced beer and wines at trade shows, online and at Great Lakes Brewing Company's gift shop. Today, the business is refurbishing a retail space attached to a greenhouse, which also has an outdoor garden where they can grow the fruits and vegetables used to concoct their tasty products.
 
Located at West 11th Street and Schaaf Road, the business's retail portion is 750 square feet. Owner Jim Conti is readying his new digs for a November 19 opening.
 
"They have a website, and still have a partnership with Great Lakes Brewing Company," Mudry says. "It's a great time for them to expand their brand while securing a space."
 
Meanwhile, JAC Creative, a design and marketing firm founded by Gabriel Johnson, Andrew Sobotka, and Mike Caparanis in 2012, used funding from the competition to lease office space and are now considering expansion, reports Mudry.
 
The business contest's third winner, Connie’s Affogato, sells a concoction of espresso and locally-made ice cream via bicycle. The mobile storefront - a mindchild of Jason Minter - is currently acquiring permitting with help from OBCDC.
 
The manner in which all three concepts have progressed is illustrative of the development corporation's core mission of creating jobs and filling vacant spaces. Mudry is already looking ahead to Old Brooklyn residents enjoying the fruits of a year's worth of hard work.
 
"The ultimate success is having these businesses open and operating," she says. "This is a place where entrepreneurs are supported, and there's a network of like-minded entrepreneurs here working to better the community." 

Sixty NewBridge students graduate, look forward to professional career paths

Last Friday at Cleveland Metropolitan School District's East Professional Center, NewBridge – Cleveland's unique center for art and technology, held a graduation ceremony for five of its workforce training classes including its phlebotomy, pharmacy technician and hospital nursing assistant programs.
 
The grads included more than 60 students, each with their own story of struggle. The organization serves a mostly minority, mostly female population, with many of the students living at or below the poverty line. Many are single mothers, some of whom have been homeless. This is a story of their success against economic obstacles minorities face in Cleveland - among other challenges. NewBridge believes its program is a model for success that can be used to help revitalize the community, one person at a time.
 
The stories behind each NewBridge student will give anyone among us pause.

Whitney emigrated from Honduras and was abandoned by her family at age 14. She later became a single mother, living in homeless shelters with her seven-year-old daughter.
 
After a failed stint at Cuyahoga Community College and with few options, she heard about NewBridge and enrolled in the phlebotomy program on account of its fast track scheduling. Now with her classes complete and her hospital externships ahead, Whitney is on a solid path toward her dream of becoming a nurse. Her intention is to work during the day and take classes at Tri-C to finish her nursing degree.
 
Tasha, another of phlebotomy students, also found that Tri-C was not right for her.

A single mother with two teenage boys at home, Tasha felt she could no longer take night classes after a child was killed in her neighborhood. Since NewBridge classes are during the day, the schedule gave her more time with her sons. Tasha is also about to embark on her hospital externship, with the intention to use her phlebotomy experience as a stepping-stone to becoming a nurse.
 
"All of these are folks who were deserving of second chance – or maybe even a first chance," says NewBridge's chief development officer Stephen Langel of the latest set of graduates. "This is a culmination of all their effort and their time and sweat equity," he says, adding that some students have gotten jobs directly out of externships, while others are applying for jobs and awaiting offers. "Now they're graduating and moving on to the next stage of their life and a career path."

NewBridge’s vocational training is distinctively market-based. The center's administrators meet with local hospitals and other institutions to gauge employment needs. Then they work with those employers to develop coursework that prepares students for in-demand careers. Classes are free, but students are required to maintain a good record of attendance and behavior.
 
"It's very exciting for all of us," adds Langel of graduation day, noting that these students have overcome much and worked hard to get to this night. "They're seeing the pay-off now."
 

Ugly fruits and vegetables spawn beautiful program

Getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables to eat can be a hit or miss prospect in Cleveland's “food deserts” where full service grocery stores are hard to come by. At the same time, an astounding amount of produce and other food in the United States – more than 30 million tons a year – ends up in landfills.
 
A fourth-generation fruit-and-vegetable wholesaler in Cleveland is taking on those incongruities with a program designed to assist low-income families while tackling food waste.
 
Forest City Weingart Produce Co. has begun selling, at cost, fruits and vegetables that come through its warehouse every week that are totally healthy but cosmetically flawed – an eggplant with a scar, a dimpled orange, the oddly shaped tomato. The "Perfectly Imperfect" endeavor is a unique effort by which the wholesaler is packaging imperfect produce for purchase on a small scale for individuals, says Ashley Weingart, the company’s director of communications and community outreach.
 
It’s also part of a growing push across the country to save misshapen yet completely edible food from the dump. Writer Jordan Figueiredo has a social media campaign to promote the ugly produce movement on Twitter @UglyFruitAndVeg, and on Facebook.
 
“We see an opportunity to reduce food waste and help get more fruits and vegetables to the population that can’t afford them,” says Weingart as she assembles boxes of imperfect cantaloupes, green peppers, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, lemons and mangos.
 
“We want to bridge the gap between all the food waste that exists in our country and to help the community around us,” she adds. “We feel like we have the obligation and the opportunity to help.”
 
Perfectly Imperfect sells the produce medleys every Friday. A 15-pound mixture goes for $15 or get 30 pounds for $25 at 4000 Orange Ave in Cleveland (call ahead to order at 216-881-3232). Shoppers also can sign up to have boxes delivered to their homes ($7.50 within the city, $10 elsewhere in the county and $15 for surrounding counties). The program is open to all.

Continue reading.

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. 
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