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Cleveland Neighborhood Progress awards $4.2M in grants with three-year initiative

Beginning in July, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will invest a total of $4.2 million in twelve community development corporations (CDCs) over the next three years. The Strategic Investment Initiative (SII) includes nine awards, three of which are collaborative efforts. The funding will have a direct impact on 16 Cleveland neighborhoods.

“These critical investments will help improve neighborhoods across the city," said Joel Ratner, CNP president and CEO in a statement. "We look forward to working with our grantees as they develop work plans and implement the strategies they presented to the committee."

The following grants will be administered annually through 2020:
 
Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization and Metro West Community Development Corporation, $220,000
 
Ohio City, Inc. and Tremont West Development Corporation, $215,000
 
Famicos Foundation, $200,000
 
Burten Bell Carr Development, $200,000
 
Northeast Shores Development Corporation, $140,000
 
Slavic Village Development, $125,000
 
St. Clair Superior Development Corporation and Collinwood Nottingham Villages Development Corporation, $100,000
 
Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, $100,000
 
– Lee-Harvard Community Collaborative, $100,000
 
“We are also excited to invest in neighborhoods on the southeast side of Cleveland through our new capacity investment in the Lee-Harvard Community Partnership,” added Colleen Gilson, vice president of CDC Advancement for CNP. "This partnership is the result of a visioning and planning process supported by City of Cleveland Councilman Terrell Pruitt that will bring a dedicated community development entity into the neighborhood.”
 
CNP received a total of 14 proposals from a 23 CDCs for this competitive funding program. Senior staff reviewed proposals and recommended finalists to the organization’s SII Advisory Committee. Last month, that committee hosted two days of presentations during which the finalists highlighted the comprehensive community development goals and strategies they will employ during the 2017-2020 program cycle. CNP's board of directors’ final decision on funding was informed by the scoring process performed by the SII Advisory Committee.
 
“These selected CDCs will be taking on important work city-wide and we look forward to working with them as they implement community development strategies in their neighborhoods,” added Gilson of the SII recipients.
 
Over the past 10 years, CNP has committed more than $15 million to Cleveland CDCs via the SII program, funding for which is provided by the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, and Enterprise Community Partners.
 
 
Cleveland Neighborhood Progress is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.
 

"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." 
 

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.”
 

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."

Walkabout Tremont to showcase neighborhood's eclectic nature

Last December, the Tremont ArtWalk ended a 23-year run as an artist-sponsored event that brought together galleries and bars for a neighborhood celebration. The good times are far from over, thanks to a new tradition planners say will take in everything Tremont has to offer, art included.
 
Like its predecessor, Walkabout Tremont will occur the second Friday of every month. However, the now weekend-long event will expand the scope of the original ArtWalk by showcasing area food, fashion and music along with the local art scene, says Michelle Davis, assistant director of the Tremont West Development Corporation.
 
"There's going to be a different presence on the street than what we had with the ArtWalk," says Davis. "We want people to come and explore the neighborhood."
 
Walkabout Tremont launches Friday, May 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. with extended shop and gallery hours, outdoor entertainment and pop-up tents highlighting Cleveland artists. The Friday night kickoff will also feature live music, tango lessons and stage shows. Visitors are encouraged to visit businesses both established and brand new, from women's boutique Banyan Tree to Ake'demik, a jewelry and gift shop that launched in early May.
 
Event-goers wanting to make a weekend of it can stay at an area bed & breakfast or Airbnb location, note walkabout organizers. Family-friendly activities include enjoying a treat at Tremont Scoops or A Cookie and a Cupcake, a neighborhood audio tour on Saturday and a local church service on Sunday.
 
"People are going to see a vibrant community when they're walking from place to place," Davis says.
 
Founded in 1993 by a handful of artists and activists including long-time resident Jean Brandt, the original ArtWalk blossomed into an institution emulated throughout the city. Brandt stepped down in late 2015, citing the event's widespread influence as well as its ongoing food focus as reasons for departing.
 
Walkabout planning is led by a volunteer group of Tremont residents, business owners and artists, among them development corporation board chair Lynn Murray. The ArtWalk facelift they've brainstormed more closely reflects the creative, if still arts-infused, community Tremont has become, says Davis.
 
"It's about enjoying the neighborhood as it is," she says.  

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress announces finalists for Vibrant City Awards

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) has announced 21 finalists for its 2016 Vibrant City Awards. Winners will be revealed on May 2 at the second annual Vibrant City Awards Lunch, hosted by CNP and presented by Key Bank and Community Blight Solutions.
 
“We are proud to convene community partners and stakeholders to celebrate city neighborhoods. These leading efforts in neighborhood revitalization are what help us all create a vibrant city,” says Joel Ratner, president and CEO of CNP. “The organizations and individuals being honored have displayed tremendous passion, dedication and collaboration. We’re excited to recognize them for their successful efforts in community development.”
 
CNP received more than 70 nominations for this year's awards.
 
“The complete list of nominations tells an inspiring story of neighborhood transformation that is taking place in Cleveland," says Jeff Kipp, CNP's director of neighborhood marketing for the organization. "From community development corporations to corporate partners and everyone in between, there are amazing people performing incredible work in our neighborhoods.”
 
Additionally, CNP will present the Morton L. Mandel Leadership in Community Development Award and the first ever Vibrant City Impact Award at the May 2 luncheon. During the event, civic leaders, community development professionals, local developers, investors, realtors and passionate Clevelanders will gather to celebrate neighborhoods at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium, 3615 Euclid Ave., an iconic structure located in Midtown on the RTA Healthline. A locally sourced meal catered by chef Chris Hodgson of Driftwood Catering will be served. This event is open to the public. More information and registration details are available online.
 
The 2016 Vibrant City Awards finalists include:
 
• CDC Community Collaboration Award
 
Ohio City Inc. – Station Hope
Held in May 2015, Station Hope, a collaboration of Ohio City, Inc., Cleveland Public Theatre, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Councilman Joe Cimperman, was a free multi-arts event that celebrated the history of St. John’s Church, the triumphs of the Underground Railroad, and contemporary struggles for freedom and justice. Station Hope featured a diverse selection of theatre and performance ensembles, including more than 30 companies and 150 individual artists.


 
Slavic Village Development – Cleveland Orchestra at Home in Slavic Village
In spring 2015, The Cleveland Orchestra At Home in Slavic Village residency brought a world-class orchestra to the Broadway Slavic Village neighborhood. Partners included Slavic Village Development, the Cleveland Orchestra, Broadway School of Music and the Arts, the Broadway Boys and Girls Club, cultural organizations, and area churches and schools. In April, the orchestra performed a free public concert for an audience of 1,000 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. The residency continued throughout the year with a host of events.
 
Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office – La Placita
In 2015, the Stockyard, Clark Fulton and Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office partnered with the Hispanic Business Center and local businesses and entrepreneurs to launch La Placita, an open air market near the intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street that featured 24 local vendors and cultural offerings for five Saturday events that attracted thousands. The events also served as an effective venue to showcase “La Villa Hispana,” which is home to a growing ethnic population in the City of Cleveland.
 
• CDC Placemaking Award
 
MidTown Cleveland – East 55th Street railroad bridge mural
The railroad bridge above the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 55th Street has been transformed into a symbol of the innovation and emerging economy embodied in the MidTown neighborhood and the Health-Tech Corridor. The mural, designed by Twist Creative, Inc., includes a graphic of DNA molecules, and logos of MidTown Cleveland, the City of Cleveland, BioEnterprise and the Cleveland Foundation.


 
Slavic Village Development – Cycle of Arches
The Cycle of Arches installation evokes allusions to nature such as trees or grasses bending in the wind, while nodding to the industrial heritage of the community by representing the neighborhood's "steel roots" with its steel tube construction. Part of the $8 million Broadway Streetscape and Road Improvement Project, the installation is located at the intersection of E.49th Street and Broadway Avenue. Jonathan Kurtz, AIA, designed Cycle of Arches. Partners included Slavic Village Development, Land Studio and the City of Cleveland.
 
University Circle Inc. – Wade Oval improvements
University Circle Inc. recently invested in several improvements to Wade Oval including a permanent musical park that offers four large-scale instruments, benches, Adirondack chairs and a chalkboard with the “This is CLE to Me…” tagline emblazoned across the top. Visitors are encouraged to creatively express themselves in this eclectic area.


 
• CDC Economic Opportunity Award
 
Famicos Foundation – Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program management
Famicos Foundation weaves together a diverse portfolio of economic opportunity programming to aid family financial stability in the Glenville neighborhood. In 2015, the organization helped complete 1,917 tax returns with a total refund of $2.3 million for residents. 549 of those returns were for EITC clients and those individuals received $869,000 in refunds. Also in 2015, while participating in a pilot program, Famicos referred 90 tax preparation clients interested in receiving one-on-one financial counseling to the Community Financial Centers.
 
Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office – La Placita
The Stockyard, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office was instrumental in the planning and implementation of "La Placita," which served as a catalyst project encouraging collaboration between the local CDC and stakeholders in the community. This initiative served as a business incubator for new businesses with free business training and as an accelerator for established businesses. Situated in an economically challenged food dessert, "La Placita" also served as an access point for fresh, affordable produce and culturally relevant prepared foods and ingredients.
 
University Circle, Inc. – Business outreach and development efforts
In 2015, University Circle Inc's business outreach and development efforts included three key components: the Uptown Business Association (UBA), NextStep: Strategies for Business Growth and a financial literacy and QuickBooks bookkeeping program, all of which fostered networking amid business owners in the greater University Circle area. UCI consistently convenes the 17 NextStep alumni, a current class of nine business owners, 65 UBA members, and seven bookkeeping program participants at UBA meetings to network, enhance their skills and find new opportunities. 
 
• CDC Neighborhood Branding & Marketing Award
 
Northeast Shores Development Corp. – Welcome to Collinwood website
With the help of the CDC, the neighborhood has taken its brand as Cleveland's premiere artists’ neighborhood to a new level with the Welcome to Collinwood website. The homepage offers an artistic display of images and designs, and visitors are met with compelling copy that boasts the compelling opportunities available to artists in Collinwood. 
 
Slavic Village Development – Rooms to Let
St. Rooms To Let, a temporary art installation in vacant homes created by Slavic Village Development, was a successful marketing event that changed perceptions about the surrounding neighborhood. In May 2015, more than 1,000 visitors toured St. Rooms to Let, which included installations by 30 artists, live music performances and activities for children.


 
Clair Superior Development Corp. & Campus District, Inc. – Night Market Cleveland
St. Clair Superior Development Corp. and Campus District Inc. teamed up last summer to spark awareness, foster a creative economy, and bring attention to the hidden gems of AsiaTown and the Superior Arts District with Night Market Cleveland - a series of four summer events with local art vendors, Asian food and cultural entertainment. The inaugural season attracted a staggering 50,000 attendees and garnered coverage in 22 media publications.
 
• Corporate Partner Award
 
Community Blight Solutions
Community Blight Solutions focuses on understanding, solving, and eliminating blight. Prominent solutions currently include promotion of the organization's SecureView product and the Slavic Village Recovery Project, which aims to align demolition and rehabilitation to eradicate blight one block at a time and fosters corporate volunteerism amid the area's for-profit partners. The project is also focused on gaining access to a critical mass of real estate owned properties and those that are abandoned with the intention of either demolition or rehabilitation.
 
Dave’s Supermarkets
Dave’s Supermarkets' portfolio of stores sells products that match the profile of the communities they serve while their employees and customer base reflect Cleveland’s diverse population. Asian, Hispanic, African American and Caucasian residents all feel at home at Dave’s Supermarket. Dave’s has provided significant financial support in the form of food donations to community organizations, churches, and neighborhood groups. The local chain employs over 1,000 people in 14 stores, providing health care and retirement benefits to hard-working Cleveland residents.
 
PNC Bank
PNC was the lead sponsor of UCI’s summer concert series, Wade Oval Wednesdays – WOW! - a free weekly concert that draws up to 5,000 attendees. In addition, PNC supported UCI’s Clean and Safe Ambassador program expansion from seasonal to year-round with twice as many staff.  Additionally, PNC supported the creation and development of a children’s map and activity book to complement UCI’s newest education initiative, Circle Walk, a 40-point interpretive program set to launch in May 2016.
 
• Urban Developer Award:
 
Case Development – Mike DeCesare
Mike DeCesare of Case Development has been a pioneer in residential development in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, which he also calls home. He successfully finished the Waverly Station community in 2015 and completed the Harborview development at Herman Avenue and West 54th Street.
 
Geis Companies – Fred Geis
Fred Geis instigated the MidTown Tech Park, which boasts nearly 250,000 square feet of office and laboratory space leased to health and technology firms, and is part of the growing Health-Tech corridor. One of Geis’s most transformational projects is The 9, into which Geis moved its headquarters from Streetsboro. This spring, Geis will break ground on an Ohio City project converting the industrial Storer Meat Co. facility into 67 market-rate apartments. Fred Geis was also recently appointed to the Cleveland Planning Commission and will donate his stipend to the Dream Neighborhood refugee housing initiative.
 
Vintage Development Group – Chip Marous
Vintage Development Group provides well-built multi-family residential properties in Detroit Shoreway and Ohio City, thereby helping to support the associated commercial districts with residential opportunities and financial support. Not to be content with the footprint of his Battery Park project, Marous has executed plans for expanding it. His passion for complete, walkable urban development is made possible through established relationships in Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods.
 
• Civic Champion Award:
 
Joseph Black – Central neighborhood
Joe Black is committed to Central neighborhood youth. He is currently the Neighborhood Engagement Manager for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. As the leader of the engagement team, he is responsible for fostering a seamless experience for youth and families to progress through their education from cradle to career. Black’s passion was sparked by personal experiences with the inequities linked to men of color, and has since matured into a responsibility to serve “at risk” communities. He is a tireless, dedicated community volunteer, mentoring youth at his day job as well as during his free time.
 
Charles Gliha – Slavic Village neighborhood
Lifelong Slavic Village resident Charles Gliha strives to improve the neighborhood with art, civic engagement and business development. As founder of Broadway Public Art, he has championed the Warszawa Music Festival, is the founder of Street Repair Music Festival, organizes the Polish Constitution Day Parade, and volunteers at Rooms to Let. Gliha is an active member of the Slavic Village Neighborhood Summit planning committee and hosts cash mobs and live music events in area retail establishments. He also created a printed business directory and garnered $25,000 in grants for the neighborhood.


 
Alison Lukacsy – Collinwood neighborhood
A Cleveland transplant turned North Collinwood artist, advocate and promoter, Alison Lukacsy sees opportunities where others see problems. She has secured over $20,000 in grants, resulting in projects such as Storefront Activation utilizing debris from Adopt-a-Beach cleanups, Phone Gallery - Cleveland's smallest curated art gallery, a Collinwood Vibrancy Project, Yarn n’ Yoga on Euclid Beach Pier, Euclid Beach Book Box, and Bus Stop Moves RTA shelter exercises.
 

Cleveland Education Compact aims to improve relations between charter and district schools

While organizations such as the Transformation Alliance are working to make sure Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools ensures every child in Cleveland receives a quality education with access to a selection of schools, the Cleveland Education Compact is doing their part by helping the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and the city’s 65 charter schools work together to bring excellence throughout.

The Compact is a collaboration between CMSD, the Cleveland Foundation and Breakthrough Schools, which is a network of public charter schools. The group came together last year after the associated schools received a $100,000 planning grant from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014.
 
The Compact’s goal with the planning grant is to unite all those partners via a common goal that includes cooperation between the CMSD and Cleveland’s publicly funded charter schools and improve the educational options in Cleveland.
 
“Essentially, the district and Breakthrough Schools were doing some collaboration already,” explains Lindsey Blackburn, project manager for the Compact. “We applied for the $100,000 grant to get things going.” Blackburn adds that the term “compact” refers to both the group and the document they wrote.
 
Now the planning is underway and a group of 40 people from a dozen schools and organizations met in February for a brainstorming session and to form subcommittees. The executive committee meets monthly to discuss the subcommittee topics, which include record sharing; professional development; special education; facilities; funding; and policy/advocacy.
 
The Compact’s executive committee, which consists of five direct representatives and five charter representatives, meets once a month to ensure the planning phase is carried out before the grant runs out later this year.

“The last two areas have a lot of overlaps so it may make more sense to combine them,” says Blackburn. “Each subcommittee has co-chairs: one representative from the district and one representative from the charters.”
 
The group will meet again on April 5 for additional planning and outlining. “This is an exciting time because this is actual real work,” Blackburn says, adding that they will look for the areas that are easiest to tackle first, then address the more complex issues.
 
"We will look at the ones we can win first, like sharing professional development resources – if a speaker comes in, opening it up to all compact members,” she says. “There will be topics that will prove to be more complex and may not be solved in this round of collaboration.”
  
While the Cleveland Education Compact is not affiliated with the Cleveland Plan, the two groups still share common missions. “The Compact is similar [to the Cleveland Plan] in the sense that it is all about finding areas where district and charter schools can work together.,” says Piet van Lier, executive director of the Transformation Alliance, the organization charged with making sure the Cleveland Plan is executed. “But it wasn’t written into the Cleveland Plan.”
 
However, van Lier does see the two groups complementing each other. “Since the Cleveland Plan envisions a portfolio district with good schools, both district and charter, and allows the district to share levy money with partner charter schools, the two really are different sides of the same coin.”
 
Blackburn says future fundraising options will be considered to keep the Compact going once the planning grant expires. 

Transformation Alliance is a Fresh Water sponsor.

Experimental theater aims to purchase iconic century building

Experimental theater company convergence-continuum (con-con) has raised 10 percent of the funds needed to buy the Liminis building, 2438 Scranton Rd., its home since 2002.

Con-con's board launched a $200,000 capital campaign in January to purchase the property in the Scranton South Historic District in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood from Clyde Simon, the company's artistic director and a founding member. The building can be had for $130,000, the exact amount Simon needs to pay off mortgage and closing costs. The remaining $70,000 would be placed in reserve for future repair and operation costs.

Simon, 69, will not be making a profit from the sale, he notes. The theater official, along with co-founder Brian Breth, paid $160,000 for the space in 2000, spending another $100,000 for a new lighting system and other improvements. Board voice president Geoffrey Hoffman, a realtor with Howard Hanna, recently estimated the property's market value at $230,000 to $250,000.

"I'm taking a loss from my initial purchase price, plus all I've invested in upgrading the property in its conversion into a theater," says Simon.

Selling below market value is no problem for Simon, who single-handedly manages the 6,000-square-foot building while living in the theater’s backstage apartment. Not only have the duties of ownership become financially untenable, Simon says, using an extension ladder to clean the gutters isn't how he wants to spend his golden years.

"I want the company to stay right where it is," says Simon, who bought out his partner Breth's share of the 150-year-old structure in 2005. "I've been doing less of the artistic stuff to keep it going."

Simon is confidant con-con can raise the needed money before the end of 2016, when he would need to put the theater on the market. Con-con is already receiving cash donations, and will be approaching foundations for funding help in spring. In addition, $200,000 is a fairly modest amount when compared to a capital campaign arts' scene that can run into the tens of millions.

"Our board is working their connections," says Simon. "Their enthusiasm makes me optimistic."

Simon looks forward to being relived of his managerial responsibilities so he can focus his energies on directing, acting and set designing.

"I'm only directing one show this year; before that I was much more active," he says. "I want to be a bigger part of the exciting stuff rather than having to pay the mortgage and fix the roof." 

Restauranteur Zack Bruell dedicates entire month to affordable dining at his restaurants

The holidays are over, and most Clevelanders typically hole-up for the rest of winter while anticipating spring weather.
 
But for the past five years, restauranteur Zack Bruell has held his own Restaurant Week – a three course meal for $33 -- at his area restaurants to drum up business in the slow periods and introduce diners to his menus. 

“Historically, business-wise, this time of year people aren’t going out as much,” Bruell explains. “I’m just experimenting, knowing full-well that in January and February we don’t have anything to lose.”
 
The practice has proven so popular, this year Bruell is hosting a full month of prix fixe menus at each of his six upscale restaurants -- Parallax, Table 45, L’Albatros, Chinato, Cowell & Hubbard and Alley Cat Oyster Bar – for $33 per person, plus tax and gratuity. The special runs from Monday, Jan. 11 through Sunday, Feb. 7.
 
The budget price does not mean lack of choices or skimpy portions, Bruell promises. “Each restaurant will have a distinct menu of options with three choices in appetizers, entrees and desserts,” he says. “It went so well in the past, I wanted to see if we can continue this.”
 
For instance, at L’Abatros in University Circle, diners can choose from soup du jour, winter salad or ricotta gnudi for an appetizer; market fish, chicken roulade or vegan Himalayan red rice for an entrée, each with accompanying vegetable; and warm brownies with dried cherries and ice cream, crème brulee or apple cake for desert.
 
“We’re trying to do stuff that isn’t necessarily on our menu and we’re giving people a choice,” says Bruell. “We try to be user-friendly. As far as I’m concerned, this is about making friends.”
 
While the prices may lure people to Bruell’s restaurants, he argues the specials also show that fine dining can be affordable. “It’s not just a promotion to drive people through the door, it’s a promotion to introduce people to our restaurants,” he says, adding that his establishments also host year-round half-price food and wine specials.
 
“This is similar to that, but it’s a full meal and we’re not skimpy on our portion sizes or any of the ingredients. It’s the same experience, it’s an opportunity to expose people who may not otherwise come into the restaurant.”
 
The prix fixe menus should be listed on each of the restaurants’ websites soon.
 
Bruell’s restaurants also participate in other Restaurant Weeks throughout the year, such as the ones sponsored by Downtown Cleveland Alliance and Cleveland Independents, which include a variety of area restaurants. 

PRE4CLE makes strides toward goal, looks at the work ahead

PRE4CLE, a public-private partnership that aims to provide more high-quality preschool seats for Cleveland children, is more than halfway to its initial goal.

In December the group published its first annual report, announcing that high-quality preschool enrollment grew by 10 percent in the initiative’s inaugural year of implementation.

That percentage represents 1,215 additional children enrolling in high-quality early education between March 2014 and June 2015 in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and at private and home-based providers.

With partners like CMSD, Cuyahoga County, the George Gund Foundation and PNC Bank, PRE4CLE is now 62 percent to its goal of placing 2,000 more three- and four-year-olds in high-quality seats, as defined by ratings in the state’s Step Up to Quality system.
 
“We feel really great about the progress we’ve been able to make in year one in getting more than halfway to our goal,” PRE4CLE director Katie Kelly says. “We know that that’s due to the great partnership that PRE4CLE has forged among the providers and the community and the school district. It’s been a really strong first year with a lot of commitment to reach our initial goal.”
 
In comparing itself to the first-year results of similar early education expansions around the country, PRE4CLE officials say it beat out San Antonio and Boston, which achieved six and nine percent, respectively.
 
Additionally, 80 percent of children in PRE4CLE classrooms are on the right track to kindergarten, according to Bracken Kindergarten Readiness Assessment data analyzed by Case Western Reserve University researchers.
 
Still, PRE4CLE’s report doesn’t mask the work that still needs to be done. As of June 2015, just one-third of the city’s 12,400 preschool-aged children were enrolled in high-quality preschool programs.
 
The report also includes a map of Cleveland neighborhoods – color coded by the percentage of children who are enrolled in high-quality preschools. Mount Pleasant, Jefferson and Old Brooklyn are among the neighborhoods with less than 10 percent.
 
“It feels like a classic case of ‘we’ve come a long way and have a long way to go,’” says Marcia Egbert, senior program officer for human services at the Gund Foundation and co-chair of the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact. “It’s nothing but encouraging – the long way to go isn’t a sign of being discouraged in the slightest. It’s just to say that this was always going to be a long path, and we are now well down it, which is very exciting.”
 
The report closes with a look at ways the PRE4CLE partnership will attempt to raise those numbers in struggling neighborhoods. One example will be developing a mobile app with Invest in Children, the county’s own early childhood initiative. The app will help families find high-quality preschool options, as well as health, social, and cultural resources.
 
“For us, we know that 2,000 [additional children] is just the initial goal and it will be replaced by a new benchmark to get us even further towards the goal of every child in Cleveland having the opportunity to go to full-day preschool,” Kelly says. “What we’ve been able to build, along with expansion, is also a strong, quality infrastructure and a lot of momentum among educators and providers to improve their quality so that we can serve even more children.
 
“There’s such a strong commitment from the provider community to get on board with the plan to reach those higher levels of quality,” Kelly continues. “I think that’s really what’s going to make that opportunity available to every child in Cleveland.”

Beloved restauranteur Sammy Catania remembered by local chefs

News spread quickly of the passing of iconic restaurateur and Tremont West Development Corporation director Sammy Catania, who passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 1st and made many contributions to the city, including the 1980 introduction of Sammy’s in the Flats, the first fine-dining destination in the district.

"Sammy was one of the biggest believers of the Importance of food in downtown Cleveland," says Loretta Paganini, founder of the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking in Chesterland. "He was not only a pioneer but stuck around when others fled the urban landscape. His parties were top notch and set the standard back in the day."
  
Eric Williams, owner of four popular Cleveland restaurants including Momocho and Happy Dog, recognizes Catania as a Cleveland legacy among restauranteurs. “Cleveland’s food scene began in the Flats and Sam was a pioneer in the industry,” he says. “We shouldn’t forget where we started.”

Fresh Water reached out to other members of the local food industry for their reactions on a highly respected and beloved colleague.
 
Tremont residents were proud to claim Catania as their own. “Sammy was a huge part of the party scene in Tremont back in the day when Tremont was starting to turn into a dining destination,” recalls Ricardo Sandoval owner of Fat Cats and Lava Lounge. “He went from story-telling giant to concerned citizen and community activist. He was a big part of Tremont. He always made time to stop and talk to everyone. I’m going to miss seeing and talking to him about the business and Tremont.”

“Sammy Catania was the man behind the scenes that made Tremont what it really is,” says Dante Boccuzzi, chef/owner of four Tremont eateries.
 
Paulius Nasvytis, owner of the Velvet Tango Room and Citizen Pie, saw Catania as an innovator. Catania was one of Nasvytis’ first customers at the Velvet Tango Room 19 years ago. “His restaurant, Sammy’s, was the first place in our city that broke the mold – that’s what he always did,” he says. “He offered me sound advice and I always had his support. He also gave me his solid friendship. Sammy was a straight shooter. He made Cleveland a better place.”
 
Flour restaurant owner Paul Minnillo saw Catania as a role model. “Sammy Catania was one of the pioneers of changing the dining scene in Cleveland,” he says. “He brought many talented chefs into the field. I thank him for helping to put Cleveland’s food scene on the map.”
 
Brad Friedlander, owner of Moxie and Red The Steakhouse, agrees that Catania set the stage for future restauranteurs. “Sammy will be missed; I have such memories of him opening in the Flats,” he says.
 
Catania made an impact on Doug Katz early in his restaurant career. “I worked with Sammy and Roberta when I was at Oakwood Country Club as a teen,” recalls Katz, who owns Fire Food and Drink, the Katz Club Diner and Provenance. “He was always a class act and sweet man. I will miss him and am so sad for [wife] Roberta and her family.”

Even those who didn’t personally know Catania felt a connection with the man. SOHO Kitchen & Bar owner Nolan Konkoski never met Catania, but recognized his influence.   “He was obviously a long-time pillar of the restaurant community in this town,” he says. “I always heard wonderful things about him; he was respected by the people I respect most.”  Tim Bando, owner of Grove Hill, didn’t know Catania well but remembers him as supportive and highly respected.

Catania is survived by his wife, Roberta Rocco. She is asking for cards with your “Sammy stories,” which may be dropped off at Tremont West Development Corporation, 2406 Professor Avenue.
 
The cause of death has not been released. A memorial service is scheduled at Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave. on Saturday, December 12th at 9:30 a.m.

County approves $10 million for quality preschools

The expansion of early education in greater Cleveland received a $10 million boost last week when Cuyahoga County Council and executive Armond Budish reached a biennial budget agreement for 2016 and 2017.
 
The two-year investment creates the Cuyahoga Early Childhood Trust, a public-private partnership meant to attract private funds to continue the push for universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten education to children across the county.

It’s the kind of support partners of the PRE4CLE initiative say is necessary to achieve and surpass the original goal of enrolling 2,000 additional children into high-quality preschool seats at public and private schools in Greater Cleveland by 2016.
 
“We are so grateful to the county leadership for this new investment,” PRE4CLE director Katie Kelly says. “It’s going to make a big difference in the amount of kids served across the county. The impact on Cleveland will be significant in not just number of students served, but the quality of our early learning program.”
 
The investment will fund teacher education and retention programs, as well as social, emotional and behavioral support for low-income students. According to the council presentation supporting the investment, there are 20,800 preschool-aged children in the county, but only 4,700 are in high-quality programs.
 
“We know it’s one of the most important factors in providing high quality outcomes for students,” Kelly says of teacher education. “Those additional supports in staff coaching and training on how to help students experiencing those challenges is a big part of quality as well. It can make our already good programs even better.”

Banyan Tree opens its third location in Uptown

For the past 14 years, Christie Murdoch has called Tremont home for her eclectic boutique Banyan Tree – which sells unique clothing, jewelry, accessories and gifts to loyal customers. Last October, the Banyan Box became one of the first tenants of Small Box Cleveland, a collection of shops in renovated shipping containers.

Now, Murdoch is moving east and is about to open her third Banyan Tree store at 11440 Uptown Alley in University Circle. “I feel like it’s a fresh and new area that people are just hearing about, just learning about,” says Murdoch of the location. “There’s a mixture of people coming here, and it’s different than Tremont.”

Murdoch wasn’t actively looking for a third location, but Uptown felt right. “I looked at spaces over the years, but it wasn’t right,” she says. “Then this came along and we were open to it. It turned out really nice. It has the same feel as Tremont, but more modern.”

The Tremont Banyan Tree has a solid east side customer base, Murdoch says, but she believes she can reach a larger audience with her Uptown location. “Our east side customers are very loyal, but I think they’d come here more. And we love that we’re staying in the City of Cleveland.”

The Uptown store will carry similar items to the Tremont location, but Murdoch will adapt as needed. “In the beginning we will have very similar things,” she says. “Then, when we figure out who our client base is, we will bring in more items. We want to get to know our clients first, get feedback, then go from there.” The store will also showcase work from local artists and designers.
 
Murdoch grew up in retail – her mother owned a seasonal store – but didn’t initially intend to go into retail herself until she came across an empty storefront in 2001. “I had graduated from college and was looking for a job when I saw this space in Tremont,” she recalls. “And I decided I could do it.”
 
Fourteen years later, the Banyan Tree is one of Cleveland’s prized stores for shoppers looking for something different.

The Uptown location opens Thursday, October 8th with an opening night party at 6 pm with food, drinks and shopping exclusives. Regular store hours are Monday through Wednesday from 11 am to 7 pm, Thursday through Sunday from 11 am to 9 pm and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm.

Jason Minter plans to pedal Italian treats around Cleveland neighborhoods

Jason Minter has fond memories of his grandmother, Connie Pugh, and her fascination with PBS programming. “Every Sunday we would go to my grandma’s after church and she was always watching PBS,” he recalls. “She would say, ‘PBS brings all these cultures to me right in my living room.’ My grandmother never left the city.”

Years later, in 2012, Minter was in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy as a teaching assistant with Texas A&M’s college of architecture study abroad program when he discovered affogatos – gelato topped with a shot of espresso. The experience reminded Minter of his grandmother’s travels via public television.
 
After duplicating the affogatos for some friends back home in Tremont, Minter was encouraged to start a business of it. He kept testing his recipe and attended Cleveland State’s Meet the Lenders program last summer, where he got additional encouragement. He decided to call it Connie’s Affogato.
 
Minter then decided to enter the Old Brooklyn business plan competition, and was one of three winners. “We approached the competition with the understanding that opening a bricks and mortar storefront would be unfeasible for Connie's Affogato at this point,” he explains. “Instead we proposed a new model for economic development with a substantially lower barrier to entry than existing models. The competition judges responded positively to our strategy.”
 
The mobile affogato shop will be equipped with a specially-made bicycle – complete with a freezer, stove and “storefront” – with help from Soulcraft Woodshop and CWRU’s ThinkBox.  Espresso will be brewed on the bike, while he plans to get his ice cream from a local supplier.
 
Connie’s Affogato will serve Old Brooklyn, as well as area festivals and fairs. “The city of Cleveland is my canvas,” Minter says. “I see a Cleveland where people are spending a little less time in their homes and car and contributing to a vibrant street life.”
 
Minter plans to take growth one step at a time. He is on schedule to open May 1st next summer with just one mobile storefront, then grow accordingly. While he says it’s not necessary, his plan includes opening a bricks and mortar storefront in three years. “You got to let the market guide you,” he says.

brew bus educates riders about the cle beer scene

Any beer lover in Cleveland is painfully aware that the growth of the craft brewery industry leaves little time to try all of the available options. Bob and Shelle Campbell solve that problem with the Cleveland Brew Bus – a 22-seat party bus that takes riders on tasting tours of Cleveland’s most popular breweries.
 
Started in June 2013 by the Campbells, the tasting tour takes riders on a five-hour tour of three local breweries. Each stop features three to four sample sized beers and the opportunity of order food. While on the bus, tour coordinator Leslie Basalla educates and entertains riders with brewery and beer facts.
 
“Every tour is a little different,” Basalla explains. “We have home brewers, craft brewers and people just along to have fun. We play to the varying levels of knowledge.”
 
Basalla, who is in the process of buying the business along with boyfriend Brian McCafferty from the Campbells, joined Brew Bus after serving as front of house manager for Market Garden Brewery. Basalla is a certified beer steward through the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.
 
There were about seven breweries on the tour list when Basalla joined the business in 2014, and that list has grown exponentially as Cleveland’s brewery scene has grown. “There are new breweries opening up constantly,” she says. “We’re adding one brewery about every two months. It’s a small community where everyone knows each other.” Recent additions include Platform Beer Co. and Brick and Barrel.
 
Tours are primarily in Cleveland and the suburbs, but the Brew Bus occasionally will travel to Akron and Lake County for tastings. Private tours are available as well, although Basalla recommends people call at least two months in advance from July through October to book a Saturday night. “Sundays are wide open,” says Basalla. “If you have at least 10 people and you want a tour, I’ll give you a tour any day of the week.”
 
Tickets for public tours can be purchased on the Cleveland Brew Bus website.
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