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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."

Get out: Wheedle app connects consumers, venues and promotions

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

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

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

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

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.
 

Hult Prize event seeks social innovation startups

 
In an effort to promote innovation, creative problem solving and social good at CWRU, the university will host an official Hult Prize qualifier event.  The Hult Prize, billed as the world’s largest student competition to solve the world's toughest challenges, awards $1 million in seed funding to the winning team to build their business.
 
This year’s theme is Crowded Urban Spaces – building sustainable, scalable fast-growing enterprises that double the income of people living in crowded urban spaces by connecting them to goods, services and capital.
 
The national contest is limited to 20,000 applicants – 300 teams in the regional competition that CRWU is a part of. “The event will show students that anyone of any background or skill set can be an entrepreneur and make a real difference with nothing more than an idea,” says Cole Morris, organizer and intern for event planning and marketing at Blackstone LaunchPad
 
Ten to 15 teams made up of CWRU undergraduate and graduate students and alumni will pitch their ideas on Saturday, Nov. 21 at from noon to 2 p.m. at Thwing Center. Teams will have five minutes to present their ideas, followed by five minutes of questioning from judges Lev Gonick, CEO of OneCommunity; Craig Nard director of CWRU School of Law; and Alison Tanker, founder of Tigress. Additional judges may be selected. 
 
Some students attended a workshop day last Sunday, Nov. 15 at StartMart to take advantage of the wealth of entrepreneurial experts. "We were able to provide a venue for very focused one-on-one time between mentors and participants," says Morris. "Many of the participants were very pleased at the ideas they developed and directions they pursued."
 
The workshop was good preparation for the pitch competition. “By offering live workshops, the guidance of talented and experienced mentors, and a vast array of resources from many of Cleveland's top startup accelerators, we plan to engage a diverse group of students and show how far an idea, their ability to think critically and creatively, and a willingness to help others can truly go,” Morris says.
 
Mentors and supporters include StartMart; BioEnterprise; the Health-Tech Corridor; EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute; the CWRU IP Venture Clinic; Blackstone LaunchPad; non-profit grant writer Roslyn Chao; and Triple Analytics.
 
"We’re targeting innovation and offering resources to fix the world,” says Morris.
 
Pitch teams must be affiliated with CWRU. The teams are made up of three to four members, one of whom can be an alumni. Team registration is still open. The event is open to the public.

Mod Meals offers fresh, locally-sourced meals delivered right to your door

Eating delicious, healthy food on a busy schedule is about to get a lot easier. Beginning next week, some of Cleveland’s most prized chefs will cook locally-sourced, health-conscious meals that will be delivered directly to customers' doors through a company called Mod Meals.

With a few clicks, customers can choose from a daily rotating menu of entrees, side dishes and kids' meals on both the Mod Meals website and app. “We take the headache out of making dinner,” says Mod Meals marketing director Scott Churchill. “It’s tough to keep business going, it’s tough to go out. We bring it right to your door.”

Started by entrepreneur and CEO Bruce Teicher, Mod Meals' participating chefs include Ben Bebenroth, chef owner of Spice Kitchen and Bar; Karen Small, owner of The Flying Fig; Eric Williams, chef owner of Momocho and El Carnicero; and Brian Okin, chef owner of Cork and Cleaver Social Kitchen and Graffiti. Additional chefs are expected to be announced soon.
 
Mod Meals will feature four to five entrée choices each day, four to five side dishes and a selection of kid-friendly fare. “We’re really focusing on kids’ meals,” says Churchill, who cites Bebenroth’s meatloaf – jam-packed with vegetables and shows smiley faces and frown faces when the loaf is cut – as one fun option for kids.

Some of the planned menu items include wood-grilled chicken,; arugula pesto and potatoes; chili garlic salmon with steamed broccoli; smoked brisket with Memphis barbeque sauce and crunchy slaw; seasonal crudite with hummus and dukkah; Asian noodle salad with cashew dressing, carrot and bok choy; kale, dried cherries, mustard caper vinaigrette, egg; and a squash and coconut bisque.

Meals will cost between $10 and $14, with a $2.95 delivery fee. “Our overhead is lower because we don’t have a restaurant,” Churchill explains. “But we’re piggy backing off the growing foodie scene here.” Menus will be posted a couple of days in advance so users can make their selections and choose their delivery times. Deliveries will be between 4 pm and 10 pm.
 
Additionally, with every order placed Mod Meals will make an equivalent monetary donation to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.  
 
Mod Meals plans to start delivery on Monday, November 9 to downtown and the east side suburbs. The company plans to expand delivery to the west side within the month. Go to the Mod Meals website to get the app or place orders.

Community Financial Centers aim to help Clevelanders achieve financial security

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress wants Clevelanders to have a better understanding of their finances. So, in partnership with Charter One and other local organizations, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress will now offer individualized financial planning and management services through its Community Financial Centers.

“While Cleveland has a lot of programs, none of them support the needs really well,” explains Cleveland Neighborhood Progress vice president of economic opportunity Evelyn Burnett. “We wanted to give them something that addressed the quality issue.”
 
Community Financial Centers are built around the premise that all residents, regardless of income, deserve high quality financial coaching and counseling services. Services focus on financial planning, budget management, savings, credit building and planning for the future.

CFC aims to offer Cleveland residents a leg up towards financial stability. Cleveland remains one of the poorest cities in the country despite our improving national reputation. Many of our citizens suffer from financial insecurity that stands in sharp contrast to the near-constant stream of positive news coming out of downtown. 

"We don’t do cash advances. We aren’t a predatory lender," states the CFC website. "We aren’t even a bank. We’re a team of financial managers, collectively dedicated to helping individuals take better control of their finances. That means we aren’t here to take advantage of you or sell you something—we’re here to answer your questions, and provide you the resources you need to bring more financial stability into your life."

"CFC's services are different because we commit ourselves to individual success, and we’ll do everything we can to help you change your financial situation for the better."

The financial centers will be staffed by people with strong financial planning backgrounds who know how to navigate the different areas of managing money. People at all income levels with just about any financial concern – whether it’s retirement planning or paying the rent on time each month -- can benefit from the centers. “It’s all about relationships,” says Burnett. “It’s built around trust and we will navigate the financial road with you.”

“More than half of the adult population in the U.S. could benefit from better financial advice to improve their money management,” said Joel Ratner, CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, in a release. “By offering programs and services targeted to residents with different levels of financial knowledge in convenient settings such as their employer or neighborhood library, we feel that we can reach more people and make a real impact on their financial future.”
 
Initially, the Community Financial Centers and the advisors will be housed through employers and non-profit organizations. The Cleveland Public Library is the first institution to incorporate a center for its employees. The City of Cleveland was also an early supporter of the Community Financial Centers. Funders include Saint Luke’s FoundationCuyahoga Community College, United Way of Greater Cleveland, JP Morgan Chase, Woodforest National Bank and Third Federal Foundation.
 
The service is free. Individuals who want to make an appointment can do so on the Community Financial Centers website.

edwins restaurant plans dormitory-style housing for homeless workers

In just over a year since it opened, Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute has trained almost 50 formerly convicted criminals in the art of working at an upscale French restaurant. It has also trained another 30 at the Grafton Correctional Institute. Now, founder and CEO Brandon Chrostowski is taking it to the next level by helping his students start their new careers on the right footing.

On February 23rd, Chrostowski will host NEXT, a six-course dinner fundraiser to build student housing. Chrostowski is working with the Cuyahoga Land Bank to buy an abandoned two-building parcel on Buckeye. “The whole idea behind Next is to take things to the next level for Edwins students,” he says. “I had a vision to build dorms near the school. I thought it would be a bit later, but the needs of the students – some of them are in shelters, some of them are homeless – made it happen sooner.”

The plan to build the dorms began brewing in April of last year. “In October, I put it out there to people supporting Edwins and within one month I received $1 million in two checks for $500,000 each,” says Chrostowski.

Additional support wasn’t far behind. Six chefs from Cleveland and chefs from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles will come together to make a memorable dining experience at Edwins. “It’s a great group -- anything we need they provide,” says Chrostowski.

Tickets for the event, which cost between $250 and $350 each, sold out in three days. Chrostowski is still open to sponsorships for the project, though. “It’s going to be one big party to contribute to a good cause,” he says. “It’s not just about the money. It’s about community support.”

Chrostowski has phase-one designs for a 37-bed dorm. Students will pay $100 a month, which would be returned to them at the end of the program for a deposit on an apartment. The plan also calls for six individual units on the top floor for Edwins graduates who are having trouble finding housing. Their rent would contribute to operating costs.

Bialosky and Partners Architects helped with the design and Kirt Montlack of Montack Realty helped guide Chrostowski through the operating costs of running the buildings. Jones Day helped with the legal work.

“This is one example of the community coming together, and Buckeye is a neighborhood I believe in,” Chrostowski says. “We’re talking about someone without a home who is struggling. We have to change that. It’s a very real problem and we have the power to change it.”
 
Phase two of Chrostowski’s plan includes a library, fitness center and a meat and fish shop where employees will butcher the meat for sale and for use at Edwins.

cosmic bobbins focuses on social impact while selling local

When Sharie Renee opened Cosmic Bobbins in Shaker Square two years ago, she intended it to be a simple pop-up shop to sell her works and some gifts made by local artisans. Today, the shop is not only a source to find some of Cleveland’s finest local hand-crafted works, it sells fair-trade items from around the world and has become a leader in social and community empowerment through art.

“We started as a pop-up shop with 15 to 20 vendors at first,” recalls Renee. “In our two years [at the Square], we now represent over 50 local artists as well as fair-trade artists. We’ve definitely expanded in capacity.”
 
Renee is now focused on local collaborations to create new products in her store. In a partnership with Jakprints, the two companies have created an upcycling initiative and are working on a couple of new Cleveland apparel ideas. “This year we began deconstructing and repurposing misprinted apparel for Jakprints,” explains Renee. “Our collaborative teams developed a line of clothing for Cosmic Bobbins which will be available this week.”

In November, Cosmic Bobbins began a partnership with Classy Little Fashions Foundation, which helps disabled people with non-standard body types find fashionable clothing. Renee will be manufacturing clothing for the organization’s clients, as well as teaching private sewing lessons.

Tremont artist Paul Duda’s Cleveland photography will soon be featured on silk scarves. The collaboratives can only help the artisan community thrive, says Renee. “We want to see what else is possible. We have to be a little more innovative to dream up new ideas.”
 
Renee spent her first year converting the basement of her shop into a workroom and classroom. She and fellow artists teach classes. Last summer she taught groups of area high school students how to sew and sell what they made through a partnership with Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.).
 
“These are youth who want to go into the fashion industry or be entrepreneurs,” explains Renee. “They learned how to sew, made products and sold them. We also donated a lot of the products to school supply drives.”
 
With a company credo of giving back to the community, creating jobs in underserved populations through arts-based entrepreneurship, sewing education and outreach, Renee employed seven of her students last summer through the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation and a grant from Neighborhood Connections. She plans to run the same program next summer, with returning students acting as teachers.
 
Renee’s community outreach work earned her a spot in the latest SEA Change (Social Enterprise Accelerator) class, a collaborative social enterprise accelerator that provides coaching, connections and capital to companies trying to make positive changes in their communities.

edwins restaurant and leadership institute celebrates one year of changing lives

Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute, the French restaurant at Shaker Square that employs ex-convicts and gives them on-the-job training and a foothold in the industry in an upscale restaurant, celebrated its first birthday on November 1st.

Founder and chef Brandon Chrostowski sees many reasons to celebrate with the success the restaurant has seen in its first year. Forty-four students have graduated from the program and 40 have gone on to work in fine dining establishments in the region. In the first class, 100 percent of the graduates had jobs within 30 days of graduation and 85 percent of the graduates still were working in their jobs six months later.
 
Edwins took in $1.4 million last year, which covered roughly 73% of the school portion of the restaurant’s model, which teaches its student employees virtually every aspect of running a restaurant. Edwins also has a long list of sponsors and supporters who believe in second chances.
 
Goals for Edwins’ second year include 75 graduates with 80 percent job retention after a year; 81 percent of total expenses covered by restaurant sales and diner contributions; and a less than five percent recidivism rate.
 
Chrostowski says the restaurant has learned some lessons in the first year as well. Smaller classes of 12 to 15 accepted every six weeks instead of 55 students starting all at once result in a higher graduation rate. “You’re going to get better results with a smaller class because you’re going to get to know the students more,” explains Chrostowski.
 
Housing, transportation and childcare are the biggest issues for Edwins students to overcome. Those issues are being resolved through the kindness of patrons and friends. A group of Ruffing Montessori School parents and teachers recently walked in to Edwins to offer their help. That group now provides childcare five days a week. Chrostowski was able to secure 30 beds on E. 130th Street and St. Clair Avenue for those employees who need a place to stay. And he recently brought on a case manager to help with additional support needs.
 
“We’re all working as hard as we can for each other to get on with the next phase of their lives,” says Chrostowski, who also credits his staff of three managers with providing guidance and support. Chrostowski is always looking for volunteers to help continue Edwins’ success.
 
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