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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.”
 

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."

NewBridge is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.
 

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.
 
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.
 
Ashley’s husband Andy Weingart, whose great-grandfather founded the company in 1900, says the wholesaler used to throw out blemished produce that grocery stores didn’t want because they have trouble selling it to picky shoppers.
 
The company donates 100,000 pounds of imperfect produce to the Cleveland Area Food Bank every year and will continue doing so. But there is even more on hand, which led Ashley Weingart to hatch the idea for Perfectly Imperfect after joining the family business.
 
Weingart says she was struck by the contrast between the bounty of fruits and vegetables arriving every day at the Northern Ohio Food Terminal, the amount the company was discarding because of superficial flaws, and the need for nutritious food in surrounding neighborhoods - which includes some of the poorest zip codes in Ohio.

“It seems ridiculous. I can’t think of a better word at the moment,” she says. “There’s no reason why 40 million Americans should be food insecure, and that we should have 40 percent of the food in this country being wasted.”
 
Weingart and her husband practice what they preach when it comes to eating nourishing food, and are bringing up their three young children the same way.
 
“Our kids are adventurous eaters,” Weingart says. “I refuse to cut the crusts off their bread.”
 
Brimming with ideas for healthy eating at affordable prices while reducing food waste, she has initiated a number of other street level efforts including:
 
- a partnership with the city’s Healthy Cleveland program to get more fruits and vegetables to residents by offering Perfectly Imperfect produce at community centers.
 
- a supply connection with corner stores around Cleveland that want to carry healthier foods, in collaboration with the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods at Case Western Reserve University. “A lot of (corner stores) are going to grocery stores and buying produce and reselling it. They’re not making any money on it,” she says.
 
- outreach to University Hospitals about setting up an information table in the lobby of the main hospital, and perhaps at satellite clinics, to get out word on the ugly produce option.
 
- the "Seed to Spoon" program, in which she vists schools to educate children about the long journey their food takes to get to the table and why it’s important not to waste it.
 
- becoming a supplier of fruits and vegetables to FarmRaiser, an alternative to candy and cookies for student fund drives. City Ballet of Cleveland was the first customer.

“We want to bridge the gap between all the food waste that exists in our country and to help the community around us,” says Weingart. “We feel like we have the obligation and the opportunity to help.”
 

Forward Cities gathering will focus on area entrepreneurs, social innovation

More than 200 community, business, policy, and foundation leaders from four of the nation’s comeback cities are joining forces in Cleveland this month to foster entrepreneurship and social innovation in minority communities. This effort is part of Forward Cities, a national learning collaborative project in which leaders and donors from cities undergoing profound transformation can identify and share best practices. Participating cities include Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans and Durham.
 
“As the global economy becomes increasingly competitive and the war for talent spans worldwide boundaries, we can no longer leave behind huge swaths of our potential innovation talent pool – namely traditionally disenfranchised women and minority populations,” said Christopher Gergen, CEO of Forward Impact and co-founder of Forward Cities. “Cities that fail to heed this call and don’t take intentional action to create a new economy that is purposefully equitable will do so at their own peril. Inclusive innovation isn’t just the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do.”
 
Forward Cities leaders will meet in Cleveland June 14-17 to explore how to drive inclusive innovation. Out of town participants will meet with Cleveland entrepreneurs, business incubators, social innovators, and neighborhood and government leaders. They will also tour target communities including the Opportunity Corridor, the West 25th Street Corridor, the East 55th Street Food Corridor, and the East 105th Street Corridor. The Cleveland Forward Cities Council, which acts as the project's local advisory board, selected those locations. The council includes entities such as Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Towards Employment, the City of Cleveland, RPM International the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., The Business of Good Foundation, the George Gund Foundation and several other civic-minded organizations. National and local donors are funding the effort.
 
In addition, panels of experts from across the participating cities will explore topics ranging from the use of globalization and immigration as a strategy for urban renewal, to the role of anchor institutions in economic development, and how individual entrepreneurs affect a city’s comeback. The Cleveland convening is the final gathering for Forward Cities, which met in New Orleans in December 2014, Detroit in June 2015 and Durham in December 2015.
 
While the Cleveland event is still days away, the area has already felt the impact of being included in the Forward Cities endeavor. The collaboration has led to stronger coordination of local programs to support entrepreneurs, enabled council members to adopt and apply successful programs from the partner cities and has generated new, honest discussions regarding issues that affect inclusive innovation, such as race. Three examples of Forward Cities achievements in Cleveland include:
 
- Compiling a comprehensive list of more than 1,200 minority businesses in the city that connects business owners to public and private projects, conventions and events that are seeking minority business partners
 
- Securing a $16,000 planning grant from the Business of Good Foundation for the Hispanic Marketplace, La Placita, in the West 25th Street neighborhood.
 
- Developing a small business seminar and tour for businesses in the Opportunity Corridor tour that helped the 25 business owners build familiarity and overcome hurdles they may have felt in approaching local technical assistance providers.
 
“Horizons are expanded, problems are viewed from unusual angles, ideas are blended, friendships are forged and challenges unstuck,” said Deborah Hoover, Cleveland Forward Cities Co-Chair and president and CEO of Burton D. Morgan Foundation of the previous gatherings and collective Forward Cities efforts.
 
“This magic occurs because so many people from different cities, backgrounds and types of organizations come together to listen, share, and most of all, understand and work together," said Hoover.
 
Follow the Forward Cities project on Facebook, or stay up to date on Twitter at @forwardcities. Use the hashtags #forwardcities and #roadtogrowth.

Fresh Water's parent company, Issue Media Group, is a national partner in the Forward Cities initiative.


Source: Forward Cities

Text compiled by Erin O'Brien

2016 Vibrant City Award winners announced

Earlier this week Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) honored the 2016 Vibrant City Award winners amid 600 guests gathered at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium. The winners were chosen from a field of 21 finalists.
 
CNP president Joel Ratner honored Cleveland Metroparks with the first-ever Vibrant City Impact Award. The community partner was recognized for its role in managing the city’s lakefront parks, rejuvenating Rivergate Park and bringing back a water taxi service.
 
Ratner also bestowed the Morton L. Mandel Leadership in Community Development Award upon Joe Cimperman.
 
"Joe is a true champion of the city of Cleveland and Cleveland’s neighborhoods," said Ratner. "He truly is a visionary for making Cleveland a fair and equitable place to call home for all city residents."
 
Cimperman recently left Cleveland City Council after 19 years and is now the President of Global Cleveland.
 
The seven other Vibrant City Award winners include:
 
CDC Community Collaboration Award: Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office
 
La Placita – A Hispanic-themed open-air market providing business development opportunities to entrepreneurs and access to local goods and fresh foods for residents.
 
CDC Placemaking Award: University Circle Inc.
 
Wade Oval improvements - the main greenspace in the University Circle neighborhood received a musical themed amenity boost and became an even more attractive and comforting destination for residents and visitors.
 
CDC Economic Opportunity Award: Famicos Foundation
 
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program management – This organization has excelled in focusing on the financial well being of its residents and had a record-breaking year with its EITC work. 
 
CDC Neighborhood Branding & Marketing Award: St. Clair Superior Development Corp. & Campus District, Inc.
 
Night Market Cleveland  -  the two CDCs partnered and capitalized on past successes and momentum in the AsiaTown and Superior Arts District neighborhoods to create a new destination event that brought exposure to the neighborhood and appreciation for the diverse cultures that surround the area.
 
Corporate Partner Award: Dave’s Supermarkets
 
The local grocery chain stayed committed to Cleveland and provides a much-needed amenity to city residents, providing access to fresh food and produce and on-going constant community support.
 
Urban Developer Award: Case Development, Mike DeCesare 
 
A residential developer that has successfully completed development projects in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and is actively pursuing new developments in other city neighborhoods
 
Civic Champion Award: Joseph Black, Central neighborhood
 
The Neighborhood Engagement Manager for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland that possesses a passion to serve at-risk communities and has aided and mentored Cleveland’s children and families for years.

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.

MidTown Cleveland names health-corridor head as new executive director

For almost two years, Jeff Epstein led efforts to attract health-tech and high-tech businesses to the Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor in Midtown. As the newly named executive director of the MidTown Cleveland nonprofit, Epstein expects a smooth transition in helping guide development of the entire two-mile stretch connecting downtown with University Circle

Epstein, named to the position by MidTown Cleveland's board on March 10, will coordinate marketing, business growth and real estate/amenity expansion for the area, including the tech-centric corridor which he previously spearheaded. In the Midtown position, he replaces Jim Haviland, who left the group last August and is now director of local government relations at The MetroHealth System.   

According to MidTown Cleveland, Epstein's work in the self-styled innovation hub resulted in more than 1,800 new jobs and 500,000 square feet of new or renovated office and lab space. Working in the 1,600-acre tech corridor, which contains four world-class healthcare institutions and more than 140 high-tech companies, was an experience Epstein says has prepared him for strategizing Midtown's continued makeover.

"I've built some tremendous relationships over the last 18 months," says Epstein. "There are a number of partners eager to work with us."

Though Epstein's duties with the corridor will continue, the nonprofit will hire on a project manger and additional staff to bolster its mission. For now, the new executive director is meeting local property owners on redevelopment and safety/security issues. Epstein is also looking ahead to various projects planned for 2016 and beyond, among them University Hospitals' proposed women's and children's primary-care clinic on Euclid Avenue.

MidTown Cleveland has several other projects in the pipeline, along with neighborhood-connecting events like "The Chomp," a seasonal weekly midday food truck rally on East 46th Street between Euclid Avenue and Prospect Avenue.

"As an organization we'll look at all the ways we can play an active and smart role in community development," Epstein  says.  

While Midtown is growing, there are pockets that need to be stronger, adds the nonprofit official. Gaps in retail amenities means driving five minutes to University Circle for a cup of coffee or after-work drink.

Meanwhile, areas surrounding Midtown should be included in the larger-scale revitalization effort, be it through job opportunities or projects that add value to underserved neighborhoods. Epstein points to partner group JumpStart's "core city" program, which provides investment and advice to minority and low-income businesses owners.

"There's such potential to transform this district," says Epstein. "I'm excited to be part of a team that's going to be working toward that." 

Pieces of rust belt history come to life at Heights Arts' Remade in Cleveland show

Local artisans who upcycle industrial materials from the rust belt into imaginative, yet functional household objects will be kick off the 2016 Heights Arts season with the gallery's “Remade in Cleveland” exhibit.
 
The work of Doug Meyer’s Rustbelt Rebirth, Kevin Busta, and designers with Rustbelt Reclamation will be showcased in an exhibit that features everything from furniture to accessories using repurposed materials dating back to 100 years ago in Cleveland’s history.
 
The artists use locally sourced wood and metal to create items such as custom tables, seating, lighting, mirrors, wall features, and tabletop objects such as clocks, serving boards and wine caddies.
 
“Cleveland is in its second cycle,” says Greg Donley, head of the gallery committee, founding Heights Arts board member and assistant director of creative services of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “One hundred years ago it was in its first boom. All of these things used to build Cleveland are seeing second lives.”

Meyer fell in love with ceramics while in high school, but instead turned to welding through a Job Corps program. He led the metal fab shop at furniture maker Cleveland Art before starting Rustbelt Rebirth in 2009.
 
“Things that get my creative mojo going: Science fiction movies, surrealist landscapes, googie architecture, electronic music, art deco and mid-century modern design, the streamlining movement, quantum physics, and mysticism,” Meyer says of his inspiration.
 
Meyer says he is glad Heights Arts is exploring the upcycle trend with Remade in Cleveland. “I'm glad to see that the movement is gaining traction and champions,” he says. “It's forced us all to look at things in a different light in terms of quality, design, and creative re-interpretation.” 

Donley defines Meyer’s work as combining raw materials with bent metal. “Meyer simultaneously uses mid-20th Century modern design in a combination of raw materials,” he says.

Busta creates items like lamps made of industrial cast iron fixtures, while Rustbelt Reclamation takes mahogany molds used to make cast iron fixtures and turning them into art.
 
“Cleveland has a long history of making objects with function and design,” says Donley. “Almost everything in [the show] is stuff you live with – chairs, tables you can eat on.”
 
The show opens on Friday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. and runs through Saturday, Feb. 27. Gallery hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday 1:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
 
On Thursday, Feb.11 at 7 p.m., an  artist talk and ekphrastic poetry event will be held, during which the artists will share their inspirations and challenges from working with salvaged and repurposed materials, while local poets Terre Maher, Mary Quade, Barbara Sabol and Barry Zucker will respond with original verse inspired by select objects in the exhibition. 

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.”

TechPint marks 10th networking with beer event at Agora Thursday

When Paul McAvinchey launched TechPint back in June 2013, he was simply looking for a forum where entrepreneurs could  casually share ideas over a beer.

He called his first event a mini-tech conference in a bar with pints. Ten events later, TechPint has evolved into a popular and regular event in both Cleveland and Akron, hosting startup summits, winter jams, and even paired up with Flashstarts for a pitch competition.

“It’s only been two-and-a-half years, but I personally have learned so much and met so many people,” says McAvinchey, adding that more than 1,000 people have attended TechPint events since the first one. “We started with a bang when nearly 200 attended our first event in 2013 but that number kept growing.”
 
This Thursday, Dec. 3, TechPint will mark its 10th event with a combined Winter Summit and regular TechPint event at the Agora.


 
The day will begin at 1 p.m. with the Winter Summit – a tech conference with speakers and time to connect with other business founders from across the region – followed by a regular TechPint, complete with JumpStart’s Demo Pit of startups, Flashstarts Pitcher Night, and speakers Ed BucholzCEO and founder of ExpenseBot, and Morris Wheeler, founder of Drummond Road Capital.
 
This time around, McAvinchey says he wanted to highlight successful women who know the startup industry. He says he has found it difficult in the past to find female speakers. Thursday, three of the six scheduled speakers are women – including Jess Erickson, director of diversity at 500 Startups; Emily Baum, founder of Keyrious; and Kim Gardner, founder of Pigeon.io.
 
“All three are great examples of high caliber females not just participating, but succeeding in tech,” says McAvinchey. “It's refreshing to hear from such impressive people in startups, never mind the fact that they happen to be women.”
 
Other speakers include Guy Turner, managing director at Hyde Park Venture Partners; John Knific, founder and CEO at DecisionDesk; and Nick Solaro, former Google android business development executive and partner at Drive Capital.
 
At 5:30 p.m., the beer starts flowing and the doors open to TechPint.
 
Tickets to both the Winter Summit and TechPint are $75, while tickets to just TechPint are $20. Discounts are available on the TechPint website.

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.

Haus Malts revives an industry forgotten in Cleveland since prohibition

Like many new college graduates, Andrew Martahus was on a seemingly never-ending quest to find a job after earning his chemical engineering degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 2014.
 
“I was interviewing to find a job in Cleveland and nationally, but nothing seemed to stick,” Martahus, 23, recalls. “So I started brewing beer.”
 
It sounds like a typical hobby for a new grad without a job. But the beer brewing turned into a curiosity about the process – and of the malt that goes into beer. That curiosity turned into the creation of Haus Malts last April, a craft malting institution for local commercial craft brewers. It is the first Ohio malt house since prohibition.
 
Haus Malts will create custom malts in batches for local breweries. Grains are soaked, partially germinated, dried and roasted to turn them into malt. Martahus would like to eventually expand the business to serve the food industry and home brewers. In fact, the company has already partnered up with Mennel Milling Company in Fostoria, Ohio.
 
After telling his father, Craig, about his interest in the malt process and touring a malt house in Asheville, North Carolina, the son and father team decided to go into business in Cleveland and revitalize an industry that once thrived here.

“There used to be a large malt house on W. 11th and Front Streets,” explains Martahus. “Cleveland and Cincinnati were two of the largest brewing cities before prohibition.”
 
The aroma of the MidTown building the Martahuses purchased on Carnegie Avenue is more like a bakery than a place where grain is converted to malt. “During the fermentation process it sort of smells like cucumbers, a very fresh smell,” Andrew says. “When its in the kiln it’s a grassy or hay smell, like darker bread.”
 
The business fits right in with its neighbors – Pierre’s Ice Cream to the north and American Sugar to the east. “It’s sort of like a food block here,” Martahus says. “We wanted to be downtown somewhere and we liked the idea of taking an old building built in the 1900s and keeping it going.”
 
Martahus says he has secured verbal agreements with Great Lakes Brewery, Nano Brew, Market Garden Brewery and Platform Beer Company, Brick and Barrel and  the BottleHouse Brewing Company.
 
While Martahus is still working out the kinks before officially opening, he does give tours on request

Tech Elevator attempts to solve the demand for tech talent in Northeast Ohio

Cuyahoga County employers advertised more than 6,000 open software development jobs in September, while Cleveland area colleges graduate only about 400 people computer science majors each year, according to Anthony Hughes.

Hughes, the founding director of JumpStart’s Burton D. Morgan Mentoring Program for three years and former president of Akron’s Software Guild, wants to close the talent gap and bring more coding talent to Cleveland. “I saw the struggle we were having as a region to support startups,” says Hughes. “The concentration of technical talent in Northeast Ohio has lagged behind the rest of the country.”
 
Modeled after internationally-recognized coding boot camp programs and his experience with the Software Guild, Hughes recently started Tech Elevator – a 14-week boot camp that teaches Java and .Net to students. At the end of the program, graduates receive job placement assistance. Hughes has aligned with a number of Cleveland-based companies, including Hyland Software, OnShift and Brandmuscle, to name just a few.
 
 In fact, Hughes promises he’ll refund the $12,000 tuition if they don’t find a job within 120 days of completing the program.
 
The average salary of developers in Cleveland is $85,000, and the industry is on track to have one million open positions nationally, according to Hughes. The problem is, these are jobs that require training. “It''s a fierce market for technical talent right now,” he says. “There’s a lot of poaching going on between companies. It’s a great field to get into, but it’s not a fake it ‘til you make it field.”
 
Tech Elevator hopes it can train the right people and help fill some of those open positions. “If you are willing to work hard, take advice and learn, they payoff is so great,” says Hughes. “From a local standpoint, it’s an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and not be too dependent on one industry.”
 
Applicants must take an aptitude test to determine if they are right for software development careers. The test measures logic, reasoning pattern matching and basic algebra. Applicants also go through an interview process. “We want them to want this for the right reasons,” says Hughes.
 
Tech Elevator is holding an open house on Thursday, November 5 and Friday, November 6 for prospective students. Six students will graduate in December from the program, and applications are open for the spring session, which starts January 25.
 

MAGNET's second annual ProtoTech Pitch competition aimed at product-focused startups

On Thursday, Oct. 29th, area entrepreneurs will present their product-focused technology startups at the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET)’s second ProtoTech Pitch event. Six companies will have about 12 minutes each to pitch their product and take questions from a panel of judges in hopes of winning cash prizes and free business services.

"There's going to be a wide breadth of companies,” says Dave Crain, executive director of entrepreneurial services at MAGNET. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

About 15 applicants will be chosen. From that pool, six finalists will then be chosen to present their pitches. The first place winner will receive $12,000, the runner-up will win $7,500 and the audience favorite will get $1,000.

The winners will also receive free entrepreneurial business services from MAGNET and other sponsors. MAGNET will provide a voucher for $5,000 in business services; Apple Growth Partners has offered $5,000 worth of start-up consulting to the top three finalists; and Dyan Sutton, owner of Creative Ideas Matter, is donating brand analysis and development services valued at $2,000 to the winner and one-hour consultations to the second place and audience favorite.

The event will also include a display section where startups will showcase product prototypes and talk to audience members before they give their presentations.
 
Chris Wentz, founder and CEO of Everykey, a company that makes wristbands that replaces keys and passwords, won last year’s ProtoTech Pitch. He will speak about his experiences at this year’s event. Everykey has gone on to raise more than $1 million in funding and also ran a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Winning last year’s ProtoTech pitch competition was a real turning point for Everykey. “Not only did the money help us immensely, but we also received a huge surge of press opportunities to get Everykey out in front of the masses," says Wentz. "The timing was impeccable because just a week later, we launched our Kickstarter campaign that raised $117,000.  The exposure we received from ProtoTech almost certainly drove to a large portion of that.”
 
ProtoTech Pitch will be held at the Ariel International Center on Oct. 29th from 4:00-6:30 p.m. Entrepreneurs have until Friday, Oct. 16 to submit their applications to pitch. Tickets to the event are $50 and include dinner.
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