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Uplift: 'Best Buddies' opens real-life pipelines to IDD community

Everyone needs a friend, particularly people whose disabilities may leave them feeling isolated and alone. Enter Best Buddies International, a nonprofit founded to foster one-on-one friendships, employment opportunities and leadership skills for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
 
Headquartered in Miami, the organization has opened a new office inside the Beachwood Adult Activities Center, located at the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities facility on Mercantile Road.
 
Program supervisor Ryan Wirth, whose involvement with Best Buddies dates back to high school, has big plans for the Cleveland location. First, he and his still forming team will create "friendship chapters" at area high schools and colleges.
 
Two chapters are currently operating at Case Western Reserve University and Kent State University under the guidance of student leaders and advisors. These chapters will cultivate meet-ups between volunteer "peer buddies" and people with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other undiagnosed disabilities. Ideally, meaningful friendships will form, empowering "buddies" with all-important socialization skills.
 
"Getting everyone to meet each other and talk is key," Wirth says. "As those friendships become active, you can see them grow naturally on their own."
 
Socials outings include ordinary activities like bowling, movies and dinner, but the impact on participants is enormous, says Wirth. Since its launch in 1989, the nonprofit has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals with IDD secure jobs, live independently, improve their public speaking, and, just as critically, feel valued by society.
 
"For me, it's having that 'aha' moment in seeing someone with a disability enjoy themselves and come out of their shell," says Wirth. "They become part of this large group where everyone's welcome."
 
Meanwhile, the Cleveland-based Best Buddies office continues to grow. Wirth is planning a fundraising walk and basketball challenge featuring Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving for September. Next is an initiative funded by the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council that seeks to get adults with IDD into the workforce.
 
While Wirth loves the work, it helps to have a personal investment in shepherding the group's success in Northeast Ohio, he says.
 
Best Buddies has been part of Wirth's life since serving as chapter leader in high school and college. Upon graduation from Slippery Rock University in 2013, he acted as program manager for Best Buddies Maryland for two years.  In addition, his future brother-in-law, Branden, who is on the autism spectrum, has enjoyed participating in organization events.
 
“I am overjoyed to introduce the Cleveland community to Best Buddies," says Wirth. "I want to bring that same joy and sense of belonging that Branden has experienced to all of the people in Cleveland with IDD.”

ZooKeys return to raise awareness, evoke nostalgia

Education is key to protecting the planet's endangered animals, a mindset Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is taking quite literally.
 
This month, the zoo launched its ZooKey program, which offers young visitors customized keys that unlock recorded messages specific to particular exhibits. Kids can use the elephant-shaped keys on two dozen designated boxes scattered throughout the zoo to get fascinating facts on their favorite beastie.
 
"Our mission is about connecting people with wildlife," says Kelly Manderfield, chief marketing officer for Cleveland Metroparks. "This is a hands-on opportunity to educate the next generation and encourage them to learn more about these animals."
 
ZooKeys, part of a partnership with KeyBank celebrating Cleveland Metroparks' 100-year anniversary, are available for purchase at the zoo for $3. Pint-sized patrons can keep the keys and bring them back to access additional recordings.
 
Zoo officials expect nostalgic parents to use the keys, too, considering the program made its original debut in the 1960s. Since the re-launch, adult visitors have arrived with the old "Packey the Elephant" keys they grew up with.
 
"This has stirred lots of memories for parents," says Manderfield. "People are having fun seeing their own children participate."
 
New animal keys will be introduced over the program's current five-year timeline. Manderfield hopes the venture not only connects participants with the zoo's 2,000 animals, but inspires them to get interested in wildlife conservation as well.
 
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are now 16,306  species threatened with extinction, a figure that also includes plants. Species endangered include one in four mammals, one in eight birds, and one third of all amphibians.
 
Cleveland zoo patrons can witness efforts to stave off this trend at the Eastern black rhinoceros exhibit. This subspecies of black rhino is considered "critically endangered"  under World Wildlife Foundation guidelines due to demand for rhino horn, which has driven poaching to record levels.
 
Unlocking knowledge about rhinos and other rare creatures can be the catalyst that saves them from disappearing forever, Manderfield says.
 
"If we don't take care of these animals now, they may not be around for future generations," she says. "We're taking the idea of conservation and bringing it to the forefront."

The Cleveland Metroparks is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.
 

RALLY: Clevelanders to March for Science on April 22

Cleveland is becoming a powerhouse for scientific discovery and research thanks to its world-class universities and medical facilities as well as a growing tech industry. What better way to celebrate the innovative leaps happening here than with a parade? ask Northeast Ohio's science proponents.
 
That question will be answered during the March for Science taking place at Public Square on April 22. The collaboration among a coalition of local foundations and science-based organizations is expected to draw thousands of supporters downtown, and will act as a satellite event to the national March for Science held the same day in Washington, D.C.
Evalyn Gates 
"Cleveland is a science town and that's something we should appreciate and showcase," says Dr. Evalyn Gates, executive director and CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, one of the sponsors for the march.
 
The free event begins at 9 a.m. and includes activities and speakers that underscore the influence of science on the world. While the speaker lineup is still to be determined, attendees can choose banners displaying beer, bald eagles and other elements of our planet that are impacted by science.
 
"People can carry these banners during the march," says Gates. "There are so many ways science undergirds our lives."
 
The list of local advocates is emblematic of Cleveland's scientific strengths, adds Gates: Along with the natural history museum, Cleveland State University, Greater Cleveland Aquarium, Great Lakes Science Center, Holden Forests & Gardens, The MetroHealth System and West Creek Conservancy are just a few partner organizations on the march.

"Cleveland is a global leader in medical research and other fields," Gates says. "Then you have companies like Sherwin-Williams and General Electric employing a science-based workforce."
 
A march championing this work is especially critical in the face of proposed budget cuts to some federal science agencies, notes Gates. Among the projects at risk is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since its inception, the program has funded 3,400 projects targeting everything from the control of invasive Asian carp to pollution cleanup.
 
Marching in support of these endeavors sends a message to the nation's capital, and also serves as a strong message for future generations interested in the pursuit of science.
 
"We want this event to be a catalyst for people to talk to each other," says Gates. "It's a good starting point for conversation on science-related matters." 

JumpStart investment lures upscale talent to Health-Tech Corridor

Cleveland-based venture development organization JumpStart Inc. is helping build up the city's Health-Tech Corridor (HTC) with a $250,000 investment in Monarch Teaching Technologies, Inc., maker of a special education learning software.
 
The investment comes from JumpStart's $10 million Evergreen Fund, which focuses on companies that relocate to the rapidly growing 1,600-acre district that links downtown Cleveland to University Circle.
 
Monarch's move from Shaker Heights to MidTown Cleveland will make them one of more than 170 tech firms located along the corridor, says JumpStart CEO Ray Leach.
 
"It's another example of a smaller, high-growth company moving to this section of town," Leach says. "The corridor is a good place for employers to access needed talent."
 
Monarch was founded in 2005 to develop visual learning software for children and adolescents with autism. The latest iteration, called VizZle, has been adapted for use by schools, clinicians and parents of children with varying special education needs.
 
"VizZle is a truly unique and innovative product," says Rem Harris, JumpStart's senior partner in charge of investing, in a statement. "The combination of high-quality content and ease of use allows curriculum to be customized for each student, enabling them to learn on an individual basis." 
 
The invested dollars will be utilized to strengthen Monarch's product development and sales and marketing arms, adds Leach. JumpStart's Evergreen Fund invests seed capital in similar high-potential businesses across the region, with 82 portfolio companies receiving $31 million through the fund to date. The fund also sets aside a special $2 million "carve out" fund for companies ready to move into the corridor.
 
"An increased number of people in MidTown doesn't just strengthen the economic impact of the neighborhood on a one-by-one basis," says Leach. "There's momentum now."
 
Companies doing business from the corridor have access to four world-class clinical institutions and a bevy of talent-rich universities. Add a mix of flexible office and lab space and you have reason for additional businesses to join the party.
 
"We were very attracted to the overall vibe of innovation and collaboration in the HTC," Monarch CEO and President Bob Gephart adds in the statement. "There are also so many great sources of support and new talent for a company like ours."

Spotlight: reality show illuminates Gordon Square, CLE's 'movers and makers'

Cleveland's maker economy constitutes a growing community of creators whose work is only limited by their imaginations — or perhaps the size of a screen. Here on the north coast, designer Susie Frazier helped bring maker dreams into locals' homes courtesy of a new reality-based television show.
 
"Movers & Makers with Susie Frazier," which launched March 25 on WKYC-Channel 3, illuminates local independent inventors and tinkerers with Frazier as the host. For the pilot, the 20-year design veteran and her team chose the Edison apartments in the Gordon Square arts district, developing furniture and art for a two-bedroom model suite.

View the trailer for last week's pilot:


 
Frazier worked with a local team of artists and designers to execute the project. Featured players in the 30-minute premiere were metal fabricator Alex Loos, wood craftsman Freddy Hill, woodworker Kurt Ballash, and artist/curator Hilary Gent of the HEDGE Gallery inside 78th Street Studios.
 
"The show is about my life as a designer and projects that come my way," says Frazier. "There's a synchronized process of working with the cluster of makers here, and that's what we're trying to highlight."
 
Although it aired last week, Frazier has posted the full pilot on her YouTube channel. The idea for the show germinated late last year after Frazier contracted the Edison gig. Her Los Angeles-based management firm pushed "Movers and Makers" as a vehicle for her work in creating home accessories, furniture and fine art using cast-off materials from the construction industry.
 
Filming took place in Frazier's 78th Street Studios space and in Gordon Square in late February and early March. Revealing the nuts-and-bolts progress of a complicated project is something unique to the reality design genre, she says.
 
"We're excited to share what we do and how we do it," says Frazier. "There are lots of 'before-and-after' design shows, but I'm excited to showcase the process."
 
"Movers & Makers" can be a beacon for a maker movement with approximately 135 million adherents across the U.S.," the budding TV host adds. 
 
"People want to be more resourceful and do something with their hands," Frazier says. "The show can be a model for people to get out there and do it. I have no formal training — I learned by doing like so many others."
 
Meanwhile, maker spaces represent a culture shift in how new startups are created. Cleveland's long history of mass production is transitioning into hyper-local manufacturing that emphasizes exciting technologies such as 3D printing.
 
Frazier is pleased to shine a spotlight on that ongoing evolution. While WKYC is not committed to carrying the program forward as a full series, Frazier's producers are set to pitch the show, which is in development as a nine-episode series, to various cable networks.
 
"There's so many directions we can go," Frazier says. "We want to have makers in every episode, and highlight other trades and crafts." 

The business of babies: getting new and expectant families on the right path

Parenthood is not always an easy journey for expectant families unsure where to turn for guidance on birth planning and decision-making. Luckily, navigating parents along childbirth's sometimes rocky path is the mission of a business created by Clevelander Ashley Sova.
 
CLEBaby is a full-service pregnancy, birth, and parenting agency that hosts local events, presents childbirth education classes, and, perhaps most importantly to its founder, provides postpartum doula services. 
 
Sova offers educational tools that treat parenthood as an ongoing process that begins during pregnancy and continues through a baby's first months. Classes are taught in a client's home and center on a range of topics covering pregnancy, labor and birth. Sova's clientele, mostly professional women ages 27 – 40, prefer the comfortable nature of private classes over a more sterile hospital learning environment.
 
"They can ask embarrassing questions, and find out the information that matters for their birth experience," says Sova. "People will invite their pregnant friends and make it into a group event."
 
Teaching the classes are professionally trained doulas, who act as travel guides in advising families during pregnancy, birth and the immediate postpartum period. CLEBaby's postpartum doulas are also brought on to help with infant feeding and light housework, and offer mothers critical support in whatever ways they need to recover from childbirth.
 
Sova hired a doula for her second pregnancy after a difficult birth with her first child. Having an informed, supportive resource close at hand was a revelation, she says, one that inspired her to launch CLEBaby instead of returning to her job as a cancer researcher at Case Western Reserve University.
 
"Having an experienced woman who has seen so many births and knows it inside out brings such a sense of calm," Sova says. "We've had women tell us the service has been life-changing for them."
 
CLEBaby has served 50 to 55 families over the last year, a number Sova plans to grow through new classes and events. Outings for 2017 include a mom-centric ice cream social and a "daddy bootcamp" at a local brewery where new fathers can sip a beer while learning basic baby care.
 
Raising a newborn may not be all glitz and glamour, but neither should it be overwhelming or isolating, says Sova.
 
"We're going to continue to grow our services and our team," she says. "We want to continue on the path of having the most knowledgeable doulas around."
 

For local firm, virtual reality imparts new dimension to design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guild builds community amid professional women of color

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

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

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

Women Who Code launches new tech network in Cleveland

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

Women, Wine & Web Design aims to boost digital literacy

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

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

Career fair matches area bioscience companies with high-tech talent

BioOhio is looking for a few good employers to attend an upcoming tech-centric job fair in Cleveland.
 
The Ohio Bioscience Career Fair, scheduled for February 22 at Cuyahoga Community College's Corporate College East campus, matches job seekers with the region's growing bioscience sector. Ten companies representing the biotech, manufacturing,pharmaceutical, R&D, and medical device industries are expected to attend an event that organizers say is an affordable and targeted means of connecting with skillful would-be employees.
 
"Finding a workforce has been a challenge for companies," says Jen Goldsberry, manager of member services and events at BioOhio, a nonprofit membership organization that supports the Buckeye State's bioscience community through networking, advocacy and events. "We can bridge that gap."
 
Now in its 11th year, the program attracts about 200 candidates annually, from recent and soon-to-be graduates to experienced individuals exploring new career paths. Attendees meet HR managers and recruiters over the course of the afternoon (2 – 5 p.m.), and have the option of submitting their resumes for review prior to the event, giving them an ostensible jumpstart on future employment.
 
BioOhio is currently reaching out to potential exhibitors via an employer application form. Exhibitor rates are $525 for BioOhio members and $750 for non-members. Exhibiting companies will also be featured on the organization's online career fair page. Among the firms already signed up are Neurotechnology Innovations Translator and Charles River Laboratories. Meanwhile, regional partners like BioEnterprise and MAGNET are aiding in the company recruitment process.
 
"These are partners trying to grow jobs in their backyards," says BioOhio project and content manager Drew Cook. "They're critical supporters in what we do."
 
BioOhio holds yearly career fairs in northeast, central and southwest Ohio in an attempt to fill the coffers of the state's approximately 2,300 bioscience companies. With 10,179 students graduating in industry-related majors in 2015—according to the Ohio Bioscience Growth Report—a conscientious effort must be made to keep these talented young people at home.
 
"Companies want to find homegrown talent over bringing someone in from outside," says Cook.
 
Group officials say the career fair is the best solution for employers searching for new hires who need minimal onboarding before becoming a vital company asset.
 
"If you post on CareerBuilder, you don't know what you're going to find," says Goldsberry. "Here you're going to have access to some awesome talent."

Babies need boxes? Local nonprofit delivers

Cleveland has averaged about 13 infant deaths per 1,000 live births over the past five years, which is more than twice the national average. Curtailing that deadly trend is the goal of a recently founded local chapter of a national infant safety program.
 
Babies Need Boxes Ohio launched two months ago to provide Finnish baby boxes, supplies and educational resources to Cleveland moms with babies up to six months of age. Baby boxes, first made available by Finnish officials to combat the country's infant mortality rate among low-income mothers in the 1930's, provide a safe, economical sleeping environment for babies living in impoverished conditions. The program became so popular it was quickly expanded. Now for more than seven decades, a baby box has been offered to all expectant Finnish moms.
 
Locally, the nonprofit's Cleveland chapter has partnered with University Hospitals MacDonald Women's Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic and Neighborhood Family Practice to donate 200 boxes at the beginning of the new year. Elizabeth Dreyfuss, executive director of Babies Need Boxes Ohio, says the cardboard sleep spaces are perfectly sized for newborns.
 
"Transient families can bring the boxes with them and know their child will be safe as opposed to using a couch, or an abundance of blankets and pillows," says Dreyfuss.
 
The baby box giveaway is one facet of a larger mission to provide pre- and post-natal education to a disadvantaged populace. African-American babies in Ohio, for example, are three times as likely to die before the age one than white babies, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
 
Babies Need Boxes was founded in the U.S. last year by Danielle Selassie of Fridley, Minnesota, and now counts Head Start and United Way among its organizational partners. Cleveland's chapter was started by five Shaker Heights moms including Dreyfuss, who saw the city's high infant mortality rate and wanted to do something about it.
 
"We wanted to support mothering, which needs more care than what we're able to offer alone,"  says Dreyfuss. "We're now looking for women in poverty, or on Medicaid. We also want to help immigrant and refugee families."
 
The group hopes to give out 600 boxes total by the end of 2017, while growing a volunteer base eager to aid new mothers. Ultimately, organization founders want to stop a dreadful epidemic that's taking newborns away all too soon.
 
"The goal is to get a box to every mom in Ohio," Dreyfuss says. "We're offering education and the ability for babies to have a safe sleep spot." 

Bad Girl Ventures 'launches' new crop of grads, marks five years

Bad Girl Ventures' Cleveland location is celebrating its fifth anniversary by doing what it does best - giving area women business owners a financial boost for their entrepreneurial endeavors.
 
Last month, BGV awarded two $15,000 loans to a pair of graduates from its fall 2016 LAUNCH group. The loan recipients, Liza Rifkin of Liza Michelle Jewelry and Angelina Rodriguez Pata of Blackbird Fly Boutique, were part of an eight-member class that underwent nine weeks of training at Baldwin Wallace University's Center for Innovation & Growth.
 
Liza Michelle Jewelry offers custom-made, eco-friendly pieces, while Blackbird Fly Boutique brings customers contemporary apparel, footwear, accessories and locally made gifts. Both Ohio City store owners displayed the business-minded strength and acumen BGV seeks when choosing its awardees, says Northeast Ohio marketing manager Reka Barabas.
 
"These two are dedicated to growth and getting new revenue streams into their businesses," Barabas says. "We had a strong cohort of participants this fall, but there's only so much we can do with our funding."
 
The loans, awarded in  partnership with the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI), will be used by the respective businesses to purchase inventory or expand a marketing campaign.
 
This is the first cohort to graduate under the new LAUNCH curriculum in Northeast Ohio, which is designed for established, majority women-owned enterprises that have been making sales for at least a year, says Barabas. Most program participants aim to tighten operations, discover new growth opportunities and learn about funding options.
 
"The loan can be a motivator, but it's often the icing on the cake," Barabas says. "Many people come to us because they realize the power of a structured program. They love being part of a supportive community of female entrepreneurs."
 
BGV Cleveland has graduated 18 classes since its establishment in 2011. Founded in Cincinnati and expanded since to markets throughout Ohio and Kentucky, the program overall has lent $220,000 to business owners. BGV Cleveland program grads, meanwhile, have attracted an additional $800,000 follow-on funding from non-BGV sources.
 
"We've grown up in these last five years," says Barabas. "Raising the profile of female entrepreneurship very much touches on our mission."
 
The nonprofit is already looking ahead to next year's iteration. Women business owners from any industry can apply online for the 2017 LAUNCH program by February 28. Barabas is excited to welcome a new class into BGV's hard-working fold.
 
"We're excited to be part of this ecosystem in Northeast Ohio," she says. "We want entrepreneurs to thrive in the community." 
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