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6 Grassroots Success Articles | Page:

Partner content podcast: What does Neighbor Up do?


The latest episode of "Neighbor Up Spotlight" is now available.

"Neighbor Up Spotlight: What does Neighbor Up do?" is a 15-minute kitchen table conversation between host Carol Malone and Neighbor Up member Tom O'Brien focusing on how Neighbor Up came together and what members are doing to make change in Cleveland.

Hosted by Malone, a Cleveland resident and activist, each episode of "Neighbor Up Spotlight" focuses on members of Neighbor Up, a network of approximately 2,000 Greater Cleveland residents making positive change in their neighborhoods. This resident-driven social change movement is about bringing equity to all Cleveland neighborhoods.

Listen to “Neighbor Up Spotlight" on Soundcloud or download episodes from iTunes. Or just click below to hear the latest edition right now.




Support for this series, "Grassroots Success: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods," is provided by Neighborhood Connections.

Birthing Beautiful Communities educates, advocates and supports

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.

An overwhelming number of babies are dying in Cleveland neighborhoods, and a group of strong women have come forward to prevent those deaths through education, advocacy and support.
 
According to Birthing Beautiful Communities, 22 babies in Hough die for every 1,000 born, which is a stark contrast to the national average of six. Meanwhile in Cleveland's Central neighborhood, approximately 30 babies die annually.
 
“Infant mortality is not a new problem,” Birthing Beautiful Communities founder Christin Farmer says. “We’ve always known that our babies die at a higher rate and maternal morbidity rates are high amongst African American woman too.”
 
She blames the disparity on racism. Understandably so, as infant mortality rates are three times higher for black babies than white.
 
“A lot of the supportive services we provide have to do with us having to attend appointments with the mothers because they’ve been treated unfairly," says Farmer. "They don’t want to receive care or assistance out of fear of being judged because this is their third or fourth child.

"There’s a lack of wealth within communities, and education and achievement gaps in communities," she continues. "These are all day-to-day stressors that African-Americans face. Also, when you look as mass incarceration rates within communities—the men in the community are being incarcerated at a much higher rate—and that’s leaving women to take care of the babies and the children by themselves, and that is a stressor. It boils down to institutional and structural racism.”  
 
Farmer formed Birthing Beautiful Communities in 2014 to combat these alarming realities and resulting statistics. She had previously studied to be a midwife and volunteered as a postpartum doula. Upon deciding on birthwork as her career path, she began seeking out other African American doulas in the area.

"I became acquainted with a few other woman and we began to form a little commune of birthworkers who were interested in supporting moms in our own communities where we live and decreasing the rates of infant deaths,” notes Farmer, adding that the volunteers started out by meeting weekly and garnering clients through referrals.
 
“More so than doula work, we began to connect them [our clients] to a lot of other support services that they needed,” she says. “We did a lot of navigation with them, helping them through a lot of issues pertaining to housing, social service and caseworkers. By the time we get to the labor and delivery room, it’s a little too late if we don’t provide support beforehand.

"What we found was that the women really lacked support through family, through friends, and they a lot of times lived in isolation… Women not having support around them during their pregnancy can cause stress. Stress can lead to prematurity, and prematurity is the leading cause of infant mortality.”

Birthing Beautiful Communities provides free services to local women including childbirth and parenting education with workshops and classes on breastfeeding, stress relief, bonding with baby, co-parenting and healthy eating. They also offer support for labor, delivery and postpartum health including depression. Other issues they assist with include infant loss, anxiety, panic or fear. They also advise in family, life and goal planning.
 
“Our focus is always on what is going on in this mother’s life,” Farmer says. “We make it mandatory for anyone who comes through our door to participate in our SOS circle, which is all about mental health and emotional trauma—we work with a psychologist on that. We have our birthworkers facilitate these circles. They’ve been largely successful because they really hit at the core," she adds, noting that some of the clients don't even realize they are being exposed to stressors because it’s just their norm.
 
"It’s not normal to not know where your next meal is coming from or where you’re going to sleep that night or why you have these sorts of feelings, so we have that family support structure among ourselves where we can help in such circumstances," says Farmer, adding that the group promotes healthy eating, breastfeeding, and togetherness. "It’s collectivism that has left our communities so we’re just bringing it back. We’re building communities through babies.” 
 
The organization also trains women to provide these services through an eight-week course on prenatal, birth, and postpartum support; breastfeeding; contraception; and stress, anxiety, depression and panic support. All birthworkers are required to obtain CPR credentials. The infant CPR classes are open to the public. 
 
They are currently training their second class of women. The first class had nine trainees; the current class has 10. The group is  planning to offer community birthworker training once a year that would include doula training in addition to training on the many other services they provide. Birthing Beautiful Communities aims to eventually hire those graduates. Beginning in April, the organization will also offering a course for doula-only training (labor, delivery and postpartum support).
 
“We don’t turn anyone away and we have never charged anyone anything,” Farmer says of the training, which is valued at $1,800. “Since we’re paying for the training, we expect our trainees to come back and take on one or two pro-bono cases so that we can accommodate those woman who live outside of our scope but still need the services.”
 
The Cleveland Foundation awarded the Greater University Circle Community Health Initiative (GUCCHI) $500,000 in April 2015, $125,000 of which went to Birthing Beautiful Communities to provide their services in the Hough neighborhood.
 
“Christin Farmer was the first person to inform me about the infant mortality crisis in 2014. I knew nothing of it,” GUCCHI project manager Neal Hodges says. “What Christin was doing was addressing the social determinants that play a part in the infant mortality crisis by training Glenville residents to become doulas to then help Glenville women who were pregnant and facing challenging situations to help ensure they would have a healthy, live birth."
 
He continues: "We started a marketing campaign in the communities as it became apparent that the community was unaware they were in the middle of a crisis (infant mortality) that rivals third world countries." The effort, however, does not stop with women.

“We are creating a Dude-la experiment program to address infant mortality from a two-parent approach,” says Hodges. “Most often—and rightfully so—infant mortality is geared toward the mother but not the farther. We aim to change that, and we are partnering with 100 Black Men and Cuyahoga County Fatherhood Initiative to support the concept.”
 
In addition, Ohio Medicaid funds Birthing Beautiful Communities in neighborhoods outside of Hough deemed at high risk for infant mortality including Central, Buckeye-Woodhill, Ohio City and Lee-Harvard.
 
So far, the nine-person staff, which includes seven birthworkers, has assisted close to 50 women and is currently serving 23 pregnant mothers and three postpartum mothers. They have not suffered any deaths.
 
“Because we hire the women that we train, we are a workforce development agency, and we integrate the practice of birthwork with community development,” Farmer says. “It’s where community wealth meets community health.”

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.”
 

PRISM looks to unite second cohort of racial equity leaders

This series of stories, "Grassroots Success: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods," explores how meaningful impact on our communities grows from the ground up. Support for "Grassroots Success" is provided by Neighborhood Connections.

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

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

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.
 

Fresh and fun: recessCLE

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.
 
Alex Robertson is smart, ambitious, and successful. And after leaving Glenville to attend Ivy League Columbia University in New York City, he returned home to share what he has gleaned and improve his neighborhood by making it more fun.
 
Robertson threw a birthday party for his entire community when he first formed the pop-up game and event organization Recess Cleveland (recessCLE). Its first event was held on his 31st birthday, August 9, 2015.
 
“Birthdays are always a good time to get people out to an event,” says Robertson. “I told my friend, for my birthday I want to throw dodge balls at you.”
 
Approximately 50 people showed up. They divided the group into age 21 and under and age 22 and older.

”The highlight of the day was a 65-year-old grandma pitching to five-year-old kids,” Robertson says. “When she was kicking, she kicked a line-drive to the outfield. So all the kids were like, ‘Granny’s got legs!’ We did get her a designated runner, though.”
 
The organization throws pop-up recess events at community functions, block parties, etc. It also hosts a monthly Glenville Community Freecess and potluck where everyone donates food or a toy or game.
 
“We bring the meat, volunteers bring sides, and residents bring chips and sodas,” Robertson says. “We go all out; it’s a lot of fun. I tell people, ‘Send us your kids. They’ll leave tired and full.’”
 
RecessCLE began by throwing last minute events with no more than a 48-hour notice, although Robertson is trying to give people more time now. The events are a free-for-all for the first hour as people show up, then they decide which sports or games to play. It may include dodge ball, kickball, and soccer with tug-o-war, hula-hooping, and jumping rope contests between. The whole event lasts more than four hours.

”It ends when the lights go out, or when the mosquitoes get to us,” he says, adding that people typically bring their entire families, with ages ranging from five to 60.
 
“I pull the double-dutch jump ropes out, and the parents’ faces light up. The kids may get two jumps in before the ropes hit the ground, and the parents have to show them how it’s done. I try to get everyone involved by taking old school games and bringing them to new school teenagers.”
 
The inspiration to form the community organization, which includes Robertson and three volunteers, was rooted deep in his childhood. He attended Glenville's St. Aloysius School through fifth grade, then University School in Shaker Heights before moving to New York and earning his degree from Columbia University. The full-time web designer and digital marketing consultant moved back to Glenville and began working with non-profits.
 
He remembered the contrast between finding things to do in the parking lot during recess at the inner-city St. Aloysius and the structured recess games organized for large groups at the suburban University School.
 
“I met kids who had never played dodge ball,” he says. “I wanted to give them something that I felt was important to me when I was a kid.”
 
Neighborhood Connections awarded Robertson a $3,000 grant in February, which he used to replace old equipment and items that were stolen. He also purchased 12 body zorb balls, which he says are the most popular item with children.
 
”The kids just have a blast with those.”
 
In addition, he's launched a crowd-funding campaign to cover the costs of food and moving and replacing equipment. Currently, the organization supplies food for 40 to 50 people at their Freecess events, but 50 to 70 people typically show up.

Robertson branched out further by offering his recessCLE to schools. For $350, he brings his equipment and hosts who ensure all kids are included. They typically offer a free-style environment on one side of the gym and an organized activity on the other. The move was sparked after he volunteered at Patrick Henry School, where he discovered kids sitting on the bleachers doing nothing during what should have been recess due to a lack of adults to monitor them outside.

Robertson is also in the planning stages of launching Recess for a Cause. He hopes to partner with local non-profits to help them raise money and attention for their causes through his recess events.

In the meantime, the group has grown their contact base and is also attempting to branch out into more areas. They held their first Detroit Shoreway area event recently.
 
“We’re trying to bridge communities together,” Robertson says. “When we throw an event, we don’t want just members of their community to attend. Our goal is changing strangers into friends.”

 
6 Grassroots Success Articles | Page:
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