Making change: Mental health, social change win big at Accelerate last week

Anycia Grady’s plan to increase the number of licensed mental health professionals, especially those serving Black communities, was a double winner last Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Cleveland Leadership Center’s ninth annual Accelerate: Citizens Make Change competition.

Not only did Grady win the overall pitch competition, but she also took home the Technovation award for initiatives that leverage technology to address a community problem.

Grady won $5,000 for winning her pitch, “Seeking Supervision,” in the Health & Wellbeing category in the main competition and $3,500 for winning the Technovation competition.

Her pitch centers around creating an app that helps match mental health clinicians with the supervision needed to secure clinical licensure.

It took Grady eight years to find supervision to receive her LISW, a process that she says should have taken just two years. Meanwhile, there is a backlog of people who need mental health services because of a shortage of licensed professionals.

Grady’s pitch had been selected as a finalist in one of six category competitions earlier in the evening. In addition to the Health & Wellbeing category that Grady won, the other five categories were Cleveland Experiences & Excursions; Economic Prosperity; Education; Quality of Life; and Social Change.

Judges selected one finalist from among pitches in each category. Each finalist won $2,000 and the audience chose Grady as the overall winner for the $5,000 prize.

The other finalists, who each received $2,000, were:

  • Cleveland Experiences & Excursions: Myesha Watkins, of Cleveland Heights. Her pitch “Another Homegirl” is to create events that build comradery among Black women in need of healing. “We are connected through our trauma, but we can heal through our experiences,” she told the audience.
  • Economic Prosperity: Devin H. Cotton, of Oakwood Village. His pitch for UBE: Universal Basic Employment & Opportunity, is a public policy initiative to create a pathway to economic prosperity through a thriving wage jobs guarantee. “Let’s put together residents, business owners and others to create the change we need,” he said. The pitch was in the category presented in partnership with Boler College of Business at John Carroll University.
  • Education: Stephen M. Prewitt of Sagamore Hills and Keenan Williams of Cleveland Heights. Their SoundBender Institute pitch focused on using music to help combat anxiety and depression. Both DJs want to teach children the art of being a DJ to improve their mental health. Music therapy can be more effective than medication in some cases,” Williams said.
  • Quality of Life: Nancy Jones of Shaker Heights and Tracy Bellum. Their pitch, Clean and Beautiful Cleveland … Block2Block is a two-pronged approach to beautify the city—changing behavior through best practices and litter cleanup. “Clean communities have less stress and depression, more pride, engage people, and property values go up,” said Bellum, a retired teacher.
  • Social Change: Donte D. Jones, of Warrensville Heights. His pitch, Peer Student Support Services, would create an app connecting students with peer supporters who have experienced the same challenges they face. The single father and full-time student, who pitched with his 10-year-old son, Jeremiah, has seen firsthand the positive results of peer support. “This will create a plan of action and get students the resources they need,” he said.
All six finalists received a one-year membership in ECDI, which offers support, resources, and connections to entrepreneurs. and the opportunity to participate in the 2023 NEO SEA Change cohort for social entrepreneurs.

Accelerate 2023 - Ohio For Equity, Jason Folk, Sasha Turner, Jaxon Farmer, and Ashton SpaldingAccelerate 2023 - Ohio For Equity, Jason Folk, Sasha Turner, Jaxon Farmer, and Ashton SpaldingAccelerate: Teens Make Change

Also at the event last week, 21 high school students on 12 teams pitched their ideas at the first-ever Teen Accelerate: competition, sponsored by the Young Entrepreneur Institute at University School and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.

The teams from various Northeast Ohio schools each had five minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of five judges. They pitched in topics like adolescent mental health; teen job searches; music therapy; and coding for girls.

Ella Witalec, a student at the Laurel School, won the $1,000 prize with her winning pitch [CodHers Cle], a hackathon weekend program to introduce middle school girls to the coding experience. In addition to the money, Witalec was paired with a mentor from a partner organization to help launch her idea. 

Witalec commented that [CodHers Cle] is a project that goes “beyond just teaching girls coding skills but will allow them to work in small teams to design an app that addresses a real-world problem in their community.”  She says she hopes to create a space where girls from diverse backgrounds and income levels can learn to code. 

University School student Anshul Sharma was awarded $500 for his second-place pitch Healing through Harmonies. His project connects local student musicians with hospice, nursing homes, and other centers in Northeast Ohio, to bring music to the senior community in these places. 

The remaining 10 finalists each received $250 toward their projects. The teams include:

Eco-Bricking, Alyssa Valentine, Gabby Robinson, and Jahna Harris from Ha; “I’m Fine Podcast,” Gabrielle Williams, Hawken School; Mental Health Matters, Samantha Sunderhaft, Kenston High School; Occasio Jobs, LLC, Seth Wojnar, Young Kim, and Colin Schnitter, St. Ignatius; Ohio for Equity, Sasha Turner and Ashton Spradling from Hawken, Jason Folk from Stow-M, and Jaxon Farmer from Howland High School; Representation in Research, Zaid Ashruf, University School; Ruby’s Retreat, Ruby Raichart, Shaker Heights High School; SchoolSwap, Ben Elliott and Matthew McMahon, University School; Shoot For a Change, Isabella Williams, Hubbard High School; and The Anti-Grooming Initiative, El Braunsdorf and Isabel Mearini, Shaker Heights High School.

Angelina Bair was a 2018 Accelerate semifinalist in the Quality of Life Category for her special needs toy library pitch.

Angelina Bair
Angelina Bair

About the Author: Angelina Bair

Architectural historian Angelina Bair holds a master’s degree in library & information science from Kent State University. She has 16 years of experience working in archives, museums, and libraries and specializes in local architectural, historical, and genealogical research. Bair is currently working on a graduate certificate in historic preservation at Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.