'Cardinal Nest' nurtures students from Euclid to Warrensville Heights and beyond

Youth Empowerment WeekendYouth Empowerment Weekend

When Carly Hill attended East Cleveland’s Shaw High School, she was accustomed to being one of the star pupils — earning good grades, participating in mock trials in preparation for her planned law career and she was often chosen for special projects.

Hills describes her experience at Shaw being a part of a small group of students intensely interested in learning. In fact, she earned all As, except for her first and only B in 11th grade.

“Imagine being in a class of 20 students,” Hill says. “In most of my classes, there was a small group of students interested in learning among a disruptive group, and as a result, we were always the only ones picked for special projects.Then those five well-behaved students were placed in AP and honors classes. That group of students aren't necessarily there because they know more, it's merely because they are not disruptive.”

<span class="content-image-text">Carly Hill</span>Carly HillSo when Hill graduated in 2010 as valedictorian and headed off to Howard University on a scholarship, she expected life to be the same at the prestigious college. But things were different from the moment she stepped onto the Washington, D.C. campus.

“Shaw High School is 99.9 percent African American and Howard also is an historically black college, and I thought I knew what it was like to be black,” Hill recalls. “But I was around a completely different group of people. It was culture shock.”

No longer was Hill among a select group of serious straight A students. She was among the country’s best and brightest. “I expected it to be a little different, but not as different, and I knew it was a good college” she recalls. “It was a real culture shock to realize they don’t know me and I had to prove myself. At Shaw it was not as hard to separate yourself. At Howard, everyone is that kid, everyone is the best.”

By the time she got to Howard, Hill had decided to major in biology instead of law. But she was not prepared for the required chemistry minor and received a D in the class. Hill lost both her scholarship and her self-confidence. After her first semester, she briefly dropped out of Howard.

“I lost hope,” Hill recalls, adding that she then started the application process at Cleveland State University. But her brother convinced Hill to go back to Howard. So she wrote the university president, got part of her scholarship back and managed to scrape up the remaining tuition for the semester, then earned As and Bs the following semester. Hill went on to graduate cum laude in 2014 as a health education major.

The experience prompted Hill to help other high school students with their sites on a college degree. So in 2014 she founded The Cardinal Nest, a non-profit mentoring organization designed to help high school students prepare for higher education endeavors and achieve success.

Through the Cardinal Nest, participants receive mentoring, support and guidance on what to expect when they leave the familiar streets of Cleveland and enter worlds where they can’t rely solely on their reputations in high school.

“You have to start off strong,” Hill advises her students. “Be that standout student to start out strong.”

Now in its third year, The Cardinal Nest attracts participants not only from East Cleveland, but from schools in Euclid, Collinwood, Glenville, Warrensville Heights and Cleveland School of the Arts. “We have kids from all over,” Hill boasts.

While Hill, who works in external affairs at the downtown Care Alliance Health Center, hosts monthly workshops from August through May each year, with about 10 students attending each workshop, Cardinal Nest’s upcoming Youth Empowerment Weekend is the organization’s signature event.

This year the weekend will be held this Friday, May 19 through Sunday, May 21 with the theme “Promise University: Shaping Your Quintessential Self.” The purpose of the weekend is to inspire students to work together to achieve their professional and academic goals, develop a network of student community leaders and give them the tools they need to succeed.

The weekend begins with the Youth Empowerment Conference at Oswald Center, 1100 Superior Ave., which will feature activities and guest speakers including A'Bria Robinson, founder of the Cleveland BeYOUtiful Movement; Dr. Cassandra Harris-Williams, assistant professor and counselor at Cuyahoga Community College; Shalah Turner, owner of Conscious Consulting; Alicia Robinson, founder of Limitless Ambition; and members of The Talented 6.

On Saturday at 2 p.m. at Fawaky Burst Juice Company, 4441 Mayfield Road in South Euclid, a community forum will provide the opportunity for attendees to discuss the needs of urban youth. “Three panelists will discuss that status of youth in a dialogue about the challenges kids face today and have to solve,” says Hill.

The panelists are Victoria Trotter, CEO of Trotter Enterprises; Angela Flowers, owner of Making a Difference Consulting; and Jennifer Haliburton, editor and feature writer for Triumph Magazine. LaChanee Davis, owner and director of Buck Out Cleveland, will serve as moderator.

Saturday evening at 6 p.m. CLE Urban Winery at 2180 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights will host a professional networking event where area professionals can learn more about The Cardinal Nest and mentoring opportunities.

On Sunday, The Cardinal Nest will make its scholarship presentation and hold a school supply drive for the East Cleveland City Schools at Forest Hill Park in East Cleveland. An anonymous donor promised a book scholarship, says Hill, for two semesters of college. The first recipient is a student about to attend Morehouse College. The day will also include food and activities.

Registration is open until Wednesday, but Hill says anyone who wants to attend after registration is closed can email her for a spot, adding that she hopes the event will help participants be better prepared to reach their goals after high school and give back to the community.

“The overall vision is to impact the kids so they come back to work with kids,” Hill says, “so it will be self-perpetuating.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.