Saint Luke's Foundation funds rapid station upgrades, community programs

Earlier this month, the Saint Luke's Foundation announced nearly $1 million in grants that will directly impact the Buckeye, Mt. Pleasant and Woodland Hills neighborhoods. Founded in 1997, the Foundation has focused mostly on the health and wellness of community members. Three years ago, however, Saint Luke's expanded its mission to include the fostering of strong neighborhoods and resilient families.

"The health of any species is tied to its environment," says Nelson Beckford, Saint Luke's senior program officer for a strong neighborhood. He adds that neighborhoods are our most immediate and impactful environments. "What can we do to make to make our neighborhoods more walkable, more livable, and to create a sense of place?"

The Foundation has always endeavored to focus on the original footprint that Saint Luke's Hospital serviced. Hence the recent Strong Neighborhoods grants will include $300,000 for the enhancement of the East 116th Street Rapid station, which Beckford emphasizes as a vital component of the neighborhood that provides a means for people to get to work and school and to find employment.

"Public transportation is 'small d' democratic," says Beckford. "Folks in this community deserve a good station, a station that's more accessible, that’s bright." Since the East 116th Street station is adjacent to Saint Luke's Pointe, 11327 Shaker Boulevard, he also sees it as an important portal to the resources in that facility, which houses schools, senior living, a Boys' and Girls' Club, a library and the Foundation itself.

The station is slated for a major $6.3 million rebuild starting next year. The Foundation decided to complement that effort with the grant funds, which will support the design and implementation of public art and functional enhancements. Beckford envisions the East 116th Street station going through a transformation similar to that of the Little Italy-University Station, the rebuild of which was unveiled this summer.
 
"This plan is to enhance the station, make it more connected to the neighborhood, and also to create a better experience for riders," says Beckford. "We believe they deserve it and the neighborhood deserves a high-quality rapid station."
 
Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Inc. (CNP), which is also located on the Saint Luke's Pointe campus, will be shepherding the Foundation's portion of the project.
 
"I can't say enough about their power and what they can do and their vision for greater Cleveland specifically," says Beckford of CNP and its staff.
 
Another $110,000 in grant funds will support the launch of ioby in the Buckeye neighborhood. The "in our back yard" movement fosters placemaking and public art as well as the enhancement of public spaces, transit, food access, public health and schools -- all from within.
 
"It combines digital organization and crowdfunding with straight-up grassroots organizing," says Beckford, adding that ioby approaches situations with the mindset that the community is the expert and that its members have the solutions to the challenges they face. "Often times, the best solution is the local solution."
 
The initial grant will fund research during which ioby representatives will "connect with local leaders, conduct one-on-ones and assess the landscape," says Beckford.
 
The Foundation also granted $167,000 to the Food Trust to determine strategies on how to increase access to affordable healthy foods across the greater Cleveland area; $150,000 to The Centers for Families and Children for operational support; $70,000 to the Murtis Taylor Human Services System to upgrade its communication infrastructure equipment; $60,000 to the adult education organization Seeds of Literacy to support the expansion of its facility in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood; and $65,000 to support a collaboration between Towards Employment Inc. and Beech Brook that aims to pair career pathway training with parenthood education and support for persons in the greater Cleveland area.
 
"We're very bullish about this neighborhood," says Beckford. "Part of our work is to remind people that there's a lot of really good work happening. Part of our role at the Foundation is to help support that and bring that to scale.
 
"So many people have an emotional connection to this place. We think it’s a special place."

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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