Where are they now? We catch up with past Accelerate participants making a better Cleveland.

Since the first event was held in 2015, the Accelerate: Citizens Make Change civic pitch competition has definitely made an indelible mark on Cleveland.

It’s seen in the two “Give Boxes” installed in Central and North Collinwood—designed to give residents Little Free Pantry-style access to necessities like non-perishable goods and personal care items. (Three more boxes will be debuting this summer on the west side, along with additional South Collinwood locations.)

<span class="content-image-text">Pamela Turos and Mama Fasi at GivingTuesdayCLE</span>Pamela Turos and Mama Fasi at GivingTuesdayCLEIt’s in the community gardens grown at local schools Iowa Maple Elementary and Artemus Ward Elementary, where more than 80 students are collectively learning gardening skills and healthy eating principles.

It’s in Slavic Village, where a mural of 25 painted doors has become the first installation in the Gertrude Art Gardens initiative—meant to transform vacant spaces into living gardens and creative havens for neighborhood families.

It’s in the special needs toy libraries at the Willoughby and Willowick libraries, which launched in September 2018 and now include almost 100 toys (and counting).

All of the above projects—and many more—were pitched at Accelerate, an annual event helmed by the Cleveland Leadership Center. Accelerate invites Clevelanders to share their ideas for making Northeast Ohio a better place across six categories: Authentic Cleveland Experiences (new this year), Community Change, Economic & Workforce Development, Educating for Tomorrow, Health & Wellness, and Quality of Life.

According to CLC's Michael Bennett, the event serves to further more than just the winner's and finalists' ideas. “Accelerate provides a very public and influential platform to civic entrepreneurs who want to improve our region," explains Michael Bennett, CLC vice president of external affairs. "Winning pitches receive modest financial support, but just as important, all presenters gain crucial exposure and momentum that can help them implement their initiatives."

The 2019 installment took place last night at the Global Health Innovation Center, with Karson Baldwin and Israel Kambomba of One Respe taking home top honors for their proposed partnership between local schools and the International Newcomers Academy to help cultivate honor and respect for immigrants.

To celebrate five years of Accelerate awesomeness, we're catching up with a few past participants to find out how they're continuing to change Cleveland's civic landscape.


WISH Cleveland: Three years later,WISH Cleveland founder Pam Turos still calls “coming down the stairs when my name was called as an Accelerate finalist one of the top moments of my professional life.”

As one of the runners-up in the 2016 incarnation, Turos received a $2,000 check, but more than that, she got a whole new perception of herself.

“Before Accelerate, I just thought of myself as a busy working mom, but when leaders in the community whom I respect and admire voted to say that my idea was worth investing in, it changed how I saw myself—not to mention to the support, connections and opportunities that have come my way through an ongoing relationship with CLC," says Turos.

Her concept—originally called the Good Cause Blog—provided a forum to spread the word about organizations and people doing good work in Cleveland. At first, it was just Turos writing for the site (publishing about one story per week), but after one year, Turos built a team of paid writers and hired an editor.

“By mid-2017, we had a team of amazing people all committed to helping us tell stories that uplift people and organizations working to make Cleveland—and the world—a better place,” says Turos.

For the second anniversary of the site, Turos opted to change the name to WISH Cleveland (an acronym for “Write. Inspire. Share.”). Some of the site’s most popular stories include pieces on local fatherhood initiative Dude’la; Cleveland’s second oldest community garden, Kentucky Gardens; and “Alexis: Storytelling for Surival,” written by a human trafficking victim affiliated with the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.

In November 2018, Turos helmed #GivingTuesdayCLE—an effort that raised over $13,000 for an array of local nonprofits—and she’s already busy planning this year’s installment. Says Turos, “I’m committed to doing a better job of highlighting and uplifting all the nonprofit superheroes who work tirelessly to meet the needs of our community at the expense of their own self-care and finances.”

<span class="content-image-text">Getting Our Babies to College 101</span>Getting Our Babies to College 101Getting Our Babies to College 101: When Jowan Smith first got involved with Accelerate, her business was “nothing but a hobby,” says Smith. “I had no curriculum, no business plan, no logo, no website—I literally was just helping people in my spare time.”

A lot can changed since Smith became a 2017 Accelerate finalist—she has assisted nearly 300 families and signed contracts with five school districts and a prison. As a parent-based consulting firm, Getting Our Babies to College 101 provides workshops to families (starting as early as middle school) to help them prepare for the post-secondary education process.

“Our goal is to empower parents in helping their scholar map out a plan,” says Smith, who was recently named a “Future History Maker” by WZAK 93.1 FM. “All parents want the best for their children—it’s about having access to resources.”

Smith also recently launched a “1,000 Ties” community initiative that teaches young men life skills and pairs them with a mentor, as well as a new curriculum called “Pitch Perfect” that teaches high school students the art of making elevator pitches. In March, she plans to launch a new blog and podcast.

As Smith’s first group of students winds down their third year of college, Smith wants everyone to know that Getting Our Babies to College 101 is for all Clevelanders. Says Smith, “Our program is not for low-income families; it is for any family that wants the help.”

Jen Jones Donatelli
Jen Jones Donatelli

About the Author: Jen Jones Donatelli

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast.

When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.