Community Network Building: A new model of leadership

Community Network Building is the strategy behind Neighbor Up, and yesterday we had a chance to talk more about what’s possible when you Neighbor Up during the 400 Years Summit hosted by First Year Cleveland and the the YWCA Greater Cleveland.

Check out our presentation here as well as these posts about the practices we use in Neighbor Up to level the playing field and take action: New & Good, Business of the Network and the Marketplace.

Community Network Building emerged from work done by Trusted Space Partners. Read some of what they have written about it:

Building Community in Place

9 Leadership Practices for Community Networks

Community Network Builders Convening

Buckeye-Shaker Listening Project

We have been listening to residents and others in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhoods for the last two months as part of work with the city of Cleveland and the organization Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc.

Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. is a nonprofit called a community development corporation. It is focused on revitalizing the Kinsman and Central neighborhoods. Because the neighborhoods of Buckeye-Shaker, which include the Woodland Hills, Buckeye, Larchmere, Ludlow and Shaker Square communities, no longer have a community development corporation of their own, Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. (also called BBC) has been asked by the city to consider adding staff and working in Buckeye-Shaker, too. As part of that process, we talked with residents about what they would like to see.

We had conversations with 60 people from various areas of the neighborhood and also met with 18 neighborhood groups. Here is our report to the community with what we heard from residents.

We have made the following recommendations to the city and Burten, Bell, Carr Development as the process moves forward based on what we heard from residents:

1. Great Opportunity: An effective, fully-functioning community development corporation is an opportunity for the neighborhood;

2. Trust Building: Be intentional about building trust between Burten, Bell, Carr and neighborhood residents;

3. Shared Responsibility:  Develop ways that Burten, Bell, Carr and the community can work with one another and create together what they care about;

4. Move Towards Local Governance: Important that BBC and the community move towards building local governance and ownership. This takes time.

5. Equity and Inclusion: In resource allocation, planning, and decision making, there needs to be shared power across all neighborhoods. “Level the Playing Field”.

6. Unity Across Neighborhoods: Bridging relationships across neighborhoods; branding as one community, many neighborhoods.

If you’re interested in talking more about this, please join us at Buckeye-Shaker Network Night from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20 at Fairhill Partners, 12200 Fairhill Road.

Citywide Network Night draws 100+ people

Citywide Network Night launched last week with an overwhelming turnout and a warm welcome! Excitement filled the room as longtime Neighbor Up members reconnected and new folks were invited to Neighbor Up. Special thanks to ioby for hosting us at the Midtown Tech Hive.


The next Citywide Network Night is Thursday, December 5 with dinner starting at 5:30 p.m. and event kick-off at 6 p.m. Looking for details coming soon!


The Community Conversations part of the evening (also called Business of the Network) is a chance to explore topics that matter to you, find potential collaborators, and plan for action together. Last week’s conversations included: 

How have the changes in the housing market affected you and your neighborhood?

This group discussed economic and cultural changes of concentrated development, including who has been displaced, strategies for keeping residents in place, and solutions for getting involved. Join the action by contacting Kaela:

How do we ensure the homeless community is represented in local politics?

This group identified reoccurring barriers, potential groups to plug into, and brainstormed ways to take action. Join their work by contacting Muneera:

How can we convene and build community support among those doing Racial Equity work? 

This group is focused on creating a supportive and welcoming network of those already involved in racial equity work and those new to it, whether paid or not. Several ideas surfaced that night, including book clubs and site visits, caucuses, and a supportive learning exchange. Join the action by contacting Greg: or Tony: 

What are best practices for creating community awareness of available resources and services?

This group decided to identify target audiences. Get more information by contacting Ilinda Reese: 216-323-5601

What are some best practices for hosting a community event?

This group discussed starting by building relationships with diverse community members who can help. Some of the group members will meet again to strategize with Pastor Quincy.

How can we create a forum for community building and encouraging authentic engagement in our city?

Finally, a group of visitors from Jackson, Michigan held a conversation about creating a forum for community building and encouraging authentic engagement in their city. Neighborhood Connections hosted them the next day to discuss how to use what they learned.


During a high-energy portion of the night called the Marketplace, dozens of attendees were able to exchange resources, skills, and knowledge. Here are a few examples:

  • Diane found 3 twin beds and mattresses for one of her neighbors
  • Ashley connected with 4 potential new board members for the Tamir Rice Foundation
  • Gwen met several artists who are interested in displaying art work at her gallery


Want to learn more about Community Network Building and how you can use it to act on what’s important to you? Join Erika for Action Clinic, the 1st Tuesday of every month or contact her at

Notes from Arts & Culture Network Night

Thank you to everyone who attended Arts & Culture Network Night last week!

More than 65 people made connections, shared resources, and discussed topics important to them. This quarterly gathering is sponsored by Neighbor Up and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, but it is hosted by a team of volunteers. Thank you to the wonderful volunteer team that made last week a success! If you’d like to join the team, we’d love to have your help. There are a number of ways to get involved and it doesn’t require a long-term commitment. Contact Lj to learn more.

Save the Date

The next Arts & Culture Network Night will be on Thursday, November 7th from 6 to 8 p.m. at NewBridge Cleveland, 3634 Euclid Ave.

Mark your calendars and share on social media now. Find the Facebook event here.

Business of the Network

Business of the Network Conversations are a chance to explore topics that matter to you, find potential collaborators, and take action together.

  • Charlotte hosted a conversation about how to bring art activism to a community that is resistant. 
  • Sara hosted a conversation to brainstorm ways for art and culture to foster social enterprise and generate income in underserved communities. Collaboration came up as a key component. Two people even found a common interest and decided to work together on a youth mural project. 
  • Dawn hosted a conversation to learn what arts and culture projects people are dreaming about for their community. As the Action Strategist for ioby Cleveland, Dawn was able to connect participants to potential resources. If you have an idea that needs funding, learn more about crowdfunding with ioby.
  • Bj hosted a conversation about the ways arts and culture can be used to bridge economic and racial divides. Recognizing that music is a great tool to bridge perceived difference, this group talked about sharing resources to hold pop-up events. 


Marketplace is a high-energy exercise that’s all about abundance. It reminds us that everyone has something to offer and that we have more resources at our fingertips that we realize. 

For about 20 minutes, participants take turns making a request or an offer. Here are a few examples from this event: 

  • Tony offered a ride to the exhibit Through Darkness to Light on Sept. 19th. Carpool from Neighborhood Connections leaving at 4 p.m., returning at 9 p.m. Free admission to the exhibit that day!
  • Ed offered free children’s books through his work with the Kids Book Bank.
  • Mark requested point-and-shoot cameras for use on a Photovoice project with youth in the Central neighborhood.
  • Sara requested donation of unique raffle items for her upcoming fundraiser. On the spot, one artist donated one of her original paintings!

We also have a table at Arts & Culture Network Night for people to share their events. Check out this Facebook post for links to those events.

Racial Justice Matching Fund

We’re committed to supporting Clevelanders standing up for racial justice and we’re teaming up with ioby to create the Racial Justice Matching Fund.

Notes from Arts & Culture Network Night

Thank you to everyone who joined us for Arts & Culture Network Night, in partnership with Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. More than 100 people attended the high-energy gathering meant to connect artists, folks from arts organizations and other community members throughout the county. 

This was the first Arts & Culture Network Night of 2019, and we are happy to report that Arts & Culture Network Night will be back June 5, 2019!

Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5 at NewBridge Cleveland, 3634 Euclid Ave.

Parking in lot behind building and across the street at the Masonic Temple.

How does it work?

Using Neighbor Up practices, each Arts & Culture Network Night starts with “New & Good” where anyone can share something new or good happening in their lives. After a few people share their good news, the room buzzes with positive energy.

We then have “Business of the Network” when anyone in the room can propose a topic to discuss in small groups for about 20 minutes.

During the “Marketplace,” anyone can make a request for assistance or an offer.

We close the night with “Bumping & Sparking,” a time when participants can follow up with each other and make connections.

Read on for details from Arts & Culture Network Night at the Agora.

Business of the Network

Business of the Network conversations included:

Gilder: How can we engage with the county and other officials to speed up change in the county jail?

LaToya: How are you contributing to the solutions in your neighborhood?

Kate: What can we do to make the arts community more inclusive?

Ryan: What made you say yes today?

Robert: How can I make the most of my art project at the library in Mt. Pleasant?

Kenneth: What are some sustainable fundraising methods for nonprofits?


Marketplace offers, requests & declarations included:

 Name   Request, Offer or Declaration
Rachel Apply Exhibits
Robyn R. Recommendations for an
Kate Request to continue the
conversation about creating an
inclusive Arts & Culture
Kate Zygote Press – Open Call for
Lila Artists of different media
Chris Exhibition Space
Matt Offering Head Shots & Portraits
Aku Looking for drummers
Brittany Artists for Poetry
Ricardo Looking for co-producers for a podcast
McKenzie Tax Advice for Artists
Patrick W. Entertainer
Lillie Bell Funding, Production Assistant
Moises I’m here to Network!
Luis Internships available
Gilder Looking for Artists &
Chris Pianist & Singer looking for
opportunities to perform
Chris Invited folks to join him at
Gwen Please attend the next Cuyahoga Arts & Culture Board Meeting. This is your funding. We need
community to participate.

Prism: A Racial Equity Learning Lab

Prism is our racial equity learning lab, which typically runs twice each year in the spring and summer.

Prism participants explore the historic conflict that continues to shape the United States and determine the fate of all its people.

Racism is examined on four levels: internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural. Tools to assess the state of one’s organization and community are introduced. Participants also have the opportunity to participate in caucus groups and bridge the chasm between community and institution throughout their Prism journey.

Leaders leave the program with greater self awareness, an individualized plan for beginning to dismantle racism in their neighborhood or organization and greater capacity to do so. They also gain a group of fellow travelers to support them well beyond the structured program experience.

Prism is led by two of Cleveland’s most experienced and dynamic racial equity facilitators: Erica Merritt and Adele DiMarco Kious.


All sessions held 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Minimum registration of 15 for lab to proceed.

Session I: Building Ground
Participants will become familiar with the program components, other participants, terminology and explore historical elements that led to our current context. They will also have their first caucus experience. A caucus component will be built into each session.

Session II: The Story of U.S. 
This session will explore the internalized components of racism including bias, privilege and internalized oppression. We will discuss how the brain
influences our conscious and unconscious biases and share tools for diminishing bias and using privilege strategically. Participants also begin to explore their own racial identity and examine the psychological process through which one attaches to that identity.

Session III: Racing Together
This session will focus on the cross-racial relationships and overcoming the barriers to authentic connection. Session will include tools for managing cross-cultural and difference-based conflict with power/privilege dynamics in mind. Emphasis on restorative community- based practices.

Session IV: System Dynamics
This session will focus on the role that institutional and structural racism play in the organizations and communities where we work and live. We will examine how racism thrives even in the absence of malice or bad actors. Participants will be provided frameworks for examining their community’s/organization’s current state and provided with tools for positive transformation.

Session V: Co-Creating Cleveland’s Future 
This session will support participants in getting clear about the kind of community they would like to live in/organization they would like to be a part of and their role in that transformation. We will explore choice points and the shared power model to dream about Cleveland’s transformation. Whether engaging neighbors, colleagues or organizational partners, strong, equity-based relationships are
essential for co-designing Cleveland’s future. Participants will leave this session with a personalized racial equity plan.


Registration has closed. Join the waitlist to be notified when registration opens for the next session.

Cost to attend Prism is $750, which includes all sessions, meals and parking.


Erica Merritt

Erica Merritt is founder of Equius Group, LLC a consulting firm committed to supporting individuals and organizations to see and experience the world and their work through an equity lens. She uses her expertise in social justice, team dynamics, individual change and the power of inclusion to help leaders transform themselves, their teams and organizations in powerful and sustainable ways.

Erica has been training, speaking and facilitating around issues of social justice for more than 15 years. She has designed programs and facilitated workshops focused on race and racism, oppression and social change, heterosexism and homophobia just to name a few.

Erica holds a Bachelor of the Arts Degree in Public Relations from Ursuline College and a Master of the Arts Degree in Psychology with a certification in Diversity Management (NTL) from Cleveland State University. She also holds coaching certifications from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and the Center for Credentialing Education.

As an engaged community member, Erica serves on the Institute for Creative Leadership’s Advisory Board, Ursuline College’s Graduate and Professional Program Advisory Council, and as Director Diversity & Equity for the Junior League of Cleveland.

Adele DiMarco Kious

Adele DiMarco Kious is the founder and lead steward of Yinovate, LLC. Using frameworks and processes grounded in systems thinking, Gestalt theory, Anthropology, Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry, her passion is working with groups, supporting them to lead transformational change within themselves and the communities and organizations they serve.

She has co-launched three social change initiatives in Greater Cleveland: SOMO (Social-Emotional) Leadership; Change Makers, a dialogue series on race, power and privilege; and City Repair, a neighbor-led empowerment and beautification process. Through her work with sister firm, Currere, Inc., her clients have included The Cleveland Leadership Center, YWCA Greater Cleveland, The Gund Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, The Cleveland Clinic, The City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland MetroParks, The City of Cleveland, and many more.

Adele has bachelor degrees in Biology and Anthropology, master degrees in Business and Anthropology and has completed extensive training with the Gestalt Center for Organization & Systems Development and the Center for Positive Psychology.

Wealth, Equity & Happy Hour!

Neighbor Up members are committed to building wealth and working  towards economic interdependence. You’re invited to join us.

Connect! Happy Hour + Meetup for Entrepreneurs

Join us to connect with other entrepreneurs, contractors, artists and creative people; hear stories of success; and get mutual support in building your business. Last Thursdays every other month.

July 26, 6 to 8 p.m. @ 3rd Space, 1464 E. 105th St.

September 27, 6 to 8 p.m. @ Las Tienditas Del Mercado, 2886 W. 25th St.

November 29, 6 to 8 p.m. @ Brittany’s Record Shop, 6410 Fleet Ave.

Excited to announce $3.1 million grant from Cleveland Foundation

The continued funding supports our signature initiatives – the grassroots grants program and the work of the Neighbor Up network, a diverse group of Greater Cleveland residents striving to make positive change in their neighborhoods and find innovative solutions to larger health and employment issues plaguing communities. The foundation’s board of directors approved the three-year grant earlier this month.

“We could not do what we do without support from the Cleveland Foundation,” said Tom O’Brien, program director of Neighborhood Connections. “The funding allows residents to continue working for meaningful change – not only in their own neighborhoods, but across the entire city.”

Neighborhood Connections’ grants program – the largest grassroots grants program in the country – offers grants of up to $5,000 to groups of residents in Cleveland and East Cleveland to organize projects that improve the quality of life in their communities. Groups are encouraged to work with partners, and to propose creative solutions to challenges in their neighborhoods. Since 2003, Neighborhood Connections has awarded more than 2,655 grants totaling more than $7.9 million. In just the past three years, more than 550 Neighborhood Connections grants totaling $1.5 million have helped secure an additional $5.1 million into Cleveland and East Cleveland neighborhoods.

In addition, Neighborhood Connections’ Neighbor Up network is leading community engagement work in several Cleveland neighborhoods and with University Circle anchor institutions. The network now has more than 2,000 active members, representing a broad constituency from neighborhoods and anchor institutions. Among the initiatives launched through the Neighbor Up Network is “Step Up to UH” – a jobs pipeline training program. Since its launch, 182 residents have been hired through Step Up.

“The innovative work of Neighborhood Connections is positively transforming neighborhoods in and around the city,” said India Pierce Lee, Cleveland Foundation Senior Vice President, Program. “The Cleveland Foundation is proud to continue our support for the impactful work Neighborhood Connections is doing on the ground every day to improve the lives of our community’s residents.”

The Cleveland Foundation launched Neighborhood Connections in 2003. Its mission is to fuel the power of neighbors to create, together, an extraordinary world right where they live.



More about Neighbor Up

What is Neighbor Up all about?

Neighbor Up was created using the idea of Community Network Building.

We believe that at its core and when executed well, Community Network Building is a way to make big change. Community Network Builders create spaces that level the playing field, everyone has a voice and power is shared. Only then can diverse people tackle tough challenges and begin to create extraordinary neighborhoods where economic and racial justice thrive. We do this using practices.

What is a practice?

A practice is something that when repeated becomes a habit. Habits make up a culture. Neighbor Up is about nurturing a new, aspirational culture of civic action in Cleveland.

Find out more about community network building from Trusted Space Partners, who helped us launch Neighbor Up, or by attending a Neighbor Up gathering.

Are you planning your first Neighbor Up gathering? Here you will find everything you need to be a host. NU_logo

  1. Neighbor Up flier & logo: Download the flier here. Find the logo here.
  2. Make a Facebook event: Create a Facebook event (sample here)to let people know about your gathering. Tag @NeighborUpCLE so we can share the event, too. Don’t know how to make a Facebook event? Learn how at an Action Clinic. Clinics held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the 1st Tuesday of every month at Neighborhood Connections, 5000 Euclid Ave. #310 inside the Agora. Parking behind the building off of Prospect avenue.
  3. Use #NeighborUpCLE when talking about your gathering on social media and encourage others to do the same.
  4. Welcome: Welcome folks to your gathering with the Neighbor Up Welcome so they understand the power of the network.
  5. Conversations: Use the Conversation Harvest Sheet to keep track of the conversations people host at your gathering and to have a member follow up with those interested in taking action on an issue. Please give a copy of the sheet to Lila. 
  6. Membership: Invite people to Neighbor Up! The online membership form is here or folks can text NUP to 474747.
  7. After your gathering, please send an email welcoming new members called Hello New Neighbor Up Members.

Who We Are

Neighbor Up is a group of 3,000 people using our talents and skills to improve life in our neighborhoods. We use people power to build bridges across lines of difference and create an extraordinary world right where we live!

Read our Mission, Vision + Values here.


Neighbor Up started in 2012 with a small group of 25 people. It emerged from the pain and isolation many of us were feeling. We felt it and heard it from our neighbors at community meetings, on front porches and in the streets. People were feeling that most of the decision-making about neighborhoods was made by just a few people and residents were not taken seriously.

A small group of neighbors and Neighborhood Connections staff got together and had conversations about what could be done differently to better our community.

We determined that there needed to be a place where all voices could be heard, and where people could work together to create a more inclusive and powerful community. Neighbor Up was born.

Neighbor Up members:

  • create positive spaces where people can bring and share their skills, wisdom and knowledge;
  • tackle hard conversations about race, equity and inclusion and build bridges across lines of difference;
  • are working together to create a more just, equitable and inclusive Cleveland.

Since Neighbor Up formed, members — with support from Neighborhood Connections — have created hundreds of small-scale initiatives on their streets and in their neighborhoods. Members have worked to get seats at the tables where big decisions are made and have worked on issues like hire local job pipelines, infant mortality, lead poisoning and racial equity.

There’s still a lot of work to be done. We look forward to continuing to work together. Neighbor Up!

Our Mission, Vision and Values

Our Mission

To ignite the power of everyday people to create, together, an extraordinary world right where they live.

Our Vision

A united Cleveland, supported by thousands of engaged residents and Neighbor Up members, where we recognize our community’s assets, where bridges are built across lines of difference, and where authentic relationships lead to a new culture of trust, and a more just, equitable and inclusive community.

Our Values

Abundance – We believe that most of what we need to improve our community exists and that we need to identify and connect these assets to spark change. People, and their gifts, need to be at the center of this change.

Aspirational Spaces – We believe that well-designed and effectively stewarded spaces (whether in-person or online) feed the aspirational energy of residents and can unleash the capacity for creative local solutions and cultivate new connections across class, ethnic, racial, geographic and generational divides.

Authentic Relationships – We believe in the power of authentic relationships. We believe that every person has gifts and strengths they bring to the community table and that everyone is needed to create a stronger, healthier Cleveland.

Equity – We believe we need to work to create a fairer, more just community where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and to become the person they were meant to be. We work with residents, civic groups, public and private institutions, and congregations to bring people together across lines of difference, to build understanding and empathy, and to work together to break down oppressive structures and systems.

Inclusion – We believe everyone is needed and everyone has important contributions to make to the community. We believe that people who have been historically excluded based on race, gender, sexual orientation, poverty, or other biases must be at the center of designing and implementing the solutions to create a more just and equitable community.

Innovation – We believe in social innovation. We take risks, believe it’s okay to fail, and believe in the possible. The forms needed to support this work must be flexible and more adaptable than traditional community-based organizations.

Interdependence – We believe that the fundamental law of humanity is interdependence. Our humanity is inextricably bound up in one another.

Shared Power – We believe that as stewards of these aspirational spaces, we must lead from within by fully inhabiting these spaces ourselves, exposing our own questions and vulnerabilities, and working to diminish the impact of positional power on the co-investment process. By creating a diverse network where power is shared, we can create a more just, equitable and inclusive community.

Truth and Healing – We believe we need to have  difficult, yet eventually healing, conversations and take action to address the long-term and ongoing effects of oppression and trauma caused by racism, classism, homophobia and sexism. By doing so, we can create ways of building trust and re-establishing relationships of mutual respect in the face of these biases and create change at the personal, intrapersonal, institutional, and systems levels of society. 

From our blog: One Woman’s Inspiring Back-to-School Story

Brenda Metzger, a headstrong, firecracker and Neighbor Up member, who lives in the Central neighborhood, is going back to school — decades after graduating from high school.

She sat down at the Ka-la Healing Garden Center on East 73rd Street earlier this month and told her story. As she talked, about 15 teens from the neighborhood worked in the garden tending the plants.

“Look around,” she said. “That’s what sent me back to school. I have all these young people in my life in this neighborhood. All this potential. All these future taxpayers. They’re going to pay taxes. I love it!”

“I kept pushing these kids about how important education is, but I had made it all the way to an associate director on a high school diploma,” Brenda continued. “So I went back to school — boy, did I go back! I hadn’t been to school in 35 years.”

Brenda, now 56, started at Cuyahoga Community College in 2013  after meeting a Tri-C assistant dean at a Neighbor Up Network Night. She earned her associate’s degree earlier this year. And last week, she took her first class at Cleveland State University where she’s studying to earn a bachelor’s degree in urban studies.

“We keep trying,” she said. “We keep trying. I want to be able to work and do more for the community, for the kids in the neighborhood. I want the kids to understand that anything you get in life, you work for it.”

Raised in Cleveland near East 119th Street and Harvard Avenue, Brenda learned the value of hard work and education from her parents.

“They required us to read 10 books each summer,” Brenda remembered. “We were all well-read.”

Brenda graduated from John Adams High School and built a career working with youth and senior citizens. She lived in Johnson City, Tennessee, Boston, and Orlando, Florida. In 2002, she and her husband Herbie moved to Central.

“Our neighborhood was in chaos,” Brenda said. “You name it, they were doing it — drugs, prostitution. But I’ve always had the idea that you don’t wait for someone to do something for you. You do it yourself. Don’t wait on the government. You live here! And it’s all about collaboration. You can’t do anything by yourself. We try to bring everybody in.”

Brenda and Herbie worked with their neighbors and with Tanya Holmes, who started the Ka-la Healing Garden on the street. They also worked with Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Cleveland Police Commander Patrick Stephens and business owner Pernel Jones, who also lives on the street.

Some small grants from Neighborhood Connections funded some of their work, including a kids day at the garden.

They connected with KaBOOM! to bring a state-of-the-art playground to a vacant lot on the street and turned the space into a park.

Their 6th Annual Read a Book, Read a Poem event was last weekend at the garden center. Young people get to pick a book and keep it, but first they have to read Brenda a paragraph from the book. Once they do that, they also get a bag of school supplies.

“I’m just happy,” Brenda said reflecting on how she and her neighbors made their street a better place to live. “I have bad days of course. I miss my husband. (Brenda’s husband Herbie passed away in 2007.) But it’s better here now … I’m not stupid. I know there’s still work to do, but it’s better.”

“I have been threatened,” Brenda added. “I told them, “I’ll be here when you’re not.” Those people who made those threats are now either in jail or dead, and I’m here. I wouldn’t move for all the money in the world. I have too many good memories here. There’s too much potential here.”