By Neighbor Up member Melanie Sklarz
West Park Neighbor Night is a lively and interactive monthly gathering that brings neighbors together to plan action in the community. The group typically meets the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at West Park United Church of Christ, 3809 Rocky River Drive.
Connect with the all-volunteer West Park Neighbor Night on Facebook @westparkneighbornight or contact Danielle Doza at Danielle.Doza@gmail.com or 216-536-6122.
I write a column for the West Park Magazine about Neighbor Night and what makes it a special gathering place for our community. Check out some of my columns:
WEST PARK NEIGHBOR NIGHT GOES VIRTUAL As most in-person events went on hiatus this spring, so did West Park Neighbor Night. The group, which meets monthly at West Park United Church of Christ and brings residents together to create change, was unable to meet due to COVID-19. By June, the core team that puts on the monthly gathering began strategizing how to create and build community during a pandemic. Watching Cleveland-based nonprofit Neighborhood Connections and their Neighbor Up network turn to Zoom meetings to hold similar gatherings, the team was inspired to try it for themselves. Read more here…
NEIGHBOR NIGHT PROFILE | Valerie Jerome
Slavic Village native Valerie Jerome went to Ohio University, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Dominica, and lived in San Antonio, Texas before returning to Cleveland. In 2014, she and her husband along with their two daughters settled in West Park. Valerie enjoys living in West Park with its green spaces, coffee shops, quality healthcare facilities, sense of community, and easy access to major modes of transportation, including the rapid transit system, highways, and airport. One of her favorite parts of living here is Neighbor Night.
Last fall, after she completed writing and publishing her own children’s book, Q Goes to Curly Land, Valerie turned to the Network for ideas on how to promote it locally. One of the suggestions led her to host a reading and book signing at 5 Points Coffee & Tea. Q Goes to Curly Land tells the endearing story of Q, who is self-conscious of her curls. She does everything she can to hide them, while her sister wants her to enjoy and have fun with her curly hair. Together they imagine a place where they care for and celebrate their curls. Along the way, they build their own self-confidence. The book is for sale online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Target. You can also purchase copies directly from Valerie by sending her an email at email@example.com. Read more here…
WEST PARK NEIGHBOR NIGHT | Master Recyclers
West Park is home to several Master Recyclers. Through the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, residents can earn this distinguished title by participating in 20 hours of training and 20 hours of volunteer work with a focus on reducing, reusing, recycling. Last fall, a discussion at West Park Neighbor Night sparked an idea among participants and Master Recyclers, Danielle Doza and Emily Roll. With several residents asking how they could reduce waste, the two decided to offer a waste reduction workshop to the wider West Park community. Read more here…
Megan Rindfleisch, also known as Mimi, of Creations by Mimi, attended a West Park Neighbor Night last year to talk with residents about a potential community mural. Neighbors were in full support! From there, Mimi held an Idea Board Event at 5 Points Coffee & Tea Cafe back in January. At the Idea Board Event neighbors were encouraged to share what they wanted to see in the Puritas Avenue mural. The ideas were recorded and made into one collaborative design…Next year, Mimi and her volunteers hope to continue the mural with a lovely quote from Nathan Alger, one of the first settlers of West Park: “My friends, I’m here, the first that’s come, in this place for you, there’s room.”
cleveland.com wrote about The Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund awarding us additional dollars to “provide grants ranging from $500-$5,000 to small nonprofit organizations, faith-based congregations, and grassroots and neighborhood civic groups throughout Cuyahoga, Lake, and Geauga counties for a broad range of essential human needs such as healthy food, safe shelter, and to reduce social isolation. Since receiving its first round of funding on April 10, Neighborhood Connections has awarded $648,627 to 199 groups and organizations.” Read the full article here.
Our Grantmaking Committees approved $59,587 in grants to support 20 arts and culture projects in Cleveland and East Cleveland. Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the local public funder for arts and culture, will co-fund these resident-led arts and culture projects through a partnership with Neighborhood Connections.
Highlights of the grants include:
- Glengar Community Association in Bellaire Puritas received $761 to host a Power of Pollinators workshop, to educate how important pollinators are for our food supply.
- The Buck Out Foundation in St. Clair Superior received $1,000 to support the development of collegiate and professional dancers in the city of Cleveland.
- Dee’s Blue Diamond in Central received $5,000 to teach people the steps and the tools needed to grow and maintain a healthy garden consisting of fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits and plants that can aid in health issues such as aloe vera plant.
- The Salam Day Committee in Detroit Shoreway received $2,500 to host a series of educational conversations and display artwork from the Sudanese refugee community.
“During these trying times, people are continuing to work in their communities to make positive change,” said Tom O’Brien, program director of Neighborhood Connections. “Residents across Northeast Ohio are making their ideas a reality with a small bit of grant funding. They’re building stronger communities right where they live.”
This year we have funded more than 200 grassroots resident-led projects through Neighbor Up Action Grants and Neighbor Up COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants. There have been 191 projects in Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties funded for a total of $631,127 through the Neighbor Up COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants. About 30 projects in Cleveland and East Cleveland have been funded through Neighbor Action Grants for a total of $150,000. Since 2003, we have invested more than $8.1 million in more than 3,000 resident-led projects.
“People working in the arts and culture sector are some of the hardest hit as a result of the current pandemic,” said Jill M. Paulsen, executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. “By investing in these grants, we are making it a little bit easier for neighbors to safely learn, connect, get creative, and feel inspired. We think that is so important, especially during these challenging times.”
Cuyahoga Arts & Culture invested $75,000 in Neighborhood Connections in 2020 to support additional community-based arts and culture activities organized by and for Cuyahoga County residents. CAC defines arts and culture broadly to include nature, science, cultural heritage, and history in addition to other art forms. Through this partnership with Neighborhood Connections, CAC has co-funded 360 resident-led arts and culture projects in Cleveland and East Cleveland since 2013.
For a complete list of grants awarded, visit our blog.
The COVID-19 Rapid Response grants are offered on a rolling deadline to groups of residents in Cleveland and East Cleveland and Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties to do projects that improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Groups are encouraged to work with partners and to propose creative solutions to challenges in their community.
Have an assignment to document a public meeting as a Cleveland Documenter?
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Documenting a Cleveland City Council meeting?
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We’ve been honored to spend the past year working in community with people dedicated to improving literacy in our city. Collaborating across neighborhoods and organizations, we hosted an Adult Literacy Innovation Team in 2020.
Folks worked in small groups and focused on different topic areas to test out new ways to make Cleveland a city where we all have the power to read. Everyone on the team brought so much passion and commitment to thinking and acting in new ways when it comes to improving adult literacy in our city.
We want to thank all the team members for dedicating themselves to the work!
Many of us have seen the statistic: 66 percent of Cleveland adults are low literate, and struggle to read bus schedules, medicine bottles and other everyday information. One woman working to improve adult literacy in Cleveland compared reading to breathing – those of us who can read don’t really think about it, but it is reading that sustains us and connects us to information, jobs and other opportunities. For those of us who can not read, much is out of reach.
Luckily, there is a shared desire among grassroots leaders and others working with adult literacy to connect and strengthen efforts – all with the goal of improving life in our city.
We used the emerging social science of Community Network Building (on which Neighbor Up is based) to weave together diverse community stakeholders for mutual support and action.
Adult Literacy Innovation Team members
- Amy Wu is a Neighbor Up member who is committed to connecting people and has worked as a tutor with adult students.
- Bonnie Entler is with Seeds of Literacy, a nonprofit organization that provides free GED®, and HiSET® preparation and basic education to adults in the Cleveland area.
- Brittinie “BJ” Jermon is a Neighbor Up member with a passion for inspiring students, who worked with Freedom Schools and now works at Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
- Carlos Alvarado teaches adult learners at Esperanza, a nonprofit with the mission of improving the academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post-secondary educational attainment.
- Carmine Stewart is dedicated to thinking about improving adult literacy in new ways. She works at Seeds of Literacy.
- Curtis Freed is Neighbor Up Action Grant recipient who thinks innovatively about solving community issues and received a GED® while incarcerated.
- Curtis “Skip” Hill is a Neighbor Up Action Grant recipient who mentors young men helping them stay in school and graduate.
- Cynthia Foster is a grandparent involved in improving literacy in Slavic Village.
- Donnell Collins is a John Hay High School and John Carroll University graduate who has worked with Freedom Schools.
- Gwen Garth is an artist and Neighbor Up member, who was trained as a literacy tutor and taught incarcerated adults to read.
- Holly Roe is a Neighbor Up Action Grant recipient whose project The LD Edge Network is the only nonprofit in Cleveland that helps adults get diagnosed with learning disabilities.
- Jennifer Adjua Cline is a poet who works with creative writing and literacy.
- Mahogani Graves works with P-16 in Slavic Village, a network of people who believe youth development is a direct path to healthy, safe communities for everyone.
- Mansa L. Bey believes in the power of words to make change. He teaches creative writing and personal narrative.
- Marva Walton is a parent who is involved with P-16 in Slavic Village.
- Rhonda Crowder is a journalist and literacy advocate who created Hough Reads, A Little Free Library Neighborhood initiative that hosts neighborhood literacy-based events in Hough.
- Sharon Jefferson is the branch manager at the Glenville branch of Cleveland Public Library.
- Terry Echols is the assistant director of Adult Education Services at the Cuyahoga County Public Library.
- Toni Johnson works at the Educational Opportunity Center at Tri-C, and is a member of the Literacy Cooperative’s Learning Network.
- Tonya Briggs is the library branch manager at the Addison branch of Cleveland Public Library.
We loved the energy among the leaders we met who are working to strengthen literacy in our city! Stay tuned for grant funding specifically for adult literacy projects.
This summer we had informative conversations around public space, digital connection, and how are we are getting around during the COVID-19 pandemic. We heard from residents how it is more important than ever for people to access public space where they can feel safe, welcomed, and connected. Check out the beautiful visual illustration of our conversations, and the takeaways below. As we move into the next season, it is time to start harvesting the wisdom of these conversations – please join us in these next steps and feel free to invite others!
- Tuesday 9/22 4PM Partnering with City Club on Virtual Forum: The Future of Parks & Public Spaces
- Can’t make it? Catch the rerun Monday 9/28 @9AM on 90.3 Ideastream’s Sound of Ideas.
- Tuesday 9/29 5:30PM Pushing Forward Together: Parks & Public Space
- Debrief the City Club forum with us, generate ideas for next steps, and connect with folks who are already doing great work in this arena.
- Register here!
- Be on the lookout! One takeaway from our Community Conversation this summer was a to start a social media campaign so all people feel welcome in public spaces. (Inside scoop: we may vote on a hashtag during the 9/29 conversation!)
Takeaways from Community Conversation:
- What we view as public space is expanding: sidewalks, parking lots, the internet.
- Our priority is to ensure that quality public spaces are accessible and welcoming to everyone.
- We need to identify ways to educate people how to physically distance in public spaces and the why behind physical distancing
- Pushing to use public spaces to connect folks to the internet.
- Learning how to advocate for our neighborhood parks
Announcing Tangle Tuesdays with Lee Kay this fall!
The Zentangle® Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns.
Join Neighbor Up member Lee Kay for free sessions from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays in October and November starting October 13.
Check out our events page for more info.
It’s been 7 years since we launched Neighbor Up and, in that time, Community Network Building — once unknown and untrusted — has gained a foothold here in Cleveland and, as Neighbor Up member Bianca Butts said, Neighbor Up has become a trusted ear in the community.
We’re proud of this network of almost 3,000 people committed to making positive change in our city, and the work we’ve all done to create space for people to cross lines of difference, level the playing field, and act together on issues they care about.
As we move deeper into the practice of Community Network Building, we want to do a better job of telling the powerful stories that emerge when people work together to make change in their own communities. Documenting and telling those stories is both an act of healing and of justice. Historical narratives are often written and disseminated by dominant culture, as a way of maintaining power structures and keeping people who live outside of the dominant culture marginalized and subordinate. We support storytelling that works from a sense of abundance and that recognizes the power of individuals and communities. This pursuit is called “narrative justice.”
Grounded by our Vision, Mission and Values and inspired by our friends at City Bureau and the storytellers Lewis Mehl-Madrona and Barbara Mainguy, we decided to establish Neighbor Up Storytelling Guidelines as we worked on the “Good News Cleveland” project this summer. These guidelines are a way to hold ourselves accountable:
- We believe in the power of authentic relationships. We cultivate relationships, not transactions. Authentic storytelling takes time, intentionality and space to evolve. We resist rushing this process.
- We take an asset-oriented approach to storytelling. We believe that most of what’s needed to improve our communities already exists within our communities. Recognizing, respecting and connecting those assets is what sparks change — with people, and their gifts, at the center.
- We produce work that is non-dominant and works to amplify shared power and diminish the impact of positional power.
- With our storytelling, we create space for interconnected learning and the expression of communal power.
It is been several months since you have heard from us about Cleveland’s residential tax abatement policy. Thank you to everyone who participated in the community listening sessions we hosted with partners earlier this year! Those sessions were part of a study the city was doing about its residential tax abatement policy. Now we are ready to host online community meetings for sharing the study results.
During each meeting, the lead researchers will present the results of the study and review their recommendations; there will also be an opportunity for discussion and feedback. Please register below for the meeting that works with your schedule and the Zoom link for the meeting will be provided after registration.
Register for a community meeting
The City of Cleveland’s Residential Tax Abatement Study
Here is the final version of the City of Cleveland’s Residential Tax Abatement Study we will hear about during the community meetings.
You’ll see that it includes quantitative data on the tax abatements, the economic impact of abatements, feedback from stakeholders, and results from the community engagement in which you participated. It also makes recommendations to the City of Cleveland.
This study is the first step toward any potential changes to the residential tax abatement policy. The study and its recommendations will also be presented to Cleveland City Council for their discussion and implementation. This means there will continue to be opportunities to advocate for housing policies that works all Clevelanders at a local and state level — your voice is still needed in this process.
If you have questions or need assistance with Zoom, please contact Kaela Geschke.
If you cannot make either of the meeting times the presentation will be recorded and shared here. Read more about our work hosting community listening sessions here.
The Neighbor Up Network and the Community Foundation of Lorain County are offering this training on Community Network Building to those who live in the city of Lorain.
The Neighbor Up Network, located in Cleveland, is a community of about 3,000 members, mainly residents of Cleveland, who have years of experience bringing community members together to create a more just, equitable and inclusive community. With support from the Community Foundation of Lorain County, we invite you to help build a similar network in Lorain. In Neighbor Up, we believe that the most desirable community change is fueled by the interests, energies, and commitment of the broadest array of community members. To create welcoming, inclusive neighborhoods where everyone can thrive, we must engage neighbors in meaningful ways and work together to create the community we want.
We are looking for 18-20 people who live or work in the city of Lorain, care about this community, and
are able to commit to the six-month training.
As a member of the team, you will:
● Learn more about yourself and the gifts you bring to this work;
● Build relationships within your neighborhood and across the city of Lorain.
● Learn about and practice various approaches to building community, including Asset Based
Community Development and Community Network Building
● Deepen your knowledge about racial equity, the history of Lorain, and the opportunities and
structural challenges to overcome;
● Work with a team of committed community members to overcome challenges and create a
community where everyone can thrive.
● Receive a $200 Visa Gift Card
Who Is Invited to Apply
City of Lorain residents, merchants, employees at institutions who:
● believe that all members of our community have gifts, knowledge, and wisdom to offer;
● are interested in building and bridging relationships to create a strong, interconnected network
● are comfortable sharing power and working as a team;
● are willing and excited to work in multicultural and diverse spaces with people from all over
● are willing to learn and raise consciousness about structural inequality;
● are open to learning and experimenting with new forms of community building; and
● are willing and able to do some of this work virtually using new technologies.
Commitment of Team Members
● Fully participate in 9 half-day sessions (See dates below);
● Dedicate 8 to 12 hours each month between August and February 2021. This includes scheduled
sessions and some additional time each month;
● Share your experience and knowledge with peers;
● Complete 20 one-on-one conversations with neighborhood stakeholders;
● Develop action plans and prototype small efforts to address an issue that you care about with
others on the team; and
● Assist with planning and outreach for neighborhood and city-wide gatherings in early 2021
Some components may be changed to phone calls and virtual engagement as necessary due
to public health needs.
● Team Building
● Asset Based Community Development and Community Network Building
● The History of Lorain
● Understanding Personal and Community Trauma
● Understanding Race, Equity and Inclusion
● Tactics to Build a Strong Community Network
Application and Selection Process
● Applications Due by Monday, August 10th at 5 p.m.
● Applicant Interviews August 17th through August 20th
● You will hear back from us by Friday, August 21st
● Sign Participation Agreement and join the team!
● The first session is Saturday, August 29th at 10 a.m.
Required Session Dates
All sessions are on Saturdays from 10 am to 2:30 pm with a half-hour for lunch.
● August 29th, 2020
● September 12th, 2020
● September 26th, 2020
● October 3rd, 2020
● October 24th, 2020
● November 7th, 2020
● November 21st, 2020
● December 5th, 2020
● December 12th, 2020
Network Night Pilot:
● Pilot Network Night — January 2021 (to be determined)
● Pilot Network Night — February 2021 (to be determined)
For more information or to ask questions, contact Neighbor Up members Jerry or Lisa-Jean:
- Jerry Elias Peña or (216) 376-7147
- Lisa-Jean Sylvia or (216) 264-9858
The primary contact at the Community Foundation of Lorain County is Assata Cheers.
We are excited to announce that Lawrence Caswell will be joining our team in August as the Cleveland Documenters Field Coordinator. Lawrence has decades of experience in journalism and community engagement.
He has been following Documenters since its launch in Chicago and brings a wealth of knowledge about not only how Documenters works, but also about Cleveland, journalism and technology. He also has experience podcasting, doing voiceovers, DJing and even comic book writing.
We believe Lawrence has the passion for the work and the creativity and experience to take Cleveland Documenters where it needs to go in the next year and beyond.
Lawrence worked at ideastream for more than 10 years on civic engagement, audience experience and media production. He began as a sound board operator and ended as a producer focused on civic and social media engagement. Before that, he spent eight years as the sound engineer at Beachland Ballroom.
Lawrence, who lives in Collinwood with his wife and daughter, is well known throughout the city. He has been part of our Neighbor Up Community of Practice and is one of the founders of clePlan, or the Cleveland Parent Leadership Action Network, a group of Neighbor Up members who are also parents with children in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Lawrence has bachelor’s degrees from Cleveland State University in communications, English and physics.
His start date is August 3. We intend to host our first Cleveland Documenters workshop online on Thursday, September 3 after learning and training with City Bureau. Stay tuned for details on that workshop or sign up to be notified when we have the details.
We’re excited to begin Cleveland Documenters in partnership with Chicago-based civic journalism lab City Bureau and with support from the Cleveland Foundation and the Visible Voice Charitable Fund of the Cleveland Foundation. Cleveland Documenters will recruit, train and pay Greater Clevelanders to document official committee meetings of the Cuyahoga County and City of Cleveland governments and contribute to a communal pool of public knowledge. Read more about it here.
You’re invited to join us for a day of celebration on Saturday.
The day begins at Benedictine High School, 2900 Martin Luther King Jr., with a Freedom Walk to the Art & Soul Park, 11802 Buckeye Rd., where you’ll find entertainment, resources and a vendor village with free food, voter registration and census information until 5 p.m. Wear your mask – we will be taking precautions for COVID-19.
We’re proud to sponsor this event along with Buckeye Summer Soul, the NAACP Cleveland, residents and Neighbor Up members.
- 11 a.m. Meet at Benedictine High School
- 11:30 a.m. Freedom Walk begins
- 1 p.m. Drum Roll
- 2 p.m. Car Caravan
Chalk your walk in solidarity
From now though Friday, community members will be walking the Buckeye neighborhood asking families to chalk their front sidewalk in solidarity and celebration. Fill out this form or call 216-302-4108 to request materials or for more information.
The recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has highlighted the history of police violence in the United States and the violent, oppressive systems built and sustained by a lie for over 400 years. We celebrate the hundreds of protests that have challenged police violence and systemic racism, and we know there is a lot of work to do to combat these deeply entrenched systems.
What we’ve been trying to build in Cleveland through Neighbor Up — a diverse group of people sharing power, building trust and acting together — gives us hope. Not a naive hope but the kind of hope that exists on the other side of despair, frustration and anger. Neighbor Up members are an amazing group of people working to make this community a better place, focusing on both LOVE and POWER, with racial and economic justice as central tenets of our work.
While our work together is much needed during this critical time, we are pausing right now. We are taking some time to reflect and discern where we go from here, individually and collectively. Our original plans for this week have been adapted or postponed. We cannot go forward with business as usual.
“If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice”-bell hooks
While we are paused, we are asking our white members and friends to:
- Do some soul searching on how the system of white privilege needs to change and examine your role in it.
- Ask yourself, “How does white privilege negatively affect me?” and discuss this with family or friends.
- Before you send that next email, text, or plan, check yourself and ask: “Is this really necessary right now?” People are grieving, shaken, and need time to process. Would it be better to check in with someone and have a conversation rather than conducting business as usual?
- Take a look at the work you are doing with Neighbor Up and ask yourself our equity prime questions:
- How are my biases showing up in this work? In my life?
- How is my privilege showing up in this work? How are the dynamics of power and privilege operating between me, my colleagues of color, and network members of color in this work and in this community right now?
- How am I/we making space for shared power and authenticity by investing in the gifts, knowledge and skills of people who have been marginalized in my work? In my life?
- Get ready to gear up. White people need to use their energy, resources, and privilege to change this system in big ways.
To our African-American, black, and Latinx friends:
- Know that Neighbor Up is with you in solidarity.
- Know that we recommit to do more, and be more effective, in the continuing fight for racial and economic justice, truth and reconciliation.