Re-Weave Community: Invest in Connectivity, Creativity and Collaboration
With Lisa Braun, Executive Director, Ohio City Power and Thomas O’Brien, Program Director, Neighborhood Connections at The Cleveland Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, September 5, 2014.
Hi, my name is Lisa Braun, I’m Executive Director of Ohio City Power, a non profit program based out of Ohio City and we serve the homeless and jobless of Cleveland, Ohio.
The first, is Community Greenhouse Partners under the direction of . It is an urban garden setting and the homeless and jobless folks can do day labor and receive a wage for that. Ohio City Power provides bus fare and lunches for their time down at the Garden.
A second program we collaborate with is P.A.C.E. which stands for Positive Attitude Changes Everything and that is a tumbling program for the inner city youth under the direction of Todd Kennedy. Ohio City Power promotes healthy diet, so Todd provides the exercise and the last Saturday of each month we provide the healthy snacks for the children consisting of water and fresh fruit and they really enjoy it and we’re happy to promote that.
3.) The Metanoia Project
Most recently, we’ve partnered with Metanoia, a project that allows the homeless to come off the streets during the winter months. That is a new partnership and we hope to be working more with them this winter.
At this time, I’d like to turn to Tom and have him tell us a little bit about Neighborhood Connections.
Tom O’Brien: Thanks Lisa, thanks for having me and welcome to the new office. Neighborhood Connections has been around since 2003 and we were started by The Cleveland Foundation. The idea was that the Foundation would disperse money through Neighborhood Connections to community groups in the City of Cleveland and now the City of East Cleveland. Funds go to any group of residents who really want to make a difference in the community and who want to come together and say, “This is what’s important to us, we’re going to get together and start working on that” and tap into some of the assets in the neighborhood and really get a sense of their own power in doing these projects. So, yours is a great example of that: people who worship at a congregation in Ohio City and then having some of the people who live around Ohio City come together to work together to do things to better the community, and yours, with people who are looking for employment, that’s a perfect, that’s the type of programs we’re looking for. We fund everything from what you do, to community gardens and athletic programs, as you mentioned the two, and we also do a lot of public art, programs with older adults and youth - anything that brings people together, to work together to make their community a better place and create a sense of ownership of their community. They don’t have to wait for somebody to come in from the outside and solve the problem, that they have the capacity and they have the resources to solve their own problems and make a difference in their own community.
So, that’s what we do and we have a group of residents that make the funding decisions. We have twenty-four residents from the City of Cleveland and the City of East Cleveland and they make all those decisions.
Lisa Braun: Great. Tom, would you like to tell our audience how a person goes about applying for funding?
Tom O’Brien: Sure, yeah. We have two deadlines a year. We have one, the second Friday in February and then another, the second Friday in August. Any group, of two or three people coming together, can apply for a grant and they can go to our website, neighborhoodgrants.org and download a proposal. We have sessions on how to fill out the proposal and then once the proposal is submitted, groups interview with the grant making committee. The grant making committee tries to interview everybody who applies as best they can. Typically, it’s anywhere from one-hundred and twenty to two hundred proposals each round. And then probably two months after the application comes in they make their decision and the group's know how much they received. So, groups get between $500.00 and $5,000.00 dollars. It’s a matching grant, so most of the groups that get funded, match in terms of volunteer labor, donations, in-kind services they get from people in the community. It’s a fairly simple application, I think we’re trying to make it a little easier, the budget especially can be a bit of a bear, but we’re trying to change that up to make it a little more accessible.
Lisa Braun: Great. And, there’s, I thought a relatively new program, but it’s not as new as I thought, Neighbor Up. Do you want to tell everyone a little bit about that?
Tom O’Brien: Sure, so Neighbor Up is an innovative group of people who’ve come together from across the City of Cleveland and the City of East Cleveland who are working together to support each other, as neighbors, providing mutual support and also acting together on the big collectively and also connecting people to good information in the community. So, the idea behind it is, how do we start weaving people together to find employment? To act together on issues that have been vexing Cleveland’s neighborhoods for years like poverty, or unemployment or educational issues, all those different things, and connect people to good opportunities, real opportunities? To really reweave the fabric in the community. And so, we have over two thousand members now and these people who are members of Neighbor Up can come in when they want to come in and get what they need, or give their gifts to the network that other people may need and they can contribute their gifts. People who are participants or members, really kind of shape the work or determine the issues they work on.
So, we have a lot of Neighborhood Connections grant recipients who are a part of it, but it extends far beyond that. It extends to other residents in the community, people who work at community based organizations or congregations, business people, employees at some of the major institutions in town. It’s a real mix across racial, geographic, socioeconomic divides, bringing them together to ask, “How do we solve things together versus having this “us versus them” mentality? How do we come together to build trust and then start working together. And that’s what the network’s about.
Lisa Braun: Excellent. I’d like to give you one example of how Ohio City Power programs work. We do deal with the homeless and jobless. On the second Thursday of each month, we have a soup kitchen called, “Daily Bread.” On the third Friday we have “Souper Bingo” in which we serve soup and play Bingo with anyone coming off the streets to the Outreach Office at St. Paul’s.
There was an occasion where a gentleman was going to perform some day labor, so he was able to do that, and in the interaction with the owner of the property, a relationship was built between the owner and this homeless person. And, this is where we step out of it. The relationship took place, the man was a good worker. The property owner wanted to employ this man with a full time permanent position in his manufacturing company.
It was a wonderful coming together, it just took off, the private owner purchased this man eyeglasses, he needed a driver’s license, and he went so far as to help him secure an automobile. So, this man lived in a shelter, but with this relationship that took place outside, was able to secure full-time, permanent employment. And that is a true success story of how we, at Ohio City Power, try to lift people up, and actually the ultimate goal is, if they choose to, some folks are not able to go back out into society, but our programs help springboard them to full-time employment.
We would not have been able to do that, provide the gas money to get him to the day labor job, without the assistance of Neighborhood Connections. So, we really do collaborate together and there’s a huge end result of changing this man’s life. He’s a totally different person, and he’s actually back into society.
I want to thank Tom for taking time out of his busy day to sit down and shoot the video with us, so we can get the word out to others. My hope is that we can continue to help those in need. Tom, thank you very much. Do you have anything to say before we leave?
Tom O’Brien: I just want to invite people to Network Night. It’s the first Thursday of every month and that’s where Neighbor Up network gets together. It’s at University Circle United Methodist Church, which is on East 107 Street, off of Chester Avenue and it’s from 6pm to 8pm. Everybody’s welcome, no matter where you’re from and whatever you do in the community or in life, you’re welcome to come and check it out.
And, really, the story you just told is kind of emblematic of what the network is trying to do. It’s like, who you know really matters. And getting connected really matters and someone believing in somebody else it really changes a person’s perspective. So, congratulations!
- Betsey Merkel, Editor and Publisher
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