by Walter Wright
Project Director of the Greater University Circle Community Wealth Building Initiative
Some years ago, I was meeting with a national expert on community building and a group of community activists from Central, one of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. The activists were complaining that they’d recently spent a day fixing up homes, yet not one of the residents had stepped out to thank them. “Did you invite them?” asked the expert. “Did you give them a reason? Next time, visit each resident the day before, give them a box of mix and invite them to bake brownies for the volunteers. People need to be invited.”
That lesson has stuck with me. We need to be invited to collaborate, to work together, to volunteer. It doesn’t just happen.
The Cleveland Foundation has been inviting people to collaborate on an important issue: connecting people to jobs. Although we’ve supported amazing projects in economic development and education reform, we still have a large number of unemployed and underemployed people. Many of them live in neighborhoods of Greater University Circle with high jobless rates: Hough, Glenville, Fairfax, Central, Buckeye-Shaker and the city of East Cleveland.
Convened by the Cleveland Foundation, University Circle anchor institutions such as University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University have joined with “community connectors” – Towards Employment, Cleveland State University and the foundation’s Neighborhood Connections program – to better link people to opportunity and to each other.
We’ve invited our partners to work together to engage residents in a job-supporting network and prepare them for opportunities that lead to careers, not just jobs.
With Neighborhood Connections and Towards Employment, University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University worked to equip residents with the job-ready skills and networks they need to succeed. Through the “Step Up” program, University Hospitals has hired 28 new workers, and retention rates have been excellent. One new employee received a commendation from a co-worker, who noted she “did [extra work] without anyone asking or urging. I haven’t seen anyone do this in a long time. Thank you for making our area … presentable to all.”
We’ve invited our partners to develop a system to track current and new employees who live in these neighborhoods.
The institutions collaborated to develop common metrics to track employees, and worked with Cleveland State University to map and update. Among the questions they need to answer: Will new employees stay employed? Will they remain in the neighborhoods? Will retention rates improve as the institutions work to better train their workers and upgrade their skills?
The anchor institutions have invited their employees to form affinity groups.
University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic have encouraged their employees who live in Greater University Circle to meet regularly. These employee-led affinity, or resource, groups build loyalty and resilience. Including everyone from resident physicians to entry-level workers, these groups have developed goals like engaging youth, promoting effective school options to new employees and improving neighborhood conditions.
Together, we are working to connect residents to jobs, income and other ownership opportunities, which support strong families and stable neighborhoods.