A renaissance in the making, but there’s so much more to do in Cleveland

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By Ronn Richard
President & CEO, Cleveland Foundation

Last December, as the Cleveland Foundation prepared to commemorate its centennial, we invited Plain Dealer readers to celebrate this milestone with their community foundation, the world’s first.

More than 172,000 Greater Clevelanders joined the year-long birthday party that followed, participating in public events such as our surprise monthly gifts to the community and our centennial meeting.

Along the way, we invoked the memory of Frederick Harris Goff, father of the Cleveland Foundation and the field of community philanthropy. Infusing a strong dose of democracy into charitable giving, he encouraged all citizens to join in supporting something larger than any one of us: this community we share.

In so many ways, our community is thriving. Without doubt, Cleveland is experiencing a renaissance, and we all have reason to be proud.

Even in a rapidly globalizing world, we feel the tug of this local landscape: the one spot on Earth we call home. As LeBron James recently reminded us, there is something about being attached to place. The flexible concept of “home” – be it a single dwelling or an entire country – is laden with nostalgia.

But here in Cleveland, as in cities all across America, this sentiment is tempered by the stark realities that residents face each day. For too many of our fellow citizens, home is where the hurt is: the crime, poverty and joblessness that breed despair.

At this time last year, I promised that the Cleveland Foundation would use its centennial as a catalyst to position us for even greater impact in our second century. It’s time to update you on how we are delivering on that pledge:

  • With more than $1.4 million in grants, your foundation launched a career and technical education strategy to connect Cleveland students with real-world work experiences that will better prepare them for the high-skill, high-demand jobs of the present and future. It’s a start toward matching well-paying jobs in Greater Cleveland with residents credentialed to fill them. But there is so much more to do.
  • Believing that education is the great leveler, we remain a steadfast partner of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District as it implements the 2012 schools transformation plan. New, innovative schools are outperforming their peers and the high school graduation rate has risen to 64 percent, up 12 percent since 2011. But there is so much more to do.
  • The public-private partnership known as MyCom connects youth with caring adults and organizations dedicated to helping our young people succeed. Your foundation inspired this initiative; now, we are broadening MyCom’s geographic reach and rallying our community to join in countering the lure of unhealthy behaviors through mentoring relationships, after-school activities, summer jobs and more, all at the neighborhood level. But there is so much more to do.
  • Those core city neighborhoods are the ribs to the sturdy spine our downtown is developing along Euclid Avenue – and many of these ribs are fractured. Just as we partner for downtown improvements, your foundation works with community development corporations, private lenders, local government, residents and other allies to encourage healing redevelopment in the neighborhoods. In 2015, we will mark the 10th anniversary of the Greater University Circle Initiative. This long-term enterprise has stimulated hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment in seven once-forgotten neighborhoods. But there is so much more to do.

This list is incomplete because there is so much more to do everywhere: bringing jobs and new industries to our region; protecting our environment, especially our lake; infusing the arts into our schools and neighborhoods; helping our youngest children thrive and our older population age in safety and with dignity. It will take the entire community – residents, businesses, private foundations, nonprofit organizations, government – working with its community foundation to make a lasting impact in the next 100 years.

A century ago, Fred Goff demonstrated how much just one person can do. Imagine what one united community can achieve! As we enter our second century, please join the Cleveland Foundation and invest your time, talent or treasure in this one spot on Earth we call home.