Summer of Purpose: Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson worshiping by mime at St. Timothy's Missionary Baptist Church

Our #SummerOfPurpose blog series follows this year’s Cleveland Foundation Summer Interns as they reflect on 11 weeks spent working with Cleveland-area nonprofit and public sector organizations. In today’s blog, we hear from Kayla Johnson, who spent her summer at Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation (FRDC), where she worked to further housing and economic development for their neighborhood.

Name: Kayla Johnson

College: The Ohio State University (OSU)

Hometown: Euclid, Ohio

Internship Host Site: Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation (FRDC)

Why did you initially decide to participate in this internship program?

I needed the perspective of public service through a nonprofit, in this case a community development corporation (CDC), as I am navigating the range of opportunities to become an urban planner. The chance to work on a local level in the complex system of community development would require me to look beneath the surface at the true resilience and assets of a neighborhood. I wanted to be challenged as well as have the opportunity to explore a local context to neighborhood development.

A street sign for the Fairfax neighborhoodWhat has been the most valuable aspect of your internship experience?

I valued connecting the dots of my book knowledge (stakeholder engagement, civic area design, development patterns, etc.) to the job experience requiring these skills. I knew I had to remain open-minded to what FRDC does through their investments, projects, and programs. What completely changed my point of view was the history, growth, partnerships and impact made possible in Fairfax that you cannot see from a surface-level perspective. I witnessed the pride of the community documented and spoken throughout Fairfax.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your internship experience?

I had to become patient and focused enough to understand where I fit in as an intern for just the summer. I eventually recognized how my identity added to my perspective of issues. The ideas I formed early in the internship just needed the confidence and research to propose them. Eventually, I was comfortable with my workload, work environment, and what I was gaining from it as soon as I recognized my potential. It has also been up to me to understand how my job role gives me the independence to challenge what I bring to the table as well as expose those areas of weakness I have now rather than later.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing around Cleveland?

I enjoy anything involving food and art. I take on art (sketching and photography) myself, but most of my informal connections are entrepreneurs and artists. A local group of multi-disciplinary artists worth following is The Sparrow’s Fortune. I participate in worshipping through mime at St. Timothy Missionary Baptist Church and OSU. There is a certain level of comfort incomparable to anything else in a safe space that brings the utmost best out of my character. Both church and the art communities always had role models that influenced who I wanted to be, which is a selfless leader and advocate.

What are your career goals after college?

I will become a real estate developer rehabilitating abandoned houses to house people at affordable rates, create a community development corporation (CDC) for a neighborhood in need of one, and operate a social enterprise or nonprofit to support the equity and resilience of a neighborhood. Somewhere in there comes a master’s degree supporting the collective purpose I have and a team of like-minded partners. “It’s only crazy until it happens.” – Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church

How has this internship helped you grow professionally?

  • Practiced research skills further improving the depth and range I can find information
  • Improved presentation skills to concisely articulate an idea
  • Reconsidered my career aspirations as I found more opportunities to navigate into my purpose
  • Increased awareness of the diverse perspectives of community development and nonprofits
  • Accomplished networking while adding to my professional development

How has this internship helped you grow personally?

I created a goal to take the more scenic routes and place myself where the people are. Attending community events (work and non-work related), riding the public transit through neighborhoods, and discovering local businesses all supported that goal. Any way I can take initiative to experience what is currently happening helps me recognize a lot that matters to me. I get to witness the above and beyond while spreading awareness of the cool projects, events, and businesses.

A carryout box with chicken, rice, mashed potatoes and broccoli from Momo's restaurantWhere would you take a friend who is visiting Cleveland for the first time?

Momo’s Restaurant and Social Lounge on 185th!!!!!! Connect my excitement to the visual ART of the food….whew! There are restaurants that let you know the cook was NOT playing around in the kitchen. One thing about me: if you want to eat, I’ve got a book of suggestions up my sleeve of places that excel in their food as well as their atmosphere. Secondly, I am known to support local businesses, especially Black-owned and operated businesses.

What departing words do you have for the people you’ve met this summer throughout the internship?

Thank you! Thank you to FRDC for being open to the ideas I brought to the organization and allowing me to succeed but also have the chance to learn. Thank you to the other interns for inspiring me to make the most out of the internship considering we were all collectively purposeful in the work done. Thank you to the Cleveland Foundation for having this program to connect those who are passionate about civil service to the host organizations deeply invested in Cleveland communities. Finally, thank you to the past and future summer interns who take their experiences and blossom into unique advocates needed for our communities.

To learn more about the Cleveland Foundation Summer Internship Program, click here. 


  1. Gail Averette

    This young lady Kayla is a blessing to all who know her. She has seen the glass ceiling and has broken through. There’s nothing in her mind she can’t do.

  2. Dena Bufford

    Awesome Kayla! You continue to amaze and impress with your quiet self-determination. Anticipating hearing about future accomplishments!

  3. Lee-Arlyn Davenport

    What an asset and inspiration to the community!
    Through faith and focus we can expect to hear great things from Kayla. She has the ability to positively impact other young people which is the ultimate blessing.

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