I love Cleveland.
Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Cleveland was “The Big City” and every few years (if we were lucky) our family would venture downtown for an Indians game or a Billy Joel concert. When college graduation approached, I sat on campus at Youngstown State University with a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a red pen, circling any job listing with the words “Full Time” and “Social Worker” in it, intent on becoming a part of something new and exciting. The first time I drove north through the snow tunnel of Route 271 was in February of the year 2000, ambitiously navigating my brother’s Grand-Am through the storm for an interview. Within 2 weeks, I had unpacked the U-Haul and settled into a tiny, upstairs Euclid apartment, just minutes from my new job.
At the first sign of spring, I ventured outside and followed the sidewalks wherever they led me. Wandering past rows of neatly trimmed lawns and tree-lined streets full of eclectic architecture – I glanced into the windows of tall, stately colonials, efficient bungalows and regal Tudors, imagining what life must be like for the lucky people who lived in these beautiful, historic homes. And then I saw the lake. “Wow. That’s a big body of water!” I thought to myself, stopping in my tracks and turning around to glance behind me. Thankfully, no one was there to notice the bewildered expression on my face. “Is that Lake Erie?”
Fifteen years later, that lake is a part of my soul, and I can find my way home from just about anywhere in relation to its presence on the horizon. At times, when I catch myself lamenting the size of our postage-stamp yard or the cost of maintaining a 75-year-old home, it helps to remember those early days and the sense of adventure that brought me here in the first place. Life-long Clevelanders have taught me the difference between east and west, and the daily news is quick to remind me that big cities inevitably come with big problems. But if you ask any of the 400+ presenters, sponsors and guests who attended the February 24th Accelerate 2016, Citizens Make Change civic pitch competition at the beautiful Global Center for Health Innovation, I think we’d all agree that faith in Cleveland is alive and well.
The event’s official winner was Ben Colas, a CMSD kindergarten teacher, who reminded us that his students could be standing on that same stage several years from now, if we choose to invest in their future. I couldn’t agree more. Aside from the honor of being chosen as a finalist, connecting with the personal stories behind each of the pitch presentations was a highlight of the evening for me. I am always thankful for the opportunity to be inspired, and Accelerate 2016 left me filled with more ideas and energy than my tired brain knows what to do with. I’d say that’s a wonderful problem to have! Time for a deep breath and maybe a long nap – but I can’t wait for all the collaboration and storytelling that is in our future, Cleveland. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.
And thank you again to the Cleveland Leadership Center, Citizens Bank, Oswald Companies and Westfield Insurance Foundation – for making the future of Good Cause CLE and Good Cause Creative a whole lot brighter!