Monday, February 22, 2016

The Garden Valley Neighborhood House - a brief update as of January, 2016....

"Our focus starts with food, and after we feed, we look at the whole human being...we feed the body, mind and soul". - Jan Ridgeway on efforts at the Garden Valley Neighborhood House, Jan. 8, 2016

Following my 2012 visits to GVNH [discussed in the blog just before this one] I occasionally saw ongoing work there but did not go back for any meaningful talks until an earlier Jan. 8 - that of 2015:), and then still briefly, with Jan Ridgeway reflecting on the efforts of CMHA and the planning for the imminent "Opportunity Corridor" boulevard. [Footnote 1]

My second January 8, so to speak - last month - was more in-depth, and the final stop on the way to this update!

I spent much of my time on that Friday afternoon with Ms. Ridgeway, and was happy to hear a very positive summary for the work of the center and also aware, as a participant in non-profit work over the years, that its main challenge may be finding a successor to continue the work that has been revived by her and by Quinton Durham and hopefully take it to a higher level.

Short of that, the second challenge may be that the Kinsman/Garden Valley neighborhood remains very poor, with all of the related challenges that entails.

On the positive side, it appears that GVNH is working hard, and getting noticed at times as well, as Jan showed me with the examples of two awards in recent years, the first from a Cleveland area food program which distributes food to a number of facilities....
and a second more recent recognition....
Jan clarified that the center's main work is supplying food to those who need it, adding that the national non-profit "Feeding America" - which she said oversees most of the food pantries in the U.S. - is especially interested in the center because of its holistic approach including vocational education, beyond just the training in the "trades" which has continued there. [In reference to that, please see my look back at GVNH in 2012 just above.] Through more jobs certainly, there will be less need for free food, and "Feeding America", according to Jan, definitely wants to keep reducing any need for the places it assists throughout the country.

One instance in which those needs happened to come into greater focus was a happy and concentrated as well as eye-opening program of community services around Christmas, including the serving of almost 900 meals over 6 days between Dec. 21-30, and other gifts, such as each child who came at that time being able to take home four books.

I myself see those gifts as going against the "eye-opening" part of what Jan and others saw in late December, when they were reminded of how big the social and educational gaps are with the people they serve. During the holiday venture, she and fellow volunteers taught children basic skills such as sewing buttons and also saw their very limited literacy, as with one "8-year old who does not know how to spell his last name and does not know his full name".  Jan has since then reminded me that he did know his nickname but could not spell that either[Footnote 2]  She said of meeting these childrens' shortcomings that "the responsibility is with [their schools] but [their] parents should prepare them" as well.

One of the highlights for some of the kids at the center is a recently formed choir, "Voices in the Valley", directed by one of the key volunteers at Garden Valley - Sister Yvetta Eley - who I briefly met as she stopped in at the office where Jan and I were sitting, prior to an early evening rehearsal. At the time, "Voices" was preparing for a Black History month concert in the rotunda of Cleveland City Hall, with that venue by no means the first "big" site for them, as Jan noted their having already performed at Kent State University near Cleveland, in Erie, PA., and in Washington, DC. Without hearing "Voices", but hoping to, this component was in a way the brightest aspect of my visit, as I could see the committed nature of Sister Yvetta right away and also heard of perhaps the best highlight of the group, when Jan noted that it has a 4-year old drummer.

Jan more generally volunteered how a few young singers in particular have learned about discipline and structure and said "you can't tell me that the work that's being done [isn't helping in school]". One larger element as well, for her, is of kids at the center who are learning about ways towards peaceful resolution. Later, she returned to the need to uplift children with the example of perhaps the most prominent tragedy in Cleveland's recent history, in the case of 12-year old Tamir Rice, who was fatally shot by a Cleveland policeman on November 22, 2014. [Footnote 3]  As she spoke of the need for campaigns to solve problems such as the lack of Blacks in skilled labor positions, she said that she is in favor of people who "march", like Mr. Durham, but speaking for herself and her activities, "I think I have the ability to influence...long-term [change]", that it doesn't take anything away from more visible activism and, by what she does...."I want to prevent more Tamir Rices from happening".

The like-minded people she has attracted include a "core base of about 150 volunteers", and I was glad to meet one of them - Val Pennington - seen here to the right next to Jan....
Val has lived in the immediate neighborhood for 40 years, either in the Garden Valley estates or, since November 15, 2010, in a new "Heritage View" home just a minute or so from GVNH. Since 2012, "Miss Val" has helped with the organization's food program and assisted with its senior activities. She has recently made sure everybody gets food bags and helps distribute bread and meat.

While food once again is the main focus at the center, it was also good to say hello to Mr. Durham, if not in the leisurely weather I had last seen him in August as he was standing on a flatbed truck and working with another volunteer....
My regards to him were even quicker this time, but he is continuing to oversee construction education at GVNH and Jan informed me that "one of Quinton's students" is the contractor on a multi-million dollar dormitory construction project at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University.

As GVNH alumni flourish, I hope there is a lot to celebrate from this neighborhood institution in the near future, one reason being that it is part of a current and plentiful era of landmark Cleveland origins, with examples, and their founding dates, including the Cleveland Foundation (1914), the Cleveland Playhouse (1915), Karamu Theater (1915), the Cleveland Museum of Art (1916), the Cleveland Orchestra (1918) and additionally, in that last year - the Garden Valley Neighborhood House. Here is looking to 2018 and beyond and continued success for "GVNH".  [Footnote 4.]


1. CMHA, as I have noted in an earlier blog, is the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority and is the owner and manager of a number of public housing complexes, including the Heritage View homes adjacent to GVNH. The Opportunity Corridor, previously noted in related blogs, will be a roadway going through Kinsman and other East Side neighborhoods between a major freeway terminus and the "Eds/Meds" area of the Cleveland Clinic/University Circle.

2. E-mail from Jan Ridgeway, Feb. 12, 2016.

3. For further information on the Tamir Rice case, the first two sources below come from late December just after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty recommended that the policeman who shot Tamir Rice should not be indicted; they are

Sources consulted also include

4. See, respectively, for the Cleveland Foundation, Orchestra and Playhouse....;;


Previously, within this "update", I had noted Karamu House as having been founded in 1916 and have corrected that to note its beginnings in 1915.

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