The Buckeye Woodhill neighborhood has one of the largest concentrations of children under the age of 18 in Cleveland, according to my partners here at Community Solutions. Over 1 in 4 residents are children about 2 in 3 of those children are living in poverty. The rate of births to teen mothers is about three times that of Cleveland. Programs assisting children and young mothers are critical and could have a significant impact in the Buckeye-Woodhill Neighborhood.
During my service at East End Neighborhood House, keeping child/youth services funded was the most challenging, especially as the youth got older. Second to keeping youth services fully funded, senior citizen services were also challenging. The most vulnerable stages of life as a youth or as an elder present the greatest challenges to sustainable funding sources for nonprofit leaders. Hence, why I continue to advocate for neighborhood centers, formerly known as settlement houses. They continue to serve various life stages, via intergenerational operations and vibrant partnerships with other neighborhood providers. Look for my focus on senior services and neighborhood centers in my 2023 neighborhood blog series.
The most vulnerable stages of life as a youth or as an elder present the greatest challenges to sustainable funding sources for nonprofit leaders.
East End Neighborhood House -Ubuntu Early Childhood-Youth Center
The Buckeye-Woodhill Neighborhood has an impressive cluster of service providers, some around for a long time and others emerging and growing with the community.
East End Neighborhood Center, located on Woodhill Road near both Shaker Blvd and Buckeye Road, is the keeper of neighborhood history regarding youth services. East End was one of the very first providers servicing kindergarteners in the early 1900s, becoming part of the States recognized childcare centers in the 1970s. Today East End leads a 4-star program and remains a highly regarded supporter of children services. The Ubuntu Learning Center, with the capacity to serve 101 children in the neighborhood, provides care for children from 18 months old through 12 years of age or up to sixth grade.
The team follows a curriculum that supports educational, leadership, social and personal development. Some of the supplemental activities unique to them include Swahili lessons for preschoolers; a green program that teaches the value of gardening and healthy eating; and an entrepreneurial program for school-aged kids. Recent funds raised by the children in their entrepreneurial experiences support special activities and field trips selected by the students.
East End is an equalizer for families
I met with the center’s co-directors Devin Bates and Zenja O’Neal, both extremely passionate about children services. When I asked about the challenges facing youth, they spoke of stressors that affect the family at large, whether these are community, social or economically driven; if it affects the family, it affects the child. They believe the center serves as an equalizer for families having to balance between career and family commitments along with the many stressors of life.
If it affects the family, it affects the child.
Collective work and responsibility
“East End is a motivator for families, and children; creating experiences for youth outside of what they may already know, always highlighting the possibilities in life,” Zenja said. “East End is an epicenter of this neighborhood that looks like the people we serve, this is home!” Devin added. The team see parents and caregivers as partners and an obvious part of the fabric that ensures children’s success. They believe in the power of collective work and responsibility and the philosophy of Ubuntu that further recognizes community. They wish for others to follow their commitment and support with funds, volunteerism, and/or collective advocacy.
Over many years of service, East End has figured out how to work with providers and neighborhood leaders to expand services provided to children, seniors, and families. The R.I.S.E. Collaborative, over 20 years old, is part of a county-wide network of “Collaboratives” led by organizations like East End. The network of providers and advocates, meets monthly to share services and efforts to support communities.
See You At The Top/SYATT
See You At The Top is comprised of two generations of women passionate about providing possibilities some may have discounted for urban neighborhood youth. In 2009, inspired in part by the Olympics and seeing the minimal number of Black athletes in certain sports, Marcia, Ebony and Erika Hood, mother and daughters, founded SYATT. They started with the goal of introducing youth to outdoor sports such as skiing, and snowboarding, which have now become signature sports at the organization. Their mission is to support their communities through various culturally relevant programs, allowing for youth and adults to engage with nature, finding joy, relief and life-changing transformation. Over the years, they have added other sports and activities such as scuba diving and urban camping.
What is urban camping?
Erika explained that the goal of urban camping is to make the most of any green patches right in the neighborhood. For instance, they collaborate with a neighborhood organization, Fair Hill Partners, which serves senior citizens. They pitch 6-8 tents outside, with other necessary amenities and host various activities including watching movies under the stars. “Grandma and Grandad get a night off, because we take care of the grandchildren for the night! We are up all night with the children, even taking night hikes by the Doan Brook Watershed and we have a lot of fun with the participants. These have become our get-back-outside initiatives that have simultaneously created an opportunity to easily meet families, in a different way right in our community backyards.”
The goal of urban camping is to make the most of any green patches right in the neighborhood. They pitch 6-8 tents outside, with other necessary amenities and host various activities including watching movies under the stars.
Slave ships, scuba, and climate science
Their Scuba diving activity includes climate change and environment lessons. Youth gain their scuba diving certification and visit coral restoration farms where they learn how to restore and regrow corals. Erika explained that during these trips, usually in Florida during February and July, children learn about archeology.
“They do actual archeological dives for any type of pieces that tie back to slave ships, and learn about research and our history.” Their partners in this work are all Black-led organizations and even Samuel L. Jackson has learned about their work and has done a documentary about these types of activities.
When they are not in these amazing Florida experiences, the SYATT team collaborates with neighborhood schools leading STEM lessons that are interesting to the children and nurtures their interest in science, such as outdoor cooking activities.
Creating diverse opportunities for all children
I asked Erika about the challenges in serving youth and her teams’ wishes for youth. After a deep breath, she said, “If we don’t work with our young people now, we won’t see the changes that we need to see in our communities and our world. We have to put forth the effort now…otherwise, I may not even see the change in my own lifetime!”
She hopes for collective action to support children; “We need all the services to collaboratively create a bed of diverse opportunities for all children!” SYATT offers the opportunity to let children be children; academics are important but cannot be all that we do with youth. Erika herself is a mother of two growing boys, and she passionately shares that she aims to model consistent hope for her children and those she serves!
www.syattcle.org or Erika@syatt.org
It really does take a village to create possibilities for youth; I’m thankful for these champions. Meet two more Buckeye-Woodhill champions for youth next week. Ubuntu!