November is here, our year 2023 nearly in its completion, and a time of reflection for many of us as we prepare reports to close out the year. One of the highlights of my role with Community Solutions is the opportunity to interact with leaders in our communities. Many of these leaders commit to serving others passionately with little fanfare, and our blog series of community champions is meant to spread the news of their good work. Let’s close this year by introducing two amazing leaders who serve Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant Neighborhood.
Shirley Bell, Leading a Revolutionary Love Garden
“Shirley Bell is a full-time teacher aide, part-time gardener, and the guardian of all green things in Mount Pleasant;” is how she is described by another community leader who recommended I meet her. Shirley began her organization in 2013 to provide art and gardening therapy for youth and families.
Shirley Bell is a full-time teacher aide, part-time gardener, and the guardian of all green things in Mount Pleasant.
Her nonprofit, Elements of Internal Movement, established the Revolutionary Love Community Garden at 123rd and Imperial Ave. Through this garden, she has served many youth living in the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood. This is no ordinary garden. Shirley has uniquely infused opportunities for youth to learn about horticulture covering STEM elements in a six-week program over the summer. Most unique is that she not only educates the mind for science, but she is also simultaneously teaching the power of healing and holistic wellness through meditation.
Students also receive training in emotional intelligence and mindfulness. During these sessions, she offers an opportunity for conversations for healing and learning. Shirley beams when she speaks of the power of setting the right environment for youth and anyone at any age to learn and feel part of their community. Gardening, she says, lends itself to serving as moving meditation. While it gets messy, it also allows for the participant to feel grounded. The beautiful and calming atmosphere is “everything!” It honors the space and time to think deeply.
In addition to the personal growth she nurtures with her work, Shirley provides community pride for the neighborhood. She is creating a space that elevates the value of nature in an urban area. I know too well from my days of service in my beloved Woodhill neighborhood, how important greenery is to our communities. Shirley is a gem, and champion of her community by elevating such value and as quoted by NPR she believes “Trees in the Mount Pleasant area, deserve the same attention as forests in the Amazon. If it’s vital to other people, it’s vital to us, too!” For The Climate and Social Justice, Plant Trees: NPR)
Wouldn’t you like to be her neighbor?
As her program officer from Saint Luke’s Foundation reports, today the garden contains a greenhouse and an apiary and serves as a learning, healing, and gathering space. Other programming includes planting a flower in remembrance of the loss of a loved one and therapeutic arts and craft activities (ex: building terrariums). Shirley also offers the produce to neighbors at no cost to them and hosts regular events at the garden such as their Taco Tuesday utilizing produce from the garden, Zumba, and Karaoke night. Wouldn’t you like to be her neighbor? I know I really enjoyed speaking with Shirley and look forward to continuing our engagement as Community Solutions continues to deepen relationships with leaders in our neighborhoods such as Shirley.
You can reach Shirley at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark McClain, Healing Bodies, Minds and Expectations
Mark McClain, who I had met in passing during my service at East End Neighborhood House, was equally inspiring! He too focuses on healing and the power of caring for our minds to deliver our best actions for one another. When recommended to speak to Mark, I was excited as I had learned he was an attorney, and I am always inspired by those of us who study the law and shift to serve in our communities via the nonprofit sector. Mark’s background is seriously impressive. Formerly a Federal Prosecutor for the US attorney for the Northern District of Ohio and Chief Prosecutor for the cities of Cleveland and East Cleveland, Mark also served as a substitute judge in East Cleveland Municipal Court in addition to maintaining a successful private practice.
Spirit is bigger than the titles one holds.
All these accolades! However, for Mark, “spirit is bigger than the titles one holds.” As a native of Cleveland raised in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, he decided to focus on his community’s needs. In part his service helps shift the negative narrative our neighborhoods face stemming from the social determinants of poverty and marginalization. He ministers via The Growing Church and Healing Hands Alliance with the mission to bring physical and spiritual healing to inner-city communities. He provides opportunities for youth to learn about mindfulness meditation, and the power it provides for self-care. This wellness practice is also rooted in Marks deep knowledge and training in Qi Gong. Qi Gong is an ancient Chinese health practice resting on three pillars: breathing, movement, and meditation, or mind intention.
Mark has utilized these techniques in his work with various groups inclusive of youth in Juvenile Detention Center and in partnership with kinship care providers taking care of their young and vulnerable family members. Mark shares that teaching these techniques helps youth with anxiety and depression. He also infuses lessons of healthy eating and the best ways to care for mind, body, and soul. He has even included an opportunity for youth involved to receive stipends, instilling lessons in how commitment to service, even to self, can bring other rewards. Mark receives rave reviews from his supporters and funders for serving many youth in the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood.
His service helps shift the negative narrative our neighborhoods face stemming from the social determinants of poverty and marginalization.
Mark, like Shirley, believes in the power of the environment we provide for our young and their families. Mark says: “Environment affects our lives” and to make it most appealing for living, thinking outside of the box of what we normally do can be transforming. These activities of meditation and self- healing through arts such as Qi Gong can change a life. But equally if not most important is the power of shifting our mindsets as it really “takes a village to raise a child.” Mark believes there is a wealth of love in our communities, and this must be extended as much as possible to make a difference.
You can reach Mark at email@example.com
Meeting these amazing leaders affirms my continued commitment to this work. This series is intended to elevate their stories, introduce them to our friends and supporters of Community Solutions. I hope that we can collectively expand positive impact not only for our health and human services sector but most importantly the people we all serve. As we approach days of thankfulness, celebration, and reflection, let us remember community champions and do our best to support their services. Ubuntu!