The hopes run high for a new initiative in Cleveland with goals to improve lives and neighborhoods in areas finding themselves less fortunate than the rest of the city.
Dustin Tommey, the director of Impact Cleveland, spoke to the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Thursday morning expressing his enthusiasm about what the program can do and encouraging participation in the process.
“I recognize a real spirit of collaboration and an awesome philanthropic, giving, loving community here in Cleveland, and I’ve known that for a long time,” Tommey said.
He said he has been overwhelmed seeing how much the community wants to become “even better than what it is.”
Tommey spoke to the club on his first day on the job after moving back to the area where he attended graduate school in Philadelphia, Pa., and worked with a nonprofit organization that performed housing revitalization.
“I became really passionate about seeing that aspect of Philadelphia be transformed,” Tommey said.
Although Tommey is a native of the Chattanooga area, he is familiar with Cleveland, having played baseball with the Cleveland State baseball team.
He noted the advisory council had already done groundwork to get the project started by holding community meetings over the last year and started to prepare a vision with four items the group identified.
“The first is physical revitalization and what a neighborhood looks like,” Tommey said.
He said that involves the available housing, a playground and a community garden.
“It’s about what makes a community desirable to live in,” he said. “When you see something that’s nice, you can take pride in it and we want to revitalize that aspect of challenged neighborhoods in Cleveland.”
He said another aspect is empowerment and finding leaders to take ownership of their communities.
“Instead of seeing something happen and turning a blind eye, we want them to organize around that issue and say let’s not let that happen again,” Tommey said.
The new director also spoke of social revitalization.
“In any healthy community, there are things that are going on that you want to be a part of and you are excited to be a part of,” he said.
“When the fabric of the community comes together and is meshed together, there’s more momentum in that community.”
He said the goal is to see more events happening that can help people come together in an effort to revitalize the social lives of the neighborhoods.
Tommey said the final aspect of revitalization is about safety.
“Any community you live in you want it to be a safe neighborhood,” he said. “Even if it’s a small task like handling the wild dogs issue.”
He said that might be a small step toward seeing a community become a place more inclined to have better relationships with emergency personnel.
“There are communities in Philadelphia where there are places the police just don’t go,” Tommey said. “There may not be anything close to that situation here, but inevitably there are certain communities that have better relationships with police, firefighters and the whole gambit of neighborhood safety concerns.”
He said Impact Cleveland wants to “come together” and focus on those goals for the new year, as well as look further into the future.
“A community can experience holistic revitalization in all of these areas,” Tommey said.
He said his position is putting together the efforts and finding those partners who can “make this initiative really come alive.”
Tommey said the first months of the year will involve making assessments of the neighborhoods and determining needs that can be meet.
“We then will set strategic goals that can meet those needs that are identified,” he said. “Over the coming year we want to see some small successes and build some momentum in hopes this neighborhood revitalization initiative will morph into bigger things, accomplishing bigger goals, and replicate itself in other parts of Cleveland that also have the same needs. It’s a really ambitious initiative.”
Tommey recalled the phrase “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
“It’s debatable,” he said. “But, when a community has people who are really passionate about service, it lifts the boats of those less fortunate.”