Engagement Center

Presents, life lessons from a special Santa

It’s easy to get the attention of kids when you show up in a Santa hat bearing gifts. But on this crisp, snowy night, United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders did more than just play Kris Kringle for the evening. They also made another stride in their continued mission to help children at King Kennedy Boys & Girls Clubs find the path to success.

Members of the Young Leaders cabinet walked into the club Dec. 14 with brightly wrapped boxes of presents specially chosen to inspire both fun and learning.

“We always want the kids to have fun, but we also want them to develop the kinds of skills they can put to use at school and at home,” said Bill Donatone, Young Leaders cabinet co-chair. “They have so much potential and we’re dedicated to ensuring they rise to that potential.”

King Kennedy Body Copy Picture (Kids)

“When we see how the kids respond we can tell this is making a difference. We want them to thrive in life, and you know what? They will.”

– Logan Broadbent, Young Leaders cabinet co-chair

The gifts, purchased through donations raised by this year’s Young Leaders, included multiple games of checkers, Pictionary, Mancala and Connect Four, along with Wii remote controls. Some of the children broke into new packs of Uno and flash cards, while others put jump ropes and pool cues to immediate use.

Santa’s bag was also filled with 100 books donated by Scholastic Inc. in support of Young Leaders’ adopted mission of reducing the low-income achievement gap for children at the club. The group’s earlier projects included raising funds to establish special reading rooms in several local schools.

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders are rising professionals in their twenties and thirties who work to make our community better through philanthropy, volunteerism and advocacy. The program boasts a network of more than 2,000 members.

Young Leaders set example for volunteers of the future

While the children were certainly surprised by the gifts, they were already quite familiar with the faces that delivered them. These Young Leaders have forged a close relationship with the boys and girls at King Kennedy over the past year, visiting the club monthly and engaging in activities with the children to teach social skills.

Some activities and skills could entail playing basketball or billiards together to impart lessons in good sportsmanship, or eating lunch as a group and encouraging the children to focus on good nutrition and cleaning up after a meal.

One of the girls told United Way of Greater Cleveland the visits and mentoring she received from Young Leaders instilled more confidence in herself.

“I feel like they really cared about me and want me to do well,” said 10-year-old Rocsheil Taylor. “We also have a really good time together!”


Watch the Event

A volunteer day of action at King Kennedy Boys and Girls Club

By Maria Oldenburg, United Way of Greater Cleveland, Intern, Affinity and Association Campaigns

Maria Oldenberg at King KennedyWith two younger sisters, it’s pretty hard not to love kids. So I was super excited to spend time playing with children at the King Kennedy Boys and Girls Club on East 59th Street with volunteers from the Young Leaders group on July 11. Armed with bags of balls, hula hoops, chalk, bubbles and racquetball games, we spent almost two hours reliving our childhoods playing with the kids.

We were surrounded by these little kids as soon as we brought out all of our toys. The reason? Well, it’s because the kids didn’t necessarily get to play with toys, like the ones we brought, at home or the Club. They were also quite excited about their new playmates; and their enthusiasm was so contagious!

They made the time fly by so quick. All of the kids that I had the chance to interact with were incredibly sweet and inviting,  showing me their best tricks and giving me advice on how to get better at the hula hoop — even though I haven’t played in years. By the end of the event, I felt like a hula hoop pro!

I also got to spend a lot of time playing tag, chalking and tossing a Frisbee with them. In addition to playing games, we had the chance to listen to the kids’ stories and support them in any way we could. It was wonderful hearing the kids tell us their plans for the future. One of the boys, who was especially good at hula hooping, wanted to be a photographer and we were able to give him, as well as the rest of the group advice. It was a really positive, humbling experience to say the least.

The Young Leaders visit the King Kennedy club once-a-month in order to share their time with the children. You can find out more information and sign up for the next Day of Action here.

The power of rock n’ roll lives in Cleveland

By Heather Light, Associate-Affinity and Association Campaigns

Heather Light - Headshot - WEBIt’s been a bucket list item of mine for quite some time now to attend a Rock Hall induction. I can now cross it off my list with a little help from the Rock Hall’s new Power of Rock Experience.

On Thursday, June 29, I was granted VIP access to the debut of the Rock Hall’s latest exhibit, but I might as well have been front and center at an induction. Name an influential rock and roller and they’re most likely in the 12 minute-film that starts with Ruth Brown singing “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” highlighting the start of rock’s roots and ends with Prince’s infamous guitar solo during “While my guitar Gently Weeps” from the 2004 induction of George Harrison.

I’ll admit my emotions were a mix of wanting to shout out “long live rock!” and jump up and down and also cry contemplating of the talent that we’ve lost. It wasn’t by coincidence that Greg Harris, President and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, explained that the whole point of the exhibit is to take you on the emotional journey so many of us have while listening to music.

After the film, people will be able to interact with Rock Hall inductees and have personal memories captured in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In the Say It Loud story booths, presented by PNC Bank, fans are interviewed by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, including Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple, Smokey Robinson, Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Alice Cooper and others. The interviews can then be shared on social media.

You’ll be able to do all this September 23 during this year’s Fall Ball. Your ticket grants you access to the world renowned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If you went last year, it will feel like a whole new museum. Another exciting announcement is the addition of Cleveland’s “rock star chef’s” Jonathan Sawyer Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat, and Trentina), Rocco Whalen (Fahrenheit) and Fabio Salerno (Lago) have now added their flair to the Rock Hall’s food choices; and I’m happy to announce to Fall Ball’s menu as well.

Learn about Fall Ball

Eaton holds 5k, wellness fair to raise money for those in need

It was a beautiful day for a run. On June 8, Eaton held a 5k run/fun walk at its corporate headquarters in Beachwood, Ohio. Roughly 250 employees participated and raised more than $2,700 to support United Way of Greater Cleveland. Along with the 5k, Eaton hosted more than 20 companies, including seven United Way Partner Agencies, for a Wellness Fair. Hundreds of employees stopped by the fair and were able to get information on various services and benefits throughout the community. The fair concluded with a short program where the winners of the race received trophies. United Way agencies were also able to speak about their respective services and the people they serve.

Eaton is a long time supporter of United Way of Greater Cleveland. Each year, they raise enough funds to put them in the top two employee campaigns in the region. This year, they are holding special events leading up to their kickoff that are geared towards United Way impact areas – health, financial stability, education and basic needs. Along with health, they will hold events around education and financial stability.

Their official employee campaign will kick off in August.

Young Leaders hold successful speaker’s series event at American Greetings

American Greetings Young Leaders Networking EventOn June 7, more than 40 young professionals met at American Greetings headquarters in Cleveland, near Crocker Park, to attend United Way of Greater Cleveland’s second quarterly speaker series of 2017.

After first being led on a tour of the new, state-of-the-art building that houses American Greetings and exemplifies the company’s dedication to collaboration, attendees listened to an engaging, audience-driven talk by Group Vice President of Social Expression, Steve Laserson.

Laserson shared his journey of professional growth and recalled how he navigated various career fields at different organizations before discovering American Greetings, the organization he is truly passionate about and has been for more than 22 years.

He advised audience members on how to attain the same successful transitions by working hard and consistently producing positive results no matter what position they were in to ensure future employers would recognize their achievements.

He also answered questions from the audience surrounding the importance of community and volunteer engagement, goal-setting and mentor and mentee relationships. The event moved to the nearby Burntwood Tavern for refreshments and networking when the event concluded.

Thoreau Park Elementary gets new Reading Room

Sam Ameen HeadshotBy Sam Ameen, communications coordinator, Public Relations, Parma City School District

Thoreau Park Elementary Principal Jamie Franko was anxious to see the Reading Room the school was receiving from United Way of Greater Cleveland courtesy of the of Young Leaders and its Readers Become Leaders initiative. On May 12, the room was revealed to the students, faculty and staff.

“We’ve been really excited that we were given this opportunity. I’ve been really excited since they reached out to me in December and said that we were going to be the recipients of the room,” Franko said. “It totally went above and beyond my expectations for what I thought the Reading Room was going to look like.”
Readers Become Leaders Thoreau Park Elementary

The room has an outer-space theme and was furnished with comfortable places to lounge and read a book, such as beanbag chairs. The Reading Room was supplied with 500 books, which were donated by the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank.

“It’s just another space in our building that really focuses on literacy and helps our students with early literacy and growing as students here,” Franko said.

Every student in the school was given a drawstring bag with two books, a coloring book, and crayons. The school also had a special visit from the Cleveland Browns mascot Chomps.

“Kids were saying this is the greatest thing ever, they were thanking the Young Leaders, the volunteers for everything that they’ve done and I think just really made their day and it has already impacted our building,” Franko said.

The Reading Room is located outside of Principal Franko’s office in the main hallway for ease of access.

Young leader showcases value of giving back

Note: United Way of Greater Cleveland is highlighting exceptional volunteers in our community that have went above and beyond the call of duty to make our region a better place to live.

Yasmeen MuhammadUnited Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders volunteer program is extremely active – with roughly 2,000 members of all walks of life, from ages 20-40 years old. Yasmeen Muhammad, a portfolio management associate at Key Private Bank Family Wealth, has been heavily involved with United Way’s Young Leaders program since January 2016.

She was asked by the previous co-chair of the KeyBank United Way Young Leaders to take her place in November 2015, because she knew Muhammad was active in internal networking and external philanthropic causes. However, she was exposed to United Way as an organization much earlier, when she was a part of KeyBank Foundation’s 2013-2014 United Way workplace campaign.

Muhammad says that she “really loved seeing the energy that everyone had around United Way… was impressed by the great staff, the rally of effort from the Greater Cleveland business community… helping United Way achieve fundraising goals.”

The Young Leaders volunteer group works diligently to plan and execute some of the year’s most exciting events; not only to raise money, but to raise awareness and garner greater excitement, as well as more motivated volunteers. “My favorite event is definitely the Annual Meeting – such a high energy event! The impact stories are very touching and it’s always exciting to see the final fundraising number for the campaign year.”

Beyond the Annual Meeting, the Young Leaders hold several of its own events to promote awareness and generate engagement in the community. Some of these events – several of which are award winning – include: the Annual Fall Ball; myriad networking events; a speaker’s series; days of action to give back; and many more.

She anticipates continuing, if not increasing, her volunteerism with the organization because of these, and numerous other events, as well as the core mission and vision of United Way.

“I volunteer because I love to help people and establish new relationships with people who are equally motivated to serve the community.” she adds. “… I feel like it’s the best way to make the widest reach of positive impact on the community.”

A viewpoint on volunteering from a corporate leader

Note: United Way of Greater Cleveland is highlighting exceptional volunteers in our community that have went above and beyond the call of duty to make our region a better place to live.

Jim Smith talks about National Volunteer WeekNational Volunteer Week is a way to thank those who volunteer and to build awareness for those who do not, and those who may be considering a volunteer stint. Jim Smith, a veteran at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and acting VP, digital transformation & customer experience, is no stranger to volunteering.

He became involved with United Way of Greater Cleveland when he moved to the Cleveland area from his post in China last summer. “When you volunteer, it’s really personal… it’s a shared experience,” Smith says. “You’re giving something back to a group of people… It’s that personal contact with the people you’re giving something back to that’s meaningful.”

Smith goes on to talk about how volunteering not only makes one feel a sense of achievement and personal self worth, it also lends itself to professional development. He says some of the ways volunteering can manifest into the workplace is through leading groups of volunteers; learning and experiencing the challenges and successes of managing those people; and the planning and teamwork required to be successful. He always encourages people on his team who manage others to go out and volunteer in the community because those experiences are uniquely valuable.

He also mentions how many studies reveal that volunteering helps you live longer, healthier and happier, all while lowering stress. Smith sees this as a particularly appealing element that for him only enhances his desire to volunteer.

“United Way makes it easier to connect organizations to the organizations in need,” he adds. “You’re [United Way] is nationwide, which for us [Saint-Gobain] is good. We can volunteer with one organization, collect the stories and work together. There’s more need in the world than there is resources and if we can all do something then we can all make a difference!”

Shining a light on our Veterans, the sacrifices they have made

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are roughly 77,000 veterans living in Cuyahoga County, with nearly 200,000 across Northeast Ohio. This is a significant number of people who have sacrificed in so many ways to protect our freedom and way of life.

Adrianne at 211 Booth DOS-WEB

What many people do not realize is that many of our brave veterans come home facing immense challenges – from PTSD and chronic anxiety to struggles fitting into society and finding work. Even though there are many programs and services available to our veterans in need, many people are not aware they exist and how to best utilize them.

To bridge the gap between veterans’ issues and the solutions that are available, United Way of Greater Cleveland, in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College and the “Stokes: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future” 50th anniversary commemoration, hosted its first Veteran’s Day of Service for veterans throughout Cuyahoga County.

The Day of Service offered veterans an opportunity to discover myriad resources available to them based on their individual needs. College students within public health-related programs from Cleveland State University, John Carroll University and NEOMED volunteered, to help screen and identify needs and direct veterans to programs and services available to them.

Once the intake screening process concluded, attendees were personally escorted to each of the 28 booths offering services specific to their predetermined needs. The many participating agencies and organizations provided services ranging from basic needs (housing, food, shelter, ID cards) to VA benefits, job placement and education programs, among many others.

“It was an awesome experience to be able to support our veterans in need,” said United Way 2-1-1 Veteran’s Line Coordinator Tim Grealis, also a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force. “To be able to help my fellow armed service members, especially the ones who are really struggling, is a powerful and gratifying experience. I’m looking forward to next year’s event and helping even more of my fellow vets.”

My time serving our country in the face of war: The journey of a Vietnam veteran turned newsman

Leon Bibb HeadshotBy Leon Bibb, anchor and reporter at WEWS-TV, News Channel 5

It was the mid-1960s, resting in the midst of an ongoing war in North Vietnam as well as in South Vietnam, and tempers in the United States swayed like a wispy weeping willow. This tree had no secrets to tell though. All of us knew of the fight because the war had a total of 3 million Americans involved in it over the period of a decade. In the war in Vietnam, 59,000 Americans were killed.

This seemingly endless war most certainly took its toll on so many in the U.S. and all over the world. It was our war; their war; a war that put us side-by-side with our Southern Vietnamese allies in a time of great hope, as well as great despair.

I was in my youth at the time; not quite 22 years old. My life was ahead of me. I had dreams of furthering my ambitions as a reporter in our great city of Cleveland. After graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1966 with a degree in journalism, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take on a full-time job at the Plain Dealer. I can tell you this was a proud moment in my life. To be a staff writer, gathering and reporting the news of our region, to the great people of our region, was to put it mildly an awesome responsibility.

We all watched as the war continued to rage on. It took so many lives that it was a paralyzing force to watch. Everyone was hoping the war would just end with honor,  but it kept going on and on. At some point the war in Vietnam  had to reach out and touch me I thought.

My call had finally come

As it would stand, it did do just that. One afternoon while working on a story at the PD, my mother called with a distinctive concern in her voice. I had received a letter from the Selective Service. Since I was living at home with my parents at the time, the letter to came to our Cleveland address. At the time, the letter came addressed to me, my mother theorized what it was because it was from the Selective Service – the draft. Holding the envelope, my mother called me at work, insisting that she open it for me. Knowing what it would say, I replied to her that “I’ll take a look at it
when I come home mother.”Selective Service System Seal

As suspected, she resisted my request to leave the letter for me to open it later that day. My mother broke the seal and read what the government had sent me.  As I remained on the phone waiting patiently, her nervousness practically palpable, she opened the letter and began to cry. “They’re drafting you… they want you… you gotta go [to basic training] next month!”

The news was, of course, troubling for me, yet expected.  During those times, I inwardly understood the draft would be almost a certainty. When I came home that evening, we sat down and simply talked about the letter and what was to come. There was some solace in the words my father shared that evening though. As a World War II veteran, draft shortly after Pearl Harbor, he imparted in me many of the most basic, yet memorable qualities and traits I should take with me on my military journey.

Although simple advice, it was relevant and resonated with me to this very day. Dad said “You’re gonna meet men of all walks of life. You’re gonna meet men who didn’t finish high school. You’re gonna be with men who graduated college… southern white boys and northern black boys… all kinds of people, but what’s important is to get along with people and do what the officers order you to do and learn to do your job.”

The support extended beyond my father. All of my uncles were in the military, as well as my soon to be father-in-law, his brothers, and other men in his life. They left a rich legacy of military honor and duty throughout the two families.

So there was nothing unusual about being drafted – it was just part of our lifestyle. If you talk to anyone from that time [a World War II veteran], just about every man of age was in the military. That knowledge was part of my growing up. That was the way it was.

Of course, I looked inward and reflected on this new reality that was sitting right in front of me. But, I kept telling myself “If the government called, it was my obligation to go. Who should go if I don’t go? So I answered the call. It was my duty.”

My time defending our nation

The day I was drafted, my father drove me down to the Standard Building in downtown Cleveland on Nov. 8 at 5:30 a.m. to report for duty. This was the place every area person who was drafted, or who enlisted, went to sign in. That vast pool of men who were in the military and served in the war that yielded such an uncertain future was astonishing. But I, and all of those other patriotic men, forged on to answer the call from our nation.

Within three months of receiving an earlier letter from Selective Service, I had gone through the physical exam, testing, and induction. I was basic trained and deployed. It was a whirlwind, all meant to prepare me to protect our country. Along the way, I would learn to do my job and survive against the enemy.

Only a few hours after my induction, when my feet hit Fort Benning, Georgia, where I underwent basic training, I thought to myself, “I am putting away civilian things now… I am now a soldier and that is what I do for a living.” The key was learning to do the things required of me so I could learn to defend myself, my country and have the best possible chance of coming home.

Leon Bibb on Patrol in VietnamAfter eight weeks of basic training, came eight more weeks of advance individual training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After that, I was assigned to a unit in Fort Sill. For the next few months, I served in an artillery unit until orders came for me to go to Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the initial plan was for me to be a truck driver within a convoy for the Fourth Infantry Division. However, I never made it to that job. I had mentioned to someone that I had a degree in journalism. To my surprise, I was something of a commodity. With that newfound knowledge, they assigned me to be a public information officer at a firebase in the middle of the jungle in a tent that had PIO on it.

Working for a full Colonel, I handled clerical work, writing, reports and combat photography. When I was not writing or taking photos, I still had to go out on patrol. I spent nights in the dark jungle, searching for the enemy or guarding the perimeter, watching for the enemy in the event of an ambush.

My two years went on in a similar fashion. I did my job, kept my head down and kept open lines of communication. Those were the traits my dad instilled in me during our chats leading up to my deployment and they served me greatly during those years of unease, fear, challenge and hope. That mentality allowed me to survive and to perform courageous acts beyond what I thought I could do. I still think about those words of wisdom to this day with fond memories and a full heart.

My return home, a lifetime of knowledge

When I returned home after being discharged in the fall of 1968, I was changed in many ways for the better. Being in the war and having those intense experiences made me more aware of the importance of life and how precious it truly is. I’d seen death in the reflection of men’s eyes and souls.

One of those reflections was personal. It was the death of a friend, who would now be my age were he to have survived. To know his life ended at the mere age of 21 is a powerful, heartbreaking and life-changing event that shed a light on the beauty of life.

During the past several years, I have been in touch with his parents and his sister. It was a bittersweet moment to reach them and begin communications.

It made me realize the importance of our military and that when we send our men and women, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to war, some are not going to come back. This is the harsh reality. This is the reason we must make sure that whatever conflict the U.S. gets involved in is worth getting involved in for the betterment of our country and the world.

My resolve for supporting our veterans

I can say with certainty that we must support the troops we send into the field of battle every day and in every way. We must not just support them while active on the stages of war, but encourage and support them more vigorously when they return home. They are only following the orders of a nation. When they went and fired their weapons, their fingers were not the only fingers on the trigger. In a way, all of America’s fingers were on that trigger. It is our responsibility to welcome them back into society with open arms, open hearts, and open minds.

When they come home bruised, battered, troubled and emotionally devastated, we have to be there for them. We have to find ways to increase the support of our veterans, especially in these chaotic times, with programs and services, some of which United Way supports.

Fitting back into society is an even greater challenge now. Our veterans need emotional, physical, employment, and financial support, among a myriad of other needs. We must embrace them, hold them closely and shield them from harm in our attempts to help them find their ways. United Way serves in such a fashion to help those veterans in critical need.

Help2Veterans LogoIt all comes down to love. It is the love of fellow man, of humanity, and of our veterans. That is what United Way is all about – providing the love, care, resources and support so many veterans are desperately seeking. We can be their beacons of hope. We can and must treat U.S. military veterans with respect and help those who do not have voices find theirs. United Way can be one of the voices to help veterans find what they need and claim it. Let us be the love and the hope for our veterans.

About Leon Bibb

Leon Bibb Headshot Raised in Cleveland’s Glenville area, and a graduate of Glenville High School on the city’s east side, Bibb’s broadcasting career began during his student days at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Following graduation, he worked as a newspaper reporter at The Plain Dealer.

Prior to joining WEWS-TV in 1995, Bibb worked at WKYC-TV as the weekend News Anchor and News Reporter starting in 1979. In 1986, he became Primary News Anchor for the Monday through Friday newscasts there.

He has narrated and hosted many shows at WEWS-TV, including “My Ohio with Leon Bibb,” “Leon Bibb’s Perspective,” “Kaleidoscope,” and a series called “Our Hometown.” Bibb has interviewed numerous political leaders and notable figures, including President Barack Obama, President George H. W. Bush, Neil Armstrong, and James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Special Note: As a result of his exemplary service in the Vietnam War, he was awarded a Bronze Star.

*Photos courtesy of Leon Bibb and Selective Service Publications