Community Conversations: Your most urgent concerns

Bill Kitson


During the past two years, United Way of Greater Cleveland conducted more than 40 conversations across our community, with more than 400 community members, parents, students and school staff members. We asked specific questions, seeking to discover the most urgent concerns, challenges and aspirations in our city.

As United Way focuses on improving Education, Income and Health issues in Greater Cleveland, we understand the critical need to listen to your concerns. What do you see as the benefits – and barriers – of living in Cleveland?

Conversation ConcernsOn April 22, we met with parents, teachers and community members at the United Technologies Center at Cuyahoga Community College to report on our initial findings. Some of the themes we discovered from our more than 40 conversations with more than 400 of you are not surprising … but some are.

Safety is the primary concern. That’s not a surprise, but there are nuances to that concern. People worry about safety pertaining to traffic and pedestrians. And you worry about kids being exposed to drugs and gangs. But you are most concerned about violence. Gang violence, gun violence and most pressing, domestic violence. You have told us there are too many homes where guns not properly locked away and are too easily accessed by kids. We heard about domestic violence witnessed by children ranging from disrespectful behavior to physical abuse. We heard your proposed solutions for safety concerns including neighborhood watch programs and working on better relationships and communication with police. You told us if there was a more open dialogue with police, there might be more trust and more cooperation with them.

Communication was another topic that resonated throughout our Community Conversations. You said you need more information on available programs and resources. You said there needs to be more interaction with kids … and with seniors. Communication concerns ranged from computer literacy to positive reinforcement so kids have hope for a better future.

During our conversations, our neighbors offered input on such topics as the danger of vacant homes; the barriers of poor transportation such as inconvenient bus routes and streets that need repairs. You talked about access to well-paying jobs, lack of access to healthy foods and places to safely walk and exercise. Access to services for physical and mental health is a recurring concern. You told us you understand that without health, few of life’s ambitions are obtainable.

Education was a major topic in the conversations, and this is where we were able to dig down to the deeper concerns our neighbors have about their children’s schools and futures.

We know the importance of education needs to be emphasized. Graduation opens the doors to opportunity, but too many of our kids do not get there. It starts early and in the home, and parents must be engaged in the child’s learning experience.

Our conversations revealed parents have great concerns with teacher workload and class size. You are concerned about overcrowded buildings. You are concerned about the life skills kids learn beyond reading, writing and arithmetic: dealing with bullies and bad influences; cultivating informed and healthy attitudes toward sex; vocational and workplace skills.

Our neighbors recognize a disparity in resources between CMSD schools, charter schools and suburban schools. You cite disparities in technology, books, afterschool programs, and most critically, human resources. This includes quality and quantity of teachers, mentors and support staff.

There are parents who say they want to be involved at school but feel there are barriers such as tight security making them feel unwelcome, or cultural barriers, especially for Latino families.

But despite an abundance of concerns about the atmosphere and resources at school, our conversations revealed an understanding that student success begins at home. The family unit is recognized as the key to a child’s academic success. There are concerns about home in which both parents work, or there is only one parent, or there are grandparents .. or teens .. serving as caretakers.

There is no conclusion because the work is far from over. These were the most common themes from our 40 conversations with more than 400 community members, but there are of course many more concerns and compliments to be discussed. We need to know, did we hear you correctly? What are your initial impressions and thoughts? Contact us to share your thoughts and concerns. Only by working together can we sharpen our focus on the community’s needs.

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