Smart Cities Connect: (PART I)

The rapid evolution of technology coupled with the population increase in urban communities is seeing more cities across the globe utilizing technology to better manage resources and improve the lives of their citizens. Greater internet connectivity, data management tools and technological advances such as smart networks, sensors, meters and other infrastructure have given rise to the smart city model with places such as Tokyo, Paris, London, New York and San Francisco already blazing a trail. But it’s not just large cities looking to transform, communities across the globe are seeking to transition their “normal” infrastructure to intelligent apparatuses and structures to bring their communities onboard. 

According to an article published by Tech Republic in 2018, sixty-percent of the world’s population (5.8 billion people according to United Nations projections) is expected to live in smart cities by as soon as 2050.

To drive dialogue, planning and action around smart cities, The US Ignite Summit/Smart Cities Connect Conference was created to connect academic, industry, public officials, researchers and community leaders for workshops and conversations around the deployment of advanced infrastructure and technology to improve cities and empower communities.

This year, the Smart Cities Connect (SCC) Conference took place in Denver from April 1-4. Major themes and areas of focus will include:

●        Impact of technology on urban operations and municipal infrastructure (broadband, utilities, public safety and emergency response, transportation)

●        Broad-scale transformation of services resulting from digitization (big data, artificial intelligence, sensors and the internet of things), and

●        Community engagement and inclusion (policy and governance and digital equity)

 A delegation of local leaders accompanied DigitalC to the event.

In connection with DigitalC’s mission to “EmpowerCLE” through the provision of internet connectivity for underserved neighborhoods, digital skills training and access to technology, the SCC will provide DigitalC and our partners the opportunity to:

●        Establish and build relationships with other organizations, our peers and community members

●        Learn best practices from communities spearheading and executing smart city strategies

●        Gather information around leveraging civic technology for the empowerment of Cleveland residents and neighborhoods

Participating in smart discussions like these around infrastructure, technology and community, furthering relationships and gaining a greater understanding of how to best utilize civic technology will bring Cleveland one step closer to adopting smart technology solutions, creating a more equitable and sustainable future for all communities.

 

For additional information about DigitalC’s participation in the U.S. Ignite Summit/ Smart Cities Connect Conference, please contact Jeff Brancato at jeff.brancato@digitalc.org.

      

 

StartInCLE's Successful Campaign Brings Venture for America Accelerator to Cleveland

Most Clevelanders don’t picture our city as an incubator of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that resonates in booming metropolitans like New York, Charlotte and Austin. But in fact, with a favorable housing market, lower cost of living, supportive networks (like StartinCLE) for startups and developing organizations, our city is developing an environment favorable for growth and new developments.

Cleveland is on the move, situating itself as a health, technology and innovation hub. Look no further than the Health Tech Corridor in Midtown. Take a trip down Euclid Avenue, and you are surrounded by organizational giants like the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Move a few streets over, and IBM and other businesses are moving in and growing. 

New businesses, coupled with the growing atmosphere and momentum in Cleveland, continue to shape the entrepreneurial environment that inspires individuals to build, buy and create their own opportunities. It’s this quality of self-determination and drive that nonprofit organizations like Venture for America are creating and cultivating.

Venture for America (VFA) is a non-profit organization that provides the necessary tools, experience and support that empowers graduates looking to start their own businesses and connects participants to potential careers with startup organizations. Selected participants in the fellowship program attend a training camp where they learn startup skills and gain expertise, apply for positions with partnered startups and work full-time for a two-year period. Over 700 fellows have landed careers while working with VFA, with participants impacting over 2,000 startups. With their presence in a number of cities including Cleveland, Venture for America is helping to create new businesses and careers nationwide.

Each year Venture for America seeks out a city to host its annual national accelerator program and, while Cleveland had made the list of potentials, it certainly had competition in Cincinnati and Columbus.

“Cleveland is a great place for an accelerator,” StartInCLE Co-founder and MidTown Tech Hive Manager, Anna Buchholz affirms, “but Cincinnati and Columbus have a robust startup community. Ensuring that we illustrate what an excellent location Cleveland is, is of upmost importance. We want to support things like that here in Cleveland to help not only the startup community but the City in general.”

StartInCLE, a community organization focused on driving engagements with founders, investors and executives around the needs of local startups, led the charge in bringing the accelerator to Cleveland. With the help of Gelise Littlejohn and Midtown Cleveland’s Max Uptown, StartInCLE set out, engaging with various organizations to rally support around bringing the VFA’s accelerator to Cleveland.

Buchholz said about the process:

It was Ed [Ed Buchholz, StartInCLE’s Founder & Managing Director] and my first time working on something like this. Ed, Gelise, Max and I reached out to our personal networks to gather support. We sought not only support but mentorship, space and funding. We were able to gather 30 letters of support from local organizations which was great. Destination Cleveland provided us with statistics for the city and information about the diverse activities that Cleveland offers while HIMSS [the local Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society] donated space to use for Demo Day.

Three locations in the City offered their space as a potential venue for the accelerator – Glenville Circle North, StartMart and DigitalC’s MidTown Tech Hive. Within several weeks of sending in their proposal, Buchholz learned that the accelerator would be coming to Cleveland and that the Hive was selected as the coworking venue for the program. The excitement around the VFA’s announcement has left the MidTown Tech Hive and Cleveland abuzz.

“We were so excited to learn that Cleveland had been chosen for the VFA accelerator program.” Buchholz exclaims. “Our city will undoubtedly benefit from having a group of exceptional young founders move in, and our hope is that some will choose to headquarter their companies here.”

For information about The Midtown Tech Hive and  as the selected venue for the Venture for America accelerator program, please contact Midtown Tech Hive Manager, Anna Buchholz at anna.buchholz@digitalc.org.

Data Maturity Survey: Driving the Direction of Data Management in the Nonprofit Space

The Need for a New Direction on Data

Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are constantly taking in data from a variety of sources but most of the information that is collected is rarely synthesized or utilized. Many lack the skills or data tools for collecting and storing information accurately and efficiently. And, with nonprofits focusing on fulfilling their social mission, time and proper staff are rarely available to take on the gargantuan task of collecting and storing appropriate data, let alone analyzing and making data workable for practical use. Consequently, NPOs typically only interact with their data when preparing financial statements and reporting mandatory evaluation data to funders. These brief interactions mean NPOs are missing opportunities to utilize data toward improving programs for the betterment of the organization and those it serves.

Most organizations understand the importance of their data but are overwhelmed just thinking of having to build efficient data infrastructure, and often don’t have the skills to conduct useful analysis on their own data, let alone share and synthesize data with partners.

So how would organizations that have no time or data expertise organize, track and make their data more accessible?

And who would set out to initiate, and drive change on how NPOs think about, collect, categorize, analyze and apply data in their programming and decision-making.

Assessing Non-Profits’ Data Management  

The need was clear to the DigitalC team in 2017 when they partnered with Microsoft and the Foundation Center Midwest to launch the Data Maturity Survey Project. Based on the framework from DataKind and Data Orchid (in the United Kingdom) that measures nonprofits efficiency and effectiveness in using their data, DigitalC set out to recreate a similar survey. Their goal – to understand the specific data needs of nonprofit organizations in Cuyahoga County, with an eye towards creating specialized interventions to allow non-profits to rise through the continuum of data maturity, and become better users and stewards of their data.

In June 2017, DigitalC administered surveys to nonprofit organizations in Cuyahoga County for a two-month period and received responses from over 150 organizations. After the data was collected, it needed to be cleaned and analyzed by DigitalC consultant, Elizabeth Larkin.

Larkin then spent several months working with accounting consulting firm Wipfli, to design and deploy a dynamic reporting website where organizations could login, review, and analyze their own survey results and compare them to the results of similar organizations within the county.  (This website was launched in January). The data was then combined into an aggregate database of Cuyahoga County NPOs in order to create an overall profile of Data Maturity in Cuyahoga County, so funders and intervention providers could better understand the needs and challenges faced by local NPOs. A report summarizing these findings was published on DigitalC’s website in mid-March. 

Through her county-wide analysis, Larkin discovered that most nonprofit organizations, regardless of size, sector, age or financial profile, are struggling with data maturity. Organizations with large staff and seemingly plentiful resources still struggle with all aspects of data maturity; brand new organizations, founded when data tools are the norm in the business sector, are not any more data savvy than organizations founded decades ago; and NPOs in sectors that rely heavily on data (like healthcare) have little advantage when it comes to most aspects of data maturity.

While the survey reveals a wealth of information, the most striking need among non-profit organizations is to improve the data skills of their staff and provide them with modern tools needed to accurately and efficiently collect, house, analyze, and use their data.

NPOs report that their organizations greatly value data and that their leadership supports it, but the survey reveals that they may not be data-savvy enough to accurately assess their current data needs, which is a major barrier to improvement. This survey is an important first step in providing the data necessary for organizations to understand where further investments are necessary. It also provides Microsoft and Foundation Center Midwest with critical information needed to create programs, workshops, and classes designed to meet NPOs where they are at and provide a coherent path forward for NPOs committed to improving their data maturity, in all aspects of their organization.

After completing her analysis, Larkin presented her report and findings at the recently held Data Days event as part of a panel exploring “Data for Impact,” where the findings were discussed and attendees were encouraged to explore the survey results on DigitalC’s website and make use of the report’s findings.

Data Days and Data Maturity

To drive dialogue and problem solving around data and civic engagement, Data Days was created to bring together and connect community members for panels and conversations around the advocacy for data to be accessible and efficiently and effectively used.

This year’s Data Days event took place at on the Case Western Reserve University campus. The event hosted a variety of panels that discussed the intersection between data and number of topics including governance, water security and environmental impacts on community.

During the panel on “Data for Impact: Lessons from the Field,” Elizabeth Larkin presented on the findings of the data maturity survey. The panel came together to highlight the current state of data maturity among NPOs in Cuyahoga County and discuss potential solutions and existing resources available to address the data challenges NPOs face.

Continuing the Course + Championing Change

Now that Data Days has ended and the work that Larkin has been focused on is nearing its completion, the next phase of the Data Maturity Project and the move to assist nonprofits in changing how they interact with their data is just beginning. The Data Maturity Project has unearthed a widespread issue that most nonprofits face regardless of sector, size or age.

 “Often the initial barrier NPOs face when dealing with data is that they don’t know what they don’t know – especially when their professional peers are all struggling with the same issues,” explained Larkin,  “That makes it very hard to figure out how to move forward, even when an organization wants to make data-improvement a priority. This survey helps NPOs over that first barrier, by handing them the objective self-assessment data they need to chart their path towards becoming data-mature organizations.” 

So what’s next for data maturity in the nonprofit space?

Project Partner Microsoft along with the Foundation Center Midwest/Guidestar have stepped up to continue the work that DigitalC started. In reflecting on the impact of the Data Maturity Survey project and Microsoft’s dedication to advocate for data empowerment, Warren Flood, Corporate Affairs Manager from the Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburg Microsoft Cities Team said:

The Data Maturity Project can potentially queue up efficient delivery of impactful interventions at scale, which would help nonprofits embrace, harness, and unleash the power of their data. The Data Maturity Project also provides us at Microsoft a useful framework to distill the ecosystem's needs and priorities as we seek ways to further assist and empower nonprofits along their digital transformations.

The foundation and framework have been built with the long-term goal that interventions can take place, guiding and supporting nonprofits as they seek to build the needed infrastructure and expertise to better manage and utilize their data.

Said Larkin on the conclusion of her work and what’s next, “Hopefully, this survey will be just the beginning of the discussion about what we can do to support nonprofits in leveraging data and technology to better fulfill their missions and maximize their positive impact in their communities.”

To download a copy of the Cuyahoga County Data Maturity Summary Report go to: https://www.digitalc.org/s/CC-NPO-Data-Maturity-Survey-Report-1.pdf

If you would like to see a sample of the individual NPO report and view county-wide answers to specific questions, visit the Data Maturity Survey Report website at: https://datamaturityb2c.azurewebsites.net/

For more information about DigitalC and other programs and projects visit: https://www.digitalc.org/

ReStarting My Story: New Opportunities

ReStart has been a multi-faceted program, offering basic digital literacy skills training (basic computing – learning how to use the internet and send email) and all the way up to training and certification for professional employment.

 Graduates of the ReStart program come from all walks of life (many being single heads of households, veterans, individuals aging out of foster care and those in the reentry population) with a variety of desires and objectives they seek to accomplish. To understand what motivated participants to enroll and complete courses, I sat down with ReStart graduates Mr. Isaiah Hamin, Lisa Law and Diane Harris, to hear their journey through the program.  What I found - regardless of their goals, was that participation in ReStart has made an incredible impact on their personal lives. 

 Taking up a challenge...

My letter writing days are over, no love letter writing for me.  I know how to send emails.

Isaiah Abdul Raheem Hamin or Mr. Hamin as most of the community knows him by, is a regular resident of the MidTown Tech Hive. Stop by on a Monday morning and you’ll easily spot him wearing his headphones with his laptop open at one of the large tables. In his “office,” Mr. Hamin gets to work reading emails and reviewing his class notes.

Mr. Hamin is a Texas native who, after a brief stay in Cleveland years ago, came back and decided to make Cleveland his home. He’s an incredible story-teller with a great sense of humor.  After a long career in manufacturing and mechanical work, Mr. Hamin attended a community meet-up where he was challenged by a speaker to start learning how to use a computer.  

I was at a meeting where a speaker, someone I knew named Albert, was talking to a group of us men.  Albert had a career at a bank and knew a lot about computers.  During the meeting, Albert challenged us to learn how to use a computer.  He said, “A lot of brothers are afraid of the computer.”  I looked at Albert and thought to myself, “I know he’s not talking to me.

Mr. Hamin laughs as he recalls, “He wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to everyone in the room, but I took that challenge personally and decided I was going to do it.”

Mr. Hamin attended a few courses at his community center where a strong interest developed, and he had this to say:

I took one of the basic classes that Albert was teaching. After that, when this place opened [The Midtown Tech Hive], I came over here and took the basic [digital literacy] class twice. When we graduated, they gave us a card that said that we could come every day between 8:30 and 5:00. All you have to do is come down and they will assist you.

Now that he’s got basic computing under his belt, we asked what was next for Mr. Hamin.  “I’m currently in a class trying to get certified.  I’m going to take the class again, even if I pass, to make sure I get a better handle on anything I may have missed.”  When asked what his long-term plans were with his certification, Mr. Hamin remembers a similar question that his nephew recently asked him.

I recently talked to my nephew on the phone and he asked me what I was going to do and was I going to fix computers?  I asked him how many computers he had in his house – he has two – so I told him I would stop by and fix his computers.  I think that’s what I really want to do – fix computers.  That might change, but right now, that’s my main focus. 

I like taking things apart and putting them back together.

In reflecting on the impact that digital literacy training has made on his life, Mar. Hamin responds: “It’s helped me a lot because there’s a lot of things that people do with computers that relate to everyday life.  My letter writing days are over – no love letter writing for me.  I know how to send emails!”

A Long Sought-After Opportunity...

I would like nothing more than to sit on this side of the desk and say to someone just starting the beginning of their journey, nine months ago, I was sitting exactly where you are...

 Connecting with one of our Restart program partners, the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland (CEOGC), I arrived on-site to meet two participants who recently completed the Internet Core Competency Certification (IC3) course.  Creola Rice, CEOGC Workforce Development Program Manager, greets me and gives me a quick tour of the site – it’s a warm and inviting space.  After a few moments, we head to a meeting room and Creola introduces me to program participants, Lisa Law and Diane Harris.

 Lisa greets me with a shy smile and a soft voice – she’s relaxed but engaged; her fellow classmate, Diane Harris is warm, easygoing and very supportive.  Lisa, a native Clevelander, Collinwood graduate and mother of three children tells me:

I’ve always wanted to work for CEOGC, since I was 17.  Life happened though; I took a lot of detours and made some wrong decisions and it wasn’t working out for me.  I have an Associates Degree, but I was working a dead-end job and it wasn’t enough.  I wasn’t working in a field that I wanted to be in.  I left; I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do.

 When Lisa first received suggestions from a friend and case manager to see what programs were available at CEOGC, she hesitated.  However, with her case manager consistently prodding her, Lisa decided to go for it.

At first when I started out, I thought, “they keep calling you and this is what you wanted to do, so let’s go ahead and do this.”  But once I started, all the emotions from my younger days started flooding in – that desire to work for CEOGC.  So I really dug in.  So far, I have taken the Customer Service training program, the MOS program (Microsoft Office Specialist), career preparedness, and I’m certified in customer service and the IC3 program.

Not only did Lisa’s commitment push her forward, but the sense of community that she and other participants and instructors developed, built a resilience in everyone involved.

 We had built such strong bonds, not just with each other but with our instructors.  They were not only instructors, but motivational people that motivated us to keep going.  If someone was late to class, classmates are calling to try to figure out if that person was okay.  The instructors will pull you aside, check on you and make sure you are doing okay.  If you are willing to put in the work, you will definitely succeed.  They won’t have it any other way.

Diane nods enthusiastically and adds,                                        

This group became family – we were a lot closer than our regular families.  We couldn’t have succeeded and completed what we have without the instructors.  Our instructors like Mr. Robinson and Mr. Allen are patient, and they take time with each of us, going above and beyond in providing motivation and encouragement.

 Diane is a retired teacher with an extensive background in social services and nursing; she has a passion for helping women and children and works with victims of domestic violence and substance abuse.  For Diane, digital literacy training provides her with an opportunity to give back to her community and keep active after retirement.  She responds:

 Last winter I got recertified as a chemical dependency assistant.  I retired from teaching, but I did not retire from giving back.  I’ve always been a caregiver.  I am currently taking care of both of my parents.  Being a caregiver isn’t easy, but the classes I’m taking here give me the time and space to make mistakes and learn from them.  Right now, I’m getting ready to take the A+ certification test and I’m really excited about that.

 So, what’s next after digital literacy courses are completed?

 Lisa passionately affirms,

Now that I’ve done it, I’m excited, I can’t wait.  I would like nothing more than to sit on this side of the desk and say to someone just starting the beginning of their journey, “nine months ago, I was sitting exactly where you are.  Not only did I get assistance, but I went through this program, this program and this program, and it has enabled me to sit here and give back to you – what was given to me!”

 Diane responds confidently,

 I plan on studying for the A+ exam and passing that exam.  After I get certified, I’m going to take some more computer classes – things like desktop publishing and graphics.  I want to get into graphic design.

 When asked what their response would be to someone considering taking digital literacy training but hesitating on doing so, they both agreed that anyone hesitating should act and take the opportunity.  Lisa advises with a smile, “Don’t be like me and wait, take the opportunity and go for it!”

 There are many organizations offering digital literacy training throughout the City.

For information on locations and how you can get connected, feel free contact us at media@digitalc.org.

Join our mailing list to read more ReStarting My Stories, receive our quarterly newsletter and keep up with other DigitalC news.

 

Bringing Coding to the Classroom: A Conversation with Jake Taylor of TEALS

TEALS is a Microsoft Philanthropies program that seeks to build the capacity of teachers to lead computer science courses in high schools. We sat down with Jake Taylor, Regional Manager for TEALS in Northeast Ohio to discuss the importance of bringing coding into high school classrooms and the impact that these courses are having on students.

Erin: Jake, I’m really excited to learn more about TEALS and the impact that bringing computer science courses into the classroom has made on students. But before we get started, for folks who don’t know you, could you give your name, title and what TEALS is seeking to accomplish?

Jake: My name is Jake Taylor. I’m the Regional Manager for TEALS in Northeast Ohio; TEALS is an acronym and stands for Technology, Education, and Literacy in Schools. It is a Microsoft Philanthropies program, with local support from the Cleveland Foundation, focused on building the capacity of teachers to teach computer science classes.

Most schools don’t have computer science programs because they don’t have someone who can teach the classes. It’s not because people think it’s not important—it’s 2019. Most of the principals I meet with say, “We know we should be offering computer science courses, but we don’t have anyone in our building who can lead these classes.”

To give you an example, in 2016, Ohio did not graduate one person prepared to lead a high school computer science courses – so the need is there.

Erin: Wow, that’s a startling statistic that I’m sure most people were not aware of! Could you speak to how TEALS develops qualified computer science teachers?

Jake: At TEALS, we understand we aren’t going to get thousands of software developers to quit their jobs and become teachers.

In our model, volunteer software developers team teach computer science classes with the classroom teacher until the teacher feels comfortable instructing on their own.

Erin:  Jake, I can hear your passion for teaching as you describe the work that TEALS is doing. Could you speak to your background? Were you always involved in the classroom?

Jake: I have a random background. I grew up in Elyria. I thought I wanted to work on Wall Street. I studied finance in college and eventually worked at Morgan Stanley in New York, but I realized it wasn’t for me. At the time, I was also volunteering at a middle school in Spanish Harlem on Saturdays. I was tutoring a small group of students and I fell in love with the community and the kids; I went to the principal and asked him how I could do this full-time.  

An opportunity arose when the math teacher at the school left for California. I finished my analyst program and started teaching. It was the best decision I ever made. I taught for three years in New York and then wanted to move home to Cleveland.

In Cleveland, I taught math at E-Prep Middle School on 93rd and Union. In 2015, I left the classroom to pursue a graduate degree in public policy where I focused on the intersections between cities and education. While I planned to become a principal after grad school, someone reached out to me with a different kind of opportunity. They shared the disparities around access to computer science nationally and specifically to Cleveland. Once I heard there was a way to change these statistics, I said, “Yes, I’ll do it.”

Erin: Keeping your passion and experience in mind, what is your specific role with TEALS?

Jake: My role as Regional Manager has three functions. First, I identify schools that don’t have a computer science program. I meet with principals and superintendents and explain how TEALS can support them in their effort to get a computer science course in their schools. Second, I find amazing software developers who are willing and able to volunteer their time, coming in at least two mornings a week. Three, I train and support our volunteers and teachers throughout the school year through coaching and monthly meetups.

To prepare our volunteers, we run a 40-hour training program during the summer which consists of 20 hours of in-person training (helping volunteers learn how to teach) and 20 hours of online training focused on completing the course projects.

Erin: So we’ve talked about the TEALS mission, the training volunteers undergo and the support that teachers receive. Why is it so important to expose students at the high school level to these courses and what impact do they make in the classroom?

Jake:   There are over 13,000 open computer science jobs in Ohio, with computer science jobs averaging $85,000 across the State. While there are really great jobs out there, if you don’t have the skills or even know computer science is an option in life, you certainly aren’t going to have access to those jobs.

The other side of it, and I think this may be the math teacher in me, is watching the programming piece. I really like watching how much the kids enjoy programming and the mindset and skills they develop as they’re learning to code.

Computer science is this beautiful space where the expectation is not that you’d type up code and it’s perfect. The expectation is, you try to your best, run your code and spend your time trying to resolve your errors.

Our TEALS volunteers are always telling the students it’s not about being perfect but your willingness to work through your errors to find a solution.  

Erin: Jake, how can folks who are interested in getting more information or want to help, get in touch with you?

Jake: I can be reached via email at jake@tealsk12.org. 

Right now, people can help by signing up to volunteer. Currently, we have 62 volunteers supporting 26 classes. Next year, we’re going to have 30 to 35 classes so I’m going to need close to 100 volunteers. Over the next four weeks I will be looking for software developers who are available support a class two mornings a week next school. If anyone is interested and would like to support a teacher and their student next year, they can visit our website, tealsk12.org/volunteers, and click on the “Volunteer” button.

If you’re interested in bringing computer science courses to your school, or you would like to volunteer in the classroom, please reach out to Jake at jake@tealsk12.org.

Hacking Lake Erie: A Brief History of Erie's Challenges and the Competition that's Creating Solutions

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River burning, the fateful event that activated conversations, concerns and actions around water pollution and catalyzed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water Act and additional policies that have changed the landscape and action around the monitoring and management of water quality.

While remnants of the industrial era rust in the backdrop of the city, the same pollutants that flooded the Lake during Cleveland’s manufacturing days, continue to contaminate Lake Erie.

Since the 1990s, Algal blooms have become common, especially in the Western Lake Erie Basin1.  Phosphorus and Nitrogen levels from agricultural runoff, sewage systems, water treatment plants and other sources, drive high levels of cyanobacteria or “blue-green algae”, creating a toxic environment for fish and the overall aquatic ecosystem.

2014 saw the Toledo water crisis where tides of nutrients polluted water sources, accelerating the growth of algal blooms. As a result, over 450,000 residents went without access to clean public drinking water. Fast-forward to the closing of 2018, when the National Climate Assessment released a report forecasting the increase of algal blooms in the Lake, which will impact both the health of the Lake and the water systems of the Great Lakes region.

It’s clear that Lake Erie is in jeopardy, but what can be done?

The EPA has established plans (e.g.  the Lake Erie Lakewide Action and Management Plan), regulations and put partnerships in place to work toward combating contaminates and improving water quality, but policies are just one pillar of improving Lake Erie’s overall health. Real, sustainable solutions are also needed.

Enter Erie Hack.

While mandates for the cleaning and restoration of the Lake have been executed, one organization is looking to impact change by driving a competition around the development of new, innovative technologies. In 2017, Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA) launched Erie Hack, an innovative challenge that accelerates technology solutions to Lake Erie’s most pressing problems2. With the focus on developing practical solutions, Erie Hack seeks to engage coders, engineers, creatives, researchers and other great minds to focus on several challenges including nutrient loading and its environmental impacts, urban pollution, aging infrastructure, public outreach and education, utilization of data and water equity.

In casting a wide net, CWA is working to organize stakeholders around addressing a multitude of challenges while protecting water resources.

“Part of the Cleveland Water Alliance’s mission is to foster an ecosystem of industry partners, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders that are collaborating and working together to address water problems and encourage sustainable growth and development of the blue economy,” explains CWA Communications Manager, Savannah Tracy. “Erie Hack is the key to that mission. We are creating a place where folks who have a great idea about how to protect our valuable water resources and want to develop it can come, find mentors, make industry, utility, governmental, and nonprofit connections, and compete for the funds to make their idea a reality.”

In focusing on building a community of partnerships, Cleveland Water Alliance has found an ally in Cleveland-based nonprofit, DigitalC, which seeks to not only remove the barriers that widen the digital connectivity and digital literacy divide in Cleveland but to empower citizens to achieve success and impact community.

“Working with the Cleveland Water Alliance to leverage our regional water resources as a catalyst for innovative and impactful technology solutions is a truly unique opportunity. Over the course of our partnership, DigitalC has played a key role in supporting the Erie Hack and Internet of H2O competitions and in helping to formulate the concept for a Smart Lake Erie that underpins our collaboration today. I believe the intersection of water and technology presents an exciting opportunity for innovation – and who better than Cleveland to take advantage of that intersection for economic and societal benefit," said Dorothy Baunach, DigitalC CEO. “But this intersection of water, technology, innovation and community isn’t just taking place in Cleveland. Erie Hack is engaging collaboration amongst Cleveland and its sister cities in Buffalo, Erie and Detroit. And the initiative has already paid off.”

A recent seminar on water equity hosted by CWA in conjunction with DigitalC, Cleveland Water, NEORSD, and the Cleveland Water Equity Taskforce at the MidTown Tech Hive brought forth valuable conversation and planning around the heart of the issue for everyone – access to safe and affordable water.

The 2017 winning team from Detroit, Micro Buoy3, developed low-cost sensors to monitor the Lake’s water quality, while Akron’s Erie Open Systems took third place for a spectrometer with the ability to measure phosphorus and other contaminates in the water4. Crucial dialogue, design and innovation and implementation of technology has already taken place and 2019 brings a whole host of potential ideas, innovation and important conversation.

This year’s competition has already kicked off with an information session on January 16th at the MidTown Tech Hive in Cleveland. The official competition will launch on February 7th, providing interested participants with the ability to register for the competition at ErieHack.io.

In the following months, team formation meetups, mentor sessions, hacking days, quarter and semi-finals will take place, all building up to the finals on June 20th during the week of the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River burning, allowing our greater community the opportunity for some collective introspection on how we got here in the first place.

While Erie Hack is just one part of the ongoing effort in advocating for our water resources and advancing technologies to solve those larger challenges, Lake Erie and all that share its water are certainly better for it.

 

Sources:

1http://glisa.umich.edu/climate/algal-blooms

2 https://www.eriehack.io/

3 https://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20170503/news/170509926/detroit-team-wins-erie-hack-competition-akron-group-takes-third

4 https://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2018/09/anyone_could_help_solve_lake_e.html

Cafe Phix: The Journey to MidTown

When Adam King, DigitalC Director of Neighborhoods, Equity and Communications, first approached Jackie Larkins, owner of Café Phix in South Euclid, with a business card and potential prospect, she wasn’t sure what to make of the offer. However, after a brief conversation with King and DigitalC CEO, Dorothy Baunach and some discussion with her sister, she decided it just might be the opportunity she was looking for.

What started as a brief introduction, has bloomed into a beautiful partnership, friendship and the launch and grand opening of Café Phix in the MidTown Tech Hive. Today, we caught up with Jackie as she recalled her South Euclid shop, journey to the MidTown Tech Hive and her and her passion for coffee and community.

Erin: Jackie, thank you for sitting down with me to talk about Cafe Phix. For folks who don’t know you, could you tell us who you are and what you do?

Jackie: I’ve owned the coffee shop, not this particular iteration, but Coffee Phix Cafe for about 7 years. I initially bought an existing cafe, which was Phoenix Coffee, from two other owners and eventually closed that location, moved a block away and I was there for three years until Dorothy recruited me to move my business here. It’s been a long wait to finally get this thing going, but I’m excited.

Erin: I want to go back to what you said earlier, that Dorothy recruited you to move Café Phix. How did you develop your relationship with DigitalC (and the Midtown Tech Hive) and decide that this was really the place you wanted to set up shop?

Jackie: I’ll tell you the story. Adam King, who lives in South Euclid had been in my shop before. He didn’t drink coffee so I didn’t take a good notice to him, but he came to visit me. He was the one who approached and told me, “Hey, I’ve been in your shop before and I want to talk to you about an opportunity,” and he went into his spiel. He told me about Dorothy and about DigitalC and the MidTown Tech Hive and how they wanted to put a coffee shop into the space, but they were nonprofit, and they really didn’t want to be in the coffee business. Everything he’s telling me sounds amazing, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “There’s got to be some type of catch.” He could see that look on my face and he said, “Look, here’s my card and here’s my boss’s card, Dorothy. Give us a call and she’ll tell you more about the program,” and he left.

It was about an hour before I closed, and the shop was really quiet so I called my sister. She reminded me that the first thing I said to her was, “This guy came in here with this amazing offer. I think there’s a catch to it, but if it’s for real, I think my life is about to change.” And that’s exactly what happened; my life changed.

Erin: Once you knew you were ready to set up shop, how did you get started?

Jackie: Jumpstart was very instrumental in helping me get here. When I went into business, I didn’t have a lot of mentors, I just sort of jumped into it.

When I came here, I had helping hands. The process has been a lot easier. I attribute that to Jumpstart’s help and assistance. They assisted me with back office stuff, accounting, what kinds of items we can consider putting on the menu and even what events we can consider having here. Any person that could advise, has advised. Jumpstart is going to play a huge part in Café Phix’s imminent success.

Erin: Let’s talk a little bit more about design and overall atmosphere. What was the idea behind the design and what should people expect when they first walk in?

Jackie: I actually came in after the design had already been set-up.  I met with the consultants to modify those areas that weren’t conducive to a coffee shop. So, while I contributed to it, the overall design was all theirs.

Now in describing the cafe, this space is about, 700 square feet. You’ve got the black against the brick, the tall windows in the front and we will eventually have signage, the track lightening and the silver rails are art rails. Eventually we will be bringing in a new, local artist each month. At the end of 30 days, the art will come down and new artists will come in which will constantly give the cafe a new look.

As for our customers, we’re constantly working to make their experience something that stands out - greeting the customer when they come in, engaging the customer; we’re always making sure we’re providing good customer service.

At the South Euclid location, we also had programs like open mic night and another program called “Author, Author” where we featured local Cleveland authors. Basically, we would invite three or four authors at a time on Saturday - they’ll come in, we’ll give them each an hour, they’ll talk about their book or they talk about their process and they invite their friends. It’s a good event for us, every hour we’re seeing a new group of people, and it’s giving each artist a platform.

Erin: Going back to what you said earlier, this is not your first iteration of the shop. You obviously have a passion for what you’re doing, so what is it about coffee and coffee shops that made you want to open a shop to begin with?

Jackie: My sister and I talked about it for a long time. Earlier on in my life, I hadn’t been in very many coffee shops. We were younger so we weren’t drinking a lot coffee, but we liked the idea of a coffee shop. As I got older, I started going to more and more places, different types of coffee shops, and that’s when I decided, that’s what I wanted to do. I spent 20 years in the military, and I did 13 years in corporate. I was in my early 50s and I was telling a girlfriend, “I really want to do this,” and she was telling me, “What are you waiting on? You need to go out there and get this started.”

I have a passion for the vibe, the environment, the atmosphere of a coffee shop. I love to hear the voices in the background. The best thing for me, and not just because it’s good for the cafe, is having a shop full of people and hearing the voices and all the “coffee talk” while I’m working.

I think it’s just a wonderful feeling for the community. You know you’re doing something good when you’ve got customers in the store who don’t know each other but are engaging with each other while standing in line. And that atmosphere; that’s what I really love about it.

Erin: I know you mentioned earlier that you had programs like open mic and Author, Author. I know Angry Ladies of Improv and the Socrates Café were also programs that you had at the South Euclid location. What kind of events can we expect to see at the Tech Hive location?

Jackie: Yeah, the Angry Ladies of Improve were one of our regulars. Every Sunday they came,

and they did improv.

The Socrates Café has been meeting at this café for 15 years. They were with Phoenix before it became Café Phix but they stayed with it. They’re a philosophical discussion group. They come in (there’s usually about 15 of them), they put about three subjects in a hat, they pull one out and that’s the topic of conversation for the night. I haven’t reached out to them since I opened this café, but I suspect that they will come right back.

Erin: What awesome events should we expect to see at Café Phix this year?

Jackie:  I don’t know. One thing for sure is, I am very grateful for this opportunity from the Midtown Tech Hive and DigitalC and their community-based programs. I have access to different people, who specialize in different things. One young man would come to the café and meet with individuals and help them find a job, give them advice on resumes and cover letters and instruct them on how to sit in an interview. So, we’ll probably have events like that, as well as direct book signings along with our Author, Author program. I am going to try to access some of the people here and together we can come up with community-based ideas. That’s my way of giving back, my way of saying “Thank you!”

Erin: Let’s talk menu. What types of coffee and yummy treats are available?

Jackie: This is a small place and we aren’t licensed to prep any food here. But I was thinking maybe we can use the vendors that are here in Midtown to source our food. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We are using pastries from Bloom; we are building a relationship with Southern Sweets. Eventually when they move over here, Cleveland Bagel will be supplying our bagels; Bite will be supplying some of our food. We have Urban Kitchen right here on Chester that also provides some of our food. So, it’s going to be a hodgepodge, a taste of Midtown.

We also have a very extensive specialty coffee menu. We of course have lattes, cappuccinos but we also have something different like the Turmeric Ginger Chai. You’re not going to find that in very many places. Our Chai Lattes, Chococinos, Frappuccinos, White Chocolate Mochas and regular Mochas, our Mexican Hot Chocolate, all of those are like drinking your dessert!

Erin: So standard question I have to ask, what’s your favorite everyday go-to coffee? 

Jackie: My favorite is the Chai Tea Latte. We do use a branded mix to prepare it but, we also put our own spin on it. It really is quite amazing! I think it’s the best thing that we serve here.

Erin: Do you have any seasonal drinks?  

Jackie: We do. When we were in South Euclid, every holiday, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, whatever it was, we would come up with a signature drink. I’ve been out for a while and I haven’t practiced that, but one thing that I have going for me, is I have a very experienced barista, Frank Sperandeo (Frank waves and says “Hello”). He has a mind for these types of things. He’s going to be very helpful on the creative front. The drinks will be made from our ideas, so we’ll try to come up with something original.

One Christmas, I had a drink called “A Bad Santa.” It had a mocha base with a little chocolate, a little peppermint and a little red pepper for the bad.  So, we’ll come up with something for each holiday. I think it will work out great.

Erin: I know I can get a delicious cup of coffee here, but could you give us a quick and easy recipe for when we’re snowed in at home? 

Jackie: Yes, I can. You have to have the products at home, but you can make a Mexican Hot Chocolate. We do our hot chocolate with real chocolate syrup and milk, but you can use a powder mix. You’ll add the hot chocolate, a little bit of nutmeg, a little cinnamon and a little bit of red pepper. This is perfect for when you’re at home on a snowy day in front of the fireplace watching an old black and white movie.

Erin: You’re really setting the scene for us! So, Jackie, when you’re not in the shop, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Jackie:
I spend a lot of time with my sister and my brothers who are all here in Cleveland. We get together for family gatherings. My sister and I meet for dinner once a week. I like to go to movies. I don’t go to clubs or bars because I don’t drink. Mostly, I just like hanging out with family and friends, just having a good time.  

Erin: Jackie, thank you for sharing journey with us today. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Café Phix.

 

If you’re looking for your next “phix,” why not stop by Café Phix for a decadent White Mocha Latte or the infamous Chai Tea Latte. Café Phix is open Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 3:30pm.  

Transforming the Tech Hive: A Conversation with Anna Buchholz

Last summer heralded in the official opening of the MidTtown Tech Hive, a coworking space nestled in the heart of midtown Cleveland. Walking into the Tech Hive not only will you find yourself greeted by warm and welcoming hosts, but also a bright and vibrant atmosphere. From a variety of conference rooms, classrooms, offices and private spaces, the options are plentiful.

However, the MidTown Tech Hive didn’t always look as it does today. The transformation of the Tech Hive has been quite the journey. Today, we sat down with MidTown Tech Hive Manager Anna Buchholz as she recounted the transformation of the Tech Hive from its earlier stage to its current operation. 

Erin: Anna, thank you for sitting down with us today to discuss the transformation of the MidTown Tech Hive. Before we go into some of the renovations that have been made here, could you give us a quick introduction and tell us who you are and what role you play at the Tech Hive? 

Anna: Sure. My name is Anna Buchholz and I manage the MidTown Tech Hive for DigitalC. I’ve been here for about a year now and it’s been quite a transition. When I first started, the building was still under construction but now it’s pretty much done. The Tech Hive has a functioning cafe and about 75 members that share the space. 

Erin: Anna could you just give a brief overview of the space when you were first brought on in comparison to what it looks like today? Could you give us a more detailed description of the transition process that Tech Hive underwent once you started?

Anna: Absolutely! I started on January 2nd, 2018. When I was first brought on, I had not seen the building yet. Our targeted opening date was supposed to be February 15th which seemed doable at the time. However, once I went to the site, I realized that I couldn’t go inside the building. It was still a hard hat zone and I knew that we were not going to be able to open on February 15th.  The building was still under major construction. There was dust and debris everywhere and the doors weren’t even up, so we set March 1st as a tentative soft opening date.  

DigitalC moved on February 22nd because we scheduled a Happy Hour. On that first day, there wasn’t glass on any of the doors, but we had members and clients who wanted to come and utilize the space.

Erin: Let’s talk about the design of the space. Didn’t you tell me when I first got here, that the room we’re in used to be an elevator shaft. What was the vision behind the space?

Anna: I was not part of the planning on this. The design was complete when they brought me on. My original role, as I understood it, was to fill the space, put processes in place to run it, build a community, coordinate events, things like that.

As you walk through the space, you’ll see how carefully everything is laid out. Everything down to the furniture maximizes the space as much possible. The designers had in mind that the space needed to serve the needs of people who were coworking – some people may need a private space to have a client meeting or even a larger boardroom space to hold a conference or pitch an idea to investors.

There’s a lot of multi-use features here and different stuff you can do. The classrooms are really flexible spaces -all of the tables are on wheels, the chairs are very lightweight and easy to move, there’s a collapsible wall in the middle of the two classrooms, and you can use it as two spaces or one large space. If you open up the wall and just fill the room with chairs and take all the tables out, you can fit about 90 people in there. I’m sure that the different uses of the space was a huge part of the planning process.

As for the conference room that we’re sitting in was the freight elevator for the building, which was a car showroom and repair shop in the 1920s. That wall, where the screen is right there, was the door. So, you would drive a car in through that door and then lift it to one of the other floors; but of course, we don’t need that feature now! 

Erin: If I’m walking into the MidTown Tech Hive for the first time, could you describe what my experience will be like? What am I going to see when I first walk through the doors?

Anna: When you first walk through the door, you’re going to see either myself, Keith or Sidney, and they’re going to greet you, and ask if you’re here to visit someone. We try really hard to make sure that people don’t feel lost when they walk in.  We want to reassure people that they’re in the right place.

As far as the look of the space, we have a lot of beautiful natural light that comes in to the space through these industrial-style windows. At one point it was too much light so we had to put some window treatments in place but even on gray days like today, you do get natural light, which is very inspiring! The Tech Hive has a nice balance of vibrancy and neutral tones so people can kind of fit into the space however they want.

Erin:  Anna after hearing your description of the physical look of the space and hearing more about the various uses that this building has, I’m sure the MidTown Tech Hive has hosted a variety of events. What kinds of events or conferences have been held at the Tech Hive?  

Anna: JumpStart has used it a few times. The space has also been used for Data Days which was in March or April.The Tech Hive has been used for workshops, panel discussions and board meetings. On Monday (January 7th) we had a professional development day for teachers; so it’s been used in a lot of different ways.

Erin: So we’ve talked in depth about the design and overall look and feel of the space. Let’s talk about options. If I’m interested in renting a space, what’s available to me?

Anna: The first floor is where we have our flexible coworking space which are our tables and chairs. People can work from that space for $10/day, and they have access to a seat and phone booths. This option is great for people who need a space to land for the day, are doing some remote work or have a meeting nearby.  

If you need a little bit more of your own space and you need greater access to the building, perhaps make our building your office, you could rent a dedicated desk. Those desks are located on the second and third floor - they’re very secure and you can only access via key FOB. A dedicated desk is $250 per month. With that, you get 24/7 access to the building, your own desk, a mini filing cabinet if you need to store some items, access to the common areas and some printing as part of your membership. You also receive 12 hours of conference room use.

If you’re thinking “I need more privacy; I don’t want a desk out in the open,” you can opt for our 1-person office. 1-person offices are $500 a month. Again, you get access to everything, like shared space, but you get unlimited conference room use. We have 2-person office spaces available for $750 a month. From there, we make a jump to 7-person space; that one is leased long term for at least another year, There’s a few instances where we’ve sort of leased things out to people for more than a month, and then we have an 8-person office that is currently leased. So we jump from 1 to 2, to 7 and then 8. 

One thing I’ve forgot to mention is that all of our memberships include things like WiFi and utilities. That’s one of the things that makes coworking attractive. When you rent a traditional office space, you still have to buy furniture, pay for business Wi-fi, pay for utilities and sign a 2-3-year lease.

Each floor has its own kitchenette and its own set of restrooms which is super convenient. All You also have direct access to Jackie’s Café Phix, which just opened and a wellness room - which is amazing!

Erin: If I’m interested in learning more about the space or discussing membership options with you, how would I get started?

Anna:  You can either reach out to me directly via email at anna.buchholz@digitalc.org or you can visit our website, midtowntechhive.com/. You can also get information from MidTown Cleveland; they are a great partner and they can put you in touch with us as well.

Erin: Anna, thank you for taking the time to walk us through the transformation of the Tech Hive. It’s certainly been quite the journey!

 

If you are interested in booking an event at the Tech Hive or renting a space, please contact Anna Buchholz for more information.

Community and Crowdsourcing: A Conversation with Dawn Arrington

With the rise of a variety of different platforms online, giving to charities and community causes is a whole lot easier. Simply sign a petition, a pledge or provide a donation, and not only can you contribute, but you can spread information about a campaign that you support on your social media. But after donating and sharing with friends and family, we tend to move on until the next call to action. Internet activism tends to inhibit further involvement, limiting our participation to taking only those preliminary steps.  

ioby, a nonprofit organization, seeks to change this approach by not only focusing on community driven project funding, but also community led project generation and implementation. We sat down with Dawn Arrington, ioby Cleveland Action Strategist to discuss the ioby platform, community engagement and opportunities that Clevelanders can get involved in.

Erin: I’m going to be honest, I’ve never heard of ioby, until I ran into you recently, but I love the idea of community driven programming and funding. I’m really excited to be sitting down with you today and learning more. Dawn, for folks who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself - give us your name, your title and what you do with ioby.
Dawn:
Sure, my name is Dawn Arrington and I am the Cleveland Action Strategist. I’m the person on the ground here in Cleveland; we have people on the ground in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Memphis. As Action Strategists, our focus is to be on the ground and work with ioby leaders to help get their campaigns up and running. We provide coaching, a little cheerleading and sometimes a lot of hand-holding to get them ready to go out and do the good in their communities.  

Sometimes people have really great ideas but don’t always have the confidence or know how to start, so that’s where we come in. We’re the experts in our hometown and experts in crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

Erin: Since you mentioned crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, I know there are numerous sites out there like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that people can use to initiate a project and get funding. What differentiates ioby and makes ioby unique from what’s already out there?

Dawn:  One, ioby provides intentional one-on-one coaching. Even if you don’t live in a C.A.S.T. (City Action Strategist Team) city, we still have coaches and leader success strategists in Brooklyn who act as our national team.  The coaching may not be face-to-face, but one-on-one coaching is still available so there is someone there that can help you get started.

Two, unlike Kickstarter, we provide greater flexibility in campaigning. Let’s say you don’t raise all of your money or meet your goal, you still get all of the money that you were able to raise. In getting started, we have some of the lowest fees among the crowdfunding platforms. There’s a 3% donation processing and there’s a $35 flat fee to fundraise on our platform. We can also act as a fiscal sponsor on ioby projects for a small 5% fee.

ioby also offers match funding opportunities throughout the year. When you participate in an ioby match program, we’ll double donations in real-time as you fundraise! So when someone donates $20 to your campaign, it will instantly be turned into $40. Match funding can be a great way to accelerate your crowdfunding campaign and make your fundraising work go twice as far. For example, when I was raising money for my project, Comics at the Corner, I raised about $1,500 but I received about $3,000 with matching funds.

Currently we’re rolling out the Racial Justice Match in partnership with Neighborhood Connections. The Racial Justice Match is all about projects that address racial justice and racial equity and that can be just about anything - Dr. Leah Lewis’s The X’s and O’s of Race/ism Docu-series, to the Bridge that Bridges mural project over on (East) 22nd and Cedar.

On top of that we are all about relationship building - sitting down and getting to know people saying, “Hey, c’mon, you can do this!”
Erin: So, if I may, I want to go back and talk about you on personal level, what’s driving your passion for community? Have you always been in positions where you were involved in community engagement?

Dawn: Not quite. I started out my career in customer service. I was a bell hop at Marriott, I was lifting bags and accordions and working for tips. It just felt natural to be of service to people. I worked my way up through Marriott where I met my husband, got married and graduated from college. Then in 2004, I worked for Flight Options, I was there for four years and I got laid off. I continued forward and I got a position with The Urban League. I was there for about two years and after that I became a VISTA. I moved on and worked at Ideastream for a year and a half did some consulting here and there and then I ended up here (at ioby).

It’s been journey but I want to say, from the beginning, it’s always been about how I can I be of service to people and to my community. I don’t believe in the term “giving back,” I believe in “giving in” and giving now. You don’t have to wait until you hit it big in order to feed into where you are right now. This job for me absolutely allows for people to embrace that concept.

Erin: You’ve certainly have had a textured journey! Hearing your personal story and the work you’re doing now, how does your personal mission of “giving in” and serving others align with the overall mission of ioby?

Dawn: Yeah it does! I believe that we all have gifts and talents and desires. A lot of times people in marginalized, often abused communities, don’t see their own power and, they absolutely have power. There’re some amazing people who want to do something. To me again, they know what they want in their community, what makes them feel good, what makes them whole. People need a means to contribute to their own community in real time and that’s what this work is all about.

Erin: Dawn, earlier on, you mentioned the racial justice projects, what other things that are happening in Cleveland and what are some specific types projects that you’ve seen coming out of Cleveland?

Dawn: I’ve seen projects like comic book giveaways. I’ve also seen projects involving helping students be able to do summer camp. There was a mural by Kelley Jackson over in the Kinsman area. Members of my church also did a project, the Noble Road community garden, where people did permaculture gardening at people’s homes. There’s been all sorts of projects – all of which have been ioby campaigns. 

Erin: There’s a lot of diverse, unique projects and opportunities, all over the spectrum. How would someone who has an idea and wants to initiate a project get started?

Dawn: You would submit an idea at ioby.org/idea - it literally takes 2 minutes to submit an idea form. Your idea can be something as simple as creating an afterschool space for the kids on your street.  

We do encourage you to have a team of volunteers fundraising with you though. If you have a big budget project, which is anything over $10,000, you really want to have a dedicated team that is there fundraising with you, talking through prospects, making phone calls and helping you increase your outreach by engaging with people in one-on-one conversations.

Erin: Dawn, how can folks who are interested in getting more information, get in touch with you?

Dawn: Folks can reach out by sending an idea form; they can send me an email at dawn@ioby.org, or they can call me or text me at (216) 930-4030. But if you do have an idea, please submit it. I’ll reach out to you, I can buy you a cup of coffee if need be and get you going!

Erin: Dawn, thank you for the insight that you provided on ioby and the endless opportunities that are out there waiting to be tapped into. Thank you for your time today! I’m excited to see what change is implemented through projects by Clevelanders this year and will be thinking through some potential project ideas I could get started on.

 

If you or someone you know has a great idea for your community, but you don’t know where to start, please reach out to Dawn through the ioby website and get going. The possibilities are endless!

A Refresher on ReStart: A Conversation with DawnDra Landon

As part of DigitalC’s quest to empower the Greater Cleveland community through access to and understanding of technology, the ReStart program provides a variety of courses that provide digital training, workforce readiness and skill training for all proficiency levels. 

DigitalC veteran and ReStart Program Manager, DawnDra Landon sat down with us to discuss the evolution of the ReStart program and some of the exciting initatives that have come out of the pilot.

Erin: Thank you for sitting down with us today. I’m excited to talk about the ReStart program - its evolution and some of the new initiatives that will be offered in 2019. Before we get into ReStart, DawnDra could you give us your name and your role at DigitalC?

DawnDra: Of course! So, my name’s DawnDra Landon, I have been with DigitalC for a little less than 2 years, so I’m coming up on my 2-year anniversary shortly.

The ReStart program has been going on for eighteen months. It’s a pilot program that started as a 1-year pilot program, but we received an extension for it. I am the program manager for ReStart, so my focus is on building and engaging partnerships with the community, making sure I connect the dots, figuring out the next stages of ReStart and how we can help the community, making sure the classes are filled with students that are interested in taking classes, and just helping that student get from wherever they are to the next step in their digital literacy career.

Erin: So how did the ReStart program get started and what was it like in its earlier form?

DawnDra: So, ReStart really kind of started as a “Geek Squad” engagement to Connect the Unconnected program. At the time, our focus was to go inside of buildings, homes, and provide one-on-one access to the internet. With that, we were going to include digital training, because what’s access without a device, and what’s a device without learning how to properly use it?

We kind of changed or shifted the way we thought about ReStart, and in terms of that we decided, “Hey, let’s do some digital literacy training.” So instead of creating what started off as a “Geek Squad” where you go inside of the home, you give them training and some of the residents would become apart of the Geek Squad, we just decided to do it kind of step-by-step.

Erin: What courses does the ReStart program provide?

DawnDra: Well, we’re getting back into the Geek Squad idea, but for now, for these last 18 months we’ve just been focusing on the training that we provide. We currently offer five courses that start with the very basic digital literacy (how to access the internet and how to access your emails), simple things that beginners would be able to engage in and be able to catch on to quite easily.

Then we have the Network and Fundamental Course which is dedicated to youth, primarily high schoolers. In that course, they pretty much focus on computer hardware - breaking down a computer and putting it back together. Next, we have our Computational Thinking course which is a precursor to coding. Computational Thinking is a bootcamp-style class that gives individuals the opportunity to see if they are interested, understand their level of proficiency and discover if they want to learn about coding.

With our last two classes, IC3 and Comp IT A+ Certification, we partnered with CEOGC (Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland). Those two courses allow students to become certified. We’ve experienced high attendance in our IC3 course.

Erin: Are courses held at the Hive or are there other sites where interested individuals can receive training and how do you ensure consistency in what’s being taught?

DawnDra: We do offer classes at the Hive, but there are also other sites that we partner with that offer these courses. We have about 7 or 8 different sites where we teach classes.

I teach classes, we kind of call them “Training the Trainers.” Some of our trainers that come through the ReStart program become instructors themselves so, I’ll just simply go through lesson modules with them. A lot of them are already informed on how to train so it’s really an easy process.

Erin: What kind of programs or initiatives would you like to see ReStart build upon or be a part of? Is there anything new we should expect this year?

DawnDra: One thing that we’re doing, that I said I would like to bring back, is the Y.O.U. (Youth Opportunities Unlimited) program. Last year we couldn’t do it because of funding. So this year, we just submitted a two-year grant proposal to provide a high-speed bootcamp that’s focused on technology. We pick students or youth from age18-24 who are interested in IT and the courses that we offer.

Another program we offer, is Career Readiness. The program includes resume building, mock interviews, learning how to build a resume, learning how to create cover letter, things like that.

Another area we are focusing on is coding. We’re going offer IC3 and Customer Service courses again like we did last year. We’re also going to do an Intro to Comp IT that will not come with a certification, but it will ensure that students have the necessary tools they need to pass the course. Our hope is to get them interested and prepared to take the certification exam.

We also have a partnership with Grow with Google. About mid-year last year, Google came to Cleveland. They were interested because they heard that Cleveland was the next big city to really do things in the technology world, especially digital literacy training, so they hosted a job fair and professional development event that brought some new things to light. The event introduced Clevelanders and everyone was so excited. I’ve seen so many partners, different organizations, corporations, even people who were bringing in their resumes. DigitalC had a table there which was phenomenal and we had really good feedback.

I think sometimes we look at achievement as being certified in x, y, z, when sometimes success to someone else it could mean, “I was able to Skype my granddaughter,” or “I was able to learn how to access my email and send an email off to a potential employer.” It’s those small accomplishments that we shouldn’t overlook. So that’s some of the work we’re doing with Grow with Google and the overall ReStart program.

Erin: Wasn’t there just a graduating class?

DawnDra: Yeah, so actually there were just two. So there was a basic digital literacy class that just graduated at Lutheran Men Ministry which is one of the shelters sites that we teach at, and then there was, one IC3 class that just graduated 8 students that was phenomenal and another class at City Mission. We always have graduations going on, which excites me because I love seeing them excited to get through the class.

Erin: This is exciting stuff, DawnDra! It sounds like there are a lot of opportunities for interested individuals to get involved in.  Thinking through the various courses that ReStart offers, what course(s) tend to get the most response?

DawnDra: I think so too. The Basic Digital Literacy classes are probably the bones. We always have them going on. So many people are really interested in just learning the beginning steps, and you have to meet people where they are.

I love it though and I’m very passionate about it. I’m always happy to be a part of helping somebody, especially participants who are interested in learning.

Erin: DawnDra, how would interested individuals get in touch with you for more information?

DawnDra: Anyone interested in learning more about the ReStart program can contact us at the Tech Hive at (216) 923-2240 or, they can email me at dawndra.landon@digitalc.org.

Erin: DawnDra, thank you for your time in sitting down and walking us through ReStart’s history and some of the exciting courses and initiatives that are coming out of the program.

Hacking Lake Erie: A Brief History of Erie's Challenges and the Competition that's Creating Solutions

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River burning, the fateful event that activated conversations, concerns and actions around water pollution and catalyzed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water Act and additional policies that have changed the landscape and action around the monitoring and management of water quality.

While remnants of the industrial era rust in the backdrop of the city, the same pollutants that flooded the Lake during Cleveland’s manufacturing days, continue to contaminate Lake Erie.

Since the 1990s, Algal blooms have become common, especially in the Western Lake Erie Basin1.  Phosphorus and Nitrogen levels from agricultural runoff, sewage systems, water treatment plants and other sources, drive high levels of cyanobacteria or “blue-green algae”, creating a toxic environment for fish and the overall aquatic ecosystem.

2014 saw the Toledo water crisis where tides of nutrients polluted water sources, accelerating the growth of algal blooms. As a result, over 450,000 residents went without access to clean public drinking water. Fast-forward to the closing of 2018, when the National Climate Assessment released a report forecasting the increase of algal blooms in the Lake, which will impact both the health of the Lake and the water systems of the Great Lakes region.

It’s clear that Lake Erie is in jeopardy, but what can be done?

The EPA has established plans (e.g.  the Lake Erie Lakewide Action and Management Plan), regulations and put partnerships in place to work toward combating contaminates and improving water quality, but policies are just one pillar of improving Lake Erie’s overall health. Real, sustainable solutions are also needed.

Enter Erie Hack.

While mandates for the cleaning and restoration of the Lake have been executed, one organization is looking to impact change by driving a competition around the development of new, innovative technologies. In 2017, Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA) launched Erie Hack, an innovative challenge that accelerates technology solutions to Lake Erie’s most pressing problems2. With the focus on developing practical solutions, Erie Hack seeks to engage coders, engineers, creatives, researchers and other great minds to focus on several challenges including nutrient loading and its environmental impacts, urban pollution, aging infrastructure, public outreach and education, utilization of data and water equity.

In casting a wide net, CWA is working to organize stakeholders around addressing a multitude of challenges while protecting water resources.

“Part of the Cleveland Water Alliance’s mission is to foster an ecosystem of industry partners, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders that are collaborating and working together to address water problems and encourage sustainable growth and development of the blue economy,” explains CWA Communications Manager, Savannah Tracy. “Erie Hack is the key to that mission. We are creating a place where folks who have a great idea about how to protect our valuable water resources and want to develop it can come, find mentors, make industry, utility, governmental, and nonprofit connections, and compete for the funds to make their idea a reality.”

In focusing on building a community of partnerships, Cleveland Water Alliance has found an ally in Cleveland-based nonprofit, DigitalC, which seeks to not only remove the barriers that widen the digital connectivity and digital literacy divide in Cleveland but to empower citizens to achieve success and impact community.

“Working with the Cleveland Water Alliance to leverage our regional water resources as a catalyst for innovative and impactful technology solutions is a truly unique opportunity. Over the course of our partnership, DigitalC has played a key role in supporting the Erie Hack and Internet of H2O competitions and in helping to formulate the concept for a Smart Lake Erie that underpins our collaboration today. I believe the intersection of water and technology presents an exciting opportunity for innovation – and who better than Cleveland to take advantage of that intersection for economic and societal benefit," said Dorothy Baunach, DigitalC CEO. “But this intersection of water, technology, innovation and community isn’t just taking place in Cleveland. Erie Hack is engaging collaboration amongst Cleveland and its sister cities in Buffalo, Erie and Detroit. And the initiative has already paid off.”

A recent seminar on water equity hosted by CWA in conjunction with DigitalC, Cleveland Water, NEORSD, and the Cleveland Water Equity Taskforce at the MidTown Tech Hive brought forth valuable conversation and planning around the heart of the issue for everyone – access to safe and affordable water.

The 2017 winning team from Detroit, Micro Buoy3, developed low-cost sensors to monitor the Lake’s water quality, while Akron’s Erie Open Systems took third place for a spectrometer with the ability to measure phosphorus and other contaminates in the water4. Crucial dialogue, design and innovation and implementation of technology has already taken place and 2019 brings a whole host of potential ideas, innovation and important conversation.

This year’s competition has already kicked off with an information session on January 16th at the MidTown Tech Hive in Cleveland. The official competition will launch on February 7th, providing interested participants with the ability to register for the competition at ErieHack.io.

In the following months, team formation meetups, mentor sessions, hacking days, quarter and semi-finals will take place, all building up to the finals on June 20th during the week of the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River burning, allowing our greater community the opportunity for some collective introspection on how we got here in the first place.

While Erie Hack is just one part of the ongoing effort in advocating for our water resources and advancing technologies to solve those larger challenges, Lake Erie and all that share its water are certainly better for it.

 

Sources:

1http://glisa.umich.edu/climate/algal-blooms

2 https://www.eriehack.io/

3 https://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20170503/news/170509926/detroit-team-wins-erie-hack-competition-akron-group-takes-third

4 https://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2018/09/anyone_could_help_solve_lake_e.html