Teen refugee program is winning civic pitch at Accelerate

6 finalists win prizes; additional partner announced for 2020

CLEVELAND – A pitch by two teens who want to build buddy relationships among refugee and non-refugee students was voted the winning civic pitch by the audience Wednesday night, February 27, at Accelerate: Citizens Make Change, an annual competition presented by Cleveland Leadership Center with support from Citizens Bank.

Karson Baldwin, 16, of Strongsville, and Israel Kambomba, 15, who moved to Cleveland from the Congo, want to expand a pilot program Karson created that helps address challenges of integration. They will receive $5,000 to help bring the civic vision to reality.

More than 500 people attended the Leadership Center’s fifth annual competition in the Global Center for Health Innovation in downtown Cleveland. They had the opportunity to hear 27 civic pitches presented in six categories in a preliminary round of competition, during which judges selected one presenter in each category as a finalist. The six finalists pitched in a final round, and the audience selected the winner by cell-phone voting.

Karson, 16, is a 10th-grader at University School and Israel, 15, is a 10th-grader at Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. The title of their pitch, “One’ Respe’,’” comes from a Haitian Creole expression of welcome that means “honor and respect.” Israel moved to Cleveland from the Congo, and said refugees find it difficult to create new friendships. They hope to help others create the kind of friendship they have formed.

The teens’ pitch was in the Educating for Tomorrow category, presented in partnership with Nordson. The five runners-up each will receive $2,000 in addition to making connections to help bring their dreams to reality:

  • Allison Meyer, of Cleveland Heights, wants to create a storytelling and public art installation project that brings people together. Her pitch, “Never,Ever Give Up,” in the Authentic Cleveland Experiences category, was presented in partnership with Destination Cleveland. People would write answers to the question “What is the hardest thing you ever had to do?” as a way to help others persevere through adversity. The idea came while she was grieving the death of her mother, and found that sharing stories helped her cope. Authentic Cleveland Experiences was a new Accelerate category this year, created to further Destination Cleveland’s work to engage residents in designing experiences that are available only in Cleveland.
  • Sonya Pryor-Jones, of South Euclid, wants to bring technology into the heart of Glenville, where she grew up. Her pitch for “My Fab House” was in the Community Change category presented in partnership with Oswald Companies and Westfield. Her family has donated a house that she wants to use as a digital and technology lab and co-working space for area residents who don’t have access to technology or support in how to use it. The space would be staffed by experts who would help teach the residents to create projects of their own design.
  • Ronald Nelson, of Shaker Heights, wants to help food entrepreneurs showcase their talents. His pitch, “People and Food on the Go,” was in the Economic & Workforce Development category presented in partnership with Oatey and The Lubrizol Corporation. His vision is to create partnerships among nonprofits, culinary organizations and food entrepreneurs that help people achieve their dreams.
  • Kayla Ruffner, of Cleveland, wants coffee filters to aid in health and well being. Her pitch was for “Unchained Filters” in the Health & Wellness category presented in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic. Infusing filters with amino acids, she said, will boost energy, increase attention, and burn fat. Her alma mater is already helping with a study to gauge the effects on health and taste.
  • McKenna Y. Hankins, of Cleveland, grew up in an under-privileged community where a lack of resources made it difficult for her to reach her fullest potential. She wants to provide supplies that enable other such children to express themselves. The graduate student at Ursuline College pitched about “Art on Wheels” in the Quality of Life category presented in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College and Thompson Hine LLP. The fully supplied mobile art studio would visit neighborhoods such as Slavic Village and Hough to foster creative thinking, innovation and basic skills.

Each finalist received a voucher for airline travel donated by Southwest Airlines, and a free one-year membership to ECDI Cleveland, which provides programs, services and loans to entrepreneurs.

The evening included announcement of a new partner for Accelerate. Hilary Sparks-Roberts, Executive Director of Social Venture Partners, told the audience that the organization’s bigBANG! pitch competition will become part of Accelerate next year. bigBANG! trains and mentors innovative nonprofits that are effecting social change in Cleveland.

“bigBANG! shares the goals of the Leadership Center and Accelerate to give voice to initiatives that improve life in Cleveland,” said CLC President and CEO Marianne Crosley. “Accelerate inspires individuals who want to make change, and the addition of bigBANG! will extend the impact of Accelerate to nonprofit organizations as well.”

“Good citizenship is at the heart and soul of who we are, and we are so proud to support Accelerate, which demonstrates how people can make a difference across Greater Cleveland,” said Ralph M. Della Ratta, president of Citizens Bank, Ohio, and co-chair of the event. “These pitches mirror our commitment to helping our communities reach their potential. Together, we are all accelerating Cleveland forward and building on the momentum that has gained us national attention,” he said.

Ira Kaplan, CLC board chair and event co-chair, said the competition gave a boost to all presenters, not just the finalists. “Hundreds of influential civic leaders were exposed to these creative ideas for positive change. We know from past years that many of them will be inspired to help these ideas become projects that impact the community,” said Kaplan, executive chairman at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan and Aronoff LLP.

Emcees for the event were Terry Moir, director of integrative marketing and local programming at WKYC; and Mike McIntyre, a Plain Dealer columnist and host of The Sound of Ideas on 90.3 WCPN, ideastream.

Updates on the pitches will be posted on www.cleveleads.org, and on Facebook and Twitter (@cleveleads) using #accelerateNEO.

Many presenters from previous Accelerate competitions have launched their projects, including 2018 winner Tory Coats. His vision was to create Teen Enterprise Pop-Up shops to prepare tomorrow’s business leaders by offering them mentoring and a place to sell products they create. Last August, teens hosted a pop-up shop in a vacant Slavic Village storefront.

Coats returned to Accelerate this year with teen entrepreneurs who sold clothing and soap products they have created. He also brought products to sell made by children in Honduras, which Coats visited last year when launching a global entrepreneurship institute. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation sponsored the pop-up shop at Accelerate.

Other past presenters and winners were at the event to showcase progress in implementing their projects. The Past Presenters Row was sponsored by Jackson Lewis P.C. and included a dozen individuals whose ideas have taken shape and are impact life across Cleveland.

# # #

About the Cleveland Leadership Center
The Cleveland Leadership Center’s mission is to build a continuum of civic leaders committed to our community’s excellence by serving as a catalyst for civic engagement. The Leadership Center inspires and connects people to transform Cleveland by developing leaders of all age through learning and community engagement opportunities. www.cleveleads.org

About Citizens Financial Group, Inc.
Citizens Financial Group, Inc. is one of the nation’s oldest and largest financial institutions, with $160.5 billion in assets as of December 31, 2018. Headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, Citizens offers a broad range of retail and commercial banking products and services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, large corporations and institutions. Citizens helps its customers reach their potential by listening to them and by understanding their needs in order to offer tailored advice, ideas and solutions. In Consumer Banking, Citizens provides an integrated experience that includes mobile and online banking, a 24/7 customer contact center and the convenience of approximately 2,900 ATMs and approximately 1,100 branches in 11 states in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. Consumer Banking products and services include a full range of banking, lending, savings, wealth management and small business offerings. In Commercial Banking, Citizens offers corporate, institutional and not-for-profit clients a full range of wholesale banking products and services, including lending and deposits, capital markets, treasury services, foreign exchange and interest rate products, and asset finance. More information is available at www.citizensbank.com or visit us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Media contact:
Michael Bennett, Vice President of External Affairs, (216) 408-3874, mbennett@cleveleads.org