Freshwater Cleveland ~ Challenge Cuyahoga: hot dogs, running shoes, and community change

Challenge Cuyahoga: hot dogs, running shoes, and community change

Justin Bibb, Assist to Ed FitzGerald and Mike Shafarenko Pres of Civic Commons - Photo Bob Perkoski


What do hot dogs, running shoes and wooden cutting boards have to do with bringing about community change? Sponsors of the Challenge Cuyahoga promise to answer that question and more during the official Kick-Off Party, which takes place on October 28 at Legation Gallery in the 78th Street Studios.

Challenge Cuyahoga is a new social innovation competition created through a unique public-private partnership between Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald and The Civic Commons. The kick-off event — in addition to being an all-around good time — will culminate with a specific challenge, delivered by FitzGerald, for county residents to generate innovative ideas that will propel community change. The Office of the County Executive will work to incorporate the winning idea into its public policy agenda.

“We wanted to do this project because in this age of austerity, where government has fewer resources, it’s going to take doing more with less,” explains Justin Bibb, Special Assistant to County Executive FitzGerald. “We are going to need greater involvement from citizens to advance Cuyahoga County. Our hope is that this social innovation competition will create a movement where we are engaging people outside council or town hall meetings to do the public’s work of solving big challenges and problems.”

Part of what’s being billed as “A Day of Social Innovation,” the kick-off bash follows on the heels of Cleveland Social Venture Partners’ bigBANG!conference, which runs all day at the Cleveland State University Student Center. The two events are separate but feature overlapping themes of driving change through social innovation.

The Challenge Cuyahoga event will feature TED-style talks that showcase other successful innovative ideas and best practices, explains Emily Cole, Civic Commons Community Connector.

“We hope that these stories of small grass-roots projects will inspire the audience of young professionals to create projects of their own design; to show them that it’s possible to take a simple idea and make an impact.”

For example, Liz Ferro manages to empower female abuse victims by providing free running shoes, a fitness journal, and unfettered access to fitness programs throughout the region. As founder of the Cleveland-based nonprofit Girls With Sole — and as an abuse survivor herself — Ferro instills self confidence to people who can use it most. Thanks to Ferro, many have completed their very first 5K run.

Minneapolis-based Brian Wiley will be on hand to explain how something as simple as a hotdog cart can foster multicultural acceptance. His Halal Hotdog stands offer Somalia immigrants entrepreneurial lessons and a shot at ownership while creating cultural exchanges between populations.

Other speakers include Chris Kious of A Piece of Cleveland (APOC), who transforms building materials destined for the dustbin into beautiful, repurposed products. Syreeta Gates’ The SWT (pronounced “sweet”) Life provides entrepreneurial coaching to members of the millennial generation.

Additional events will take place throughout the year, all leading up to next year’s Challenge. At that time a winning idea will be selected and a new challenge handed down.

“This is a great opportunity for talented citizens to contribute to and support the success of Cuyahoga country and the region,” said Mr. FitzGerald. “We want to see some of the great ideas that our citizens have and provide a mechanism by which they can see those ideas become reality. The County is really excited to get this effort going.”

For more information click here. For tickets click here.

Photos Bob Perkoski *except where noted
– Image 1: Justin Bibb, Special Assistant to County Executive Ed FitzGerald and Mike Shafarenko President of Civic Commons
– Image 2: County Executive Ed FitzGerald *Plain Dealer file photo
– Image 3: Emily Cole, Civic Commons Community Connector
– Image 4: Justin Bibb, Special Assistant to County Executive Ed FitzGerald
– Image 5: Featured Innovator Liz Ferro of Girls With Sole * courtesy of Liz Ferro
– Image 6: Featured Innovator 
Chris Kious with P.J. Doran of APOC
– Image 7: Legation Gallery in the 78th Street Studios