Cleveland That I Love: The life cycle of a change maker

Cleveland That I Love: The life cycle of a change maker

Like many cities, Cleveland is home to an extensive network of nonprofits, leadership training opportunities, research centers, public and private grants, and all variety of “Think Tanks” and “accelerators” investing in the next big idea and/or long-term solutions to the complex challenges we face as a community.

Cuyahoga County is home to more than 5,000 nonprofits. In fact, we have so many amazing change-makers in northeast Ohio that it’s a common refrain to say, “Yes. I love that idea! Please don’t start another nonprofit.”

The Foundation Center of the Midwest and other nonprofit leaders have long encouraged those with impassioned hearts and amazing ideas to seek out others already working on the same issues. Combine resources. Build on each other’s experiences. Running a nonprofit is hard work. Keeping one afloat for more than 5 years is miraculous.

The good news is that anyone who calls Cleveland home and wants to make the world a better place has countless opportunities to do so. One recent story shared by Dameyonna Willis, founder of Queen I Am, one of our #GivingTuesdayCLE nonprofit partners, demonstrates the many valuable ways someone can “plug into” the Cleveland nonprofit community.

Last summer, Yonna attended a community-wide conversation, one of many held throughout Northeast Ohio as part of the Cleveland Foundation’s second annual Common Ground event — a series of gatherings held by community leaders, students, residents, educators and community organizers to create shared experiences and honest conversations that might bridge the divides between people and neighborhoods. Several months later, Yonna still recalls feeling honored and inspired by the discussion of issues that “were near and dear to our hearts, such as youth leadership and how to build safer, strong communities.”

A few weeks after attending that event, she went to a Neighbor Up Night sponsored by Neighborhood Connections, one of Cleveland’s most innovative investors in grassroots-level change. That evening, Yonna learned about the Neighborhood Connections micro-grant program, funding that residents could apply for to spark a small idea. For days, she pondered a variety of ideas, asking herself,  “What can I do to build youth leaders and safe, strong communities?”

Ultimately, Dameyonna decided to develop the Youth Compassion Tour, an opportunity for young girls to participate in service projects and “learn someone else’s story” by traveling as a group throughout Cleveland. She wanted the teens to “give a Saturday to someone else” and connect with people who were already making a difference in their community. By the end of summer, Yonna coordinated a daylong adventure, including a visit to Habitat for Humanity, and a stop at the West Side Catholic Center to help separate and store clothes for their resource room. Then the group learned about fresh local food and shucked corn with volunteers at Cleveland Roots, followed by ice-cream and mural painting at The Euclid Art Walk.

Thanks to Dameyonna and Queen I AM, 10 young women spent the day providing joyful service in communities they had never set foot in before. She sees them as tomorrow’s community leaders, saying, “this trip was created to build compassion among youth leaders while exposing them to different neighbors and residents and parks and educators and peers” so the girls can envision themselves leading such projects one day. Mission accomplished.

Dameyonna hopes to grow her compassion project by partnering with existing nonprofits to raise additional funding from the WISH Cleveland citywide #GivingTuesdayCLE equitable giving campaign, a unique approach to year-end fundraising designed to counteract the challenges and obstacles faced by homegrown heroes.  For people like Dameyonna, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to run fancy marketing campaigns and devise yearlong fundraising strategies. Too often, they spend hours upon hours filling out long grant applications only to be denied funding. Like many of our participating nonprofits, Dameyonna learned about the collaborative day of giving because we are both members of the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program twelfth cohort. The program’s leader, former Cleveland mayor Michael White, says we are zealots. We won’t take no for an answer. We don’t give up. And we’re all committed to something much larger than our individual projects and ideas.

Last night, Dameyonna sent me her story and photos at 10 p.m. I am guessing she had just tucked her two small children into bed for the night. When I woke up to read her message early this morning, I wasn’t planning on writing a story today. In fact, my daughter, who is sitting beside me on the couch just asked, “Why are you working on a Saturday morning?” “Because there’s something important I really want to write about,” I replied.  Dameyonna’s passion and commitment inspired me to dig deeper and do more. Mission accomplished. I hope you will do the same by visiting to learn how you can help our 36 nonprofit partners turn many small gifts into a miracle of giving in Cleveland this holiday season.

  1. Share. Share. Share. Link to this story on social media. Send the giving link ( to your friends and family by text. Ask them to join the equitable giving movement and invest in change makers like Dameyonna. Follow @wishcleveland for updates and more inspiration.
  2. Donate. Give $10 or $36 or any amount you can afford to any cause that you care about this holiday season. When any nonprofit thrives, the whole community benefits. Texting WISHCLE to 44-321 is a simple, quick way to invest in community-wide change. And yes, it’s tax-deductible.
  3. Join the party! Want to meet a room full of inspiring people? Come to the #GivingTuesdayCLE celebration of success on Nov. 27 from 6-9pm at RED Space. Tickets are available here.
  4. Be a force for good. Move beyond direct service and learn more about what’s already being done to move our community forward. Seek to be an advocate for meaningful, systemwide change.  Check out Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Neighborhood Connections and the Cleveland Neighborhood Leadership Development Program to learn more.

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