When Cleveland was named one of the poorest big cities in the nation in 2008, Jan Thrope was working at a homeless shelter. She attended poverty summits where participants spouted expensive, time-intensive solutions, but it wasn’t until she heard a homeless man’s perspective that she shifted her focus.
“With the hope of helping the masses, we were missing the man,” says Thrope, founder of Inner Visions of Cleveland, an organization dedicated to supporting neighborhood improvement projects and ideas.
Thrope began interviewing community members and found a common trend. Individuals were experiencing a lot of pain, but they had a passion to make change. In many cases, their most basic needs weren’t being met, and folks on the next block may have had exactly what they needed without even knowing it.
“It wasn’t that people were broken,” Thrope recalls. “The connections were broken. If we could just get people in touch with each other to make those connections, we could tackle the strengths that they already had instead of [focusing on] what’s not working.”
These accounts evolved into Thrope’s first book, Inner Visions: Grassroots Stories of Truth and Hope, the foundation for her Inner Visions of Cleveland community initiative. A believer in the power of personal relationships, Thrope seeks out individuals by attending block club meetings, visiting coffee shops or simply walking down the street to see how she can provide assistance.
“We have conversations about what they are dreaming about for their community,” says Thrope. “We talk to people who are excited about how to make Cleveland thrive.”
Inner Visions hosts quarterly gatherings for these community members to request or fulfill a need to support an idea in three ways:
Giving Circle – Each guest is asked to contribute $25 to an existing $1,000 donation given by an anonymous donor. Individuals who would like to pitch their ideas are drawn from a hat and given the floor to present. Attendees vote on their favorite pitches, and the winner receives the group’s donated funds, typically totaling more than $2,000. The winner returns to the next gathering to share how the money is being used.
Market Place – Guests share the projects they are working on and can ask for something – volunteers, a lawnmower, school supplies – or offer something – cookbooks, truck transportation or assistance with social media. This platform allows the community to give and receive tangible resources.
Networking Time – Attendees meet individuals form their own communities and learn about projects in progress that won’t make it to the “pitch floor” by building relationships with each other.
Dozens of projects have received support from connections made through Inner Visions. A popcorn business to support school drill teams, college prep programs for high school families, computer space in an overflow homeless shelter, an urban agriculture teaching program and personal hygiene items and safety resources for women involved in human trafficking are just a few of the selfless ambitions flourishing in Cleveland. Thanks to Inner Visions, these ideas are brought to life not only with a wheelbarrow or a stack of cash, but with meaningful relationships.
“We want to put more emphasis on human capital than currency,” says Thrope.
Thrope and her team also offer Good News Tours for police officers, medical personnel, teachers and anyone who has an interest in meeting members of the community to see the needs, and strengths, of the neighborhood. Tours are free, can be scheduled by request, and Thrope’s goal is to “change the dynamic from ‘them and us’ to we.”
The next Inner Visions of Cleveland gathering will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 17 at the University Circle United Methodist Church. Guests are encouraged to RSVP to Thrope at 216-965-4721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FEATURE PHOTO: Inner Visions play where residents portrayed themselves