Heights residents trained as Bridge Builders

Annemarie Grassi

Leadership is something we sometimes lack in Northeast Ohio. Faced with problems this generation has never seen before, we are looking at a possible void of effective leaders who can take hold of the many issues and lead us far into a prosperous future. In the late 1990s, to try to counter this, a group of civic-minded young professionals had a vision to help foster communication and collaboration between aspiring leaders and established leaders in Northeast Ohio.

That vision became Cleveland Bridge Builders. CBB is now part of Cleveland Leadership Center, which formed in 2006 and includes four other programs: Leadership Cleveland, Cleveland Executive Fellowship, (i)Cleveland, and Look Up To Cleveland.

The Bridge Builder program identifies rising leaders from our communities and puts them through an intensive leadership course designed to inspire more civic engagement in the region. Participants in the program interact with others from a wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, professions, religions and socio-economic status to tackle some of the region’s most pressing problems.

Team-based Leadership Action Projects (LAPs) are designed to engage participants with organizations and civic leaders in our community to solve particular problems. Graduates of the Cleveland Bridge Builder program join a long line of successful civic-minded people who are making things happen in their communities. A number of University Heights and Cleveland Heights residents have been through the 10-month course. All of them have committed themselves to contributing to the growth, development and prosperity of Northeast Ohio and especially the city they live in. Each of them has a vision of their community and is working in one way or another to realize that vision.

These are a few of the Bridge Builders graduates who live in Cleveland Heights and University Heights:

Kurt Ringenbach – CBB '04 (University Heights)(No Picture Available) Kurt is the president of Ringenbach Financial Partners LLC, a personal financial planning and investment management firm in Cleveland Heights. As a result of his CBB experience, he joined the board of directors for Shaker Lakes Nature Center. He sees the biggest challenge in University Heights as the “high property and local income tax rates relative to suburbs with which it is competing for residents without any superior services, schools, parks, roads, or recreational facilities, etc. to justify it.” He agrees that collaboration with other cities to cut unnecessary costs is something that should be looked at further.

Annemarie Grassi – CBB '08 (Cleveland Heights) Anne-Marie has dedicated her life to improving the experience of middle school students. As the executive director of Open Doors Academy in Cleveland Heights, she sees some of the solutions to improving our education system as enhancing technology, extending the school day, and re-incorporating social and emotional development back into the curriculum.

Jennifer Vinson – CBB Class of 2005 (Cleveland Heights) Jennifer works in Cleveland Heights as the VP of Operations for Allied Advertising. She has volunteered with HeightsArts and with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools. She says she “strongly feel[s] we need to find a way to make more of the families who live in the Heights embrace the public schools for their children and stay in the Heights.”

Wesley Gillespie – CBB '07 (Cleveland Heights) Wesley, a senior vice president and area retail manager for KeyCorp, says his decision to live in Cleveland Heights was strongly influenced by its vast diversity. Since participating in the CBB program he has increased his leadership roles on two nonprofit boards, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland and Shoes and Clothes for Kids. His biggest concern for Cleveland Heights is maintaining and improving educational benchmarks set by the state.

Bill Hubbard – CBB '07 (Cleveland Heights) Bill is an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. He is involved with the Cleveland Restoration Society and serves on the buildings and grounds committee of Saint Ann Church. Bill is committed to Cleveland Heights and says its best attributes are its walkability and the quality and variety of housing. He is concerned about the poor reputation of the school system and believes that “recent progress needs to continue,” but he also thinks that “creative ways need to be found to support and maintain the city's services and aging infrastructure without increasing taxes imposed on residents.”

Cathy Carter – CBB '06 (Cleveland Heights) Cathy is the director of development and communications for Greater Cleveland Community Shares. As a result of her experience with Cleveland Bridge Builders, she joined the board of directors of Reaching Heights, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Schools Foundation. As a trustee, she works to approve school and community grants that will provide the enrichment programs that are needed by our youth, such as the Summer Music Camp and the recent Heights High history documentary on CH-UH military veterans.

As the premiere leadership development organization for mid-career to senior level professionals, the Cleveland Bridge Builder program is ideal for those who want to increase the level of their civic leadership in their community. For more information, visit the Cleveland Leadership Center Web site at www.cleveleads.org or call Hannah Belsito, the program director, at 216-592-2280.

Hugh Williams is a resident of University Heights and a member of the Cleveland Bridge Builders Class of 2007.

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Volume 2, Issue 4, Posted 7:27 AM, 02.17.2009