Organizing 'beyond block parties' is topic of FutureHeights forum

Kirk Noden and Trevelle Harp

Concerned about public safety in areas with vacant and abandoned homes, people in Heights-area neighborhoods are beginning to organize for change in a way unseen since the 1970s. In recognition of that, the FutureHeights annual meeting this year will feature two community organizing professionals for a frank discussion titled “Beyond Block Parties: Building Safe, Livable Neighborhoods in the 21st Century.”

The meeting will take place  on Wednesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. at the Heights Rockefeller Building, at the corner of Mayfield Road and Lee Boulevard. It is free and open to the public.

“With the increase in vacant homes and seemingly unsupervised youth in my neighborhood we’ve experienced an increase in crime or at least the perception of crime and neglect. There is a greater concern with neighborhood safety,” said Oxford neighborhood resident Judi Miles. “It takes more than getting together once a year to bring back a sense of security."

Last summer, Miles and her neighbors went beyond the annual block party by organizing biweekly communication with the City of Cleveland Heights Police Department and with one another to share information.

The Oxford-area effort is just one example of neighbors coming together to work on an issue of common concern. A similar effort is taking place in the Severance-area neighborhood, and a citizen's forum on public safety in the Fairfax neighborhood last year drew more than 200 people.

That’s why Kirk Noden, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, and Trevelle Harp, executive director of Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope, were selected to keynote this year’s FutureHeights meeting.

“The mortgage crisis and recession have heightened the challenges that our community faces,” said Gina Cheverine, president of FutureHeights. “We hear every day from members of the community who feel it personally, and they want to get involved; they don’t want to wait for someone else to do something about it. We felt it was important this year to address that desire. I think we have two perfect speakers to help people see what community activism looks like and what it can accomplish.”

Noden has worked for neighborhood-based community organizations for more than 12 years, tackling such issues as abandoned buildings, school overcrowding, crime and safety, affordable housing, youth resources and quality of public parks. He founded and directed the Albany Park Neighborhood Council in Chicago, an alliance of churches, mosques, schools, and ethnic associations; and helped found Birmingham Citizens, a coalition of 33 institutions in England’s second-largest city.

Since 2006, Noden worked with faith-based organizing efforts in Youngstown, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and consulted with the Raymond John Wean Foundation on the development of its Capacity Building Initiative.

Harp is a 1995 graduate of Cleveland Heights High School. He heads NOAH, an East Cleveland-based nonprofit that brings together diverse urban and suburban populations, and empowers residents to use community organizing to improve the quality of their lives.

The group has organized East Cleveland residents around the issues of abandoned and vacant housing, framing the issue for the most recent mayoral race and hosting the signing of a memorandum of understanding between East Cleveland City Council and the Cuyahoga County Land Bank. The group’s community roundtable discussions and mayoral candidates forum created new opportunities for residents to be heard.

For more information and to RSVP, call 216-320-1423, e-mail or visit

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights.

Is your street having a block party this summer? You can have copies of the Heights Observer delivered to your party and can schedule a FutureHeights volunteer to talk to your neighbors about writing for the Observer, hosting a green asset mapping event and other topics. Contact us at or 216-320-1423.

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Volume 3, Issue 6, Posted 4:12 PM, 05.26.2010