Public school supporters are more than fair-weather friends

Susie Kaeser

The Saturday before the election was cold and rainy. Volunteers from my neighborhood dutifully filed into my kitchen to pick up their walk lists for the final lit drop, which would encourage voters to fund the renovation of three Cleveland Heights-University Heights public schools. Our team included a retired graphic designer and medical engineer, a substitute teacher, a Montessori parent, the kids across the street and their mom, an innovations coach, and me.

Jokes about the Browns, the exercise opportunities associated with dropping literature and the need to fix the aging buildings for future generations were part of the friendly conversation that took place as I handed out street assignments. Despite the weather, we were ready to act on our commitment to our community and its children.

We were responsible for three of the 43 routes to be covered that weekend. We were among 100 volunteers who fanned out across the community to reach more than 12,000 addresses, braving the elements for a cause we believed in.

A lot of people in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights community took part in this campaign. A determined leadership team led by co-chairs Dave Tabor, Alvin Saafir and Patrick Mullen met weekly to strategize, raise money, and hone the message.

High school students endured the weather to learn the tried-and-true techniques of community outreach. People of all generations showed up at meetings, toured the high school, studied the need, asked hard questions, searched their consciences, made phone calls, wrote letters, donated money, posted 1,200 signs, gave their time and knees to get out the word, lost sleep, greeted voters, voted and, in the end, celebrated. Along the way they made new friends, gained respect for new leaders, and knew they had helped shape the future.

Community involvement isn’t complicated, but it is the essence of democracy, the source of progress, and it floats my boat! On the road to shaping your community, you connect with people who share your goals and concerns. Invest enough time and effort in the collective search for solutions to community needs and you end up with deep roots and ownership of the place you live. Involvement creates community, the essence of good living.

Our community has willing foot soldiers and dedicated leaders. Tabor became involved at the start of the process to plan for facilities and stuck with it for three years. When it was time to mount a campaign, he stepped forward to lead, gave up a lot of fun outings with his family, and took the weight of the outcome personally.

He attended weekly campaign meetings; attended dozens of school and community events so he could talk to anyone who would talk to him about the plan; addressed religious congregations, political groups, seniors and PTAs; answered more than 2,500 e-mails; and walked the streets, rain or shine. When he stopped in to pick up his walk list he said, “This is so much fun.”

Tabor, like so many activists, was willing to sacrifice his personal time to benefit the common good. I admire his understanding of activism:

  • You have to support things you believe in.
  • Nothing gets done from the sidelines.
  • You have to be willing to get your hands dirty (e.g., dropping lit in the rain).
  • You will get tired and frustrated.
  • You will be happy and elated.
  • You will make a difference in your community.
  • You will make friends for life!

I am forever grateful to live in a community with engaged citizens like Tabor and the people who showed up at my house in the rain to trudge through the community in hopes of convincing their neighbors to vote yes.

I thank them for working for this important cause—and for so many others. It is the reason I live here. It is something to celebrate.

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.

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Volume 6, Issue 12, Posted 11:49 AM, 12.02.2013