Neighborhood Leadership series helps community member realize a dream

Donna Johnson with her street's Little Free Library.

Donna Johnson has lived on the same street in Cleveland Heights since 1995. Her children attend Heights schools, her professional life is rich with connection to the nonprofit world, and she has an active sense of volunteerism. “Community is important to me,” Johnson said. “Without it, neighborhoods decline.”

In recent years, though, Johnson felt a disconnect with her neighbors. “It seemed like every spring there were new faces on my street. I knew my neighbors on either side, but felt a strong need to connect and engage with more of my neighbors,” Johnson said.

One day she read a Heights Observer article about how FutureHeights was conducting a Neighborhood Leadership Workshop Series, and she decided to apply.

The workshop series is for any Cleveland Heights resident who, like Johnson, wants to take a more active role in the community. The free program consists of six, three-hour sessions that cover a range of topics, such as leadership, project planning, an understanding of the various Cleveland Heights neighborhoods, city policies, and advocacy related to those neighborhoods. The workshops provide an opportunity for residents to gain skills and resources, and a chance for them to connect with other community leaders and learn what they are working on or hoping to achieve.

For Johnson, her dream was to have a Little Free Library (LFL) installed on her street—a dream she discussed during the workshop with Sruti Basu, FutureHeights director of community-building programs. Basu was able to connect Johnson with Nancy Levin, Heights Libraries director. 

“As a result, a nicely painted, and registered, LFL house was donated by the library! A very kind and supportive neighbor allowed us to install the house on his front lawn. We unveiled it at a neighborhood block party in September,” Johnson said.

As part of the process of obtaining an LFL, Johnson co-hosted a Common Ground event on June 30 to discuss any and all community engagement projects for the neighborhood. (Common Ground is a series of community conversations sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation.) Based on the response and success of these initiatives, Johnson said 2020 will include more Common Ground events, as well as another block party.  

“If you are seeking resources to help improve your neighborhood or need technical assistance developing a neighborhood project, FutureHeights Neighborhood Leadership program is worth the time,” Johnson said.

FutureHeights is now accepting applications for its 2020 Neighborhood Leadership Workshop Series. Dates and program details are available at Additional questions can be directed to Sruti Basu at The deadline to apply is Jan. 17.

Sarah Wolf

Sarah Wolf is an intern at FutureHeights, a resident of Cleveland Heights, and a graduate-level community practice student at MSASS/Case Western Reserve University.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 11:46 AM, 12.03.2019