University Heights is thankful for Civic Award recipients
2020 has been hard on just about everyone. Despite the pandemic and social unrest, Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan said there was plenty of good to be found in University Heights. “It’s like Mr. Rogers used to say, when things are scary, ‘look for the helpers.’”
Brennan said he chose to announce the recipients of the 2020 University Heights Civic Awards on Thanksgiving to give thanks for those people “who are helping.”
“Due to the pandemic, we couldn’t meet in person for a Civic Awards dinner this year. So, we chose to bring the awards to our residents via social media while they gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families,” Brennan said.
The awards were announced on Thanksgiving via the city’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.
For their efforts to create an anti-racist and more equitable community in University Heights, the members of the Citizens Committee on Policing Policies were named Citizens of the Year, Council Member Saundra Berry was presented with the Public Servant of the Year award, and Police Chief Dustin Rogers and Lieutenant Mark McArtor were named City Employees of the Year.
“It speaks to the strength of our community that we have a public servant like Saundra Berry to bring people together for reform, and strong police leadership prepared to work for change,” Brennan said. “I am grateful such a diverse cross-section of residents were willing to serve on the committee.”
Members of the Citizens Committee on Policing Policies are Dasha Blue, Patti Carlyle, Ronald Collier, Indira Gatlin, C.P. “Neil” Gould, Adrian Hardin, Kate Holzheimer, Joanna Homann, Sheila Hubman, Joshua Hunt, Constance Jefferson, Aliah Lawson, Thekla Long, Paul Miller, Roger Osgood, Crystal Pickus, Sheri Sax, Mike Sears, Vincent Stokes, Priscilla Tate and Sean Weiss.
“The Friends of The Walt” are the 2020 Volunteers of the Year. The group meets on Saturdays to remove noxious weeds from the park, and to plant additional native flowers and bushes. The group includes Eran Shiloh, Donald Vicarel, Joanna Homann, Darlene Floden, Brian Floden and Rosalia Rozsahegyi.
The Educator of the Year is Amanda Balzetic. A teacher at Gearity Elementary, Balzetic is a tireless advocate for her students. She raised over $1,000 to purchase necessities for students and their families. Balzetic volunteers at every school-sponsored food distribution event.
Assistant Service Director John Puccella was named Co-Worker of the Year. Service Department work is hard every year, but it is even more so during a pandemic. “John is a great worker and an even greater person to be around,” Brennan said.
Special Recognition Awards were given to Lieutenant Dale Orians and Kim Airey.
Orians retired in April, after 33 years of dedicated service with the University Heights Police Department. He led the city’s detective bureau, and served as public information officer.
Airey spent 19 days in intensive care this summer after contracting COVID-19. She bravely shared her story with local media, and has become an advocate for wearing masks and maintaining social distance. By sharing her story, she’s likely helped slow the spread of the virus.
The following residents earned Good Neighbor awards:
Rabbi Raphael Davidovich and Father Karl Kiser. Whenever their help was needed in 2020, Davidovich and Kiser answered the call. From offering prayers at the virtual Memorial Day ceremony, to appearing in the COVID-19 public service announcements, to promoting the 2020 U.S. Census, the two faith leaders provided important leadership to the entire city.
The staff at Geraci’s Restaurant and Bialy’s Bagels. At the height of the pandemic this spring, both Geraci’s and Bialy’s stepped up to feed first responders. Teaming up with their customers, Geraci’s provided more than 400 pizzas to first responders at local hospitals, while Bialy’s donated many dozens of bagels.
Sergio Rodriguez. For many who live in nursing facilities, the pandemic caused isolation and loneliness. Rodriguez began writing letters to local nursing home residents, and struck up a friendship with Miss Marge at Chardon Healthcare Center. They exchanged letters and pictures, and shared socially distant visits.
Joan Spoerl. Thanks to the efforts of Spoerl and The Literacy Cooperative, more than 430 kids in University Heights are now signed up to receive books through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. The program sends free, brand new books to kids each month, from birth to age 5.
The Fenwick Road “Time Out Together” crew. At the start of the pandemic, city hall administration encouraged neighbors to step outside every day at 5:30 p.m., to check in on each other, and socialize while maintaining safe distance. Neighbors on Fenwick have continued the event daily since March, and have added food, music and bonfires. “In one way, the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise,” Council Member John Rach said. “We were strangers, but we’ve gotten to know each other. We’re not just neighbors now, we’re like family.”
Hallie Rybka. An editor at Ohio Magazine, Rybka loves living in University Heights. Her article in Cleveland Magazine proclaiming the city as one of the “Best Places to Live” in Greater Cleveland helped tell readers what residents already know: University Heights is indeed a great place in which to live, work, and raise a family.
Mike Cook is the communications and civic engagement coordinator for University Heights.