A special report by The Tremonster
Students and their parents had already arrived by 7:00 a.m. on August 9, for Esperanza Inc.’s Back-to-School Celebration and School Supply Giveaway event. By the 10:00 a.m. event start time, a line of excited Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) students and parents had formed that wrapped around the corner of W. 25th Street and Clark Avenue, the headquarters building of Esperanza, Inc.
“Esperanza means ‘hope’ in Spanish,” said Executive Director of Esperanza, Victor Ruiz. “We’ve been around for 31 years, and our primary focus is promoting educational opportunities for Cleveland’s Hispanic Community. About five years ago, as a direct result of parents telling us that they needed school supplies to begin the school year, we started giving away school supplies and book bags. What started with 30 book bags has now grown to 1,100 book bags, 30 community resources here, doing everything from dental work to health screenings to financial literacy. We’re very proud of this event. It’s in response to direct need, and we look forward to seeing it grow.”
This year, Esperanza partnered with Paramount Advantage and McDonald’s on Clark Avenue to donate the backpacks filled with school supplies to Cleveland school children and their families.
“This is the first year they had as many community resources as they did,” said Tiffanie M. Riggs, Regional Outreach Coordinator for Paramount Advantage. “Paramount was able to sponsor half of the book bags, so we sponsored 500 of the book bags that were co-sponsored with Esperanza – the book bags have their logo as well as our logo – we’re very excited about our partnership with them.” Riggs added, “You do have to be a CMSD student [to attend the event] so it’s the population that we look to serve; it’s also the population that Esperanza looks to serve. We’re happy to partner with them on that effort. At Paramount, we like to support grass-roots efforts.” For more information on Paramount Advantage, visit paramountadvantage.org.
McDonald’s on Clark helped Esperanza add to Paramount’s co-sponsored 500 backpacks with an additional 500 backpacks. Angelo Stames, Clark Avenue McDonald’s Owner/Operator said, “McDonald’s is proud to sponsor activities that positively impact children, families and the entire community. We will continue to be a contributing member of the Clark-Fulton-W. 25th community by providing charitable contributions and employment opportunities to the residents that we serve.”
Judith Lozada is the Manager of CMSD’s Family And Community Engagement (FACE) Office. “CMSD FACE has participated in the Esperanza Back to School Event for the last three or four years,” said Lozada. “We have a parent engagement initiative that we work with throughout the year.” Lozada added, “Right now I’m in the midst of receiving feedback from our schools about what volunteer needs they have — tutors, mentors — and generally for the needs of the schools” (Please call 216.858.0117, or visit ClevelandMetroSchools.org for more information on how to volunteer with CMSD).
Samantha Peddicord, CMSD Student/Family Recruitment Specialist added, “It was a huge turnout this year. Our people handed out information, bubbles, and wristbands, and we got cleaned out! It felt like more than 5,000 people…I set up an hour early and there was already a line around the building.”
Activities and information were provided by an impressive list of long-standing Cleveland institutions, including the CMSD FACE Office, Lincoln West High School, Luis Muñoz Marín School, Walton School, The Center for Families and Children, Cleveland Public Library, CEOGC, NAMI, Baldwin Wallace (Latina Survey), MetroHealth Hispanic Clinic, Cleveland Transformation Alliance, Neighborhood Family Practice, Tri-C Trio, Tri-C Workforce, Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Diversity, Lutheran/Cleveland Clinic Hospital, University Hospital, PLANEO, Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities, NASA Glenn Research Center, CHASE Bank, MetroHealth Dental Van for Children, Fifth Third Bank and Cuyahoga Family Services.
Janice Gonzalez, Lutheran Hospital’s Manager, Government and Community Relations, noted how Lutheran hospital’s team loves to go the extra mile for Esperanza’s Back to School event. Gonzalez said Lutheran Hospital has a long-standing relationship with Esperanza, “At Lutheran we serve a large Hispanic community, and we’ve been serving and working in collaboration with Esperanza for years. Every year, we collect donations for their Back to School event and some of our caregivers go to Esperanza to help stuff the bookbags with the supplies collected.” Gonzalez said, “Zulayka Ruiz lets me know what she needs, and this year our employees donated school supplies, and the hospital also donated book bags. Lutheran has a great team of caregivers who are very passionate about the community they serve!
This year, Esperanza asked if Lutheran could arrange pediatric screenings. Gonzalez reached outside Lutheran to connect with Dr. Deb Lonzer, MD, through Fairview Hospital. Lonzer is a board-certified pediatrician, Chair of the Department of Community Pediatrics for the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and is active in training medical students and residents. According to Gonzalez, “It was a an honor and a team effort coordinating with Dr. Lonzer, Cheryl Cairns, CNP, RMP, and Jeff Hunter, Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute to organize a team to provide pediatric screenings for the Hispanic community and Esperanza assisted us with interpreters.”
Janice Gonzalez, RN, BA, who has worked as an emergency nurse for many years in her career has a therapy dog Donavan – he’s a goldendoodle (golden retriever and standard poodle), Gonzalez said. “Esperanza’s Zulayka Ruis asked me if I could take him to the event. “They loved him – the kids went ga-ga! You couldn’t even see him. He barked twice when he needed water; one of the boys gave him his bottle of water. He drank the water, and then – you know how they can kind of leave a puddle of water – he laid in the middle of the puddle and the kids just clamored all over him. He saw they were kids; he just laid down – because he’s taller than some of these kids – he just laid down, and you couldn’t even tell there was a dog there. He was covered in kids…they were from head to toe, and he was totally cool – like, ‘This is making my day!’”
At first glance, the Esperanza parking lot looked like a jam-packed block party. Upon closer inspection, all the fun seemed to revolve around communicating vital messages tailored to Tremonsters and the greater Clark Avenue/W. 25th Street community. Dr. Reema Gulati of MetroHealth Medical Center said her deeper message was about Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease. “This is one thing that I have found: When you say – even as sensitively as you can – that your child is heavy,” Gulati explained, “it doesn’t raise as much alarm in them as when we start talking about the kinds of health risks…because diabetes, liver failure, strokes, heart attacks, traditionally have been heard of in the context of older people; when you talk about this happening in your young child, that kind of raises an alarm. It hits them in the face that, ‘No, this is a problem about the health of my child; not just the way the child looks, purely physically.’”
Debora M. Esty, a Baldwin Wallace University (BW) Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, is also interested in Esperanza’s audience. “First of all, let me say that I was really impressed with the turnout at the event. It was a great day, with the weather being perfect and the attendance being unbelievable. The line moved past our booth continuously for at least two hours. Yet, there was a sense of energy at the event, with music and people bustling about. It was great, and the two hours flew by. The booth that I refer to was ‘personed’ by a research team I have in the Psychology Department at BW. I have worked with around eight students over the course of the year examining both media and family messages about beauty standards and their relation to body image of Latinas,” she said. “In addition, we are examining if body type and acculturation play a role in that possible relationship. We were very fortunate in that Esperanza allowed us to pass out surveys/survey links at the Back-to-School event.”
Ricardo Pena, Outreach Coordinator for another stand-out community partner, Cuyahoga Job and Family Services (CJFS) said, “The event is a great opportunity for Cuyahoga Job and Family Services to partner with Esperanza at their annual Back to School Celebration.” He added, “We have a new Kids Health Mobile outreach van and had the chance to speak and share information with over 500 families on programs that included employment, education, and healthcare needs for residents in the community. It was a great way to start off the beginning of the school year.”
According to Aaron B. Mason, Cleveland Public Library’s Assistant Director of Outreach and Programming Services, “Esperanza is a longstanding partner of the Cleveland Public Library. They have contributed to the success of our new location on Clark and do a great job of connecting our city’s Hispanic community with library resources and services. Each year we are happy to participate in the Esperanza School Supplies Giveaway, it is a wonderful opportunity to connect with students from our community and help them get the school-year off to a productive start.”
Fifth Third Bank (Northeastern Ohio) President and CEO Jerry Kelsheimer revealed how the event fits into his bank’s efforts: “Together with the site and program partners, our goal is to help residents understand and gain access to resources and information that continually improves their lives and the wellbeing of our communities.” He continued, “We encourage all Northeast Ohio residents to experience the Financial Empowerment Mobile.” Emmanuel T. Glover, Senior Vice President and Director of Community Development for Fifth Third said, “This year’s theme is ‘Get on Board and Realize Your Dreams.’ It’s our objective to assist communities with services to promote job search assistance, homeownership, small business growth and education.”
In the end, Esperanza’s Back-to-School Celebration and School Supply Giveaway event turned out to be about more than pencils and notebooks. As all the sponsors and community partners packed up their tables and experiential vans, it felt like a community had come together in a very new way. If it takes a village to raise a child, Esperanza has gathered a massive community to help raise 1,100 children…and growing.