NEXT Program Day Recaps

Leadership Akron: NEXT Class 7

NEXT Class 7 Closing Retreat - November 14, 2017
Summary by Chris Williams       

The final NEXT Class 7 session focused on consolidating and integrating what we had learned this year, and to begin to identify how we will leverage our experience with Leadership Akron to impact the community.  Day Chair Laurie Zuckerman (wife of our own class member Steve Johnson!) encouraged us to consider our unique phase of life known as “the age of integrity” according to Gail Sheehy’s  New Passages as we continued to explore, “what’s next?”

Laurie noted that each person’s journey would be unique depending on (1) one’s interests, gifts, and passions; (2) one’s areas of interest and needs in the community; and (3) the particular phase of one’s life—which included our legacy, our life circumstances, and what we wanted to do now that we had more time to enjoy it.  We spent the rest of the morning sharing our individual “pre-work” and “what’s next” reflections with our classmates in small groups—creating a safe space for listening, laughter, and insights.   

The theme of honoring this special time in our lives was reinforced by Dr. Cynthia Capers as she shared personal experiences of her own community engagement process.  She stressed the importance of taking time to reacquaint oneself with “who I was and who I am now” and to connect with organizations that “give personal meaning and allow us to be authentic and be of service.”  Our group continued the theme of connections by participating in small groups with “Community Connectors”—people who were knowledgeable about who/how to connect with potential volunteer experiences.  Our topic facilitators included Derran Wimer (youth and education), Sue Hobson (health), Teresa LaGrair (social services), Heather Roszcyk (entrepreneurship), Roger Riddle (arts & culture), and Elena Bell & Bridget Ambrisco (parks and recreation). 

Our final group conversation was facilitated by Laurie and centered on when and why we may want to say no to community service.  Through self-discovery and case studies, we explored some underlying assumptions as to why some people have great difficulty saying no while others are completely comfortable.  The bottom line—it is okay to say no!

What a fantastic day!  We elected our class president, Roger Hagstrom and Vice-presidents Jackie DeBose and Deborah Rutherford.  Shelly Koch and Jody Miller Konstand provided information about “where we go from here” in terms of upcoming offerings from Leadership Akron. Our final class activity allowed each of us to share our reflections on the NEXT experience.  Our class also expressed great appreciation to Karen Talbott and Sonja Dittmann, and all of the many program sponsors and faculty, for their tremendous dedication to NEXT!!!  As we gathered together for our graduation celebration, we reinforced with one another the appreciation of the many friendships we have formed and our desire to stay connected—stressing that this isn’t good-bye.  Rather it is “hope see you soon” as we take advantage of the many networking and volunteering activities afforded us in the future.

Arts & Culture Day - November 7, 2017
Summary by Ann H. Durr

Another amazing day with Leadership Akron Next began with a trolley ride to Barberton. Enroute, Joe Stefan, Direct of Planning & Community Development for the City of Barberton, proudly explained all of the wonderful redevelopment that has been completed in Barberton including redevelopment in the Barberton Arts District. Upon our arrival we were greeted by Holly Barkdoll and Dennis O’Connell, co-directors as well as husband and wife, of the Magical Theater Company, the only children’s theater with a professional company in Northeast Ohio. They took us on a tour of the theater and showed us all the thoughtful and lovely restoration work they have done throughout. When we returned to the auditorium we were treated to a panel discussion about “What’s Happening in Arts in Culture” which focused on the city of Akron. The panelists included Nicole Mullet, Executive Director of Arts Now, Dennis O’Connell, Co-Director Magical Theater Company, Jarrod Hartzier, Executive and Artistic Director of Tuesday Musical, Howard Parr, Executive Director Akron Civic Theater and Theron Borwn, musician and Educator at both Kent State University & Youngstown State University. They discussed the myriad of strengths and weaknesses in our Arts and Culture community; all agreeing that one of its true strengths is the sense of collaboration across all venues. The Next class learned about exciting cultural events taking place in Akron that we previously were unaware of, and  the big take away from this morning is the website, where we can sign up for an online newsletter to stay informed about upcoming cultural events in Akron.

After a delightful self-guided tour of the Barberton Art District we climbed aboard the trolley and ventured to Akron’s Northside District and had a delicious lunch at Jilly’s Music Room. The owner Jill Bacon Madden discussed the venue and the vision she brought to life there of a space for live entertainment. We then split into two groups and heard from Chris Home, founder and publisher of The Devil Strip, a grassroots local newspaper reporting on topical issues facing our community and local cultural events. Then we walked over to Zeber Martelli Studio for a tour of their beautiful art work and were told about the big open house on November 18th, so mark your calendars and shop local!

Back on the trolley we traveled over to The University Akron's Mary Schiller Myers School of Art located in Folk Hall. Here we heard from Christina Foisie, Manager & Instructor of the UA Dance Institute and James Slowiak, Professor of Theater at UA and were treated to live performances from a saxophone quartette, a dance demonstration, and a small part from a play that was recently staged at the university. We were given a guided tour of the school including an overview of current exhibits on display. What a gem!

Lastly, we traveled to Summit Artspace and heard from Executive Director Kamelia Fisher and were given the opportunity to browse some offerings from theater vendors (Coach House, Ohio Shakespeare Festival, Balch Street Theater and Children’s Concert Society) as well as view some of the work of artists currently residing in Summit Artspace. Again, we all discovered new happenings right in our own backyard.

The day concluded with a reception provided by Ohio Living Rockynol and some time for fellowship. Another action packed day with Leadership Next! 

Health and Social Services Day - October 24, 2017
Summary by Barb Palmisano

It was another exciting day for the Next Class 7 packed full of learning about innovative approaches to the health and social service needs in our community. We greatly appreciate the excellent work of our co-chairs Beth Smith, Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing, Akron Children’s Hospital; Sue Hobson, Director, Regional Community Relations, Office of Government and Community Relations, Cleveland Clinic Akron General, and Sue Pierson, Retired Director of Info Line and community volunteer.

The first stop was at Akron Children’s Hospital where we heard a panel discussion on infant mortality. Panel moderator Donna Skoda, Health Commissioner, stated that for every 6,000 live births throughout Summit County in 2016, there were 45 infant deaths. Summit County has formed a collaborative to identify risks and utilize a systematic approach to this horrific issue. The three panelists were Yolanda Clay from Greenleaf Family Center/Moms and Babies First, Aimee Budnick from Pathways HUB, and Robin Naples from Prematurity Initiatives. They discussed the multiple needs of high risk moms, including safe housing, early prenatal care, family education for risk reduction, birth spacing, mental health services, and progesterone therapy to prevent early term delivery. A successful intervention is the use of community health workers to guide the moms throughout pregnancy and help them navigate the health system. The community health workers are able to establish trusting relationships with the moms as they have connections to the same neighborhoods and have experienced similar challenges.

After lunch, we took rapid-fire tours of the Dental Clinic, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the Transport Area.  Throughout the hospital complex, we were impressed by the spacious and immaculate halls with stunning views and brightly colored art work. In the Transport Area we learned that Air Bear and the four ground mobile intensive care units serviced patients in 27 counties last year. The transport team typically includes a critical care transport nurse, a paramedic, and/or a respiratory therapist but they can build the team to meet the specific patient needs. Respiratory emergencies and trauma are the most common needs for transport.  

The state-of-the art NICU was designed with staff input to facilitate the flow of the care team members as well as meet the needs of families. Every NICU room has a window, a Futon bed, locker, and TV with head phones. The unit includes a Gathering Room to promote family interaction, a Quiet Room for reflection and private conversation, and a Team Room. The NICU has an average daily census of 50 to 60 patients.     

The Dental Clinic opened in August of 2016 after a community assessment revealed that 18% of the children in Summit County and 20% in Stark County had no access to dental care. The clinic has treated 2700 children with two dentists and is currently recruiting a third to help reduce the 6-month waiting period. The patients are typically under the age of 15 or have special needs. The clinic has a child-friendly waiting area with a separate low sensory room, all private exam/operatory rooms large enough to accommodate families, availability of interpreters and iPad translation, wheel chair accommodation, and an educational component.  A cranio-facial clinic is held twice a week.

As we moved on to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank we were greeted by the dynamic President and CEO, Dan Flowers. With great passion, he said their mission is to lead a collaborative network that empowers people to experience healthy and hunger-free lives. The mantra for their 90 staff members is a quote by Steve Jobs “The only way to do great work is to love what you do!” This year they distributed 33 million pounds of food to 250,000 people through an efficient entrepreneurial model:

  • Surplus food is donated by corporations, suppliers, local farmers and campaigns, and funds to purchase needed items
  • Food is stored centrally at the 85,000 square foot warehouse facility.
  • Food is distributed Monday through Friday to 500 member programs that operate food pantries, hot meal sites, shelters and other hunger-relief programs in eight Northeast Ohio counties.  

Volunteers are a critical part of the Foodbank’s mission as they help with sorting, inspecting, relabeling or repackaging food as well as office and special event planning. We were in awe of the operation as we toured the massive warehouse, including the huge mounds of Coco Puffs ready to be bagged.  

Next on the agenda was a Bridges Out of Poverty presentation by Andre Campbell and Adrienne Bradley from United Way. This is one of four United Way initiatives to address Bold Goal 3 which is to financially empower 11,000 people by 2025. As a small group exercise, we drew images of family dynamics, transportation, employment, hobbies, education, entertainment and clothing for people living in poverty, middle class and wealthy communities.  

The final trolley/van ride brought us back to the Salvation Army for an inspiring talk and tour by Major Kevin Jackson, Area Coordinator, Corps Officer, Summit County Area Services.  He described the Salvation Army as the “agency that continues to reinvent itself.” His vision is to break the cycle of poverty through an innovative education program for children 18 months through 18 years of age. Through farming, visual arts and performing arts, children are given tangible hope for their futures. A goal is to integrate this curricula into all Akron Public Schools.

Program highlights include:

  • Preschoolers learn four languages, English, French, Italian, and the language of music.     
  • All students and staff participate in outdoor and indoor farming. Half the food is given to the community while the other half is marketed and sold. Sales proceeds go into a scholarship fund for each student to attend the University of Akron.
  • A remarkable high tech agricultural system is being phased in to grow lettuce, tomatoes, and berries within the building. A fish pond is also in the plan.
  • Students put on one theatre production a month, recently they performed the Lion King.
  • A robust classical and jazz music program allows students to explore different instruments while immersed in music theory.

What an inspiring day!

Economic Vitality Day – October 17, 2017
Summary by Greg McDermott

Economic Vitality Day gave the members of NEXT Class 7 an opportunity to see firsthand how transformational change and innovation are taking place throughout Akron’s business community.  The word “vitality” in the day’s title is an appropriate descriptor of what we witnessed in the transformation of the former Goodyear Headquarters complex into mixed use commercial, residential, entertainment and retail space.  Entrepreneurship and innovation hardly describe the ‘wow experience’ of the Theken Companies.  Lastly, our trip to the Akron Global Business Accelerator provided a glimpse into the opportunities and challenges that innovation and collaboration play in launching start-up companies as an engine for economic development in our community.

Our co-chairs for the day were Mike Bakes, Founder of Emerald Transportation, and Chris Burnham, President of Development Finance Authority (DFA).  Chris began the session by giving us a historical summary of DFA, formerly the Summit County Port Authority, and its impact in the region.  Since 2000, DFA has issued over $871 million in economic development bonds to support community and economic development in Summit County and northeast Ohio.  These efforts included the Development Fund of the Western Reserve (DFWR) which helped finance the Hilton Garden Inn- a real success in the redevelopment of the East End.

Since we were meeting in the redeveloped Goodyear Hall, Carol Smith, the Vice President of Development with IRG Realty Advisors gave us the background, vision, and potential impact of the ongoing East End Project.  In 2006, when Akron was at risk of losing Goodyear’s headquarter operations to another city, IRG’s founder Stu Lichter saw the opportunity to help retain Goodyear and its 3000 jobs in Akron through an innovative redevelopment plan.  In 2009, IRG purchased the Goodyear Campus and entered a leaseback with Goodyear while a new headquarters facility was built south of I76.  Our class had the opportunity to tour Goodyear Hall which has been converted to 106 apartments which are at 95% occupancy, along with some commercial rental space. As part of a ‘live, work, play’ concept, Goodyear Hall now boasts a totally remodeled multi-use gymnasium and a 1500 seat theatre.

Across the street at the former Goodyear headquarters building, construction is underway to accommodate SummaCare’s relocation in early 2018 which retains 300 jobs in the city.  Other commercial tenants are in negotiation and approximately 80 one-bedroom apartments are being considered after the success of Goodyear Hall.  To offer amenities to all tenants, retail space is being developed with a Starbucks, an ice cream shop and the possible conversion of the old Goodyear Bank to a restaurant.  The East End is becoming vibrant again.

After lunch, we traveled to the Theken Companies at the Akron Fulton Airport.  Karen Talbott told the class to be prepared to be “WOWED”, and she was right.  We began by ascending the spiral staircase of the 1929 original terminal building to the control tower for a presentation by Randy Theken, Founder of the Theken Family of Companies.  A University of Akron masters graduate with a background in electrical, mechanical and biomedical engineering with experience in medical device testing, Randy formed Theken Orthopedic in 1992 to provide FDA regulatory testing.  He went on to form Theken Spine to focus on spinal implant and device development followed by Theken Disc, which was focused on R & D development of spinal arthroplasty devices.  Lastly, Mr. Theken purchased Therics, Inc. which developed and manufactured synthetic bone substitute products using 3D printers.  In 2009, Integra Life Science acquired The Theken Family of Companies, with Mr. Theken completing his management transition in 2010.

With great vision and energy, in 2013 Randy Theken became focused on the new ventures of his “NextStep Companies”, which include NextStep Orthopedics, NextStep Extremities and Slice Manufacturing Studios.  Randy lead our class on a rapid tour of his new facilities which included surgical kits to support NextSteps’ joint implant devices.  We also got to see the sterile processing of devices, robotics and 3D printing of joint implants with a unique polymer process that allows bone growth to adhere to the implant over months post-surgery.   The lasting impression of our tour of the Theken Companies is how entrepreneurship and highly creative innovation spurs economic development.  What Randy Theken has accomplished over the past 25 years is amazing with even more future potential.

The class then traveled to Akron Global Business Accelerator where we heard a presentation by its CEO, Anthony Margida, Ph.D.  Founded in 1983, the Accelerator is one of the first and is distinguished as the longest continuous running business incubators in the country.    The Akron Global Business Accelerator program companies have secured $70.3 million in investments and created 450 new jobs.  Mr. Margida shared his vision of being and “entrepreneurial super-hub”, since most new jobs in our country are created by entrepreneurs. 

The super-hub plan includes:

  • Technology Company Acceleration (hybrid technology incubator/accelerator)
  • The Bit Factory (software business accelerator)
  • Software Guild (coding boot camp)
  • I-Corps customer discovery program
  • Makerspace
  • Co-working innovation space
  • Spectrum (art gallery) and artist co-working lab
  • Collaboration Café
  • Several resident entrepreneurial service programs, provided free to clients.

Our final session was a panel discussion titled: “What is new and exciting in the world of entrepreneurship in Akron” and the discussion was centered around the question: “[i]s Akron attractive to entrepreneurs and if not, what is needed?” 

The panelists were:

  • Anthony Margida, Ph.D. – Moderator
  • Peter Ryerson, President Ryerson Management Associates, Inc.
  • Tom Chema, Esq., Founder, The Gateway Group
  • Courtney Gras, Executive Director, Launch League
  • Adele Roth, Deputy Director of Planning and Urban Development, City of Akron
  • Anoo Vyas, CoDirector, EX[L] Canter, University of Akron.

Tom Chema stated that we need critical mass to create visibility and we are not there yet.  The panel clearly agreed that the next generation will change how we do business and having the Accelerator, The Bit Factory, etc. partnering with local universities (UA, KSU, NeoMed,) gives Akron a real advantage.  The city is losing a lot of institutional leadership and knowledge so the timing and need to fill this gap is critical.  One of the Mayor’s goals is to materially grow Akron’s population and being a destination for innovation, technology and entrepreneurship will play a key role toward achieving that goal. 

Austin Kettner, Mentor, The Bit Factory, explained that if someone has a software idea, The Bit Factory will invest in the idea and help develop the software application, including marketing.  Currently, The Bit Factory has 15 companies in varying stages of development.

Economic Vitality Day was filled with the energy of transformation, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Government, Justice, Media Day – October 10, 2017
Summary by Roger Hagstrom

Government, Justice, Media Day focused mainly on the effects of the opioid/fentanyl crisis in Summit County. The day was very sobering, as we learned about the increase in tragic deaths and the pressure being put on the police, courts, social service agencies, and the coroner, to keep up with this ever-increasing epidemic. The final panel discussion was a positive take-away for the day, with representatives from the courts, coroner’s office, and social services organizations, addressing what is being done to help addicts and their families recover from addiction.

The outstanding co-chairs for Government, Justice, Media Day were: Danny Zampelli, Retired Police captain, Akron Police Department; Jody Miller Kontand, Owner, JMKMedia; and Carol Dezso, Retired Judge, Summit County Domestic Relations Court. 

When visiting the court system, the class heard a tape of a 911 call reporting on an overdose death. They saw the frantic horror of the 17-year-old sister of the victim. This was followed by a description by Captain Chris Karakis, Akron Fire Department on how EMS units are being overloaded with drug overdose cases. It has been, at times, necessary for APD to be rotated away from such calls, because of the emotional stress. The class followed this case through the remainder of the day.

Detectives Mike Schmidt and Tim Harvey took the class on a journey of the crime scene investigation, and gave detailed information that would be used later in the afternoon to deliberate in a mock trial.

The panel following lunch on Fact or Fiction in the news was very eye opening.  Serving on the panel were: TV reporters from WKYC and Fox 8, an Akron Beacon Journalist, a representative from WAKR media and an Akron Police Information officer. 

The key media takeaways were:

  • The role of media is still to be the eyes and ears of the public.
  • There is still a place for fact based news.
  • The increasing sources of electronic fiction/biased based reporting is much more prevalent than earlier years.
  • Objectivity is not as valued by the public as in the past.
  • Polarization is negatively affecting politics and constructive public discourse.
  • Fact-based journalism is being squeezed into a box.

Aside from these takeaways, there is still a very positive role for media to play in the community. An important step for fact-based journalism is for the public to call out fake-based news on a more consistent basis

In the afternoon, in the courtroom of the Honorable Judge Joy Oldfield, prosecuting attorney Tom Bown and defense attorney Don Malarcik effectively presented closing arguments for the overdose case reviewed in the morning. The mock jury agreed on one count and disagreed on the other two. In the real case, the defendant was convicted of all three indictments and other violations, and is now serving 21 years. The class found that it was a challenge to make life and death judgements in merely twenty minutes.

The closing panel led by Carol Dezso was represented by the dedicated professionals from the Medical Examiner’s office, two Common Pleas Judges, and the leaders of Children Services, Oriana House and ADM. They gave detailed information on what each of their agencies are doing to take positive action to help addicts and their families. They also shared how their resources are being stretched by this epidemic.  

When asked what people in NEXT could do to help, the answers were:

  • Become foster parents
  • Help teach others about the dangers of heroin/fentanyl
  • Become mentors
  • Help to remove the stigma of drug addiction, since it is considered a disease

Wow, what a day!

Youth and Education Day — September 26, 2017
Summary by Carol Anne Peter

On an unusually warm and sunny, late September day NEXT Class 7 kicked off Youth & Education Day at Buchtel CLC. Karen Talbott introduced the Youth & Education Day Co-Chairs: Kirsten Toth, Senior VP for the GAR Foundation, and Richelle Wardell, Director of Education at the United Way of Summit County. Richelle spoke of United Way’s new direction and explained that they had set their "bold goals" for this year- two of which focus on education. Kirsten shared the desire GAR has made to have an 'intentional investment' in the future of the children of Akron. "It is no longer acceptable to just hope for our students to receive a high school diploma," Kirsten explained. “We want to graduate students who can attain one of the 3 E’s- Employed, Enlisted or Enrolled.”  Thus, the theme of the day, 'from cradle to career' was set. 

Byron Hopkins, principal of Buchtel CLS, spoke with pride about the new tech-problem based learning that is going on at his school this year. And while the 3 E’s are important to Hopkins, he explained that their goal was 4-for-4, which allows for “equity and opportunities for all of our scholars,” Bryan said. By the time a Buchtel scholar graduates, they are expected to make one of four choices guiding them to their career path:

  1. To have the skills to go out and be ready to work 
  2. To join the military at a higher level 
  3. Enroll in a 2-year college or career tech school
  4. To go to a 4-year college, possessing a GPA and ACT score that allows them to get into any school they so choose

Hopkins, after serving as principal for only two years at Buchtel, is already seeing positive results as the graduation rate increased by 10% from 83% to 93% in one year’s time.

The next speakers were from the Summit Education Initiative. Dr. Matthew Deevers, Senior Research Associate at the Summit Education Initiative and Lindsay Ridinger, Manager of the WOW program, led the class in a thought provoking three round activity that would “allow us to understand what it means to move closer to prosperity or hardships based on success at critical transition points.” 'The Dot Activity Experience' gave eight classmates the opportunity to role play as a student in today’s current educational system, and work through critical points of a young scholar's journey as they move closer or further to attainment of prosperity. The remainder of the class acted as advocates for their individual 'students' and worked to encourage them along their journey. As the rounds progressed it became evident that the resources needed for all children to become prosperous was dependent not only on the resources that may or may not be provided by homes or schools, but also from the community and multiple wrap-around services that work together to create a better Summit County for all. 

Lunch at Buchtel’s Griff Inn was a fine opportunity to showcase the culinary abilities of the students involved in the Nutrition and Culinary Arts program as they served a delicious lunch to the class. With all buddies accounted for on the trolley—the NEXT class headed to North High School, where they were greeted by Interim Principal Kim Sabetta and Rachel Tecca, Director of College and Career Academy. Students in the College and Career Academy gave brief testimonies about the success that they had achieved by being a part of this new and innovative program.  

The dots were connected during the afternoon session at North with a panel discussion including: Ellen McWilliams–Woods, Asstistant Superintendent for Akron Public Schools; Sue Lacy, President of ConxusNEO; and Richelle Wardell on the joint work they had done to create the Akron Public Schools' new College Career Academies. Each high school will host specific 'pathways' for students to follow depending on their interests and passions. Sue Lacy has worked side-by-side with APS leadership to provide the data needed to choose the pathways, which include occupations in the Arts, Business, Engineering, Healthcare, and Public Service.   

McWilliams is confident that this is the answer to what will make APS the best in the country. “I believe that we are building in a vision of transformation for all of our students—and that vision is one of having a career and being successful in life,” she said. 

Wardell stated that United Way's bold goals “are largely in line with the Akron Public Schools... It all comes down to trust and relationships—and that is what we have between these three organizations [APS, GAR, United Way]." 

With a bottle of water in hand, the class made their way back to the trolley to United Way where Jim Mullen, President and CEO of United Way of Summit County; Christine Amer Mayer, President of the GAR Foundation; and Jonathan Greer, Program Manager for the Akron Public Schools, shared their passion and excitement to tackle the bold goals that United Way has taken on. The group explained why United Way is embarking on a change in the way that they function.  Mayer explained that “as we looked at poverty, despite doing all we could to help as many as possible, people in poverty still could not dig their way out. So I took Jim’s advice and we decided to follow the model from Nashville to focus on specific goals, rather than doing things mediocre.” Mullen shared that he truly believes that positive things are happening here in Akron. “One of the coolest things going on in Akron is the level of engagement in the community. It is at peak level.”  Greer shared information on how to get involved in the “iCare” mentoring program, a weekly hour of volunteering to help mentor a student.   

Youth & Education Day gave the NEXT class a glimpse into the bright future that lies ahead for the Akron community. As Dr. Deevers stated and exemplified earlier in the day through the activity, “when we work together as a group, the benefits are shared by all.” 

Parks & Environment Day — September 19, 2017
Summary by Diane Treier

Nothing like a morning at the zoo to bring out the kid in NEXT Class 7!  Doug Piekarz, President and CEO of the Akron Zoo, gave an insightful historical overview before describing the trajectory of the zoo moving forward.  Doug enthusiastically shared that the Zoo received accreditation in 1989, after a five-day, on-site investigation and a nine-month policy review.  This accreditation is renewed every five years, in which the Zoo has received it’s Silver Award for 25 years of accreditation—a huge 'feather' in the cap of our Akron Zoo.

After Doug's passionate overview, the class was introduced to Chris Norman, Director of Planning and Sustainability, and Elena Bell, Marketing and Group Sales Manager.  The class was divided into two groups, for a behind-the-scenes walking tour. Chris explained in detail the many ways the Zoo is decreasing energy consumption.  He showed how the Zoo traps storm water on site and why this is important. He also revealed the upcoming addition of "Big Hannah," the composting machine that has the capability of reducing waste by 90%.  Way to go Hannah!

Elena's part of the tour took the class behind the bear exhibit to see Jackson and Cheyenne, the Zoo's resident grizzly bears, as up close and safe as possible.  Elena showed some enrichment activities that "bring out the bears' natural behaviors," she said.  A handler hand-fed the bears in front of the group, explaining that they teach the bears to take food in a manner that allows the handlers to assess the bears closely.  This was absolutely amazing to watch!  After the bears had their snack, the class enjoyed a delicious lunch and heard about volunteer opportunities offered at the zoo.

After lunch, NEXT Class 7 jumped on the trolley and headed to downtown Akron to the Towpath Trail. Dan Rice, President and CEO of Ohio and Erie Canalway Coalition, and Suzie Graham, President of Downtown Akron Partnership, met the group and led a leisurely stroll from Lock 4, to Lock 3, ending at Lock 2. The main takeaway walking from Lock to Lock was witnessing the civic engagement of these urban assets. Public space belongs to everyone.  It’s important to tell friends and family about these great public spaces in the heart of downtown.  People need to see and experience the new seating, lighting, colors, and even the beautiful wind chimes in these re-engaged downtown Locks.

The next destination: The Howe House—the relocated former home of Richard Howe, the architect of the Ohio and Erie Canal.  While at the Howe House numerous topics were discussed from Rosie (Akron’s tunnel boring machine), to river overflow, to ranger programs.  The guest speakers were: Michelle DiFiore, PE, PMP, Interim Environmental Division Manage, City of Akron, Bill Zawiski, Director, Division of Surface Water, Ohio EPA, Lisa King, Executive Director, Summit Metro Parks, and Dan Rice.

Michelle explained the ins and outs of the Akron Waterways Renewed Project. The class was exposed to Rosie and all her glory, and the OCIT tunnel.  Michelle stressed the importance of accessing their website ( to check on the status of projects for Akron customers.

Bill gave a very peppy talk about the Ohio EPA.  All the work the Ohio EPA does stems from the 1972 Clean Water Act, which was adapted to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation's waterways."  Bottom line, progress has been made but there is still more to do, with runoff being a main concern to Ohio's waterways.

Lisa King presented an overview about the Summit Metro Parks, even sharing details about Valley View—what will be the 17th park in Akron when completed.  A variety of programs are offered through Summit Metro Parks, such as: camping, archery, movie night, yoga, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking spree, biking spree, running spree, art programs, education, and outreach.  The Summit Metro Parks are a true treasure.  The centennial celebration of the Summit Metro Parks will be in 2021…Stay tuned!

Dan Rice concluded the day.  His message is simple - he wants to activate locations along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, highlight public access along the trail, connect community destinations through the use of the trail, and collaborate with different agencies to make Akron a destination for young professionals. This activation will stimulate community impact and economic development to create a legacy for future generations.

The NEXT class thoroughly engaged the day.  It was just the right mix of sitting and walking.  The panel of speakers at the Howe House provided the perfect amount of information, offering suggestions on how to become engaged in, and enjoy these valuable downtown resources.

Opening Retreat — September 12, 2017
Summary by Steve Hoffman

How apt the theme for the day, “In a Crossroads,” proved to be for the NEXT Class 7 participants who gathered at the Duck Club at Canal Park Stadium. Co-chairs Jody Miller Konstand and Jackie McDermott set the tone in the morning session. “Be a pilgrim, not a tourist,” advised McDermott on the transition from a life of professional ambition to one of meaning and service. “You are at a crossroads in your life,” Konstand told the group. In a “Beyond the Bio” exercise, participants interviewed each other and then made introductions to the group. The common themes and experiences showed all to be at similar points in their life’s journey.

Akron Mayor, Dan Horrigan; Summit County Executive, Ilene Shapiro; and Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer of County Probate Court, described the functions and challenges of their respective offices. Shapiro stressed the importance of cooperation with independent county officeholders and representatives of the 31 communities in Summit County. She compared it to herding cats. “The good news is, we’ve got a lot of good cats,” she said. As well prepared as they were for their respective offices, they agreed on the need to constantly adapt to changing circumstances.

Two tours and roundtable discussions highlighted the rest of the day, exposing the class to issues facing community leaders in South Akron and North Hill.  At South Street Ministries, Pastor Duane Crabbs, a co-founder, talked about his 20-year commitment to the neighborhood. The former firefighter said he felt he had to move his family to South Akron to become part of the community and form the partnerships needed to fight problems such as poverty, hunger and violence. Joining Crabbs were Donovan Harris, who ministers to returning felons, and the Rev. Diana Swoope, senior pastor at the Arlington Church of God. “We have to see each other as members of the same community,” said Harris, who connects with returning felons through his own experience of spending time in prison at 18 years of age for a string of robberies. Swoope talked about her church’s mission to practice “faith out loud,” its members living out their faith in everyday life. Although the dynamics may change, “people problems are the same,” she said.

In North Hill, panel members described a neighborhood in transition due to the influx of refugees, many from Bhutan, and dispelled notions that immigrants are a drag on the economy and the cause of terrorism. Puspa Gajmer, owner and artistic director of the Himalayan Music Institute, said his organization is preserving cultural traditions as well as exposing others in the community to a new culture. Other panelists were Scott Read, co-founder and the principal of Accelerant Growth, Katie Beck, program director of the Exchange House, where the discussion was held, and Elaine Woloshyn, executive director of the International Institute of Akron. The trip to North Hill also included a visit to Family Groceries, an example of how immigrants act as entrepreneurs, building new businesses in the neighborhood.

The Opening Retreat showed the wide range of problems facing the Akron area and how local governments, ministries and nonprofits are working to make a positive impact.  

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