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Mission Possible: Neighbor Up funds grassroots efforts by Northeast Ohio residents

Neighborhood Connections created a network of residents throughout Cleveland and East Cleveland to address issues that they care about and fund solutions.

CLEVELAND — It's quite the bounty at the Shalom and Tranquility Garden on Cleveland's west side.

Peppers, tomatoes, herbs, flowers, and new this year, potatoes. All are tended to by the Super Garden Kidz, a group of children ranging from toddlers to young adults.

"It was imperative that I began to teach myself and teach my community how we can live better, have a better quality of life, together," said Shalom & Tranquility’s lead gardner, Ebonie Randle Joiner.

They host meals called "Garden Grubs" and share the harvest with their community.

While the labor and the love come from the "Kidz", funding comes from Neighborhood Connections.

"We support projects that are led by residents in the neighborhood,” Grants Manager of Neighborhood Connections, Cynthia Lewis told 3News. “So, it has to be three or more residents that want to come together to address an issue that they care about."

Called Neighbor Up Action Grants, they provide $500 to $5,000 in funding. The Cleveland Asiantown Square Dancing Group transformed an old parking lot into a pop-up park. A safe place for them to practice on weekends.

"The goal is for our health building and bring more active energy for our community and build community better," said cofounder Melissa Guo through a translator.

"Residents like to come together to share their gifts, whether it's gifts of the head, the heart, or the hands. Everyone has a gift to share," said Lewis.

The Neighbor Up Action Grants are given out twice a year. This spring, over $400,000 funded 112 initiatives. The program has come a long way in the past decade.

"In the early days of neighborhood connections. I'll never forget we actually funded a chicken coop," remembers Lewis.

From the idea of giving eggs to the community, today's initiatives include arts programs, skill training, tackling the issue of infant mortality or simply providing food for an event.

The impact can't be measured in dollars and cents.

"We are dancing for health, dancing for collaboration, and everyone joins a lot of performances like Asian Festival," said Iris Zheng, another cofounder of the Cleveland Asiantown Square Dancing Group.

"Like the Super Garden Kidz we're able to you know, not just with the growing of the food, but with the growing of the community itself, we are able to provide incentives for our kids," said Randle Joiner.

New this year, offices in Midtown, at the Cleveland Foundation Building. Neighborhood Connections has a welcoming space to listen to residents, hear their concerns, and provide support to effect change.

"To us, it's a little bit of money, but for them, it's a world of money," said Lewis.

"And all it takes is commitment, continual commitment and love," said Randle Joiner.

The Neighbor Up Action Grants gets their funding from the Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga Art & Culture, Chuck and Char Fowler Family Foundation McGregor Foundation and the Saint Luke’s Foundation.

Neighborhood Connections now is accepting applications for its 40th round of grants. Again, the Neighbor Up Grants are for grassroots, resident-led initiatives throughout the cities of Cleveland and East Cleveland. The deadline to apply is August 14th.

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