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Sisters of Charity Foundation Selects 5 Fellows to Explore Their Big Ideas to Fight Poverty


CLEVELAND, Ohio (October 26, 2017) – Five Cleveland-area professionals will begin this fall to research their ideas to disrupt the cycle of poverty as the newly announced fellows of The Innovation Mission, a ground-breaking initiative launched by the Sisters of Charity Foundation.

Over one-third of Cleveland’s residents live at or below the poverty level. Imagine how they ultimately could be served by the big ideas that could come to fruition as a result of the fellows’ work:

  • More low-income seniors who face food insecurity, social isolation and frequent hospital stays would find the support they need through an idea being explored by Dabney Conwell, vice president of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and executive director of Rose Centers for Aging Well.
  • More low-income individuals with entrepreneurial minds would have the opportunity to achieve their dreams through an idea being researched by Julie Cortes, senior attorney at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
  • More Cleveland Metropolitan School District students who attend college would complete their degrees through an idea being considered by Bill Leamon, college and career coach at Notre Dame College.
  • More of the 10,000-plus individuals and families experiencing evictions would have access to legal representation through an idea being explored by Hazel Remesch, supervising attorney of the housing practice at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
  • More non-custodial parents facing barriers to employment would have access to job opportunities that help them support their children through an idea being researched by Penny Smith, executive director of academic services for Northeast Ohio Medical University.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, in partnership with Cleveland Leadership Center, introduced The Innovation Mission: Fighting Poverty with Big Ideas last spring.

“We want to see what seasoned professionals from diverse sectors can do when given the resources and time to create new and impactful approaches to disrupt the cycle of poverty for generations of Clevelanders,” explains Susanna Krey, president of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.

The five fellows were selected from 36 applicants in a competitive, multi-round review process between July and September 2017.  Evaluators represented the residential, nonprofit, funding, government and business communities in Cleveland. Another 23 potential applicants submitted project summaries for feedback in the optional preliminary round in May, and over 230 individuals expressed interest in the fellowship through information sessions and inquiries.

Krey says, “The great community response to the debut of The Innovation Mission shows the foundation how eager local professionals are to think differently about how to bring about social change to help people in our community.”

The five professionals begin their 18-month fellowship in November. They retain their jobs, while spending at least 12 weeks researching, exploring, adjusting and adapting their ideas and turning them into real-life solutions to fight poverty. They will receive up to $15,000 each from the foundation to support their research activities. Each of their employers is committed to their fellow’s participation and are eligible to receive a $15,000 stipend for that support.

At the end of 12 months, each fellow will pitch their well-researched, well-crafted big idea to the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland for up to $20,000 in seed funding and spend the following six months piloting the approach and leveraging additional investments.

Fellows will work individually and as a group with the professional guidance of Dennis F. Beatrice, an independent consultant and senior adviser at SRI International (originally established in 1946 by Stanford University, now an independent nonprofit research center).

“We don’t expect their ideas to look the same at the end of 12 months,” Beatrice says. “We are creating a workshop-disciplined environment where iteration and professional development can help the fellows improve their ideas, become more skilled innovators, and increase the chances for successful implementation of their ideas.”

Marianne Crosley, president of Cleveland Leadership Center, says she is pleased to support the foundation’s innovative and inclusive approach to address the community’s greatest challenges. She adds, “Cleveland is privileged to have these five people who are so passionate about their desire to help people break the cycle of poverty that they are willing to balance work, family and the fellowship the next two years. I look forward to seeing how their ideas evolve and ultimately transform our community.”

The Fellows, Their Early Ideas, and Why They Are Passionate To Develop Big Ideas

Dabney Conwell

Occupation: Vice president, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging; executive director, Rose Centers for Aging Well

Early Idea: Reduce the number of hospital readmissions and shorten hospital stays of low-income older adults by providing them a prescription for a daily delivered hot meal upon a hospital discharge and an opportunity to acquire that food through a home delivery system resulting in enhanced coordination of nutrition and the health care delivery providers serving the senior. This allows for the individuals delivering the meals to assist the seniors and help keep them in their home longer.

Why: “Insuring older adults’ basic needs are being met is a matter of urgency. People without voices experience higher incidences of hunger and poverty. It is my passion to ensure my voice influences programs, policies and practices for the assurances of higher quality of life for this specific group of older adults.”


Julie Cortes

Occupation: Senior attorney, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

Early Idea: Create a one-stop center to support low-income entrepreneurs in developing their business concepts

Why: “Throughout our country’s history, institutional and systematic structures have served to create imbalances of power that have disenfranchised vulnerable populations and create generations of individuals and families living in poverty. I devoted my career to fighting these injustices. I champion a low-income entrepreneur incubator because individuals in our community have the power to be change makers but lack the resources to make it happen.”


Bill Leamon

Occupation: College and career coach, Notre Dame College

Early Idea: Develop a technology-based, micro-mentoring program to ensure all Cleveland Metropolitan School District graduates attending college are matched with a mentor.

Why: “I am passionate about college mentoring because I know it works. Every college-bound student needs to have a mentor to navigate the complexities of a college campus, especially students who are first in their families to attend college. Cleveland’s greatest hope for neighborhood transformation starts with increasing the number of college students that not only go, but more importantly graduate from college.”


Hazel Remesch

Occupation: Supervising attorney of the housing practice, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

Early Idea: Explore how to provide a civil right to legal counsel in housing cases by creating a legal clinic at housing court for individuals and families to access representation, developing a civil right to counsel pilot, and studying the impact of sealing certain eviction records.

Why: Housing is a basic human need. Low-income Cleveland residents are affected by inequities caused by lack of access to the court system. Retaining housing for individuals living in poverty ensures safety, security and stability for the most vulnerable families in Cleveland. When I help clients navigate the legal system, they find a sense of their rights, power and dignity. I want to provide that sense of empowerment for every low-income person in Cleveland who is at risk of losing their most basic human need.”


Penny Smith

Occupation: Executive director of academic services, Northeast Ohio Medical University.

Early Idea: Develop a multi-step solution involving both public policy and technology to incentivize ex-offenders and military veterans who are non-custodial parents to participate in apprenticeships and job training opportunities while paying child support.

Why: “I am the daughter of the first black lineman at Kentucky Utilities and a hospital cook. I am the first person to graduate from college in my family and my parents were the first to graduate from high school in their family. They wanted to go to college but it was a dream deferred. Their dream was my gateway to three degrees. My passion by default became to dedicate my career to ensuring that those with humble backgrounds and nontraditional circumstances are not only helped, but also respected.”



Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Since 1996, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland has partnered with residents, nonprofits and community leaders to change the trajectory of poverty in Cuyahoga County. Its nearly $100 million endowment includes the first health care conversion foundation and first foundation formed by a congregation of Catholic sisters in the United States.

Through grantmaking, collaboration, advocacy and more, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland works to improve the lives of those most in need with special attention to families, women and children living in poverty. The foundation works to end homelessness in Cuyahoga County and to reduce health disparities and improve educational opportunities in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood. As a Catholic organization, the foundation extends the values of Jesus Christ through the mission of its founders – the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine – and also works to sustain the ministries of women religious.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System – a family of Catholic health care, grantmaking and outreach ministries healing individuals, families and communities in Ohio and South Carolina.

Cleveland Leadership Center

The Cleveland Leadership Center builds a continuum of civic leaders committed to the community’s excellence by serving as a catalyst for civic engagement. Created in 2006 through a merger of four longstanding programs, the center has six core offerings, including Leadership Cleveland and Bridge Builders. It also provides customized programming and events to educate, connect, and engage leaders of all ages to spark positive community change.


One big idea could change everything. Will it be yours? is your chance to make a big impact on poverty #InTheCLE.

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