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20 Ways You Can Make Cleveland a Better Place This Summer 

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By all means, this summer you will and should escape in whatever mental or physical form you prefer. You should idly spend hours clicking through Snapchat or going down an Instagram wormhole until you forget how and why you ended up on Beyonce's cousin's boyfriend's dog walker's account. You should sit on a beach and let nature calm your nerves. You should walk through a park without a phone in hand and bask in the silence, letting your brain wander down whatever contemplative path it wishes. You should drink on a patio and eat barbecue in your backyard. You deserve it, you need it.

But, if you, like many fellow Americans, are overwhelmed with dread and inertia, if you wander from one crisis, personal or national, to another, escapism is but one healing balm to turn to, and part of the solution. Beset by problems, burying your head in the sand this summer might get them out of sight briefly, but it's not going to solve anything. Neither is incessant Facebook ranting, for chrissakes. Summer calls for extricating yourself — from the house, from the office — in the most relaxing sense, but also with the purpose of inserting yourself in your city — becoming part of the natural world, being with your neighbors and friends and strangers. This summer, more than any in recent memory, calls for urgency and action, agency and accomplishment. We've rounded up some easy ways you can serve that calling and make your city a better place to live this year. Beyond helping out someone else, you'll be happier for the effort.

Plant a Tree

Forest City is one of the better nicknames for the city of Cleveland, totally underrated and underused, probably for good reason: it doesn't really apply anymore.

The moniker was born a century ago after a push from Cleveland in the 1800s to increase forestation efforts. That concerted, government-backed plan was extremely effective — by the 1940s Cleveland claimed 40-percent canopy levels and had nearly 220,000 trees lining our fine streets.

Things have changed, sadly: Canopy levels are now around 19 percent and the city continues to lose about 100 acres of forestation every year. But there's hope: The city adopted a master tree plan last year to address the receding foliage over the next 25 years, and even then, Cleveland would need to add some 700,000 new trees by 2040 to again reach 40-percent canopy levels. Hell, it takes 35,000 new trees a year just to even out the 100 acres we're losing.

So plant a damn tree, but also don't ignore the ones we have. Development isn't the only thing draining Cleveland's tree count — poor maintenance and pruning, as well as invasive species, are killing older, mature trees. The benefits are many and splendid: Trees improve air quality, add property value, help save on energy costs, reduce pollution and stormwater runoff, serve as habitats for wildlife, and, of course, just look freaking beautiful.

Clean Up The Outside World

The buses arrive one by one, spilling dozens of volunteers into the Furnace Run watershed in Cuyahoga Valley National Park on May 20. It was River Day, and folks from around Northeast Ohio congregate to plant saplings. The Cuyahoga River meanders peacefully along the nearby trail loop.

Part of the idea here — and in parks throughout the country — is that the natural world is in a fragile state now, in need of hands-on involvement. Human impact on our riverbeds, forests, fields, shorelines, etc., has irreversibly changed much of the environment. Here in Furnace Run, deforestation in the late 19th century led to decades of farming; what's left now is a sparsely populated watershed overrun with invasive species. (About 20 to 25 percent of CVNP flora comprises invasive species.)

Today, the River Day crew is planting trees and shrubs: elderberries and dogwoods and several species of oak, for example. Plant ecologist Chris Davis says that the main goal is to establish a sort of safeguard against stormwater runoff (by establishing a broad root structure and enriching the soil) and provide a thicker habitat for the park's breeding and migratory birds.

"Just walking away and letting nature takes its course — that's not healing nature," Chris Davis says. "That's just letting nature unravel." He points to a nearby multifora rose, whose species invaded the Cuyahoga River valley in the late 1800s; the U.S. government promoted it as a nice "natural fence"-type species, but now it's overrunning natural habitats and outcompeting native saplings. That's a problem.

Our past impacts on nature have brought us to a place where we must manage the outside world.

Similarly, there's the problem of accelerated erosion along the edges of old farm fields, which look very pretty from the road. Where there should be giant sycamores and broad root networks, there is only bare dirt falling six or eight feet into the Cuyahoga River. That sediment ends up closer to Lake Erie, where a massively expensive dredging campaign has driven political tension and further environmental hazard.

This is the sort of stuff, anyway, that Davis and the CVNP's corps of volunteers are thinking about when they're in the park. It's a narrative that too often rests just below the more general American sentiment of "let's just enjoy nature." Hence the whole River Day project.

"The tangible thing is, yes, eventually this [tree-planting project] helps reduce the erosion that is costing literally millions and millions of dollars every year in Cleveland," Davis says. "And Cleveland is not necessarily paying for it. It's the U.S. Army Corps and sometimes the Port, but somebody is paying big bucks to dredge out the sediment that we should just be holding here, growing plants on."

As another bus arrives, Davis lays out the day's work. Each volunteer grabs a shovel, and they congregate around a row of red osier dogwoods. Davis mowed down some paths through the nearby meadow, and he tells the volunteers to plant in the tread. It's a simple enough task, but, of course, there are always a few people in each group who've never planted anything. ("The most important thing to remember is not to plant them too deep," Davis tells them.) First-time volunteers are extremely welcome to all of these sorts of events.

Other major volunteer opportunities in the park include National Trails Day (June 3), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 30) and Make A Difference Day (Oct. 28). Of course, other small-scale opportunities are available nearly every day. Just last year, the park system's 6,300 volunteers clocked some 225,000 hours of conservancy work. Trail work, native species planting, invasive species removal and native seed collections take place across most of the park's 33,000 acres, including right here, quite often, in the Furnace Run watershed.

Caitlin and Devlin caught the national park volunteerism bug on Earth Day. Scene speaks with them as they're planting their fourth sapling of the morning. "We had a lot of fun planting trees, so we came out again for River Day," Devlin says. "It's nice to wake up on a Saturday and get the day going by volunteering. You feel affirmed."

Join a CSA

We can't wait for CSA season to kick into full gear, and it's right around the corner. "CSA," for the uninitiated, means "community-supported agriculture," and there are about 45 of these outfits in Northeast Ohio. If you'd like to improve your community, the best thing you can do is engage it. Food is a better venue than most to do so. We've picked out a few good recommendations here. Support local farmers!

Most CSAs work in a relatively similar method: Customers sign up for weekly or biweekly food deliveries or pick-ups. There are omnivorous and vegetarian CSA options in Cleveland and, generally, the share baskets vary as the summer season progresses. You'll see, for instance, kohlrabi early in the summer and, by the onset of fall, apples and broccoli.

One of the most popular CSAs in the region is City Fresh (cityfresh.org), which boasts Fresh Stop pick-up locations all over the greater Cleveland area. Last year, City Fresh delivered more than 100,000 pounds of locally sourced produce to 14 "food deserts" (stretches of residential neighborhoods that have no grocery store options).

They work in tandem with the George Jones Memorial Farm and Nature Preserve in Oberlin, which is itself part of a broad network of more than 60 local farmers that City Fresh employs.

The organization offers family and single-sized share baskets ($30 and $17 per week, respectively). City Fresh runs from June 15 to Oct. 26 this year.

Grace Brothers Nursery (gracebrosnursery.com) offers another popular CSA on the near westside. They offer a few more sizes (from single-sized $17-per-week share baskets to "deluxe feasts" at $39 per week). Each share baskets includes fresh produce, herbs and lettuces, eggs and "value-added products." Grace Brothers also has a North Royalton location.

Over at West 85th and Detroit, Upcycle Farm (facebook.com/upcyclefarm) has been gathering a terrific base of friends and customers recently. Stop by and check out their greenhouse, or pay a visit at a local farmers market. Last we checked, though, Upcycle was running out of shares for its 2017 CSA subscription base. Get in touch!

We've been pointed in the direction of Fresh Fork Market (freshforkmarket.com) every time we bring up locally sourced agriculture here in Cleveland. With more than 20 pick-up spots around Cleveland, customers can easily grab their bags of fresh produce (tomatoes, peaches, beautiful carrots) and even a handful of nifty recipes. Fresh Fork also offers a vegan option, which, needless to say, is even more beneficial to the environment of Ohio. (Maybe this is the summer you "go vegan," yes?) You're looking at $27/week or $43/week for Fresh Fork bags.

Redbasket Farm (redbasketfarm.com), out in Kinsman, is a great option for our farther-flung readership base. Their "FarmToHome" program will net you biweekly shares of seasonal produce, eggs and honey. You can pick up the good stuff in Peninsula, too, though do note that they're capping the program at 50 families this summer.

We'd like to mention, also, in passing, The Refugee Response (refugeeresponse.org), which unfortunately has sold out of its 2017 share subscriptions. But this is a terrific program that employs refugees at the Ohio City Farm and connects families in need with fresh, whole foods.

Upcycle Some Public Art

You've probably heard the term "upcycling," and maybe you've even upcycled something yourself. With several excellent years of art under its belt, Upcycle Parts Shop has offered Cleveland the tools and know-how to create public space-defining creations — the sort of thing that goes a long way in settling a neighborhood's identity. Plus: It's really good for the environment of the city. In its first year alone, Upcycle diverted six tons of excess material otherwise destined for the landfill; 156 people donated their stuff, which then became art.

Nicole McGee has been running the shop this whole time, and she says that its mission has only deepened. Thousands of participants — children, corporate staffs, church groups — have spun through the spectrum of Upcycle programs, and McGee has committed the business to playing more of a role outside its own doors.

The store no longer keeps regular hours per se, but rather opens monthly: Catch McGee and the Upcycle crew from noon to 5 p.m. on June 17, July 15 and Aug. 19. "This change has allowed us to go out to where people are more in our neighborhood and upcycle with them instead of dedicating staff time to being in the shop only," she tells Scene.

What that said, the staff has really been engaging its community in terrific and widespread ways. Evidence of their artistic touch and community outreach can be seen all over the neighborhood in flourishes of unique public art. And the surrounding business owners and residents have played a foundational role, using Upcycle as a platform for creative expression, in growing their neighborhood into the burgeoning eastside anchor it is today.

"They believe in pulling on the assets and the cultural strengths that already exist in a neighborhood, including the residents and merchants who are already there, and working to elevate their experience and economic opportunity and the ways they can engage in their community," McGee told us soon after opening. "It's like art as revitalization, which a lot of communities are doing. St. Clair used to be a main retail 'spine' for the neighborhood, and you can see that."

Protest in Cleveland Legally

No matter the whims of the person currently residing in the White House, the First Amendment still allows Americans the right to peacefully assemble and protest. As long as you're not rioting, protesting is a positive way to inform the public on issues near and dear to your heart – and it's far easier to set up than you may think. But before heading out on the picket line with all of your friends, get informed.

First, whether you're protesting the Rover pipeline or Chief Wahoo, it's important to determine if you need a permit from the City of Cleveland. Any type of meeting on public property, like a park, does not need a permit. Standing on sidewalks, as long as you're not blocking foot traffic, is fine too. A permit becomes necessary when a group is large enough to block traffic. So any march or parade that fills the streets needs a permit. Forms are supplied by the Cleveland Department of Public Works, Office of Events and Marketing.

Of course, not all events can be totally premeditated. For any sort of impromptu protest that would normally qualify for a permit, organizers should give the Cleveland Division of Police at least eight hours notice before taking to the streets. Field operations can be reached at 216-623-5011.

Once the permitting is out of the way, you can concentrate on getting the word out for people to join, and, naturally, making some kick-ass signs. Free speech is pretty awesome.

Find out much more the art of protesting at acluohio.org.

Thrift

By donating, shopping and volunteering at thrift stores, you're not only helping others in your community, you're reducing your carbon footprint.

Donate: Step one; don't just throw your clothes away. In 2012, an estimated 84 percent of Americans' clothing was tossed into a landfill or incinerator, according to the EPA.

With a bevy of Cleveland thrift shops and second-hand stores to choose from, you have no excuse to avoid contributing to that stat. Find a cause/organizations you believe in, and donate there. Of course, don't just throw out any old rag. Donate items that are still wearable and free of garish stains and rips. Plus you get a tax write-off.

Shop: Nothing is more satisfying than telling people you bought your hot vintage dress for $8 at a thrift store. Plus, with so many fast-fashion textiles ending up in landfills, it's wonderful to bring new life to a garment. Yes, you might have to dig to find something worthwhile, but it's an affordable and sustainable way to supplement your wardrobe.

Volunteer: The Common Threads resale shop (22049 Lorain Rd., Fairview Park, 440-641-1311), which offers shoppers a more boutique-type experience, is run with the help of many volunteers. From collection coordinators to truck drivers, find out how to best donate your time by calling the shop or reaching out to parent organization Building Hope in the City. Another non-profit looking for help is NEEDS Cleveland Community Free Store (7710 Lorain Ave., 216-400-8213). As the name implies, everything in the shop is free for customers in need, which means when open, volunteers run the show. Email info@needscleveland.org to find out more.

Help Women and Children, Wear Heels

A man walks into a bar wearing high heels. Not totally out of the ordinary. But when a bunch of men walk into a bar in the Warehouse District, then it must be time for the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser. This year's event, which raises awareness for violence against women and is sponsored by Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center, is set for June 25. Entry fees for male and female participants vary depending on your footwear selection: Bring your own heels for $30, wear provided heels for $50 or wear regular shoes for $100. Participants, who must be 21 and over, are also encouraged to raise funds before the walk. Find out more at dvcac.org.

Clevelanders should also feel free to donate their time and money to other women's shelters around the city. West Side Catholic Center's Moriah House Women and Children's Shelter (216- 631-4741) helps homeless women and domestic violence survivors get back on their feet, and Laura's Home Women's Crisis Center (216-431-3510) works to bridge the gap between crisis and stability and help women to know they are never alone.

Be an Informed Citizen

Among other things, the summer of 2017 is campaign season. Mayor Frank Jackson is running for an unprecedented fourth term and all 17 city council seats are up for grabs. The primaries are on Sept. 12, so expect to see yard signs, direct mailings and town hall meetings from your area candidates. One easy way to get involved in local issues is merely by learning a thing or two about them. Take, say, your city councilperson. Have you interacted at all with them? Are you happy with their service both on the street level and in their policy work at City Hall? If you're not satisfied, learn about the challengers. How will they represent your ward and author policies that will move Cleveland in a safer, smarter, more equitable direction? Consuming local media is one way to learn about candidates, and it's important. Given the tumultuous news climate where every contradictory opinion is considered "fake news," it's critical to establish a foundation of knowledge on issues of local importance so that you can make an informed decision come Election Day. (If you're really interested in the Democratic process, get a group of friends together — as many have done more recently — and attend a city council hearing or weekly meeting. During the summer recess they meet only once per month.) It's not exactly electric entertainment, but it's valuable to see how policy gets made in Cleveland, and to learn the steps you can take to influence those policy decisions.

To subscribe to the Plain Dealer, the region's daily newspaper, go to plaindealer.com/subscribe. To subscribe to Cleveland Magazine, where you can find occasional feature stories about local politicians, and other shorter features of interest, go to https://clevelandmagazine.com/home/subscribe-or-renew. The Sound of Ideas, 90.3 Ideastream's local news programs, airs Monday through Friday at 9 a.m. On Fridays, Rick Jackson hosts a regional news round-up. It's a great way to stay abreast of the basics on the week's top stories.

Work for a Blue Lake

Becoming a "green city on a blue lake" requires everyone's small, steady effort. And as the federal government contemplates slashing environmental funding across the board — and significant Great Lakes funding in 2018 — actions by everyday folks are essential if lakes large and small are to survive and thrive. One easy way to protect Lake Erie is by being more conscientious in your lawn and garden care. (If you rent, and aren't responsible for lawn upkeep, no worries. Keep being thoughtful about your water usage and picking up litter and all that jazz.) But if you are responsible for a lawn, make a concerted effort not to leave your grass clippings on the sidewalk, driveway or in the street. Those clippings blow into the sewers and ultimately end up in our waterways. Additionally, if you mulch your grass, that reduces the need for fertilizer. And the less fertilizer there is on Cleveland lawns, the less fertilizer there'll be in Cleveland waterways. You can do the same thing when your leaves begin to fall. If you're willing to go the extra mile, you can reduce stormwater runoff by directing downspouts onto your lawn instead of onto hard surfaces. (Doing things like this leads to less runoff, which means less flooding. When storm sewers flood, the waters rise and sometimes reach and then carry off other pollutants that, once again, end up in our waterways.)

Join a Community Garden

The Summer Sprout program, a partnership between the city of Cleveland and the OSU Extension in Cuyahoga County (OSUECC), has been around for 41 years. It has 190 community gardens throughout the city ranging from church gardens with only a handful of raised plots to the Ben Franklin Garden, at more than 250,000 square feet. At any time during the year, and certainly this summer, you can purchase a plot at a garden near you. Typically, said Courtney Woelfl, who coordinates the program for OSUECC, a plot only costs about $10 for the entire year. Give Courtney a call (216-429-8200 ext.246), or an email (woelfl.1@osu.edu) and she'll hook you up with a plot near you. Most of the gardening is for vegetables and other consumable plants. The goal, said Woelfl, is to increase Clevelanders' access to healthy foods. That's why she encourages gardeners to involve the neighborhood. "Invite people over for a barbecue to enjoy your vegetables," she said. OSUECC distributes 11,000 seed packets each year and provides soil, lumber, organic matter and testing at all of the 190 locations, which tend to be run by churches, block clubs, community development corporations, or passionate individuals. Even if you don't have a green thumb, the learning curve is easy at Summer Sprout. "We don't discriminate," said Woelfl. "We have gardens all over."

Be a Good Neighbor

This sounds corny and sort of old-fashioned, but one way to make a difference in Cleveland this summer is by being a good neighbor. For starters, get to know your neighbors. (It's nerve-wracking at first, but don't be shy. Knock on doors and introduce yourself. If you're really ambitious, you can even bring little goodie bags or baked goods!) Next, consider attending the monthly meeting of your neighborhood block club. Volunteer for neighborhood events. On an even more local level, see if there's anyone on your street who needs a hand taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn from time to time. In today's increasingly polarized, atomized culture, where we're glued to computers all day and then glued to TVs or mobile devices all night, it's critical to interact with other human beings in whatever ways we can. Moreover, knowing the people on your street and on your block makes for safer, healthier neighborhoods.  

Coach a local youth sports team

Coaching youth sports may be seen as an obligation for parents alone — something to worry about once your toddlers start breaking windows in the house — but it's an easy way to give back to your neighborhood and the children in it, even if you don't want kids or had them long ago. Coaching is often a minor commitment (a weeknight practice, a weekend game each week) but can make a huge impact on the lives of children. If you're a former athlete and looking for a way to help out this summer consider coaching. Cleveland YMCA (clevelandymca.org) is always looking for coaches, and you can call 216.664.2325 to get in touch with the City of Cleveland's "organized sports" staff for volunteer opportunities at city rec centers. It's probably too late to be a summer softball/baseball coach, but fall is soccer and flag football season, so dust off the cleats.

Help Build or Maintain a Mountain Bike Trail

 The recent growth in popularity for mountain biking has led to a need for designated trails to prevent rogue bikers from ripping up the woods on unsanctioned paths. The Cleveland Metroparks now offers three different mountain bike trails: the Bedford single track trail; the Royalview Trail in the Mill Stream Run Reservation; and a section along the Towpath Trail near the Canalway Visitor Center. The Metroparks also permits mountain bikes on its 100-plus miles of shared-use, paved, all-purpose trails, and other paths designated for use of bicycles. 

While trails have been a priority for Metroparks for the past several decades, it was only in 2012 that it hired master trail builder Ralph Protano, a former boundary technician for Appalachian Trail Conservancy, as trails development manager. He took the responsibilities for building and maintaining trails away from the general maintenance crew. "Now, we have a team designated for trails rehab and new construction," says Jim Rodstrom, the Metroparks Director of Construction, who admits that one mile of trail costs roughly 10 grand to build. "Ideally, maintenance on a properly built trail is minimal. You'll have problematic areas, but our goal is to build a trail that doesn't require more than annual walk-through and the occasional clean up. There will always be maintenance, but we try to minimize it." Royalview is just one trail that Protano designed and built with his crew and the help of some hearty volunteers.

Currently, the Metroparks Trails Division will not accept any new volunteers as it re-evaluates its acceptance process. On the other hand, the Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA), an organization founded in 2001, dispatches both members and non-members to maintain mountain bike trails throughout Northeast Ohio. A section of its website (camba.us) provides details on its volunteer program. CAMBA volunteers helped construct the Royalview trail, and CAMBA regularly works with both the Metroparks and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. "As long as we get people out on bikes, our mission is accomplished," says CAMBA's Jim Olander. "Back in 2001, we didn't use to know how to build a sustainable trail and now our process has been expedited through organizations like the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), who have helped teach us how to build sustainable trails."

Good with Animals? Take Your Talents to a Local Shelter

If you're not a people person but still want to spread your philanthropic wings this summer, consider assisting an animal rescue organization. Both the Public Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and the Animal Protective League (APL) are easy to get involved with and always welcome new volunteers. This summer, PAWS is especially in need of fosters. They have a no-kill policy for pets, but have no physical facility and rely on volunteers to care for the animals until they're adopted.

"Without fosters, we can't do what we need to do with [helping] the rescues," said Associate Director of Canines, Janet Hanna.

You can also assist PAWS with laundry, their monthly Adopt-A-Thon events at local PetSmarts and distributing information about their organization. APL volunteer manager Danielle Begalla said they, too, have an active foster program and are looking for people to join. Fosters are provided with training, supplies needed to care for the animals and an emergency line to call for health or behavioral issues.

"We are compassion in action," said Begalla. "We would not be able to do half of what we do here without our volunteer corps."

The APL will host an orientation session for new volunteers on June 10, where you can learn about opportunities besides fostering — and there are plenty. You can groom animals so they can "put their best paw forward" for adoption, as the organization says, help coordinate upcoming events or even serve as a photographer.

"We have volunteer opportunities big and small," said Begalla. "All of them make a difference to the life of an animal."

Help Plant 'Seeds of Literacy' in the City

Sixty-six percent of adults in Cleveland are functionally illiterate, meaning they struggle with math and reading skills above a fourth grade level. Not only does this affect individuals in their day-to-day lives, but studies show that children's academic success relies mainly on the strength of their mother's reading level.

While 66 percent doesn't place Cleveland in the top five most illiterate cities (California and Texas claim those), it's still alarming. Organizations like Seeds of Literacy, however, are working to bring down that number, and welcome volunteers as tutors or committee members.

Bonnie Entler and Alexandria Marshall, executive director and volunteer and digital media Coordinator, respectively, emphasized the city's need for literacy programs like theirs.

"That's fundamentally staggering," said Marshall of the literacy statistics Cleveland residents are fighting, "But that also means there's lots of room for improvement and work to be done."

"For a lot of our students who have had difficulties with their education, this might be the first time they had attention paid to them and people to encourage them," said Entler.

Seeds of Literacy helps about 1,000 students every year, an impressive feat with merely 15 regular staff members, plus volunteers. The nonprofit offers GED preparation along with one-on-one tutoring for adults, free of charge.

The organization is seeking dedicated volunteers who are passionate about education, who can become tutors or join committees for finances, funds, program planning and community relations. Entler and Marshall say past students have not only reported academic success after working with the organization, but gained more independence and the desire to help others as well.

Feed the Needy

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank served more than 50 million meals last year across six counties. That's a startling number, and they can only fulfill their mission with the help of volunteers.

"Last year we had over 15,000 volunteers come through the Food Bank. Those 15,000 volunteers gave us 72,000 hours of their time," said Matt Jackson, volunteer services assistant at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. "That saved us the need of hiring 35 full-time employees, which is equivalent to about $1.5 million. What that does is enable us to put all that money back into the program to help serve more individuals."

Volunteers help out the organization in a multitude of ways — repacking food, working in the kitchen and putting meals together or working at their remote locations in different communities around the area. They welcome groups of up to 20 and all volunteers must schedule their shifts before they show up to help. Call their direct volunteer line at 216-738-2069 or visit greaterclevelandfoodbank.org for more information.

Besides volunteering, there are other ways to help out the Food Bank. You can donate money directly to them, start a virtual food drive through their website (which is basically like hosting a personal fundraiser) or drop off canned goods. There are, of course, many other community groups feeding the needy, including churches. Find one in your area and lend a hand because the need is great: 16 percent of Northeast Ohioans were food insecure in 2015, including 86,000 children.

Help Out the Kids at CMSD

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District uses volunteers in a host of areas, from chaperoning field trips to organizing libraries to assisting students with research assignments. It all aids in strengthening school programs, establishing support groups, and making sure each student reaches their full potential.

"The major goal of the district Volunteer Program is to assist schools in providing the best possible education for each student. The services of volunteers are utilized to relieve teachers and support personnel of some non-instructional tasks, to provide teachers with more time to work with students, to enrich the curriculum and children's learning opportunities, to provide individual attention to those children who need more one-on-one assistance than the classroom teacher is able to provide and to promote a school-home-community partnership for quality education," according to CMSD's volunteer brochure.

For more information, call Judith Lozada at 216-838-0337 or visit clevelandmetroschools.org/volunteer to help out in your local public school.

Be a Vocal Citizen

There are varying schools of thought on the efficacy and effect of calling or writing your representatives. It depends on your rep, of course, and on the issue at hand, but it certainly doesn't freaking hurt. Whether it's your House member in advance of an AHCA vote or your Senator as an environmental bill is being debated, there is quite literally no downside to telling the people elected to represent you, whether you actually voted for them or not, what you think. And it's quite painless to do so. Clip this section out, bookmark it, screenshot it, because we damn well know that there will be between one and 1,754 times this year that Washington will be making a decision on something that has very direct ties and effects on your life. Two quick tips to remember whether you're speaking to a staffer, leaving a voicemail, or emailing your concerns: Be civil in your message; be brief, clear and to the point.

Rob Portman: DC Office - 202-224-3353; Cleveland Office - 216-522-7905; Email contact info can be found at portman.senate.gov

Sherrod Brown: DC Office - 202-224-2315; Cleveland Office - 216-522-7272; brown.senate.gov/contact

House members: Northeast Ohio is served by a number of House reps, find yours here: house.gov/representatives/find/

Donate Blood

The average adult can donate blood once every 60 days or so, and if you're not doing so already it's important to know a few things. First, it's a fast and simple process that lasts all of 10 to 12 minutes. Second, someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds. There are more stunning facts about the dire need for blood donations from the Red Cross but that one gets right to the point. Find a donation station near you at redcrossblood.org/northernohio.

Become a Big Brother or Sister

We've already highlighted a couple of volunteer opportunities and there are obviously endless more but if you're willing to make a commitment long term and for more than an occasional weekend, get in touch with Big Brothers Big Sisters, one of the oldest volunteer organizations in the country. Without volunteers it simply wouldn't exist, and if it didn't exist things would be worse than they already are. According to stats from a 1990s study the benefits of the program are clear and evident — 37 percent less likely to skip class, 33 percent less likely to hit someone, 46 percent less likely to use drugs, etc. Once you're matched, it's up to you what you do with your little brother or little sister, but typical outings include meals, sporting events, sightseeing, movies, and just generally hanging out and talking about whatever's on their mind. Whether you're looking to become a big brother or sister yourself or know a child that could use a mentor, you can visit wementoryouth.org for more information.

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