(Plain Press, February 2016) A hundred and twenty-five people gathered at the Brennan Party Center on Triskett Road on January 16th to celebrate Cudell Improvement’s 41st Annual Meeting. The meeting featured a retirement celebration as well as a number of award presentations.
Those in attendance took the opportunity to offer their best wishes to Jan Kappenhagen upon her retirement from serving as Housing Director for Cudell Improvement. Anita Brindza, Cudell Improvement’s Executive Director, noted that since Kappenhagen started working on neighborhood housing improvement seventeen years ago her efforts had led to the completion of over 40,000 housing code inspections in the neighborhood. Brindza noted Kappenhagen’s role as a founder of the Cleveland Code Enforcement Partnership, and her involvement in saving houses in the Cudell Improvement Service area including 22 homes renovated in 2015. Brindza noted that over the years Jan and her husband Dave have been involved in supervising Court Community Service workers doing various projects in the neighborhood. Brindza said Kappenhagen plans to continue to serve the neighborhood in her retirement planning to work with the youth group at her church, Simpson United Methodist Church at W. 86th and Clark Avenue.
Bob Fuchs, a housing specialist from Cleveland Housing Court, praised Kappenhagen for her expertise in code enforcement and said she has been the go-to person in Cleveland for those looking for advise in training new Community Development Corporation staff members to work on housing issues.
Councilpersons Matt Zone invited former Councilman Jay Westbrook to the podium to share some of his memories from many years working with Kappenhagen. Westbrook noted that the model of training and using neighborhood volunteers to do code enforcement that Kappenhagen developed is now being used city wide.
Westbrook also recounted some stories that demonstrated Kappenhagen’s resolve in saving housing in the neighborhood. One story involved an elderly couple whose house was fire damaged. While the insurance company wanted to just settle with the couple for a cash amount and have the house demolished, Kappenhagen insisted they honor their policy and pay to restore the house. Westbrook said the house was restored and while the elderly couple has moved on, the house now provides a home for another family. Westbrook also shared a story of his being recruited by Kappenhagen to help clean animal feces from the basement of another neighborhood house which he says now has been rehabbed and is providing a home for a family. Westbrook mentioned Kappenhagen’s ability to work with people of all ages, noting she worked for Simpson Seniors prior to coming to work for Midwest Housing and Cudell Improvement and now was returning to Simpson in her retirement to work with the church’s youth group.
In accepting the presentations and proclamations from Cudell Improvement, Cleveland City Council and from State Senator Michael Skindell, Kappenhagen noted that housing in Cleveland has experienced a bumpy ride over the past few years, but the Cudell Service area fared better than some in the fight against the assault of the foreclosure crisis. “We survived to a place where we feel we are thriving, because residents in the area are willing to fight for it,” said Kappenhagen. She thanked residents for their time and effort in making the Cudell Edgewater area one of the finest in Cleveland.
Kappenhagen praised her co-workers and the spirit of cooperation that she experienced from fellow workers at Midwest Housing, Safety Net and Cudell Improvement. Kappenhagen praised the organizations that worked with neighborhood residents to improve the neighborhood such as Cleveland Housing Court, Court Community Service, and Community Housing Solutions. She also had high praise for the Community Development Corporation community in Cleveland and the cooperation of the City Council people – Jay Westbrook, Matt Zone and Brian Cummins – she worked with over the years.
In addition to the retirement of Kappenhagen, another long time staff member, Safety Program Coordinator Birgit Hilliard left Cudell Improvement in 2015. Executive Director Brinzda praised Hilliard for her service and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.
The awards ceremony included the presentation of awards by Cudell Improvement President Dan Berry as well as certificates of recognition from District 23 State Senator Michael Skindell.
Joseph A. Nanni, Chief of Staff of the Cuyahoga County Council, received the Excellence in Government Award. In introducing Nanni, Brindza noted that he grew up in the neighborhood and was part of the Cudell Tutoring Group when he was in the third or fourth grade. She noted that Nanni had served on the board of Neighborhood Housing Services, worked for the storefront program at Westown Development Corporation prior to working for the City of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga County Council. Nanni in accepting the award cited neighborhood leaders such as Anita Brindza, Bill Denihan, Carol Johnson and Tim Hagan as role models. He recalled working at Clifton Cleaners during his high school and college years and getting to know and chat with Tim Hagan when he came in to pick up his dry cleaning.
Willie Lawson of #UnlimitedLove was the recipient of the “Good Guy” Award for “his work with children and families at the Cudell Recreation Center in the wake of the Tamir Rice tragedy,” said Brindza in introducing him.
Lawson said he was happy to be able to give back to the community. Lawson said his family moved to W. 102nd and Madison when he was a young boy. He said the Cudell neighborhood was safer and more diverse than the East side neighborhood his family came from. He said Cudell Recreation soon became his second home and he participated in every program the center offered. Lawson said he graduated from West Tech, went to college at Kent State and later as an adult took automotive classes at Max Hayes.
Lawson said he hopes to make a difference by promoting spiritual balance and emotional development. He has been involved in meetings with neighborhood residents to develop programs for children and families at Cudell Recreation Center. He works with a number of sports programs, Cudell Cooking Club and the Unlimited Christmas celebration at Cudell Recreation Center. Lawson says he hates negativity and hopes to “neutralize that with the power of love.”
Cudell Improvement’s Service Award was given to four members of the Clifton Boulevard and West Boulevard Historic District Design Review Committee: Franklin Piccirillo, Jeff Blazek, Nick Faehnle and Tom Yablonsky. Brindza noted the time and effort put in by the group in documenting history of properties and researching techniques on how best to preserve the original character of properties. She thanked the group for their efforts in the historic districts and for their assistance and advice concerning buildings on Lorain Avenue as well.
Bill Denihan, a founder of Cudell Improvement 41 years ago, praised the group for their community engagement and caring for one another while working to improve the neighborhood. Denihan, Executive Director of the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County, urged residents to support the Health and Human Services levy on the March ballot. Denihan noted the importance of the levy to help serve individuals with mental illness and addictions. He said it is rare for a family not to be touched with mental illness or addiction. He said that “Anita and Jan would agree that many issues with code enforcement involve mental illness in a family.”
Denihan noted that at a recent presentation he made to the Cuyahoga County Council on training police officers on how to response to calls involving those with mental health emergencies, the issue of where the funds for the training would come from, came up. He was able to respond that the Health and Human Services levy provides funding to help with the training. Denihan again urged voters to support this and other important programs funded by the Health and Human Services levy up for renewal on March 15th.
The Board of Trustees election results were announced at the end of the meeting. the members of Cudell Improvement elected five board members to new three year terms. Those elected are: Dan Berry, Sarah Ryzner, Karen Cahil, Jerry Schmelzer and Charles Stone.