AWESOME PROJECT: In Cleveland schools, uniforms today, diplomas tomorrow

Folks, have we mentioned that we’ve opened our ioby doors in Cleveland? Or that we’ve been kind of excited about this for kind of a really long time? Or that we really, really love our new rockstar Cleveland Action Strategist, Indigo Bishop? Well, then you won’t be surprised to know that we’re grinning big as we present you, today, with the very first Cleveland-based ioby campaign to hit our Awesome Project Blog:

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What’s in an outfit?

When you were in school, did you wear a uniform? What did it mean to you?

For students at elementary schools in the Broadway-Slavic neighborhood of southeast Cleveland, uniforms mean a great deal. They mean belonging. They mean being part of the group. They mean having purpose, and deserving to learn. They mean feeling safer from bullying, and staying out of trouble.

But they are expensive. “There are so many families that can’t buy a child a new uniform,” says Katie Dager. She’s Development Coordinator for University Settlement, a neighborhood center that provides social services to residents of Broadway-Slavic Village, where 58% of children live in poverty. “And often if a child has a uniform, it’s dirty, it’s tattered, they’re wearing the same uniform every single day.”

Limited resources mean tough choices

If you had to choose between uniforms or healthy food for your kids, what would you pick? “We all know dollars for education are shifting, are shrinking, depending on where you are in the country,” Dager says. “When you’re in a low-income neighborhood, families have to make that decision – do we buy food, do we keep our lights on, or do we buy a uniform? Rarely, if ever, does that school uniform win out.”

That’s a huge problem, because some schools turn students away, or resort to disciplinary action, when kids show up to school without uniforms. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a uniform can be the difference between staying in school and dropping out.

“The Cleveland Metropolitan School District did a study,” explains Dager, “and found that missing 10 or more days of school results in a twelve point drop in math scores, a thirteen point drop in reading scores. Students are then 36% less likely to graduate. We’re not talking about having a kid in school today. We’re talking about them staying on the path to graduation, being on that road to long-term success.” Needless to say, every day, and every uniform, counts.

That’s why Dager and her colleagues at University Settlement are campaigning to raise money for 1,000 uniforms, to be distributed for free to families with kids in Slavic Village schools, at the start of the 2016-2017 school year. No other organization in greater Cleveland is currently offering free uniforms to low-income residents. Check out their campaign page to watch a short video that includes snippets of interviews with students, teachers, and staff.

Cleveland grassroots

Part of the reason we’re so excited about this project, and all the wonderful grassroots work we know is underway and on the way, in Cleveland, is that it seems to signal a philanthropic homecoming of sorts, for one of America’s great cities.

“Cleveland as a whole has this really strong culture of philanthropy,” explains Dager. “I think that can be linked to the fact that we have some really large family foundations that invested in this city decades and decades ago. And I think it’s just kind of grown out from there. As far as grassroots organizing and fundraising, I will say that’s something that Cleveland has always been responsive to. There’s this one agency – it’s called Neighborhood Connections, and they do grassroots grant-making – so neighborhood groups or individuals even, in partnership with a fiscal agent, can apply for a grant up to $5,000 to complete their grassroots, neighborhood-led project. And that is an agency that has done extremely well. It’s recognized across the city. They’ve done so many amazing, wonderful projects. So Cleveland is definitely primed for this crowd-funding, taking the initiative yourself. It’s really appropriate timing.”

Hooray for that. We’re thrilled to be joining team Cleveland grassroots, and can’t wait for all that’s to come.

How you can help

To donate, or just to learn more, check out the project’s ioby campaign page here. $15 buys a uniform for one student. $45 covers a family with three kids.


Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Last week, we shared the story of a fascinating and unique Zen Buddhist hospice home on Whidbey Island, off of Seattle. Enso House takes just one single patient at a time into its care, and is primarily volunteer-run. If you value hospice and alternative end-of-life care, like we do, click here to learn more about the much-needed renovation they’re making to their staff living quarters, or just to watch a beautiful video about what end-of-life care means to them.