Cleveland’s Greatest Gift

What comes to mind when you think of Cleveland, Ohio? Perhaps you know that it’s home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the 2016 NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Maybe you’re familiar with the city’s rich legacy of business development, such as John D. Rockefeller’s establishment of Standard Oil in Cleveland in 1870. While the cultural and business accomplishments of this beautiful Midwestern city are impressive, Cleveland is also the birthplace to what may be one of the greatest gifts to the civilized world – and it all began with an inspired idea.

Cleveland as seen from Cleveland Metroparks Whiskey Island

More than 100 years ago, Frederick H. Goff, a successful lawyer and banker, envisioned an organization that would focus on developing Cleveland’s community by pulling together and harnessing the resources – the wealth – of the city’s philanthropists. That idea grew into the world’s first community foundation: The Cleveland Foundation. Within five years, Goff’s strategic idea inspired other cities, such as Chicago, Boston and Minneapolis, to establish their own community foundations. But the first – in the world – was born in Cleveland!

Today the Cleveland Foundation serves not only Cleveland, but counties nearby as well. With nearly $2 billion in assets, the organization has touched millions of lives by providing funding and by partnering with other organizations to strengthen the region’s schools and neighborhoods, health and wellness activities, cultural endeavors, and economic development.

Merwin’s Wharf in the Flats – Owned and operated by Cleveland Metroparks

One of the recipients of the many grants and scholarships offered through the foundation is the Cleveland Metroparks. This expansive area encompassing more than 23,000 acres includes 300 miles of trails, eight golf courses, eight lakefront parks, and the Cleveland Zoo. The Metroparks offers a myriad of outdoor activities focusing on education, recreation, conservation and sustainability – all within and surrounding this bustling, revitalized city. Perched on the southern shore of Lake Erie, the Metroparks provide urban residents and visitors opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing (and ice fishing – Cleveland is a northern city, after all), dining, sledding, horseback riding, paddle boarding, swimming, and much more. This park system is funded by a variety of donations and grants, and presents tangible evidence of Frederick Goff’s idea to harness the wealth of the community for the benefit of all.

Cleveland Metroparks – Edgewater Park

Today, community foundations find ways to tap into the generosity of individuals from all economic levels. If it’s not in your budget to donate money to a charity of your choice, think about offering your time or expertise to help with their community outreach efforts. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” What an incredible gift Frederick Goff has given to the world – the idea that lying deep within the seed of generosity we plant today is the promise of a better tomorrow.

To learn more about OSU Extension’s educational programs focused on community development, visit go.osu.edu/seekexcellence.

 

Becky Nesbitt is an Assistant Professor and Extension Educator in Community Development with OSU Extension.

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