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"We are each other's missing pieces."
That's the mantra of a friend of mine. She's such a devoted connector of people that I can only marvel as she does her thing, which is simply introducing Clevelanders and letting them figure out how they can fix a problem or do a favor for each other.
After writing this solution-oriented column for nearly a year, I've come to see that her observation is true.
Through the pages of this newspaper, I've done my share of connecting folks, too. My desk is filled with examples of how readers rose to the occasion when there's a need. Here are just a few:
Not long before Christmas, I wrote about how a thief stole a 15-passenger van from a West Side emergency shelter operated by Family Promise of Greater Cleveland.
Already, that problem's been solved.
Readers chipped in to cover the cost of a used low-mileage van to take the place of the one that disappeared. They also bought new car seats and booster seats, to take the place of the ones lost inside the stolen vehicle.
"It truly has warmed my heart to have had so many people respond," says Joan Maser, executive director of Family Promise. She's enjoyed talking with all of them, from the older reader who said, "I'll send you 50 bucks" to the large congregation that pledged $10,000.
One of my most talked-about columns has been about an effort to construct clever libraries no bigger than dollhouses (littlefreelibrary.org) near Cleveland schools. Months later, I'm still getting emails from people who love the idea and want to contribute books or money.
Bob Cheshier, the local guy who got the ball rolling, will certainly be busy next year since readers have donated enough to build an additional 14 of the mini-libraries at or near Cleveland schools.
What was once a small idea is now a bona fide Cleveland-wide phenomenon, says a delighted Cheshier. Several family foundations have sent him checks. At least two Jewish families wrote out $400 checks as a Hanukkah gesture. Progressive Insurance offered to contribute 2,000 books to one of the libraries.
When I first interviewed Cheshier about the idea, he said he hoped installing the cute schoolhouse-shaped little libraries would spark some enthusiasm for reading among Cleveland students.
Readers rise to the occasion when there's a need. Columnist Margaret Bernstein reflects on the best reader-response moments of 2012.
At Miles Park School, where the mini-library is located just across the street, it's doing just that. Children there love it so much that third-grader A'lysha Greene, who lives nearby, took home a cartful of books over Christmas break and pledged to keep the library stocked. "It's not just the holiday, she does it all the time," says her teacher, Robin Palmore.
A'lysha does have a motive for signing up to be the librarian. "She likes to keep a book for herself, which I said is OK, her teacher says, laughingly.
This is why it's great to have the Little Free Library located outside the school building -- so that kids can have access to its books year-round, Palmore adds. "I want the children to understand that learning does take place outside the walls of the classroom."
If you'd like more information, contact Cheshier at email@example.com
Which of my columns triggered the biggest reader response in 2012? The top spot belongs to the mentoring program launched by College Now of Greater Cleveland -- a fact that makes me supremely happy.
In June, I wrote about College Now, which was hunting for local college graduates to serve as four-year mentors to Cleveland-area students who are first in their family to go to college.
They were hoping to get 40 mentors. More than twice that many expressed interest, so many that College Now eventually had to establish a waiting list.
In my column, I raved about this program, calling it "excuse-proof" because it removes so many of the barriers that keep people from mentoring. For one thing, communication between mentor and mentee is done primarily online (so if you have time to hang out on Facebook, then you've got time to participate).
For those wondering how we can turn the ship around and help Cleveland's next generation to succeed, this is an important way to be the "missing piece" for a youth whose family doesn't know how to help shepherd him or her through the college experience.
Already, it's yielding results. About 98 percent of College Now students who received mentoring in 2011-2012 returned to college for their sophomore year.
Volunteers are still wanted: College Now plans to expand, and will need 250 more mentors by May 2013. For more information, contact Lauren Marchaza at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 216-635-0163.