Jodi Gross has lived in East Toledo her entire adult life, so she doesn’t need a lot of motivation for her newest job.
An employee of the East Toledo Family Center, Gross has taken on the official role as “community builder” for a new organization, East Toledo United. She is to assist in mapping the community and survey the Garfield and Birmingham neighborhoods for member organizations of East Toledo United.
The mission of ETU “is to capitalize on the unique assets, geographic location, talents, and skills of all entities, including residents, to improve the East Toledo community and to enhance communication and collaboration.”
It is one of the realizations coming out of a $200,000 T-grant from the Local Initiative Support Coalition’s (LISC) “Connecting the Pieces” project. The grant was originally established to support the development of a neighborhood transformation plan to connect old and new neighborhoods in light of the pending development of the 127-acre Marina District.
Gross is a former employee of Sunoco’s public affairs department, but now she is in charge of getting ETU moving in the right direction.
“My goal is to help that group become a voice for all of East Toledo, instead of all of us doing our own thing,” Gross said. “We’ll still do our own thing, but it will be working with the City. We’ll have one voice if we all have concerns or things that need to be addressed that aren’t. That’s part of what my charge is to be.
“One of my things is to foster a sense of community. We’ll try to work together, even doing neighborhood clean-ups. Basically my role is to keep people communicating. So if a person has something come up and they need my assistance or something, I’m there,” Gross said. “My other goal is just to bring everybody together and just build a better, stronger East Toledo for all of us.”
Members of ETU include the Birmingham Development Corporation, Neighborhood Housing Services, East Toledo Family Center, River East Associates, and the City of Toledo, block watch groups, churches and schools. There were nine meetings during 2010, and Gross expects them to pick up again, soon.
Gross will report to the group during regular meetings and to ETFC directors.
ETU is currently a non-profit association and not incorporated. A logo is in the final design stage and there has been talk of formally organizing into a federally licensed not-for-profit corporation.
“Will that happen in the future? Well, that’s probably where we are going,” Gross said.
With the closing of the River East Economic Revitalization Corporation, there is the possibility this new organization could become involved in economic development, Gross says.
Getting people involved
Gross says she understands why there is a need to create one voice for East Toledo.
“We’re all competing against each other, whether it’s Raymer or Oakdale. We shouldn’t be doing that, especially when it comes to services or going out into the community and trying to get things done,” Gross said. “We should all be one voice, because I think most of us all have the same concerns whether it is properties or there’s crime in our neighborhood. Safety is a factor sometimes. We all need to work together to make those things change.
“Getting more people involved in the neighborhoods — that’ll be a big thing because it’s always the same people. It’s always that handful of people that we’ll call them and they’ll do whatever you want them to do. I think the other goal is to get people who already live here and have lived here for years involved in their neighborhood,” Gross continued.
Gross said one of her first tasks is to conduct man-on-the-street surveys in the neighborhoods most affected by a new casino currently under construction or any development occurring in the Marina District.
“I’ll be working with Neighborhood Housing Services and the Family Center to implement door to door surveys that are going to happen in Birmingham and Garfield. We’re going to find out what the neighbors need, what do they think of their neighborhoods? Especially with the casinos coming and with the Marina District, in the Garfield area, what do the neighbors need? We want to get them involved in the whole process,” Gross said.
“I think with the new bridge, with the Marina District, wherever that stands right now, and with the casino coming into East Toledo, all that corridor — how to we improve our neighborhoods with these new things coming about,” Gross continued.
She likes her job title, “community builder,” in comparison to being labeled a “director.”
“We had actually talked about being a community coordinator or community builder, but we went with builder because we really are trying to build some new sense of community for everyone, not just for Oakdale, for instance,” Gross said. “I keep going back to that separation because we’ve all been separate for so long. I live in the Oakdale area, and I was always worrying about what was happening in Oakdale.
“Now my charge is to start worrying about what is happening in all the neighborhoods, and we all have the same concerns. My goal with this whole thing is to create one voice — that’s what I’ve been telling (ETFC assistant director) Rodger (Dodsworth) — it’s one voice for East Toledo.”
Gross wants to get the schools, churches, and hospitals involved, too.
“I want to get to know all of those, and who are the leaders. Plus we are going to keep a data base of the organizations and who is out there and who are the key leaders, also, just so we know,” Gross said. “Then, if somebody calls me from the Birmingham area, then I can say, ‘Well, you need to talk to so-and-so.’ That’s my goal.”
Community involvement is nothing new to Gross.
“When I first started out, I was a volunteer at my kid’s school, and then I got into politics just a little. I was a precinct representative for a short time and then I got involved with the junior high and the high school,” Gross said.
“I was real involved with the school and the (Toledo Public School’s) Building for Success building project — I was part of that committee. So, I saw that transform the school system, although we do have some work to do there. There’s always work to do. I don’t think you can ever run out of things to improve your neighborhoods and get people involved.”