Isaiah Award for Human Relations

On Tuesday, December 4th, our first event was the presentation of the 2018 Isaiah Award for Human Relations by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) of Cleveland which took place at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center at Cuyahoga Community College.

It was written in our program notes that “AJC Cleveland created the Isaiah Award for Human Relations to recognize the work of local non-profit organizations which showed significant initiative and leadership towards advancing intergroup understanding and respect.”

Further, we read, “the prophet Isaiah stands as a symbol of optimism and of the hope for redemption of all humankind…Isaiah calls on us to find a path on which humanity can walk together, without guile, without fear, towards a common goal. In this context, working together to better our community.”

The program begin with a welcome by Ms. Rachel C. Uram, the AJC Cleveland President, in which she paid tribute to the recently deceased former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and recalled the speech in which he called for volunteerism by saying , “we can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light.”

Along these lines, included in the program was a discussion between Dr. Akram Boutros, President and CEO of The MetroHealth System, and Dr. Alex Johnson, President of Cuyahoga Community College, moderated by Ms. Lee C. Shapiro, Regional Director of AJC Cleveland, on the subject matter of “Building Bridges, Strengthening Community”.

In the course of the discussion, Dr. Boutros and Dr. Johnson, both champions in terms of initiating methods of community involvement, readily agreed that even though collaboration between the various institutions of Cleveland for the betterment of the community did show signs of improvement, a lot more constructive collaboration had to take place; until this happened, real progress in terms of elevating the less fortunate neighborhoods in Cleveland/Northeast Ohio would continue to be very erratic.

The Isaiah Award itself was presented by Mr. David Hexter and Ms. Loree Resnik, Chairs of the Isaiah Selection Committee, who explained the process of selection of this year’s recipient and paid tribute to the 12 other non-profits of Cleveland who were finalists.

They then presented the 2018 Isaiah Award to Towards Employment whose mission is “to empower individuals to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency through employment.”

During the presentation, and through the program notes, we learned that Towards Employment “has over 40 years of experience helping people gain tools to find a job, navigate life’s obstacles, and secure a long-term career. They serve 3,000 people per year with a range of employment and career building services and activities and connect 500 people to good jobs each year. Towards Employment partners with 300 businesses…all of whom have confidence in Towards Employment’s training programs and personal coaching to prepare new and current employees for career success.”

Mr. Ronnie Cannon and Ms. Jill Rizika

The award was accepted by Ms. Jill Rizika, Towards Employment’s Executive Director, and Mr. Ronnie Cannon, its Community Outreach Specialist.

Ms. Rizika said that a great deal of the success of her organization is due to the the hard work and dedication of its staff which she termed its “secret sauce”. She went on to say that “a more committed team” was not possible.

Mr. Cannon compared the process of acquiring gainful employment to that of making a movie, because the producer/director knows how he wants the story to end-it is act of getting to the end (i.e. a well-paying job with a future) that is often the challenge. He then shared with us his own story and told us that he had been hired as a receptionist by Towards Employment after his release from incarceration. From there, he worked his way up to the position that he currently holds. “Towards Employment, ” said Mr. Cannon, “has opened doors for a lot of people, including me. “