Big Ideas: Eleven People Moving Toledo Forward

. January 18, 2018.
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Toledo’s made better by the people in it. Here are some movers and shakers who made the kind of impact of 2017 that will make our 2018 the best year yet.

JASON & KELLI DANIELS President and CEO, VP of Operations Jayramon LLC

JASON & KELLI DANIELS

President and CEO, VP of Operations
Jayramon LLC

Why you should know them: This husband and wife team work to improve professional development and community engagement skills for current and future leaders.

Jason and Kelli Daniels celebrated their ten year anniversary this past fall, and that’s also how long they’ve been working together at their company, Jayramon LLC.

Jason started Jayramon before they were married, but the two found themselves doing similar projects and having similar passions so they decided to merge together and form the company as an LLC.

“We were both working more traditional jobs before we got married”, says Kelli. “But we decided that bringing our work together would maximize and compliment our strengths.”

The duo work with individuals and companies to foster better leadership skills and to improve community engagement. “The main way that we help contribute to businesses, not just in Toledo, but in the midwest region, are to develop the leaders in their organizations – not just at the top, but at every level”, says Kelli.

“We do everything from one-on-one consultation with clients to large seminars”, says Jason. “What we’re really known for is providing on-site workshops with companies in both nonprofit as well as on the corporate side.”

The two have found a niche, working directly in-house with their clients. “One of the things that’s really exciting is working with our clients on their innovative ideas – not just to launch a product, but to get new ideas and initiatives off the ground”, says Kelli.

They also host several sizeable events every year. Their signature event, the African-American Professionals and Allies Conference, known as L.I.F.T. (Leadership, Influence, Focus, and Talent) features guest speakers from around the midwest and provides an opportunity for aspiring young African-American entrepreneurs to develop professional skills and to network. “We had it in October this past year, and in 2018 we’re coming back to do it again and we’re already starting to talk to speakers to help build the platform for what will likely be another three day conference”, says Jason. “We’re also looking to go online with the conference, so for the first time people will be able to attend the conference virtually.”

—Michael Pierce

BRIAN KENNEDY President, director and CEO of The Toledo Museum of Art since 2010

BRIAN KENNEDY

President, director and CEO of The Toledo Museum of Art since 2010

Why you should know him: Making the term “visual literacy” a digestible, comprehensive term that makes a noticeable impact on the city.

Taking an art historical background to the general public is no simple task, but with the help of his Brian Kennedy’s staff at the Toledo Museum of Art, he’s helped Toledo learn what it truly means to see by asking: “How do we read what we see?”

“To put this in simple terms, visual literacy is the ability to understand what you see,” explains Kennedy. “But I don’t see it as a skill. Visual literacy uses skills to develop an ability to consume what we seem visually. We see millions of images every day, so we understand them only if we apply our mind to them. And that means we have to slow down and think about what we’re seeing. Then, once you’ve thought about the image, you begin to create a memory of it. That’s the process we’ve started to engage here in Toledo.”

Whether it’s through accessible exhibitions— like The Rise of Sneaker Culture (December 2015 – February 2016), or helpful tips throughout the TMA’s galleries— Kennedy’s commitment to enhancing this skill is everywhere. Including the outside of the Museum’s property.

“I was looking out of my office for several years before I really started to observe Monroe Street— from the Plaza Apartments right outside my office, all the way down to the water down at Owens Corning,” Kennedy reflects. “After seeing it, you start to analyze it and think about what you can do. Once you go through that analytical stage you can start to rewrite the image [Monroe Street].”

In “rewriting” the image, Kennedy got involved in the formation of a Monroe Street Corridor Committee to enhance the road. In 2012, sculptures by Jaume Plensa were added to the property, murals began appearing down the strip, and the work isn’t done: “Next year is going to see considerable development right down to the water…” Kennedy hints.

In addition to immediate, perceptible changes, Kennedy and his staff at the TMA have brought the concept of visual literacy to sectors in Toledo unassociated with art. Working within clinical practices and the business sector, visual literacy has enhanced our ability to communicate and understand.

“As communicative, social beings, humans are collaborative, and what helps us to be more collaborative is the capacity and to better understand what we do individually. So that certainly drives my personal partnerships and pursuits. This is an activist strategy, it is not for its own sake. The reading and understanding is one thing, visual literacy asks you to help change and transform an image. I think that’s a metaphor for something going on in Toledo right now, and we’re excited to be a part of it.”

—Athena Cocoves

TRICIA CULLOP Head Coach, University of Toledo Women’s Basketball, 2008-present

TRICIA CULLOP

Head Coach, University of Toledo Women’s Basketball, 2008-present

Why you should know her: Coach Tricia Cullop’s tenure as coach of the University of Toledo women’s basketball team has brought the program to new heights.

Coach Cullop comes from hard work and success; her high school career during the late ‘80s made national news in USA Today, and her record at Purdue through the early ‘90s helped earn her induction to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. When she arrived at the University of Toledo in April 2008, she says the “integral pieces” for success—great players—were already in place. In her first year as head coach, the Rockets went from being picked last in preseason polls to second overall in the division, and the team has been moving up ever since.

“Our chemistry was just exceptional,” Cullop remarked on that first turnaround year, and said it was that same chemistry, along with work ethic, that has since brought the team it’s great successes. She is humble about her accomplishments, and credited the other coaches and staff for their support, including Assistant Head Coach Vicki Hall. “I tell all of our players that just getting to know each other, appreciating differences, and truly loving each other as teammates . . . if you can do that, you’ll go the extra mile [on the court],” she said.

Entering her tenth year as head coach with six post-season banners and a slew of championship wins, Cullop cited last year’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship win as one of her best memories. The team is currently defending its title at Savage Arena on the UT campus from now until the end of February. “The coaches teach the players, but I’ve learned a heck of a lot from the players who’ve come through our program,” Cullop said. “I’m extremely grateful to the University of Toledo, because these last ten years have been a lot of fun, and even though we’ve had some ups and downs, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”

See the UT women’s basketball full season schedule at utrockets.com

—Kelly Thompson

JORDAN VALDIVEZ Operations Manager, Launchpad Incubator at the University of Toledo

JORDAN VALDIVEZ

Operations Manager, Launchpad Incubator at the University of Toledo

Why you should know him: Jordan Valdiviez is a self-described “conduit,” connecting people with ideas to resources and like minds. As operations manager at the University of Toledo’s Launchpad Incubator, he also acts as a translator for businesses and the tech industry.

UT’s Launchpad Incubator is a gem in the local tech community. One of the incubator’s biggest events, the annual Pitch and Pour, invites businesses and individuals to pitch their idea to investors, Silicon-Valley style. Valdiviez helped organize the Pitch and Pour event (he was sure to give credit to Incubator director Jessica Sattler), but his day-to-day is mostly spent as the communications point between businesses in the Toledo area who need something Valdiviez knows how to get. “They may need interns, or to meet with a finance person or a legal person, and I work with the other staff at Launchpad to coordinate those resources,” Valdiviez explained.

His background in media and video production and a variety of outside interests (e.g.: cooking and gardening) makes him a well-rounded candidate for a job that requires good business and tech savvy. “[Working in the tech sector] can be all-consuming; it requires 100% of your energy,” he said. “To have the level of concentration and dedication that we see in [more insular tech companies] and put that into a social arena is a challenge,” he said.

But it’s a challenge Valdiviez seems made to meet, as the tech industry continues to boom in the Midwest. “Tech takes a lot of time, a lot of growth [. . .] a lot of magic,” he said. “There’s been a lot of articles online talking about the Midwest becoming the next Silicon Valley. I’m not sure. I’d like it to be, it’s a very hard thing to predict. So we’ll see.”

Check out the Launchpad Incubator and upcoming tech events at utoledo.edu/incubator

—Kelly Thompson

JANELLE METZGER Executive Director Water for Ishmael

JANELLE METZGER

Executive Director Water for Ishmael

Why you should know her: She gives a voice to non english-speaking immigrants and their families so that they can feel safe and be successful.

For the last 15 years Janelle Metzger has worked with Water for Ishmael to provide a safe and effective learning environment for immigrants of all ages and backgrounds living in the Toledo area. “We started english classes for women with onsite babysitting – and that was around my dining room table and in my basement”, she explains.

Living in the US and not being able to speak English has a serious detrimental impact on one’s ability to navigate and make sense of the community. It’s a scary prospect, but a dangerous reality that many immigrants face when they come here. “One of the most important things when you come to a new country is to be able to communicate in that language, and so that’s one of the biggest things that we focus on”, says Metzger. “If you don’t speak English, how do you go to the emergency room? Help your kids with homework? Get a better job? Your options are pretty limited, and it’s even more difficult if you’ve got a family to feed.”

Over the last year, Water for Ishmael began to take their services a step further – by offering to go directly into the homes of those in need. “This past fall, we created a program for refugee kids to help them with homework and to gain English skills, and in order to be more flexible, we decided to take our volunteers into the homes”, Metzger explains. “We realized that a lot of Muslim immigrants, particularly women, are unable or uncomfortable to go to classes to learn English because of not knowing anyone or not having anyone to watch their kids. So there were some natural barriers, culturally and lifestyle-wise, that didn’t work for them.”

Simple things, like playing card games with the kids and their family can be a big help. “We’ll do activities like playing uno with the kids to help them learn numbers. It’s great to see the parents interacting with their kids and everyone learning together in their home”, says Metzger.

Though she started the program from the ground up and has seen it grow throughout the years, “I’ve never felt like this is about me or by me”, says Metzger. “I really feel like it’s about what god wanted to do in this city and the fact that he cares about people.”

—Michael Pierce

TERRY LODGE Lawyer

TERRY LODGE

Lawyer

Why you should know him: Toledo’s foremost environmental lawyer, Terry Lodge is now setting his sights on Lake Erie

Terry Lodge does not attempt to disguise his working class roots. He dresses plainly, doesn’t mind having a beer, and liberally shares sardonic quips about politicians and large corporations. And it’s no surprise that when working class people need help, they often find a friend in Terry.

The breadth of his work is stunning. In 1997, he worked with Ralph Nader to fight Carty Finkbeiner’s $232 million “corporate welfare” package to Jeep. In 2005, when Neo-Nazis returned to Toledo two months after the riots they sparked, he successfully defended peaceful protesters arrested for the crime of assembling in groups larger than two. And in recent years, he has fought the State of Ohio to keep Capital Care Network, Toledo’s last remaining abortion clinic, open.

But his most notable battles have been in the field of environmental law. Since passing the bar in 1978, he has ceaselessly fought nuclear power plants, mountaintop removal, pipeline construction, and fracking wells.

“I grew up in a small town with a huge coal power plant and have long been intrigued by energy policies that systematically destroy the Earth,” said Lodge. “The devastating supply chains to produce electricity have long been unsustainable, destructive of workers, communities, water and air. “

So, what about the biggest environmental problem on the minds of Toledoans – Lake Erie?

Decades of experience have led Terry to the belief that the environmental laws already on the books aren’t enough. Instead, he says we need to develop a new legal framework – one that recognizes the nature we depend on as having rights, rather than simply being property. To that end, he’s helping a local grassroots organization, Toledoans for Safe Water, initiate a new law called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

“Giving large, regional natural systems like watersheds and forests a right to exist and be protected and sustained for all time makes much more sense that issuing permits to destroy them, bit by increasingly large bit, for one generation’s profit.”

He says the Lake Erie Bill of Rights isn’t just about protecting the Lake, but about reaffirming what it means to live in a democracy.

“It says that the corporate state no longer has the controlling say in how a valuable common resource will be managed, because all of us are named as Lake Erie’s guardians. So people, not corporations, will be able to directly confront systematic poisoning of our common water.”

—Sean Nestor

ROSHAWN JONES Founder and Coach Soul City Boxing & Wrestling Gym

ROSHAWN JONES

Founder and Coach Soul City Boxing & Wrestling Gym

Why you should know him: Roshawn Jones founded Soul City Boxing & Wrestling Gym in 2009, after a large funding cut to public school extracurricular programs left many kids without a place to go.

Since the gym’s inception, Jones has coached kids into more than just good athletes; he teaches kids to be students and responsible individuals.

Charles Conwell, a regular at Soul City Boxing, took a trip to the 2016 Rio Olympics after coming up in Jones’s gym, a great victory that Jones says has increased community interest in the gym and its programs over the past year. Soul City has partnered with organizations like the Toledo Mud Hens, whose computer donation allowed students to study and receive tutoring after school.

Overall, the mission of Soul City is straightforward: it “gives kids without a place to go a place to go.” Although Conwell’s Olympic achievements were a huge public success for the program, Jones stressed that the future of Soul City is all about remaining humble. “We deal with a lot of people who are in poverty,” Jones said. “A lot of kids in my neighborhood, all they know is gang life, and once you take them out of that, and show them it’s not the right place to go, you give them a structure,” he said. Individuals age 5 through 18 are welcome, and classes are also available for adults.

The gym is seeking sponsors willing to assist with the cost of building utilities and transportation for athletes. Individual donations are accepted on the gym’s website, soulcitygym.com.

—Kelly Thompson

WADE KAPSZUKIEWICZ 58th Mayor of Toledo

WADE KAPSZUKIEWICZ

58th Mayor of Toledo

Why you should know him: First elected as Lucas County Treasurer in 2004, Kapszukiewicz changed state law in 2010 to allow for the creation of county land banks. On January 2, 2018, he was sworn in as the 58th Mayor of Toledo.

For a politician, Kapszukiewicz is surprisingly humble. When we visited him on his first day in office— with books and boxes strewn during the fresh move— the Mayor was eating donuts, drinking coffee, and proudly talking about anyone but himself. To Mayor Kapszukiewicz, it’s his team that is the primary focus. Speaking in first person, the Mayor’s pronoun of choice is consistently “we.”

“When I feel as though we’ve accomplished a lot, I think that is because we worked so hard during the transition to make sure we were ready to hit the ground running,” he explained. “We are going to try things when I’m mayor. We’re going to dream big, and we’re going to try. We’re going to make mistakes, but when we make mistakes, we’re going to learn from them. We are not going to be content to sit back and let the world happen to us.”

Like Toledo itself, the Mayor describes himself as scrappy:

“I am someone who can become single minded in focus. I suppose there could be some negatives to that as I reflect on my style, but what it also means is that when I have a goal in mind, I will tenaciously pursue it until I achieve it. I didn’t think at all about the mayor’s office until after the election, then we started focusing.”

But now he’s here. Sitting in the big chair on the 22nd floor of One Government Center, and while his proud team seems unsurprised, the Mayor’s humbleness is infectious: “I could easily be characterized as a pointy-headed bookworm…. and pointy-headed bookworms don’t often win elections… but my attitude is to work my hardest and do my best. I would not have been disappointed if I lost this race, I would be disappointed if I didn’t try.”

Fortunately, the Mayor knows how to try— and trying is his primary focus.

When we first spoke to him in 2014, we asked him what inspired him to make Toledo a better place. Four years ago, he said: “There’s a real ability with creativity and vision to create whatever Toledo we want. Enough communities have reinvented themselves with the assets that they have and Toledo can do it too.”

Hearing those words now, the Mayor is both shocked and happy— “Those sentiments have never been more relevant than they are now for Toledo. The future is not given to us or anyone, it has to be earned. We have the ability to create something brand new, and we’re going to try to make sure that happens.”

ANGELA BODAY Executive Director of Harvey House

ANGELA BODAY

Executive Director of Harvey House

Why you should know her: Through her work at Harvey House, Angela Boday shows LGBTQ youth that they’re not alone.

Realizing that there’s a lack of assistance for displaced members of the LGBTQ community, Angela Boday took charge in 2014 by creating Harvey House. Through various fund-raising efforts, Boday and her team were able to create a space for LGBTQ youth to develop a sense of security and community. “When we started this project, we were focusing on homeless LGBTQ youth”, says Boday. “We have been contacted by homeless teens or teens that were about to be homeless, and we’ve had to do the best we can to direct them because we’re not in a place to house anyone right now.”

While they are unable to house the kids themselves, there is now a safety net through the Zepf Center. “They have ten beds for kids, but they are the only homeless shelter for youth in Northwest Ohio”, says Boday. “Even (standard) homeless shelters for youth are very lacking in our state, but they’re even more lacking in Northwest Ohio.”

Harvey House is one of the only places in Ohio to offer this kind of assistance. Boday explains, “The only other place like this is in Columbus. We’re the second in the state.”

In March, 2017, Harvey House began their services for kids. “We always said that we would never tell anybody ‘no’. We’re not real strict on that”, says Boday. Since last spring, they have interacted with 75-80 kids between ages 12-19. “This proves to us that there is a need for something like this in our area”, she explains.

Sometimes it’s as simple as needing someone to talk to.
“We talk to at least one new kid a week”, says Boday. “Even if we never meet them, we have kids reaching out to us through text message and instagram. Many are just looking for advice or to get a feel for what we’re about.”

Other kids regularly attend group sessions or events and have found a place to thrive in an environment where they can feel accepted for who they are. “Most of these kids, when they started coming here, didn’t know each other at all, but they have since built their own Harvey House family”, says Boday.

— Michael Pierce

VERALUCIA MENDOZA Immigration rights activist

VERALUCIA MENDOZA

Immigration rights activist

Why you should know her: An advocate for undocumented immigrants, Vera is building a platform to help others speak out

You may have seen Veralucia. She’s all over Toledo, frequenting local restaurants and community events. Her thick glasses, short crop of curly black hair, and huge smile are hard to miss. And though many people know her, few know that she spent much of her life as a undocumented immigrant.

After moving from Peru when she was eight years old, her family’s visas expired. Out of safety concerns, she learned to keep quiet about her status. Then in 2013, when the Blade sought to do a story on immigrants with college aspirations, she was the only one willing to be profiled publicly. The vitriol that story inspired moved Veralucia to become an activist.

“It was the comments – the hate spewed at me that sort of pushed me to do more. I was determined to change the narrative, and I was determined to help change policy,” she explained. “I hate when people tell me to go home. I am home.”

Veralucia has become a vocal advocate for the undocumented, acting as a voice for those who often cannot speak up. Willing to risk backlash with the hope of building bridges, she has “outed” herself in public forums like TEDxToledo and Spoken Toledo. She also helps undocumented individuals navigate public services which can be dangerous due to their status – including law enforcement.

“Police Chief Kral has stated publicly that officers will not contact ICE [immigration authorities]. But I know for a fact that they are, because people who have been stopped for routine traffic get deported a few weeks later.”

She has plenty of walk to match her talk. In 2015, she worked at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, helping migrant farmworkers. In 2016, she helped organize a pro-immigration rally that drew hundreds outside of a Donald Trump appearance at the Huntington Center. In 2017, she joined the board of Equality Toledo, representing LGBT immigrants who face multiple layers of discrimination.

This year, she plans to provide a safe space for the undocumented through the media. Her latest role is as the elected Chair of the Board of We Act Radio, WAKT – a new community radio station that broadcasts on 106.1FM. She hopes to create a media outlet that will discuss the undocumented on fair terms – and offer them a safe place to share their stories.

—Sean Nestor