The Power of Collaboration

As  the community’s college, Lorain County Community College is here to provide affordable education, training options and entrepreneurial guidance to everyone. We firmly believe that everyone’s dream matters and recognize that in order for us to fulfill our mission, we must work to remove the barriers preventing our students from reaching their goals.

In fact, Vision 2020’s first strategic priority is to Drive Student Completion for Academic and Career Success and it focuses on identifying ways to remove the barriers facing our students. The Chronicle Telegram recently brought to light one such barrier that continues to plague our students, our cities and our county – poverty. The September 15 article, County poverty rate dips ‘but still too bigpointed out that while Lorain County’s poverty rate declined from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent from 2014-15, it has still not recovered to pre-Great Recession level of 12.5 percent. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that the city of Lorain’s poverty rate is 24.4 percent – 10 percent higher than the state of Ohio.

I see the impact of these poverty rates every day on our campus through the eyes of our students – many of whom are struggling to make ends meet while taking classes to try to improve their financial state. I have shared several student stories through this blog that bring to life how difficult it can be to be facing financial hardship while trying to achieve your goals. The College is addressing the issue internally through an initiative focusing on Closing Achievement Gaps of Under-Resourced Learners as part of Vision 2020. However, we know that we cannot solve this problem alone.

LCCC often serves as the convener regarding social issues, and our best work occurs when we bring organizations together to solve problems affecting Lorain County residents. Poverty is one of those issues that truly requires all hands on deck in order to make a difference.

The College recently joined forces with the United Way of Greater Lorain County and ten other partners across the nonprofit, government and education sectors to launch the WE3 Collaborative, which stands for Women Empowered, Educated and Employed. WE3 strives to help hard-working single mothers living in poverty increase their earning capacity to help them become economically secure and self-sufficient. Each partner plays a critical role in WE3’s success and together I am confident we can make a difference in the lives of these women, while working toward an even larger decrease in Lorain County’s poverty rate.

The work of the WE3 collaborative directly aligns with Vision 2020’s third strategic priority of Inspiring Community Engagement, Connectivity, Diversity and Wellness. Through this priority, the College is working to achieve several initiatives, including Impacting the Quality of Life of Under-Served Populations by expanding partnerships and programs that respond to the unique needs and opportunities of those most under-represented/under-served in our community. We are also working to Increase Community Capacity Building by partnering with others for community planning and problem solving through neutral convening to discover common ground and achieve collective impact. The WE3 collaborative embodies these initiatives and I am so proud LCCC is able to serve in a leadership role.

While creating new programs to address social issues is wonderful work, experience has taught me that it is the people behind these programs that truly give them meaning. Just last week, I had the opportunity to meet LaToya Miller, who was recently hired as the Project Coordinator for WE3.  LaToya commented that her “role embodies everything I represent as a woman and a mother – empowered, educated and employed.”

As a mother, I, too, understand the challenges of raising a family while going to school and working full time. When I pursued my MBA though the University Partnership program with Kent State University my daughters were in elementary and middle school, and later when earning my Ph.D. they were high school students.  I can only imagine how much harder this scenario becomes when financial hardship comes into play.

The heartfelt work of the WE3 Collaborative will continue to make a difference, along with other programs at the College striving to remove barriers to success. As an institution, our goal is to stay in touch with the needs of our community, allowing us to identify opportunities for new partnerships. This is how we harness the power of collaboration to create meaningful change for our students and community. There is so much for us to build upon here in Lorain County – and together we can help each student reach his or her potential. Because, after all, every student’s dream matters.

 

Click here for more information on WE3.

WE3 is made possible by the following partners:

  • Elyria Public Library
  • Lorain City Schools
  • Lorain County Community Action Agency
  • Lorain County Community College
  • Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services
  • Lorain County JVS
  • Lorain County Urban League
  • Oberlin College Bonner Center for Service and Learning
  • Oberlin Community Services
  • Ohio Means Jobs Lorain County
  • United Way of Greater Lorain County
  • YWCA of Elyria

Every Student’s Dream Matters

At left, LCCC student, Nacho, stands with his new bike. At right, LCCC Success Coach Esperanza Correa.

The beginning of the fall semester is my favorite time of year – as we welcome more than 11,000 students to campus, the halls are buzzing with anticipation of the year to come. To me, the start of a new semester represents a season of opportunity and growth. Our students come to us from all walks of life, and that diversity shines through all over campus. Our campus community comes to life as the semester kicks off, and I am so proud of how hard our faculty and staff work every single day to ensure we are meeting the needs of such a diverse student body.

Collectively, our faculty and staff create an environment where all are welcome. Inclusivity has always been one of Lorain County Community College’s points of pride, and our mission of “empowering individuals to succeed through quality education” stems from the belief that everyone deserves to have access to education.

While this concept is firmly embedded institutionally, I recently learned of two students who were deeply affected by certain LCCC employees who went above and beyond to ensure students can achieve their educational dreams.

The first story I would like to share is about a young man named Ignacio but he prefers to be called “Nacho.” Nacho was working with Lauren Beiler, a part-time advisor in Enrollment Services, who learned that he was walking quite a distance every day to and work and would be walking to LCCC this fall semester. Realizing that this lack of transportation could become a barrier to Nacho’s success, Lauren connected him with Espy Correa, a student success coach, and shared with her his dilemma. Espy immediately thought of a solution – that evening she went home and loaded up a bike that she had been planning to sell at a garage sale. Instead, she brought the bike to campus to present to Nacho. A week later, Nacho returned to campus and Espy surprised him with her thoughtful gift – she became a game changer for Nacho, removing a barrier with her own generosity.

At left, LCCC student, Nacho, stands with his new bike. At right, LCCC Success Coach Esperanza Correa.
Nacho, left, with the bike he received from LCCC Success Coach Esperanza Correa, right.

I believe that LCCC is a game changer for our students like Dorisa Johnson. She credits Dina Ferrer – the coordinator for our Lorain Learning Center, as her game changer. During high school, Dorisa had a rough time facing financial hardship and spending most of her time caring for her ill father, who later passed away. As would be expected, this experience had a profound impact on Dorisa, and she decided that she wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. As she tried to figure out her path, Dorisa connected with Lorain County’s Employment Network, OhioMeansJobs, and the Lorain County Urban League. Through these organizations she was introduced to LCCC and Dina, who helped Dorisa enroll in her first college course and the GED program simultaneously. The staff and teachers motivated her to complete her GED and immediately enroll in additional LCCC courses.

Dina became Dorisa’s mentor, hiring her as a student worker and helping her navigate an educational pathway to reach her goals. She has now earned 49 college credits toward an associate’s degree in Medical Assisting and maintains a 3.1 G.P.A. When talking about Dina, Dorisa often mentions that she is like family and says, “She made me feel special, successful, and appreciated.”

LCCC student Dorisa Johnson and LCCC Lorain center coordinator Dina Ferrer.
LCCC student Dorisa Johnson and LCCC Lorain center coordinator Dina Ferrer.

I am so proud of our faculty and staff who are game changers for our students on a daily basis. There are countless more stories like these I could share because this is the nature of what we do here at LCCC. First and foremost, we make sure all of our students know that their dream matters. For those who are afraid to dream, we are here to help them see the possibilities.

Poet Langston Hughes wrote eloquently about the importance of dreams. I take his words to heart:

“Hold onto dreams
For if dreams die
Life is like a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.”

Community – Our Middle Name

I believe that you can’t help to lead a community you don’t love, and you can’t love a community you don’t know. Having worked in this community for the past 25 years, what amazes me the most is the strong network created by our non-profit partners, philanthropic organizations, and educational institutions. The spirit of collaboration is alive and well in this community, and it is one of the qualities that I believe will help move the needle for economic mobility as residents increase their income.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Boys and Girls Club of Lorain County’s new Desich Family Campus. A partner of Lorain County Community College, the Boys and Girls Club provides an invaluable service to the youth in our community – often serving as the tipping point in helping young people choose a positive life path. The event celebrated the naming of a new facility after the Desich family, which brings yet another connection to LCCC. Dick Desich was a College Trustee for 34 years in fact, and has been a strong philanthropic supporter for many years. Dick spoke to the youth at the event and shared that he grew up in that same neighborhood. He challenged them to stay in the Boys and Girls Club and then enroll at LCCC. The bonus for those who persist – an LCCC scholarship funded by Dick Desich – to earn their degree.

One of the speakers at the ribbon-cutting was a remarkable young lady named Rosie Shepherd. Rosie was raised by a single mom, lived in extreme poverty, suffered through the loss of a close family member, and was victimized by a bully. She eventually landed at the Boys and Girls Club in response to her school principal’s suggestion after witnessing her negative behavior at school –certainly a normal reaction to her challenging life circumstances.

The Boys and Girls Club provided Rosie with a safe place to go after school and a caring staff who helped her discover her life’s purpose and deal with unknown medical issues. Today, Rosie has a bright future. She was recently recognized as the Boys and Girls Club of Lorain County’s Youth of the Year as well as the State of Ohio’s Youth of the Year due to her award-winning essay discussing the impact the Club’s impact on her life. Rosie advanced to the Mid-West Regionals in Chicago two weeks ago and now has plans to continue her education right here at LCCC this fall. Her goal – to teach fourth grade. Congratulations, Rosie!

Rosie’s ability to overcome the odds and launch a successful pathway to her future is remarkable. We’re committed at LCCC to help give the “Rosies” of our community the hope they need to build a better future. Fourteen percent of all families in Lorain County with children under 18 are headed by single female heads of households, and nearly half of these families live below the poverty level.

As the President of this community’s College, I feel a deep responsibility toward bringing awareness to the challenges facing our community, as well as identifying hopeful solutions. Research has shown that access to education can be a powerful factor in making a meaningful impact for those who are under-resourced. I take to heart the “community” in Lorain County Community College. After all, it’s our middle name.

I recently invited the College’s Administrative Leadership Team to spend the day with me exploring Lorain’s vibrant past. Our gracious and informative host was Barb Piscopo, Executive Director of the Lorain Historical Society, who led us through the city exploring its historic industrial past and ending with a look at the future. We spent time at El Centro with Executive Director Victor Leandry and his team to explore enhanced educational programs that more fully address the needs of our Latino community. Our day ended focused on high school students and the world of possibilities at the new Lorain High School. What an amazing facility, but more importantly a symbol of opportunity. I’m delighted that LCCC’s partnership with Lorain City Schools transcends to new levels at Lorain High through Titan College, which offers high school students the opportunity to graduate high school with both an associate degree and a high school diploma free of charge. The new high school will also be home to the LCCC Community Learning Center, designed to complement Titan College by providing community members with access to the courses and training they need to succeed in the 21st century. And of course, LCCC will continue to operate its City Center location in downtown Lorain with the goal of providing multiple educational locations as an added convenience for Lorain residents.

This enhanced partnership with Lorain City Schools demonstrates LCCC’s commitment to our community and the power of collaboration. I am so proud to be leading a College that holds tight to these values:

  • We are the community’s college
  • We are trusted by the community to educate, lead and inspire
  • We create a better, more sustainable future for our community

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I will close with one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Our Roots, Our Values, Our Community

One of the wonderful aspects about serving as Lorain County Community College’s President is having the opportunity to hear from members of our community in a variety of forums – through conversations with our community leaders, to grassroots events, to dedication ceremonies honoring philanthropic contributions intended to improve the lives of others. Well, this past week – in fact on Tuesday evening – I spoke with members of two very different families who have direct connections to Lorain County and our College.

The first family I spent time with was Dan and Mila Reaser and their two children, Danny and Shannon. Dan and Mila are from Lorain County, born and raised. They have deep-seeded roots here and have vested themselves in both our College and our community. All four of the Reasers have attended Lorain County Community College, seeking out courses that better prepare them to run their family business, a television reality show, The Outdoor Option. After launching and growing their first company, American Hood, the Reasers decided to sell it with the proceeds creating the Reaser Family Foundation in order to keep their philanthropic giving within the county lines.

The family recently took their commitment to our College a step further by making a significant donation to the Roy and Bobbi Church Visionary Leadership Institute. The LCCC Foundation honored this gift by dedicating the Reaser Grand Room on July 11, 2016. The naming of the Grand Room for the Reaser family was never about the fanfare; it was about inspiring others, now and in the future, to invest philanthropically in this college and our community.

Following the Reaser Grand Room dedication event, I traveled to the North Eaton Church for the Lorain County Farm Bureau Pork Chop Dinner Policy Development Meeting where I enjoyed a delicious dinner while meeting some local farmers. One gentleman, Ted Schriver, introduced himself and shared his family’s interesting story and multi-generational connection to Lorain County.

I learned that Ted is the son of the late Henry Haley Schriver, who was fondly known as the “Co-op Philosopher” thanks to his commitment to cooperative values. Ted shared with me that his father served in the Ohio House of Representatives 75th district working on issues near and dear to his heart – including bringing Lorain County Community College to this community.   Ted shared that his dad did all of this work while he was running his family’s dairy and fruit farm with his wife and 11 children, delivering a unique rhyme-inspired presentation to thousands across the country about leadership, and serving as the president of the Belden School Board which created Midview Schools.

As I begin my third week in my new role, I have been thinking about these two families, the Reasers and the Schrivers, realizing that one thing lies at the root of their success and their profound impact on our community – values. The Reaser family’s decision to give back and create their family foundation was driven by their family values of generosity and compassion. Henry Schriver’s legacy has crossed generational lines, instilling the values of love for your community, education, and leadership into his 40 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

Values represent the core of who you are – as a person, as a family, as a community and as an institution. Our community has undergone tremendous change during the past several decades, but the values of education, hard-work, innovation and commitment have not faltered. Lorain Countians are resilient, innovative, and dedicated. I am proud to be serving as a catalyst at Lorain County Community College to achieve our vision that empowers a thriving community by leading the charge to increase educational attainment, accelerating businesses and job growth and inspiring community engagement. This important work is supported by Lorain County Community College’s core values, as defined by our campus and greater community during the creation of Vision 2020:

  • We are the community’s college
  • We are trusted by the community to educate, lead, and inspire
  • We create a better, more sustainable future for our community

Feel free to tweet about what values you see reflected within our community @Lorainccc #LorainCCCValues and consider following me on Twitter @PresBallinger.

LCCC Proud

Welcome to my first Lorain County Community College President’s blog! I’m excited to share my thoughts with you and even more excited that you’ve taken the time to read this.

Today truly is a special day – a day that marks a new beginning not only for LCCC but also for me, both personally and professionally. I am writing this as I drink my first cup of Starbuck’s this morning and preparing to walk around campus.  As I step into the role of President, my schedule is taking on a life of its own – but there is important work to be done, and I am honored to be the catalyst as we move forward and build upon our rich foundation.

Our alumni, students, faculty and staff are building blocks of LCCC’s foundation, and each has points of pride about what our great College means to them. It’s ironic that as I was writing this blog, Professor Jeff Koleno stopped by my office to welcome me on my first day, and we quickly began reminiscing about our early days at the College when we first started together in 1991.  He talked about how proud he is to be an LCCC alum as he earned his associate’s degree from LCCC in 1982 and that if we had the University Partnership at that time he would have enrolled here.  I shared with him that had it not been for the University Partnership, I doubt that I would have pursued my MBA in 2000.  We’re both LCCC Proud of our roots!

Equally proud is North Ridgeville resident Thomas Vilevac, who enrolled at LCCC in 1964 and was a member of our first graduating class! Last month marked the 50th anniversary of this graduating class, whose ceremony was held on June 9, 1966 for 105 students.  I recently talked with Tom about his LCCC experience, and he commented that had it not been for LCCC he wouldn’t have had the great career he had in computer programming and database administration working in the manufacturing and banking sectors.

LCCC’s roots run deep throughout our community. During my time here, I have witnessed the power of collaboration, determination, and innovation. But one lesson that rises above the rest is what I have learned about the value of community. Your voice matters – and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as we work to achieve the goals outlined in Vision 2020. As we all embark on a new chapter this academic year, I hope you will help me discover new ways we can collaborate and broaden our impact.

As the year unfolds, I will be offering many opportunities for us to stay connected. For now, I hope you will consider subscribing to this blog by providing your email address as well as following me on Twitter @PresBallinger.  Tweet about your LCCC points of pride @LorainCCC #pointsofpride.