Former Coventry School adds tenants
From left to right: Bonnie Caplan, member of Cleveland Heights City Council; Stephen Shergalis, director of business services for the CH-UH City School District; Gary Convertino, director of human resources and volunteer services, Cleveland Sight Center; Howard Thompson, director of economic eevelopment, City of Cleveland Heights; Tabatha Whiteman, supervisor, Cleveland Sight Center Call Center Training; Stephen Friedman, Ph.D., CEO of the Cleveland Sight Center. Photo by Richard Stewart.
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With the recent additions of the Cleveland Sight Center (CSC) and its Bright Futures preschool program, the former Coventry School is busier than it’s been since the building was closed in 2007. Cleveland Heights officials, along with Sight Center and InfoCision employees, celebrated the new enterprises at a midday open house on July 20.
InfoCision, a large call-center company, is training CSC clients to become eligible for employment in telemarketing services in nonprofit fundraising, direct-to-consumer sales and business-to-business applications.
"We’ve created an InfoCision call center right here in the facility. People go through extensive training that prepares them to communicate with our clients’ customers and, at the same time, creates jobs for them. It’s been a real win-win situation all around," said Steve Brubaker, InfoCision’s chief of staff.
CSC occupies more than 13,000 square feet inside the spacious, open-classroom-style former elementary school. Its mission is to empower people with impaired vision to realize their full potential, and to educate the community about that potential.
At its April meeting the Cleveland Heights City Council approved a $15,000 loan to the Sight Center from the Community Development Block Grant fund.
CSC’s preschool program provides an alternative preschool experience for children ages 3 to 5, with a primary or secondary vision impairment/blindness.
"The things we do are unique. We prepare kids for kindergarten by teaching pre-braille skills," said Sylvia Snyder, program director. "We help them domesticate and explore their worlds with their hands, differentiate texture and navigate the world around them."
Snyder said that last year the program served 14 children, 8 of whom were vision impaired. Ten of them moved on to kindergarten this year. The program is now seeking additional participants, including non-vision-impaired children from the neighborhood.
In addition to instruction with a certified early childhood teacher, the children may receive occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, orientation and mobility, and the services of a teacher of the visually impaired.
The addition of the new tenants marks a high point in the four-year transition from closed elementary school to an active facility. For almost two years, local residents prepared to welcome the Music Settlement to the community, but that plan was abandoned last August, after Music Settlement officials were unable to raise the funds necessary to make the project a reality. The Ensemble Theatre, which formerly performed at the Cleveland Playhouse, moved into a space in the building last February.
"You get a nice mix of some really dynamic organizations that are working together to increase opportunities for people to get back into the work force. I think for job development, that’s what economic development really gets down to," said Howard Thompson, Cleveland Heights’s director of economic development.
Council Member Bonnie Caplan added, "We really love that they’re here. It fills an empty building and when there are people working, there’s a higher level of safety, there’s money being spent, so it all works. The whole neighborhood is thrilled to have people here instead of an empty building. So this is fantastic and we’re enormously pleased."
Residents, school personnel, and families are invited to contact the Cleveland Sight Center (216-658-8777) to discuss or observe the preschool program as a possible placement option.
Richard Stewart is president of Digizoom Media, a Cleveland Heights-based video production company and a member of the FutureHeights Board of Directors.