West Side Catholic Center has always been able to attract really good directors as well as staff who have remained committed to keeping the program as one of the top homeless services in Northeast Ohio. Anita Cook, the current Executive Director, announced her retirement last week to take effect at the end of September 2017. Anita has always found a great deal of patience and empathy for the residents of the neighborhood who seek help. West Side Catholic is a gem in Ohio City and an essential service to those who need assistance. Anita has steered the organization through the collapse of all transitional housing programs in Cleveland and the loss of long time staff Sue DiNardo. She has seen a renovation of the shelter and the addition of jobs programs to the programming. She knows exactly what is going on over on the West Side and has offered the drop in center as a venue for any group offering help. From the students at Ignatius helping with a meal to our outreach workers coming through looking for the next person on the housing list, West Side Catholic is open to help. Anita reached out to partners when there were issues with US mail services, and hosted our Homeless Memorial Day in December.
Anita has made homeless people feel supported and appreciated when placed in leadership positions. They do not feel isolated, and Anita actively seeks their input. She has vision and always selected a quality staff who are driven by the mission and not the money. Anita has our respect and has earned the respect of homeless people in the community. We will miss her, and hope that the Board picks another quality Director to lead this critical service in the community.
Charles See of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is also retiring after founding the Community Re-Entry Program. NEOCH began as a program on LMM, and when I was volunteering we were on the same floor as the Community Re-Entry program. Charles was a good friend of NEOCH as the head of one of their pillar programs. He was involved in criminal justice reform way before it was cool. He cared about what happened to people being released from prison before most politicians and other community leaders did. He was an early adopter of loudly complaining about the financial toll all of this rush to incarcerate people was doing to our society. He along with Rev. Dick Sering would tell anyone who would listen that this mass incarceration was a stain on our society. Now everyone is saying what Charles See said 25 years ago.
See had to endure while all the re-entry specialists at the jails were defunded, and then deal with the results of these short sighted decisions on the Cleveland community. He saw the pipeline straight from incarceration to shelters, and spent decades trying to get these guys jobs. He expanded the group to include Women and worked with youth who were facing the messed up juvenile justice system. He persevered through the good times and the bad. He kept the agency alive during the era when no one cared about African Americans being sent to jail for drug offenses as well as the law and order times when all the money went to locking everyone up and no money went to helping people reintegrate into society. It is amazing that he has worked on this issue for 44 years.
Both of these retirements are going to be tough for the social justice movement. Charles See has been a wonderful advocate for a group that is even more misunderstood than homeless people. His voice in Cuyahoga County and down in Columbus is going to be missed. Anita Cook is primarily a social service provider, but she has helped on a number of social justice causes such as voting and the inability to get identification. She has always made her facility and her clients available to community organizers and social justice groups. You may think this is a small thing, but I can't tell you how many places make it impossible or make us jump through an extreme number of hoops to get anything done. NEOCH Board and staff wish them both much success in their next chapter in life.
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