By Cindy Miller
Often local people ask me why, after spending 30 years away from Toronto, Ohio, did I decide to move back here? My reply has always been that I had an "insane" moment.
I spent the last fifteen of those years in Metro Cleveland starting with the first ten of those years in Berea, five months in a homeless shelter downtown and ending with living in a Section 8 apartment in East Cleveland.
I had given careful consideration as to where I would move once I received my disability award. I was looking forward to being 'whole' again, to enjoying life in Cleveland and all the amenities that Cleveland had to offer; great food, entertainment, the arts, baseball games, the parks, public transportation and a diverse ethnic population are all fine examples why I consider Cleveland to be the best location in the nation; at least for me.
For some reason, I still yearned for home; for the colorful beauty of the Appalachian foothills and my love for the Ohio River.
I returned many times for visits and I saw a thriving little town that was dying. I was thankful I no longer lived here; it was so depressing.
There was a huge opportunity to make some good money due to a Shell Oil project planned for Wellsville, Ohio only ten miles away. Apartments were needed for the influx of workers. I decided to buy a house with a separate upstairs apartment that I could rent out to workers but this so-called “done deal” fell through.
I returned home; to a place that had changed economically for the worst. Industry nearly gone, staggering high unemployment, a lot of poverty, vacant storefronts and a much diminished population are only few examples. The planned Shell project was a start of what could have made a difference in many of the communities in the Ohio Valley.
Now I was stuck with a house that would be difficult to sell in this economically depressed area.
I needed an outlet; a project and it needed to be something that I was interested in and had a passion for.
I really "bellied up to the buffet" of projects and have been overwhelmed in the process. I had my 'work' cut out for me and it was not going to be easy; the mind set here seemed unfavorable for change even if it is for the betterment of the community. There is a lot of "stinking thinking" by those set in their ways.
Fortunately, this is not the consensus of all residents. I sought out those folks who were making a positive impact and wrote about many of them in my previous articles.
There are a lot of groups in town making a difference but the frustration for all lies with the lack of volunteers; something that probably many small towns face. It seems that the same folks handle all the responsibilities and, frankly, we are burned out.
I am involved with a multitude of projects within the community and assistance would greatly be appreciated. It's a lot of work.
I serve as vice-president of community relations for the Toronto Coalition for Revitalization; of which I was co-founder. We hold or even co-sponsor events to attract visitors to town as well as raise money for several charitable causes, most notably to directly help cancer patients with their financial concerns. Last year we raised over $25,000 at one event.
I am a member of the Toronto, Ohio Chamber of Commerce and I was asked to serve on the 2014 board; all due to my community involvement.
If I hear of someone in need or a group that needs publicity, I will write releases and contact media outlets to help them in their PR efforts.
However, despite being so busy and finally making a dent in helping to make my community a better place to live, I spent a lot of years very unhappy here; I felt I didn't make the right choice to return, my health had failed dramatically and my finances had dwindled down to the point that my house faced foreclosure while the medical and utilities bills kept piling up.
What I didn't know was that people were noticing and word was spreading about what I was doing within the community; not only on an official capacity as part of an organization but it had everything to do with my personal convictions of helping humans and animals in need. Whenever I put out a call for help on Facebook, people responded.
My own personal project has been to help homeless animals in need; primarily stray cats. This all came about by accident when a feral mother gave birth to two litters of kittens within several hundred feet of my property. I cared for their mother with food and water and when she left her kittens after they were weened, I tried to find them homes. I was unsuccessful in those attempts and the local shelters were full.
Needless to say, presently, I have ten cats.
Fortunately, I found resources for low cost spaying and neutering and felt the importance of educating others, especially those who are complaining that they are feeding and leaving water outside for the neighborhood kitties but will not accept responsibility to alter those cats, thus preventing more litters to be born.
A multitude of people came forward to help me in times of need; with my own medical bills and vet bills for the cats, with surprise food drop-offs and with donations for two fundraising sales I held to benefit the "quality of life" shelter that put me in touch with low cost spaying and neutering services.
Well, the surprises keep coming.
As I write this, one week before Christmas, I received a mailing addressed to me with no return address or signature on the card within. I opened the card to find a $100 bill and a note that read, "Dear Cindy, buy something nice for YOURSELF" and signed "A Friend".
Two days later, I received a gift wrapped package containing a dual thermal feeding and water 'buffet' to put out on my porch for the four neighborhood cats that pass through my property. The person who delivered it understood my frustration with the problem I was having with water freezing in the dish. An added surprise was in the gift card - three $20 bills.
I am feeling more comfortable living here knowing that there are so many people who will come forward to help another person, an animal or a cause that helps local folks. It just takes getting the word out so that people can respond and I am noticing such a response daily; not just at Christmas.
Residents of Toronto, Ohio help others. They just need to know who is in need.
Copyright Street Chronicle/NEOCH FEBRUARY 2014 Cleveland OHIO