By: Jackie Baraona, President of the Young Professionals of Parma
Many people know that I’m one of Parma’s biggest cheerleaders, but a lot might not know that wasn’t always the case. I actually used to have a bad impression of Parma. I grew up in Independence, and when it came time to get my own place, like many young people I looked no farther than Lakewood. Cities like Lakewood and Tremont are known around Cleveland for being vibrant, popular places to live. Parma, unfortunately, doesn’t have this reputation (yet!). So when I got married and moved into my husband’s home in Parma, I was less than thrilled. I liked to say I was dragged there “kicking and screaming” from Lakewood.
But after a couple years of living in Parma, I actually started to really like it. The quick easy commute downtown, central location, safety, affordability, and local small businesses were all things I grew to love and felt made Parma an ideal place for young professionals (YPs) to live. Eventually I found myself wanting to do whatever I could to help share how great Parma is with the rest of Cleveland. I also felt that even though I loved Parma, there were still things that could be improved. I wanted to see what I could do to make a difference and help strengthen the city.
I decided the best first step would be to see if there were any other like-minded Parmidians who would want to come together and try to make a difference with me. I was also seeing young people all over town at the grocery store or walking down the street with their dogs or strollers. But, I didn’t know how I could connect with these people. That’s when I decided to take the jump and start a young professionals group. I had experience with other YP groups such as Engage Cleveland, and I knew how beneficial they could be not only to the YPs themselves but to the community as a whole.
Initially, I was worried that no one would show up, but the first event in at The Venue Bistro and Wine Bar drew 12 eager Parma-area YPs. And thus Young Professionals of Parma was born. It wasn’t until after forming the group that I discovered my favorite thing about Parma of all: the people. Parma has some of the most down-to-earth, kind, community-minded people I’ve ever met. Not to mention we have a really cool mayor!
It wasn’t long after forming the group that I found other YPs who were just as excited as me who wanted to help grow the group and further our movement. The newly founded “leadership team” and I began meeting monthly. We developed our mission statement that is the basis of everything we do: “Strengthening the community of Parma through networking, activism, and local pride.” Our first year was all about providing opportunities in which we could meet new people and build the critical mass. I never would have imagined that after only a year we would have more than 200 individuals attending our events and more than 300 people on our e-mail list. We had 16 social events, relaunched the City of Parma Holiday Lights Contest, hosted the inaugural craft beer and wine booth at the Rib ‘N Rock, and developed a strong presence on social media. Additionally, we fostered community pride by encouraging people to ask themselves what they love about Parma and by working with local businesses like All of her Design and Y Design Graphics to produce Parma stickers and apparel.
After a year of starting conversations, making contacts, and building momentum, we feel the next best step for our group is to incorporate more service opportunities. Although our group has been making a difference in indirect ways by bringing the community together, spotlighting local businesses, and helping to increase the quality of life for young professionals in our area, we are looking forward to being able to perform acts of service in more straightforward ways. We have begun a conversation about how our small group can make a difference. Some ideas include painting a building at Stearns farm, working with students at PCSD, doing a project at the Watershed Stewardship Center, or doing landscaping work around town to beautify our city. Our plan for this upcoming year also involves assembling four committees: Business Engagement, Volunteerism/Philanthropy, Political Advocacy/Community Development, and of course Social/Events.
In addition, we are in a research phase to see how we can make our organization more like a community development corporation (CDC), a nonprofit organizations that exists to provide programs, offer services and engage in other activities that promote and support the development of a city or neighborhood. Some examples include Old Brooklyn CDC, Lakewood Alive, Shaker Heights Development Corporation, and smaller groups like Parma’s Polish Village Association. We have spent a lot of time researching these type of organizations and meeting with people to learn more. Our long-term vision is vast and includes ideas like putting together major professional marketing and video campaigns that reach all of Cleveland, installing and planting trees to line roads, creating initiatives to attract new small businesses to Parma, building an online community hub or visitor website for the Parma area, and hosting major community-wide events, street festivals, and more.
Currently, our long-term goals may be far reaching, but with many hands (and minds), we can make light work. We are hopeful and positive about what’s to come. The number of people who have gotten involved with us this past year is a testament not only to the commitment to our group, but to Parma as a whole. Our group is still in our infancy, and we still have a long way to go to get where we want to be, so we need a lot of help to make some of the goals a reality. We need people to help us. So send us ideas, or shoot us a message if you’re interested in helping out. Interested individuals can send us a message on our website or our social media or approach one of our leadership team members at a future event. We also have a small engagement survey that you can fill out at this link.
Or just help us being a Parma ambassador and sharing positive Parma vibes on social media, telling people about our group and events and why Parma’s such a great place to live. Be engaged and informed by keeping up to date and participating in what the city is doing.
My hope is that the efforts we’ve made this past year and we continue to make in the future will lead young professionals who are looking for a place to live and consider Parma an option.