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Morgan Stanley launches year-long effort to improve health of Cleveland kids

Author: Brie Zeltner

CLEVELAND, Ohio—It took 200 volunteers less than six hours Friday to transform a barren parking lot behind a low-income apartment complex into a colorful playground, complete with slides, swings, plenty of places to climb and jump, and a safe bed of wood chips to land on.

The effort, at the Cleveland Housing Network's Erie Square apartments on Euclid Avenue in the city's Fairfax neighborhood, marked the launch of Healthy Cleveland. The year-long initiative by global financial services firm Morgan Stanley is designed to give Cleveland kids safe spaces to play as well as healthy food and access to health screenings.

Morgan Stanley has already launched Healthy Cities programs in Chicago, Newark, Oakland and London. The company chose Cleveland as its fourth national site because of the willingness of partners like the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the Cleveland Clinic, and because of the high level of child poverty in the area, said Joan Steinberg, president of the Morgan Stanley Foundation.

"A lot of it, unfortunately, is based on need, and what life is like for kids in these communities," said Steinberg, who was in Cleveland Friday for the playground build.

More than half of Cleveland kids live in poverty, the second highest rate for any big city nationally. The rate is about 28 percent for Cuyahoga County.

About 20 percent of kids in Cleveland don't know where their next meal is coming from, a measure referred to as food insecurity.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, which began offering a mobile pantry to kids and families at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's Garrett Morgan School of Science Academy last year, was looking for a way to expand the service to other schools in the district when Morgan Stanley approached with the grant this spring.

The company is dedicating about $500,000 towards the initiative, which is funding the playground, food distribution, and grants to the plan's partners to provide services in the schools.

Starting in September, the Food Bank will offer the mobile pantry monthly at four East Side elementary schools in the district chosen because of their high need: Case Elementary School, Marion Sterling Elementary School, Willson Elementary School, and Adlai Stevenson Elementary School.

"One of our most vulnerable populations is children," said Karen Ponza, a spokeswoman for the Food Bank. "We've been looking for ways to reach more children, and this is an opportunity to do that."

The Cleveland Clinic is joining the initiative to offer health education and potentially health screenings for kids in the same schools. Exactly what those programs will include isn't yet clear, Ponza said.

"We're still working on identifying the needs of each school," she said. "It's still a work in progress."

Thomas Russ, a Morgan Stanley financial adviser based in Pepper Pike, cuts the "ribbon" on the new playground at the Erie Square apartments Friday. Over 200 volunteers helped build it in less than 6 hours.Courtesy of Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley has been offering the Healthy Cities initiative for about a year in the other cities involved.

"We're seeing great outputs so far," Steinberg said, citing almost 600,000 meals and 1,200 health screenings delivered to families in those cities. "But we're trying to also measure outcomes. We're working with our partners to determine if we're influencing health choices going forward, the health of the kids."

"It's great that all these kids are getting healthy food, but it's more important that long-term, these are health behaviors that they can continue."

Over the next year, Healthy Cleveland plans to deliver over 710,000 healthy meals; nutrition education, health screening and healthy snack programs for 2,000 students; regular fitness programs for more than 700 students and safe play spaces for 1,000 children. Morgan Stanley employees are pledging 2,000 hours of volunteer service towards the effort.

The national nonprofit KaBOOM!, which helps build playgrounds for kids, was the organizer of Friday's build. Volunteers included Cleveland community members and representatives from Morgan Stanley, the Cleveland Housing Network and the Food Bank.

By: Brie Zeltner, The Plain Dealer

Read this article online here.

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