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Ohio CDC Association Honors Local Business Developers for Role in Helping Transform Communities - WCPO Cincinnati

Three Cincinnati-based community development leaders have received statewide awards for their role in helping to transform once-blighted neighborhoods in the Tri-State through economic initiatives.

A fourth trophy went to an organization that supports small business development in Butler County.

The Ohio CDC Association (OCDCA) on Friday announced its 2014 Member Awards during the organization's 30th annual conference at the Crowne Plaza in Dayton, Ohio. The two-day gathering, Oct. 9-10, convened 250 community development leaders from around Ohio under the theme, "Re-Inventing Our Communities."

In total seven awards were handed out, three of which went to individuals who work in Cincinnati communities.

Diane Vakharia with Price Hill Will received the CDC Staff Member of the Year award, while Fred Orth with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation walked away with CDC Community Leader of the Year award.

Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity's Rob Sheil took home the Stephanie J. Bevens Award, which honors the "entrepreneurial spirit and a strong advocate on behalf of low- to moderate income people."

The prize is given in honor of a long-time OCDCA Board Member and director of micro-enterprise programs at Pike County Community Action who was known for being a tireless advocate on behalf of low-income entrepreneurs.

OCDCA gave distinction to the Butler County Small Business Development Center as the CDC Partner of the Year.

The overall CDC of the Year award went to the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation. Other awards went to the Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland – Cleveland CityLIFT (CDC Project of the Year) and Hal Keller from Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing (Ned D. Neuhausel Award)

“This year’s award winners inspire us all to step up our revitalization efforts,” said Nate Coffman, executive director of the Ohio CDC Association. “Their dedication and hard work give us examples of what’s possible in each of our communities. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and our members, we congratulate them for their outstanding achievements.”

The Ohio CDC Association is a statewide membership organization of community development corporations that engages in capacity building, advocacy and public policy development that fosters socially and economically healthy communities.

Below is additional information on the Cincinnati award winners and the organizations they represent:

Diana Vakharia, director of economic development for Price Hill Will

Vakharia works for Price Hill Will, which has six full-time and three part-time employees working on physical revitalization, commercial revitalization and community engagement in each of the Price Hill neighborhoods.

She is leading a neighborhood planning process, together with Xavier’s Community Building Institute, that has connected with local residents to renew the 10-year-old plan for Price Hill’s future.

Some 300 residents have been working over the past two months to identify key priorities for neighborhood revitalization, and to create a vision for how to make that happen.

Her co-workers also credit Vakharia for helping to lay the groundwork for current development by helping secure TIF districting in West Price Hill and the Entertainment District in East Price Hill, which has led to new businesses and stronger existing businesses.

Diana Vakharia, director of economic development for Price Hill Will

She's also collaborated on planning for commercial revitalization in these business districts by helping to strengthen the local business alliances in collaboration with their leadership. She also partnered with Launch Cincy to develop entrepreneurship classes, in both English and Spanish, to help residents start their own business.

Most recently she has devoted "countless hours" to developing an innovative microgreens and aquaponics company in Lower Price Hill. The goal is not only bring new business to the area but also introduce a unique co-op model that hires local people and provides continuing education and profit sharing for all employees.

As part of that, she worked with the city of Cincinnati to secure funding for the purchase and rehab of a building that will become their headquarters and growing site. She also secured funding for traffic and feasibility studies for a new commercial development in West Price Hill and the construction of a new park in East Price Hill.

Although her work is noteworthy and has helped invigorate the transformation efforts in Price Hill, her co-workers credit her for the way she goes about handling her business, Ken Smith, executive director of Price Hill Will.

“While the breadth and impact of her work has created significant improvement in the neighborhood, enhancing the lives of the 35,000 people who call Price Hill home, it is not just her accomplishments that led us to nominate Diana for this award,” Smith said.

“Diana comes to work every day with a smile on her face. No matter what deadlines are looming, what snags have popped up, and what stress she is facing, she remains calm, cheerful, upbeat and ready to roll up her sleeves to get the task at hand done. She is considerate of others, devoted to our work and gives selflessly of her time and energy. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this honor more.”

Fred Orth with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation

Co-workers describe Orth as a “tenacious voice” for the Walnut Hills community he has called home for more than 40 years.

In the early 1970s, he submitted a plan for the Gilbert Avenue Greenway, which was completed in 2010.

Fred Orth with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation

Without his determination, two very important and historic buildings -- the Hamilton House and Fire Company 16, which is the oldest remaining firehouse in Cincinnati -- would have been torn down.

Today, those buildings are a key part of the neighborhood’s revitalization.

Orth also worked for the city of Cincinnati for 30 years as an engineering technician, city planner, development analyst and development officer.

Rob Sheil, executive director at Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity

Sheil’s life work is to help people in need secure a way for low-income residents to build wealth and invest literally and figuratively into their communities. He does so through the Cornerstone Corporation, a nonprofit community development corporation located in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

The organization's mission is to expand economic opportunity for low-income households through Renter Equity, an innovative housing model that allows residents to play a role in management and maintenance of the properties Cornerstone manages and develops. The residents are able to build credits in a financial fund.

Requirements for the Shared Equity program are simple – engage in the community, do community service and pay rent on time. If participants need emergency assistance to ensure their rent is paid on time, they can borrow from their equity at low interest.

Within five years, they have $5,000 and within 10 years, they have $10,000.

Rob Sheil, executive director at Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity

“Rob is there mornings, evenings and weekends setting up a community garden, helping the residents find jobs and providing the support and guidance needed to ensure the success of this program,”said Patricia Garry, with the CDC Association of Greater Cincinnati. “His tireless effort is evident every day through the impact he has had on the community around him.”

Thanks largely to Sheil’s efforts, the Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity is also developing a building for the disabled that will be ready in two years.

Butler County Small Business Development Center

Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families (SELF) launched the Butler County Microenterprise and Microloan Program in 2011 with the help of the Butler County Small Business Development Center and other nonprofit community partners.

It's goal is to assist low- and moderate-income individuals in launching or growing a business, as well as increasing household income and spurring economic growth in the county.

Since then, 113 prospective entrepreneurs have enrolled in these trainings, leading to 31 new or expanded businesses. The organization takes pride in the fact 28 of them are still in operation and thriving. Eight microloans have been awarded so far.

SELF’s key partner is the Butler County Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which helps provide classroom training on small business topics and hands-on support for writing a business plan and completing a loan package.

“Dave Riggs and Mark Langford of the SBDC -- both experienced entrepreneurs and business owners themselves -- go above and beyond to teach, mentor and encourage our entrepreneurial clients,” says Jeffrey Diver, executive director of SELF. “They offer advice, a listening ear and their expertise—and help support our clients by buying local and encouraging others to support these micro businesses”.

To read the full story from WCPO, click here.