Hough Resident Helping MAGNET Fill Gap as Much-Needed Community Resource
Music pumping. Giant inflatables. STEM-themed activities. Fresh energy surrounded the shuttered Margaret A. Ireland Elementary School on an early June day in 2021.
The day began with the launch of the Manufacturing Blueprint and continued into the afternoon and early evening with a community festival as a way to introduce the MAGNET team to its new neighbors. Though mostly held outside, MAGNET opened the doors to virtual reality tours of what the space would be once renovated.
For some Hough community members, this event – even if they didn’t know what it was about – was the perfect way to start the summer, and they happily joined the festivities and met the new inhabitants of 1800 E. 63rd Street. Others, like Lamar Abner, weren't sure if they were welcome.
The 21-year-old sat across the street with friends, wondering what there was to celebrate in the space that had become another blight in his neighborhood. "I didn't know what was going on, but I wanted to," Abner said. "So, I walked over and found someone to talk to. I told her that we didn't feel welcome because we didn't know what was happening and we didn’t know if only a certain group of people were invited."
This interaction prompted Abner's introduction to MAGNET President and CEO Ethan Karp. “I talked to Ethan about some things this community would appreciate and how to connect with the kids of the African American community – things I know are important if MAGNET wanted to really make connections. And Ethan told me about MAGNET.
"Having watched the rec center close (years earlier), I witnessed violence, gangs and drugs expand because no one had anywhere to go," the lifelong Hough resident continued. "We had a free lunch program and a place we could reach out to for help and guidance, and it was gone. Now, people don't like where we're living, and I want to change that. I want to make sure people have the programs and resources they need."
Abner is not alone in wanting his community to have necessary resources. MAGNET chose the highly visible location for its new headquarters and the Manufacturing Innovation, Technology and Job Center intentionally. Leadership wanted as many people as possible to see and have access to the power and potential prosperity of a manufacturing career. “It’s not just a building,” Karp underscored. “Its vision is the future of manufacturing on the highest level: a smart manufacturing hub that can drive prosperity for the region.”
Karp and Abner maintained a relationship between their initial meeting and when MAGNET's new headquarters officially opened in October of 2022. With an appreciation for his direct approach and passion to rebuild the Hough area, Karp offered Abner a part-time role as MAGNET's Community Outreach Liaison. A real and personal opportunity to bring his vision to life – to connect with and change the lives of Hough residents was on the doorstep.
At first, Abner was tasked with managing the state-of-art STEM-themed playground and basketball courts, keeping them a clean, safe place for connection and development for neighborhood children and teens. The warm fall and easy winter have kept the playground busy since opening day. Slowly introducing younger children to science, engineering and manufacturing themes will hopefully plant the seeds for students to consider manufacturing careers as they get older.
Abner's role has quickly evolved. "My job is now to also interact with the community, inform them what MAGNET is -- what we do and the opportunities we offer," Abner said. "I help get people interested in working in manufacturing."
The combination of Abner's outreach to community members, students participating in hands-on manufacturing-themed activities, visibility of the new building, an ad campaign and other outreach efforts, MAGNET's workforce programs are generating record-breaking interest.
Our ACCESS to Manufacturing Careers program graduated its largest class in December of 2022, and the high school-focused Early College Early Career program just welcomed its biggest cohort of more than 60 students!
In addition to building manufacturing career awareness in his community, Abner found another way to give back. He organized a Holiday Toy Drive through MAGNET and in collaboration with MidTown Cleveland to benefit neighborhood children. "I wanted to bring back things that were available during my childhood, like Christmas toy events and summer camps," he said. "When these things went away, the violence grew. I've witnessed crazy things because it feels like we don't have people thinking about us."
The toy drive, complete with a pizza party and distribution of more than 500 gifts, was received by the community with overwhelming gratitude. "When I was going door to door to learn how many kids were in each household and told them why I was asking, parents were more excited than the kids because they didn't have the money to give gifts. I got so many texts and DMs just saying ‘thank you’ and ‘it's appreciated.’ I ain't seen nothing like that since I was a kid in this neighborhood."
Looking to the future and borrowing from the past, Abner is currently working on a potential "Stop the Violence" basketball tournament for the summer. His aim is to launch an annual family event held on the MAGNET basketball courts that simultaneously provides an opportunity for people to learn about MAGNET and manufacturing careers. “It’s programs like this that will show the community that MAGNET cares and can offer them new ways to change the neighborhood.”