H2O's Thirtieth Anniversary Year - A Year At Cove Community Center

The City of Lakewood established H2O, the “Help to Others” program in 1993 as part of the Department of Human Services. The program’s foundation is rooted in the idea that if youth are provided opportunities to meaningfully serve and engage in the community, they will contribute – and they will flourish. Thirty years later, that vision continues to unfold with every project. It is profound to witness how quickly and deeply volunteer experiences impact individuals. One of H2O’s Summer Service Campers, Indigo M., wrote in her sponsor letter: “Ever since I made the decision to join H2O three years ago my heart has grown 100x the size.” We can’t thank the supportive community that surrounds H2O enough for helping to sustain it to this thirtieth anniversary year.

In addition to celebrating H2O’s thirtieth anniversary in 2023, it was also the first full year that the Department of Human Services operated from the newly renovated Cove Community Center. It was a year of growing into the space, re-imagining and adapting old events, and truly enjoying this amazing community space.

H2O launched the year with the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service by hosting elementary school children at Cove for a special morning, funded by a grant from the Lakewood/Rocky River Rotary Foundation. The young children attended with their parents and heard from the dynamic Lizz Maxwell, Site Director of Gigi’s Playhouse Cleveland – Down Syndrome Achievement Center. They took the Generation G pledge to be accepting, generous, and kind – what a great way to start the year! H2O volunteers hosted the morning, helping with crafts, serving food, and pledging alongside their younger peers to consciously choose being better every day.

The Tributary Bash 30th Anniversary fundraiser in February 2023 was a night to remember! The theme carried from the previous summer, “A Seat at the Table.” Approximately 270 guests filled the artfully decorated Cove Community Center and enjoyed great food, live and silent auctions, alumni guest bartenders, a wine pull, live jazz from Lakewood High School musicians, emcees Nick Aylward and Nate Kelly, a commendation by State Senator Nickie Antonio, and an inspirational video made by H2O volunteer Sean Miller. Thanks to the Bash guests, sponsors, and wine and raffle donors, we raised over $58,000.00 for youth programming. The volunteers who planned this event, led by Chair Brittany O’Connor, did a simply fabulous job at putting every detail into place.

H2O’s next big event that was moved to Cove was Breakfast with the Bunny, sponsored by First Federal Lakewood. The room hosted 340 people over four seating times.  Our adult and youth volunteers thoroughly enjoyed the amenities of the building, especially the kitchen! The raffle baskets full of goodies donated by local businesses was featured prominently in the space, and, as always, the volunteers decorated beautifully.

One of the events that was initially most difficult to imagine moving to Cove Community Center was H2O’s HOME ALONE presentation. After applying some creativity, we decided to give it a try – and it paid off wonderfully. Six groups of high school leaders taught younger peers (9-12 years old) safety topics in the conference and activity rooms at Cove, and the parents heard from safety professionals in the main community room. Not only did the event run smoothly, the feedback from guests and presenters was positive. The center was an ideal hosting space for this community event.

H2O Summer Service campers enjoyed frequent trips from the home base of camp at Garfield Middle School to Cove Community Center. They joined in activities with the Division of Aging and helped serve lunch to senior citizens. “My favorite service site is the Cove Community Center because senior citizens are an age group I don’t usually talk to,” Fiona H. wrote in her sponsor letter. The young volunteers also treasured their experiences with guests of the Lakewood Family Room, meeting them at Cove Park and playing with young children.

The H2O program has grown and changed throughout its 30-year history, continuously making new connections with other agencies and organizations and planning new programs to fill needs in the community. Having a “home” with the other divisions within Humans Services has opened new opportunities beyond what we had imagined. We look forward to many more years of connecting youth to their communities, especially here at Cove.

Emmie Hutchison

H2O is a youth volunteer program sponsored by the City of Lakewood’s Division of Youth Office. H2O receives tremendous support from the Lakewood City Schools, the Lakewood Foundation, generous donors and a dedicated group of adult volunteers.

Volume 20, Issue 1, Posted 1:59 PM, 01.10.2024