Cleveland Foundation’s New Public Service Fellowship

After two years of intensive study to determine best practices, and a national search that attracted 110 applicants from 50 universities across 19 states, the Cleveland Foundation — the nation’s oldest community foundation — has become the newest member of a growing group of donors to create urban fellowship programs in the United States.

Beginning in September, nine recent college graduates and post-grads will work at six local public sector agencies for a year. The fellowship program, funded by the foundation, includes a year-long professional and leadership development training component. The Fellows will address an array of pressing issues for residents of the city, including community policing, public health issues generally and infant mortality and pediatric health in particular, civic identity and engagement, arts access and excellence for youth, transportation, housing affordability, jobs, and financial self-sufficiency.

For complete biographies of the new Fellows and background on the program, click here.

The nine new fellows and focal points of their work are

Kathleen BrennanSupporting community-police relations in Cleveland (Cleveland  Foundation). Brennan will work on supporting the Cleveland Community Police Commission’s work to strengthen community-police relationships.

Roberta Duarte Improving cultural competence in patient care at Cleveland’s public health  system (MetroHealth). Duarte will work with senior leadership and a cross-functional implementation team on population health initiatives.

Joshua Edmonds – Developing a new vision for one of the nation’s largest public housing authorities (Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority – CMHA). Edmonds will focus on the finalization and implementation of CMHA’s first new strategic plan in 20 years.

Tabitha Gillombardo – Shaping the region’s transportation infrastructure for the Cleveland of tomorrow (Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency – NOACA). Gillombardo will help create NOACA’s new long-range transportation plan, which will shape the development of the Greater Cleveland transportation system for the next two decades.

Ricardo Mason – Implementing a new county-wide culture of innovation (Cuyahoga County’s Office of Innovation). Mason will join a Cuyahoga County team tasked with leading the implementation of internal and external innovation plans, with a goal of creating a center of excellence that will serve as a model for counties across the nation.

Takasha Nutall – Incorporating City Council’s new Civitism agenda (Cleveland City Council). Nutall will work with the City Council president and committee chairs on Cleveland City Council’s new policy agenda, “Civitism” (love of place). She will incorporate the new platform throughout the Council’s 11 committees, which each address separate legislative priorities.

Olivia Ortega – Addressing one of the nation’s highest rates of infant mortality and lead  poisoning (Cleveland City Council). Ortega will also work with Cleveland City Council on its new  “Civitism” policy agenda, and with the council president and committee chairs specifically on the Council’s public health initiative, centered on addressing infant mortality and lead poisoning.

Hannah Santisi – Increasing access to mastery-based arts for Cleveland youth (Cleveland Foundation). Santisi will focus on the Cleveland Foundation’s new arts strategy to increase access to mastery-based arts to all youth in the city of Cleveland and will also support foundation projects in the areas of arts, culture and placemaking.

Eli Stacy – Helping residents in public housing become more financially self-sufficient (CMHA). Stacy will serve as the onsite program facilitator for the Jobs Plus initiative, which works to help residents become more financially self-sufficient. Stacy grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Ytown to Cbus: Lessons from Ohio

Ytown to Cbus: Lessons from Ohio

Photo: The Ready for Kindergarten area at the new Driving Park branch library in Columbus, Ohio. (NBBJ/Matthew Carbone, via The Atlantic)

by Kathleen Fox, SC2 Fellow 2012-2014

From 2012 through 2014, Kathleen M. Fox served as a Strong Cities, Strong Communities Fellow in Youngstown, Ohio, one of the state’s most challenged cities. Now she’s in Columbus, where she is vice president of program management at Pizzuti Solutions. We asked Fox to reflect on the lessons she learned as an SC2 Fellow in Youngstown, and to tell us how that translates into the work she does right now. Here’s her perspective.

Even in the most challenged cities there is hope, so long as there are people with energy and vision working to change the status quo. This was one of the major lessons I learned during my SC2 fellowship, working alongside visionaries in organizations such as theYoungstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Youngstown Business Incubator the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, and many others that are both rebuilding the urban fabric of the city and expanding educational and business opportunities for residents.

The critical importance of those opportunities is another lesson I learned. Even in a city like Columbus—a city that seems to have everything going for it and that is the only metro area in “rust belt” Ohio that is growing—there are people living in challenged neighborhoods who are striving to achieve the American Dream. These challenged areas and the people who struggle there can all too easily become invisible in favor of the larger success story. Cities can too often forget about the challenged areas–at our peril. Youngstown’s decline started with a few being left behind, then snowballed due to larger global economic shifts and low educational attainment.

This is why I value my current work in a consulting group that, among other projects, is assisting with building 21st century libraries in Central Ohio. I saw first hand in Youngstown how visionary leadership at the public library is bringing hope and change to neighborhoods and individuals.

Twenty-first century libraries are not your grandmother’s stodgy book repositories run by librarians who enforce silence. The new generation of libraries features transparent, open, technologically savvy community centers that partner with neighborhoods, families and schools to improve educational attainment and life long learning. They make a difference in people’s lives through information resources and targeted educational programs such as Ready for Kindergarden, Homework Help Centers, and in-library community college courses

Urban fellowship lessons apply to some parts of every city, even the most successful metro areas.

In addition to her SC2 fellowship and her current work at Pizzuti Solutions, Kathleen Fox is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and 2002 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She also holds a graduate certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Capital University Law School. Reach out to her at  



The roots of urban fellowships in the United States go back to the establishment of national programs such as National Urban Fellows and local initiatives such as the New York City Urban Fellows in 1969, as well as international organizations that include fellowships, notably the German Marshall Fund of the United States (founded in 1972). These programs focus on leadership development, social change, and a distinctly personal engagement in the challenges and needs of cities, primarily within or aligned to the capacity of city governments.

Since the early 2000s, urban fellowships have received renewed attention and investment, through such locally sponsored programs as Capital City Fellows (CCF), established in 2000 in Washington, D.C.; and the Detroit Revitalization Fellows (DRF), established in 2011 with generous support from numerous foundations. The energetic leadership of philanthropists, universities, and the federal government have been a hallmark of 21st Century fellowship programs, from the Center for Urban Redevelopment Excellence (CUREx) at the University of Pennsylvania (2003-2006, supported by the Knight Foundation) to the federal Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) initiative (2012-2014), established by the Obama White House and carried out through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with key support from The German Marshall Fund’s Urban and Regional Policy Program and Surdna Foundation.

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The four urban fellowship programs that are the focus of this site (CUREx, CCF, DRFP, and SC2) share several traits in common. As summarized by Katy Locker of The Knight Foundation from a talk given by Tom Burns of the Urban Ventures Group, this “next wave” of urban fellowship tend to

  • Allow fellows to serve host employers full time
  • Build or strengthen a network of fellows and host organizations
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Focus on mid-career individuals
  • Focus on a specific issue, practice area, or place
  • Gather fellows as a mutually supportive cohort

The focus on mid-career professionals in the urban fellowship programs studied here also drives several important secondary traits:

  • Level of service and access to leadership: Urban fellows in mid-career expect to have autonomy, decision-making power, and direct access to strong leaders in the cities they serve. The Capital City Fellows program, for example, offers participants their own budgets and teams during three 6-month rotations in three different agencies during their tenure. See “Where Are They Now? Capital City Fellows.”
  • Length of service, compensation, and commitment going forward: Mid-career fellows need to have adequate time in a host city, and compensation for their experience. Cities benefit from a sustained increase in capacity by offering such stability to fellows, rather than just a temporary surge for a year or months-long commitment. During the CUREx program, for example, placements lasted two years and annual salaries were $60,000. Capital City Fellows currently offers about $54,000 in salary, with an opportunity for a performance increase during the second year.
  • Mentoring and networks of peers: Presumedly, talented mid-career practitioners make the leap to an urban fellowship for its growth potential, and have every reason to expect strong mentoring, new skills, and peers who will become close colleagues and friends over a lifetime career. Example of mentoring/networking support from one of the programs from both DRFP and SC2.

READ ON: Where are urban fellows placed?



Whether you are new to the concept of urban fellowships, or need to refresh your understanding, we’ve prepared answers to seven essential questions that came up during the 2014 Symposium:

What do we mean when we say urban fellowship?

Where are urban fellows placed?

What do urban fellows do?

Who is involved in urban fellowships?

What does success look like in an urban fellowship?

How do we measure the impact of urban fellowships?

What is the promise of urban fellowships?



Where are urban fellows placed?

“I am forever changed. I traveled, I listened, I grew, and I was blessed.” -Bernice Butler, SC2 Fellow, Memphis. Read more here.

“Our fellows — 48 of them over the course of the last four years — have represented three distinct groups of Detroiters: newcomers who have never lived in Detroit before, former Detroiters who are returning home and Detroiters who have chosen to stay and contribute their considerable talent in their hometown.” -Graig Donnelly, executive director of Detroit Revitalization Fellows. Read more here.

Alexandra Caceres, 2011 Capital City Fellow
Alexandra Caceres, 2011 Capital City Fellow

2011 Capital City Fellow Alexandra Caceres designed the Show Up, Stand Out initiative for the D.C. Public Schools during her fellowship. Now in its fourth year, the program has had measurable, significant impact on attendance among middle schoolers. Nearly 90 percent of students with attendance issues who were referred to the program improved their attendance enough not to be referred during the second year. Caceres has stayed on in D.C. as the program director of the Truancy Reduction Initiative at the Executive Office of the Mayor, Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. Read more about the Capital City Fellows here.

Check back with us later this year as we activate a Storymaps visual with placement data.
more about Story Maps

READ ON: What do urban fellows do?



What do urban fellows do?

“Fellowships are typically focused on a unique, identified need.” Tom Burns, Urban Ventures Group, via Erika Poethig on Twitter

“A kind of Beginner’s Mind is a great advantage for an urban fellow to break out of a city’s customary patterns and status quo.” –Douglas Scarboro, former Chief Learning Officer and SC2 fellowship host, City of Memphis, now vice president of the Memphis branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

SC2 Leadership training session.
SC2 Leadership training session.

“Capacity is ‘a mile wide and inch deep’ in Detroit. We have lots of organizations with not enough capacity.” –Joshua Elling, Executive Director at East Jefferson Business Association, DRF host

Urban fellows work to enhance or add to capacity in their host organizations and cities. Simply defined, capacity is an entity’s ability to fulfill its goals through its resources and capabilities.

Resources can be tangible (funding, facilities, physical assets, and technology) or intangible (reputation, trust, staff experience and knowledge, and other forms of expertise).

Capabilities focus and convert resources toward specific ends. An organization’s or government agency’s capabilities can be either operational (the status quo or baseline capabilities) or dynamic (those that alter the resource base of an organization or agency).

Urban fellows work on projects to identify, build, replenish, or create wholly new resources or capabilities in their host organizations–and, by extension–in the communities those organizations serve. This can mean mapping and inventorying available resources; creating or updating a plan, or carrying out key aspects of it; modifying an existing operation to be more efficient; creating a new system or process to improve its use; or identifying cost savings or new resources; or establishing and maintaining partnerships or collaborations.

My role as a fellow was initially designed to write grants. In order to be successful in securing public and private funding the entity seeking funds must have trusted leadership in place, a system for completing projects, and an infrastructure for collaborative action. Chester was just beginning that journey when I arrived. My role evolved into developing the system for enabling the City to successfully engage and develop partnerships which include funding agencies.” – Arto Woodley, Jr., SC2 Fellow, Chester, Pennsylvania. 

Stacie West, 2012 Capital City Fellow
Stacie West, 2012 Capital City Fellow

In Washington, D.C., Capital City Fellows rotate through up to three city agencies during their term. During her 2012 fellowship, Stacie West worked with the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) on the Mayor’s Sustainable DC Plan, and then with the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) on Play DC, a mayoral initiative to renovate all of the District’s playgrounds.

Named one of the nation's top 50 playgrounds, the Harry Thomas playground was designed under the Play DC program, in which Capital City Fellow Stacie West played an instrumental role.
Named one of the nation’s top 50 playgrounds, the Harry Thomas playground was designed to let kids experience the Golden Mean and Fibonacci’s Theorem at play. The project was developed under the Play DC program, in which Capital City Fellow Stacie West played an instrumental role.

“As one of the representatives for the City Office of Workforce Development/JOB1 to the collaborative, I was invited to help conduct interviews of applicants interested in the training program….When I entered the Strong Cities Strong Communities Fellowship, I had no background at all in the world of workforce development. However, I relished the opportunity to talk about putting money in people’s pockets, and potentially interrupting cycles of generational poverty. As I reflect on the last two years, I am most proud of the capacity that I have built within the Office of Workforce Development….I have lent my womanpower to many efforts, ranging from job fairs seen by thousands of people, to community information sessions about opportunities with the recently reopened hospital in the New Orleans East community, to endless internal strategy sessions to support local hiring efforts.” -Annette Hollowell, SC2 Fellow, New Orleans, Louisiana.

“When I started as a fellow in September of 2012, the conditions of the Financial Stability Agreement dictated much of my project work….My primary project…was to develop a centralized grant management system for the City of Detroit. Making continual progress toward this objective was difficult in the midst of this uncertainty, especially because there was extremely high employee turnover. Nonetheless, I was able to accomplish a few secondary projects. Two key examples came to mind: coordinating the Adopt-a-Park Program and developing the Water Fund for assisting Detroiters with their water bills. Both were projects that brought significant challenges, had very short time frames for execution, and required an impressive collaborative effort to achieve. The projects had very different impetuses and goals but both led to a cascade of related tasks and problems to solve.” -Betsy Palozzola, SC2 Fellow in Detroit. 

“In the Department of Economic Development, my main role [was] to coordinate the selection of a vendor and oversee the implementation of a new branding initiative and website for the Department. In addition, I am working with the Mayor’s communications office and the Director of Economic Development to create a social media strategy to inform and engage our target audience and the general public.” – Genna Petrolla, SC2 Fellow in Cleveland.

“Don’t just assume that a distressed city needs a clean slate. Detroiters have been doing good work for decades. —Graig Donnelly, director of Detroit Revitalization Fellows, via Twitter

View “My Detroit Hustle” from DRF, a quintessential narrative in which the fellows describe how their own businesses, passions, and projects dovetail with their fellowship work.

My Detroit Hustle / Detroit Revitalization Fellows from Iron Coast on Vimeo.

READ ON: Who is involved in urban fellowship work?



Who is involved in urban fellowships?

“SC2 gave me the chance to return home and join those near and dear to me, my friends and family, in a struggle to right the ship.” -Christopher Dorle, SC2 Fellow in Detroit.

“Working in the New Orleans Health Department was my first experience working in government and it was both challenging and beneficial….Working in government also gave me my first taste of navigating the bureaucracy of a public agency’s procurement process and civil service procedures. The experience might leave some people disheartened, but it left me confident that the sometimes-frustrating elements of local government are not permanently broken. They can be tweaked, fixed, or overhauled to serve everyone better.” -Maxwell CIardullo, SC2 Fellow in New Orleans. 

“The eye opener may have been my openness to her ideas and the cross pollination she helped create with other organizations. Our fellow has become an excellent emissary for our organization.” –Guy Williams, Executive Director, Detroiters Working  for Environmental Justice

Whatever their specific interests and expertise, people who serve as urban fellows are passionate about cities, intensely curious, and willing to risk and learn. The urban fellowship experience is paradoxical: sometimes supremely isolating, other times intensely social. Such an experience calls for people who adapt well, work independently, forge their own paths, and yet also seek and inspire connection and collaboration.

Urban fellowship programs must start from strong framework of support and sponsorship. The four programs we examined all benefited from the combined support of private foundations, universities, and the federal government. The evaluators for the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program found that “urban fellows directly affiliated with federal place-based initiatives garner special credibility that can support their own project work and further the overall goals of federal and local government place-based urban policies and initiatives—it opens doors that non-federal fellowship placements may not.” Similarly, the support of foundations, both regional and national “played critical supporting roles in several of the SC2 fellowship placements and more generally in urban fellowships; and the principles of place-based urban policy interventions often aligns with their longstanding efforts to support place-based strategies that further the goals of “equitable” economic revitalization and community development” (Strong Cities, Strong Communities Fellowship Placement Program: Final Evaluation Report (Washington, DC: German Marshall Fund, April 2015), 4. Report available here.

Common roles and relationships include

Hosts: Organizations, employers, and government agencies. Hosts should have clear roles and clarity about the contrctor status of their fellows. They should put a clear chain of reporting in place and be explicit about the fellows’ decision making and budgetary powers. Hosts should make sure to prepare an orientation experience for fellows, particularly for those who have relocated, but even for fellows who are longtime residents of the city.

Host organizations can be inside or outside government, for-profit or nonprofit. At private employers, fellows have gained a glimpse into the interactons and respective roles of the private sector with government and residents of the city. Within government agencies, fellows have gained insight into–and become strong allies for–the dedication of many city employees:

“The busy bees that make the City organ thrive, city workers, are often the first to be offered up in budget cuts….Despite this, they work tirelessly…and in their spare time are the activists, volunteers, and civic leaders that are fighting the avalanche-like decline of the place they call home.” – Dekonti Mends-Cole, SC2 Fellow in Detroit.

Liaisons and contacts: Within and beyond the host organization, fellows must have access to people who can get things done and show them the ropes, be that high-level executives in an organization or agency, or a longtime city resident and community activist who knows just about everyone. These contacts are critical to empowering fellows to see and act on the opportunities and challenges to their host city.

Mentors: Fellows gain insight, skills, and advice for troubleshooting problems from senior professionals and peers who are the “go-to” people, whether locally or with a national perspective. One of the findings from the symposium was that peer contact is a vital kind of mentoring, and currently there are not enough opportunities for fellows to mentor one another across cohorts, time, and regional networks. A strengthened approach to engaging previous fellows in mentoring, for example, was called for. Also considered crucial: periodic regional meetings where face-to-face exchanges can happen, with specialized training and leadership development available to all.

Coaches: Similar to mentoring, but more focused on acquiring and honing specific skills, coaches are a valuable asset to a fellowship program.

Fellows (Cohort): Current and previous fellows can be part of a service cohort in terms of time, a regional cohort in terms of location, an institutional cohort in terms of discipline or focus of work, or a program cohort in terms of the specific program sponsoring them. Their relationships are especially important for recruiting, peer learning, and mentoring.


via Capital City Fellows,
via Capital City Fellows

Now with the DC Department of Transportation, former Capital City Fellow Ted VanHouten continues the District’s work re-thinking potential uses of public space. On ParkingDay in Washington, DC, the District allows residents and businesses to convert metered on-street parking spaces into temporary parks. 




We have a saying in our program: The network is everything. Although they are placed across the city, our fellows work collaboratively, often across long-standing barriers, to get things done. –Graig Donnelly, executive director of Detroit Revitalization Fellows. Read more here.

“I have built networks that span the entire country in a number disciplines with folks I may reach out to without hesitation for advice, support, and feedback.  This would not have been possible without the Strong Cities Strong Communities Fellowship program.” -Bernice Butler, SC2 Fellow, Memphis.


People First / Detroit Revitalization Fellows from Iron Coast on Vimeo.

READ ON: What does success look like in an urban fellowship?



What does success look like in an urban fellowship?

“This work that we do is not an academic exercise or a battle that can be won with Census data. Creating meaningful change is a slow and nuanced process that requires a deep and personal level of understanding based in both data and personal experience.” -SC2 Fellow Gretchen Moore.

“Gone are the days when one group thinks they can change the city alone. It is my belief that unintentionally, the City of Memphis, along with local nonprofits, area fortune 500 companies, and colleges has reinvented the concept of synergy. Understanding the impact of one entity is small, slight at best, but the collective power of collaboration and shared resources pack the greatest punch against economic, educational, and environmental challenges.” -SC2 Fellow Bernice Butler.

“Instrumental to my success were bosses who held me to high standards, colleagues who selflessly shared their expertise, and my persistence in tackling problems until they were solved. In times of doubt, I focused on improving a situation for stakeholders — either city employees and retirees or residents in general.” -SC2 Fellow Jennifer Terry.

Watch Graig Donnelly talks about his definitions of success for the Detroit Revitalization Fellows.

READ ON: How do we measure the impact of urban fellowships?



How do we measure the impact of urban fellowships?

It seems simple, but they weren’t doing that before. Nobody was talking to anybody.” –SC2 Fellow Gretchen Moore on the Fresno Downtown Booster Squad. 

“…The type and breadth of urban development projects that are under [my host] organization’s control are unparalleled in this market.  This is the opportunity to truly make an impact on an entire neighborhood.” –urban fellow in CUREx program, interviewed by Patrizi Associates for the Knight Foundation evaluation. Read more here.   

“Conditions were not always the best to support a fellowship program in the City during this time; arguably, for the same reasons that it was potentially one of the best possible times for the City to be able to receive fellowship resources.” -Betsy Palazzola, SC2 Fellow in Detroit. 

“I was attracted to the SC2 Fellowship because I wanted to be a part of crafting practical solutions to difficult problems. The Health Care Access Project certainly provided opportunities for that. When I began, 20% of New Orleans residents were uninsured and the state was not expanding Medicaid. Our network of community health centers was high quality, but not high profile and dependent on a funding stream ending in 2013. With few resources, we had to come up with creative solutions. In a year-and-a-half, we were able to extend the health center funding stream, enroll an additional 10,000 people in the primary care program it supports, and enroll 37,000 people in new ACA Marketplace health insurance plans.”  -Maxwell Ciardullo, SC2 Fellow in New Orleans. 

READ ON: What is the promise of urban fellowships?



What is the promise of urban fellowships?

“The promise of fellowships exists in: durability, integration, and cultural shifts.” – Tom Burns, Urban Ventures Group, quoted by Arto Woodley on Twitter

Our cities confront myriad challenges, from blight and fiscal instability to affordable housing and access to quality education. Cities need a consistent supply of talented people who can devise new approaches to address complex public problems.

Urban fellowship programs can fill this gap as the incubators for a new generation of change agents.  Armed with a strong support network, urban fellows can bring “fresh eyes” to modernize city systems while infusing a “can do” attitude within traditional organizational cultures. Urban fellows can provide often-overwhelmed public and nonprofit organizations with different types of short- and long-term capacity. Three significant promises emerged from our work with the SC2 Fellowship program and discussions at the November 2014 Symposium:

  • Transforming Organizations and Municipal Systems: Many urban fellows find themselves working within local government agencies or community-based organizations that have few resources and limited capacity to design, launch, and implement existing or new initiatives. Fellows are often tasked to change outdated, sometimes dysfunctional procedures and policies, working against the inertia of organizations set in their ways. Fellows can tap into a reservoir of innovative ideas tested in other communities from their networks of current and former fellows and fellowship program leaders.
  • Cultivating a New Generation of Urban Leaders: Perhaps the most enduring legacy of urban fellowship is their unique position to serve as a springboard for new urban leaders. At a time when certain interest groups attack the pivotal role of our cities and our longstanding values of public and community services, fellowships fulfill a critical niche for a diverse (and hopefully expanding) cadre of early to mid-career professionals with strong commitments to public service and urban problem solving. The urban fellows’ experience, if done right, can leave lasting impressions on the fellows themselves as they chart a future career in public and community service.
  • Complementing Place-Based Urban Policies and Programs: A core theme from the emerging conversations on place-based urban policy is the need for tailoring and targeting programs and resources to match the special conditions and circumstances confronting a range of public problems in diverse types of cities and neighborhoods.  As we found out through SC2 and Detroit Revitalization Fellows, urban fellows are working on the frontlines of place-based urban policy as they test new ways of leveraging resources and expertise and help develop, expand and in some cases rebuild different types of capacity within public and nonprofit organizations. Moving forward, federal and state policy makers, as well as philanthropic leaders, should include urban fellows as a core element of public and nonprofit strategies to help revitalize neighborhoods and regenerate cities.