Grassroots transformations: The Impact Fair ignites change for Cincinnati children

In just over a year, the School Board School went from a dream to a fully functioning reality.

In 2016, Executive Director Elisa Hoffman was three years into her four-year term with the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education when she noticed a “surge in people interested in running for public office.”

While there’s no shortage of tools and resources for running a campaign, Hoffman noted at the time, what about resources preparing people for public office?

She wondered: “Is there anyone making sure people know how to govern?”

Thanks to a 2018 People’s Liberty Haile Fellowship, Hoffman was able to create the School Board School, a training program that prepares engaged citizens to become effective school board members and community advocates. The program is wrapping up its second class and will host a free Impact Fair on January 22nd. Unlike last year, it will be available to everyone, not just graduates of the program.

“When we were putting it together last year, we realized this should be open to the public,” says Hoffman.

She explains: “There are likely so many people across our community who also want to figure out ‘How do I use my time, my skills, my experience in a way that will really make a difference?’”

Last year, there were 12 organizations at the Impact Fair and this year there will be 26, ranging from nonprofits to departments at CPS, including the Local School Decision Making Committees (LSDMC) and the Community Learning Centers.

“Those are two great opportunities to get involved in our schools,” Hoffman says.

There will also be a few campaign consultants on hand for people who are curious about the process of running for public office.

School Board School graduates are actively involved in many of the attending organizations, and some were even started by students from the program.

“That’s fun for them to be able to share with their classmates, the work that they are doing or were inspired to do because of their time at School Board School,” she says.

Kareem Moffett, a graduate of the first class, will be there to talk about the nonprofit she started, #HearUsNow Youth Voice Alliance.

“We want you to be able to come in, meet with a real diversity of topics that people are working towards, and figure out what is it that you can bring to one of these organizations to help accelerate their work,” Hoffman says.

“That could be being a volunteer, it could be being a board member,” she continues. “There are so many ways you can help. There’s a real big range of organizations coming, and so we think no matter who you are and what you are interested in, you’re going to be able to find a really good fit somewhere at the Impact Fair.”

School Board School will have a booth as well for anyone interested in learning more about their goal to advance equity for kids in the city and how this local governing body operates. Two graduates will be there to discuss how it impacted their lives — one ran for the school board in the last election and another changed jobs and now works in Councilmen Sittenfeld’s office in order to align her career with her desire to create changes in the system.

The next application process will launch in the spring. “We want to keep our class small enough that people really do get to know each other well,” says Hoffman. That’s one big goal of School Board School, that you build this really broad, diverse coalition of people from across the city that are going to work together.”

“There are so many organizations across our city working towards these same goals,” she continues, “and for the Impact Fair, just knowing that you’re going to walk into this room and there are 26 organizations that are all working in our community to figure out how we build the best community possible for kids, that’s a pretty great space to be in.”

The 2020 Impact Fair will be held on Wednesday, January 22nd from 6:30–7:30 p.m. at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, located at 3 East Fourth Street. Click here to register for the event, which is free, and to see a list of participating organizations.

Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.