Valerie Jerome: Distinguished Young Woman Honoree

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Valerie Jerome: Distinguished Young Woman Honoree

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Valerie Jerome strives to advance equity in her personal and professional life and has been involved in organizations serving Northeast Ohio’s housing needs in the last five years in public, non-profit and now private sectors, half her professional communications career.

Naturally a connector, she is proactive keeping up with technology and audience engagement strategies to continually sharpen her professional capacities and innovate in the field of marketing and communications.

Jerome is passionate about taking and creating leadership in her community around equity, Jerome serves her West Park neighborhood and individuals with disabilities in the Caribbean island of Dominica. Ideation is her strength, and she has not been able to keep it limited to work hours, to her community’s gain.

In November, she began working in private sector property management at The Millennia Companies®, as a marketing technologist as a member of the Information Technology team. Millennia manages more than 250 affordable properties in about half the United States and also provides construction, investment, and hospitality services.

For the last three and a half years, Jerome supported affordable housing for roughly 55,000 individuals at Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA). Her new role at Millennia “provided an opportunity to advance my marketing skills and my leadership skills and build on the valuable foundation that CMHA provided.”

Her experience at YWCA Greater Cleveland from 2013-2015 also prepared her for growing her marketing career, “YWCA is a small office, so I got to wear many hats: media relations, social media, special events, publications, support [the] Women of Achievement [luncheon], work with vendors with in-kind relationships, [and] support advancement.” From non-profit, to county-wide public sector, now she is working on a national scale “at a mission-driven company; they care about the residents and improving the quality of life of the communities they serve, much like my previous experiences.” she explained.

“YWCA Casts a wide net” said Jerome. YWCA’s programs include an Early Learning center for children ages 3-5 experiencing homelessness or other trauma, and Independence Place, a 23 permanent supportive housing units that provide wrap around services and trauma informed care for young people who have aged our of foster care or who have experienced homelessness.

“Working at the YWCA set me up with the mindset needed for such a complex organization as CMHA” said Jerome, “with services and housing operating together.”

Jerome has come to understand the need to work at a system level on eliminating poverty and situations that put people in precarious places. Before she had professional development at the YWCA, she revealed; “I knew the language. I knew bias existed. But it took that extra mentorship and training to see, oh, here is how that shows up. Wanting it is not enough, you really must change some things on how you live your life and interact with others. I started paying more attention.”

Former colleague and coach, Erica Merritt, imparted to her “the difference between knowing the language of racial equity and wanting racial justice in society versus living that mission.”

“I became aware of a lot of things…doing the work on myself, and continuing to do that. ‘How does that manifest itself in my work and in the community? Through college? and Peace Corps?’ It took some mentors and some specific work at the Y to go down that journey. “

Valerie Jerome, together with Danielle Roll-Doza and Melanie Sklarz, helped spearhead community-building initiative in West Park more recently with the Neighbor Night model taught to her by Neighborhood Connections (NC), the small grants program of the Cleveland Foundation. Valerie sees herself as a steward of the network, and, with continued NC leadership support, the West Park members are a part of 2000 emerging and established grassroots change agents across Cleveland and East Cleveland in what NC calls the NeighborUp Network.

Jerome became a better network-builder two years ago completing the 11-month Neighborhood Leadership Development Program (NLDP) of 16 sessions, funded by The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. One session emphasized the importance of community data on structural and social issues being tied into local initiatives that focus on root problems. The training was key in giving her the tools and the confidence to community build through network nights.

“I felt like I could create change from 5-9 in my community rather than 9-5, thinking outside of my profession to up my community engagement.” She is now focused on personal outreach for the West Park Network Nights, which she sees as an alternative to more traditional styles of meetings. At network nights, she focuses what Mark Chupp, assistant professor at Case Western, taught in NLDP: active listening and having conversations that work.

Establishing monthly West Park Neighbor Nights connects neighbors, “with others they might not know from the neighborhoods. We wanted to welcome people in from different places in the community, whether it be race or class… Relationships are important in a polarized society. I think bringing people together is a big deal, especially with technology and social media. When you bring people together, it creates a different sort of energy and civility.”

Acting locally and globally, for more than a decade, she has served on the board of a nonprofit in Dominica. She started her service of the island 14 years ago in the U.S. Peace Corps. As a thinker and board member of Ready, Willing… Enable! Inc., she is currently participating in its strategic planning since Dominica was hit by Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and destroyed around 90% of the housing. Maria left unprecedented destitution in its wake. Not surprisingly, the organization’s educational programs serving individuals with disabilities on the island, and the organization’s local grant-making function needs to be reexamined. A group of students in Dr. Jennifer Madden’s class at Case Western Reserve University is leading the planning process. Valerie parlayed her relationship with Dr. Madden through her experience in a NLDP workshop Dr. Madden facilitated.

Still passionate about empowering women, Valerie Jerome volunteers as a True2U mentor for 8th grade girls through a group mentorship model employed through hundreds of year-long volunteers in Cleveland’s public schools in partnership with Neighborhood Leadership Institute and others. Valerie has been a mentor at Douglas MacArthur Girls Leadership Academy since 2016. True2U empowers all CMSD and some charter school 8th graders to proactively decide where to attend high school based on the student’s strengths, interests, and career exploration as part of an effort to encourage students to create broader plans for their own character and lifestyle.