The Cleveland Economic Development Corporation is investing in the future of Cleveland children through a non-profit that provides summer activities and a safe space where kids can learn and grow.
On Monday, June 28, Cleveland EDC presented a $20,000 check to Tuff Kids founders Ivan Williams and Eisha Jones. This money will be used toward materials needed to rehabilitate the former Freemason Lodge on Ross Street in Cleveland that was donated to Tuff Kids last June.
The building is a 2,000-square foot space that has been shuttered and closed for years after membership declined in the now-defunct chapter of the Freemasons, which was made up of black gentlemen in the predominantly black Cleveland community known as Pct. 20.
Tuff Kids volunteers have already begun work on the building, ripping out old sheetrock and working on some minor problems. However, skilled carpenters, plumbers, electricians and roofers will be needed before the building can open to the children.
Tuff Kids was established in 2010 for the purpose of creating a place where Cleveland children could enjoy constructive activities every summer.
“We didn’t want them to be idle and they need something to do,” Jones said.
According to Jones, the impetus to create Tuff Kids was the closing of the city pool. When word of the pool closing began to spread through the community, people began contacting Williams, a school coach, a Cleveland High School graduate, former Cleveland Indians football player and an All-American athlete, with concerns that Pct. 20 children would get into trouble without activities to keep them busy during the summer.
“Ivan came to me and said, ‘Eisha, we have to do something for these kids. Being a financial advisor, I said to him, ‘What do you want me to do? Teach them finance?'” she said, jokingly.
Working with other former classmates from Cleveland High School, Jones and Williams formed Tuff Kids. Since that time, other people have joined the organization.
“We ask people, ‘Aren’t you great at some sport or aren’t you a teacher?’ That’s how Valencia Williams (a local teacher) became involved. We have people bringing a lot of different skill sets that we can use to work with the children,” Jones said.
Since 2010, the summer program has helped dozens of Cleveland children. Asked to estimate the number of children impacted by Tuff Kids, Jones said she could only name a couple of children in the Pct. 20 community who did take part in the summer program.
“Most of the kids have been involved in some way or another,” she said.
This year, with COVID-19 still raising some concerns, focus on restoring the building and with Jones now a new mother, the summer activities were trimmed to a three-week entrepreneurial course where children learned the fundamentals of starting a business.
Jones said they hope to resume summer-long activities next year when restoration of the building is complete.
Despite the EDC’s generous donation, Tuff Kids still needs help, Jones said, mostly volunteer services from roofers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians, and anyone willing to volunteer their time and energy. Financial donations also are needed.
Anyone interested in helping out, can go online to https://www.tuffkids.org/ or call 281-592-2654. Donations may be made through the website using Paypal or a credit or debit card.
For more information on the Tuff Kids building project, go online to: