As the end of the year approaches and many of us scramble to wrap up business matters, finalize (or start!) holiday preparations, and take a breather with family, I can’t resist the urge to reflect on 2023. On many levels, it was a tough year. We saw heartbreaking headlines of war and discord that can leave a person wondering how humanity will find a way to come together. On a local level, we saw some sobering post-COVID realities out there – ongoing mental health challenges, economic uncertainty, and many changes in how and where people live their lives. Taken together, that sounds like a pretty pessimistic review of 2023, one that could leave a person feeling discouraged.
However, I’m not discouraged. When I am feeling daunted by the enormity of life’s challenges, my tried and true antidote is to focus on gratitude for all the things that are going right. The Akron community never disappoints in this regard! While I could never pretend to capture all of the people, organizations, and work for which I am grateful, I can point to four specific examples that may lift your spirits and fill you with hope about what we can accomplish when we work together.
- ArtsForward - I’m grateful for ArtsForward, the initiative launched by ArtsNow this year that has unlocked the creative powers of our artists, arts organizations, and general community members to bring the Akron/Summit Cultural Plan to life. ArtsForward invited people to propose their best ideas to enact the Cultural plan and Greater Akron rose to the challenge! We will see much of this work in the new year.
- Love Akron’s Locker Room Experience - I’m grateful for the dedicated people at Love Akron, who are elevating and empowering student-leaders in Akron Public Schools high schools through the Locker Room Experience. This program is built on the idea that young people who have a safe space to learn and grow will produce the best ideas about what is needed to make their school environments better for everyone.
- Akron’s Breakthrough Moment for Sustainable Polymer Innovation - I’m grateful for the collaborative group that is working hard to pivot Akron’s historic strength in polymers into a strategic advantage in driving sustainability and the Green Economy. Through the efforts of the Polymer Industry Council, led by the Greater Akron Chamber, the University of Akron, and many private businesses, Akron won a coveted designation as a Tech Hub from the U.S. EDA, thereby clearing a path for greater investment in making our economy stronger and more sustainable.
- Akron Civic Commons - I’m grateful for the many people and organizations involved in the Reimagining the Civic Commons effort, who continue to advance the work on Lock 3 Park in the heart of downtown. Soon it will be a beautiful space we can all enjoy. The Lock 3 project is about bringing people together and creating that unmistakable social fabric we feel when we share an experience.
The very act of typing this note makes me feel hopeful for 2024! Please understand - I don’t turn to gratitude as a dodge or a distraction from hard realities. Rather, gratitude is a means of refueling, of reminding myself that we are not powerless to change some things and to make our community a better place. I am also reminded, through the efforts of these local partners and so many others, that life is never all one thing.
Yes, it is the daunting trends that can cause sleepless nights. Yes, it is the local wins big and small that show our resilience, heart, and commitment to this community. Yes, it is the emotional rollercoaster that careens from the highs to the lows and back again. For that – for all of that wide range of experience and emotion – I am grateful. I look forward to more good work and great partnerships that will carry us through the ups and downs that 2024 will inevitably bring. Until then, may you enjoy a holiday season that is filled with good health, peace, rest, and gratitude.
Our office will be closed from Friday, December 22 to Monday, January 1. We will resume normal hours beginning on Tuesday, January 2. Happy Holidays from all of us at GAR Foundation! We look forward to working with you in 2024 to help make Akron smarter, stronger, and more vibrant.