Jan. 20, 2023 --
At the Reaching Heights Annual Meeting on December 14, Reaching Heights announced that it had given the 2022 Reaching Heights Friend of Public Education Award to Stewart Pharis for his steadfast commitment to the success of Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Schools and their students over the past 20 years. The community organization also named the Greater Cleveland Food Bank as the recipient of the Reaching Heights Outstanding Community Partner award for 2022.
Stew Pharis began volunteering as a PTA member at Fairfax, his children’s elementary school, and soon took on a leadership role when he served as treasurer and co-president of the Fairfax PTA. In addition, Pharis accepted the role as the first Coordinator of Volunteers for the then new Many Villages Tutoring Program for Reaching Heights, tutoring at every grade level for nine years. He also assisted Art Teacher Joan Levin in creating and teaching a program for 2 years that introduced 4th graders to stained glass and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and other Prairie School artists.
When his children moved on to Roxboro Middle School, he went with them and served as the secretary and treasurer for Roxboro Middle School's PTA. There he worked as an assistant coach for the Roxboro Middle School and then the Heights High Science Olympiad teams for nine years, helping his students win several medals in a wide variety of events at invitational and regional Science Olympiad tournaments, including the 2015 First Place medal won by his Heights High students in the Experimental Design event at the highly competitive CWRU Regional Tournament.
But of all his volunteer work, Pharis – an accomplished violist and violinist who received Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees from Northwestern before working as a freelance musician in the Chicago area – has logged the most hours and found the most joy assisting the district’s middle school and high school instrumental music teachers for the past 15 years.
Pharis says that volunteering in the Heights schools is a truly wonderful experience. "Over the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of working with so many terrific children and forming relationships with the dedicated and caring adults, both teachers and volunteers, who work so hard to educate them."
At its Annual Event, Reaching Heights also recognized the Greater Cleveland Food Bank (GCFB), giving the organization its Outstanding Community Partner award for 2022. This award, accepted by GCFB’s Manager of Programs Amanda Papp, recognizes the professionalism of the GCFB Client Services Team in coordinating the food deliveries for the School Markets and the Backpack Program to several of the Heights Schools where the need for nutritious food is particularly high among the district’s students, their families, and the community.
In addition, the organization honored School Social Workers Caryl Yoo at Boulevard, Edie Fiala at Oxford, and Wendy Burkey and School Counselor Heather Higham at Gearity who coordinate the School Market events each month at their respective schools to distribute food provided by GCFB. According to Edie Fiala, "it's not an easy project to ensure that the fruit and vegetables generously donated by the Food Bank get to the people who need them most. Every month, this group must recruit volunteers to do the physical tasks of sorting and bagging bulk food, move boxes of food into people’s cars – with a smile – in all kinds of weather, and then work with area agencies to redistribute any leftover food.” Caryl Yoo adds, “We advertise the School Markets to the community because this food is not just for kids: it's for everyone who needs it. The public school is the center of our communities, and this is one more way we meet the needs of our community. Many of our regular customers are the elderly, who are also guardians of our youth. We all rely on each other.”
The Reaching Heights event was the organization’s first in-person Annual Meeting in two years, bringing together approximately 40 attendees, including the Board of Directors and a diverse cross-section of the Heights community. Traditionally, Reaching Heights’ Annual Meeting is a business meeting for the Board to vote in new members and the coming year’s Board leadership. This year, the Board welcomed Mariegabrielle James, Ashley Hawthorne and Cindy Sabik, and named Nat Morehouse as President, Christal Reaves as Vice-President, Adaora Schmiedl as Treasurer, and Ditte Wolin as Secretary.
In addition to the award recognitions and Board meeting, the December 14 meeting also saw Executive Director Krista Hawthorne provide an in-depth look at the work accomplished by Reaching Heights in 2022. One highlight of the evening was the screening of the Cleveland Heights High School Art & Architecture Tour video produced by the organization that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the murals and student artwork displayed at Heights High and featured the local artists and Heights instructors who did the artwork and put together the exhibits. Links to this video and another featuring Oxford Elementary can be found at reachingheights.org/news