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Portage County Has Much to Celebrate

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award-portage-countyPortage County – Wondering how the first annual Portage County Celebration Week turned out? “In a word, it was awesome!” beamed Todd Peetz, Director of the Portage County Regional Planning Commission (PCRPC). “Everyone who participated really enjoyed it,” he concluded. The week-long event kicked off with a sold-out Premier of High School Bands, which was held at the Theodore Roosevelt High School Stadium in Kent. Performing bands included Kent Roosevelt, Ravenna Ravens Marching Band, Stow-Munroe Falls Bulldog Marching Band, Cuyahoga Falls Tiger Marching Band, Tallmadge Blue Devils Marching Band, and the Springfield Marching Band.

In addition, the United Way of Portage County sponsored a Volunteer Day, with 12 projects being completed simultaneously around the county. Local projects of note included sprucing up the grounds around the Center School in Mantua Township and scraping and repainting the stanchion streets markers in Mantua Village. Later that week, over 700 car enthusiasts showcased their classic cars in Ravenna at the A&W Drive-In and Mongoose Motorsports.  Area businesses were swamped as families flocked to see hot rods, enjoy root beer floats, and family fun. But the highlight of the week was an  “Oscar”-style awards dinner held at the Bertram in Aurora, and featuring winners from throughout the county.

Mantua’s Art on the Hill event won the Cultural Arts Initiative Award, which recognized a program of arts and cultural awareness that helps to enhance the value and character of their community. The annual summer event, ‘Art on the Hill’ (‘AOTH’), from the Downtown Mantua Revitalization Corporation (DMRC), is an arts & cultural event music, food, and artisans, and draws thousands of visitors to their one-day event each year. “We are really excited and hope it will help bring more artisans and attendees next year to our Annual Art on the Hill event,” marveled Edie K. Benner, Downtown Mantua Revitalization President. She continued, “Our committee worked tirelessly and they deserve recognition for doing such a great job. And kudos to the Portage Regional Planning Commission and their team for hosting the event,” Benner concluded. Art on the Hill won this category, which also included the Ravenna Balloon Affair, Streetsboro Family Days and the Kent Heritage Festival.

Next up was the award for Most Engaging High School Initiative, honoring the innovative programs that have successfully and measurably enhanced relationships between the school and its community. Aurora High School was honored for a non-traditional program offered in place of study hall, where students dictate what they are going to learn, the conditions they are going to learn under, and how they will demonstrate what they learn.  As a result of this program, students have investigated: graphic design, electronics (hardware), computer science (coding), comic book development (storyline & artwork), investigation into design including the use of Sketch-Up, fashion blog, recycling process (separation of rubber from steel-belted tires), running shoe design & development, video game development, and fashion illustration. That’s quite an impressive list of projects undertaken.

Next up, the winner of the Economic Development Award, for an organization that has provided valuable develop in terms of employment, income, and quality of life was the Catacel Corporation. Founded in 2001 originally as a manufacturer of emission control products, the company has become a leader in fuel cells and industrial hydrogen.  Today, their engineers and manufactures break-through, proprietary catalytic heat exchanging materials, holds 22 US patents, and significantly reduce costs in the hydrogen production and fuel cell industries by increasing process output and improving energy efficiencies. In September of 2013, Catacel moved to an idle manufacturing plant in the City of Ravenna, where the company is now a cornerstone tenant. Catacel arrived with 26 employees and has grown to 30 with plans to add more this fall. Occupying 22,000 square feet in the newly- renovated facility, the company has also made many facility improvements, included new windows, energy efficient lighting, office renovation, and an epoxy-coated manufacturing floor that sparkles. Catacel is engaged in sales, engineering, and manufacturing operations that serve customers in markets all over the world.

The award for Community Hero was given to Streetsboro resident Kathleen Schuman for her work at the Streetsboro Community Pantry. This busy wife, mother and grandmother, finds time to volunteer at the Streetsboro Community Pantry, purchasing groceries, ordering food & arranging pick ups at the Akron Food Bank; she also stocks shelves, trains volunteers, and takes on the many other responsibilities to operate this agency, which serves between 70-100 families each month. She would be the first to insist that this operation succeeds because of the team effort, but there are many people relying on her energy, focus and inspiration to be able to provide free groceries to the numerous families of Streetsboro who rely on this service.

The last award recognized an initiative that demonstrated an action or activity that brings young people, adults and families together. The award for Community Service was given to Root House, the first-ever residential addiction treatment facility in Portage County, which opened in June of 2013.  Founded by Mike and Valerie Root, who tragically lost their son to a heroin overdose, and recovered addict Jeremy Taugner, who struggled with the same issues. They shared the vision of opening a treatment center in Portage County for men so that others would not have to suffer like they did. With assistance from Family and Community Services and Portage County Mental Health and Recovery Board, they were able create a 90-day residential program for struggling addicts who have detoxed and are committed to staying clean.

“We learned a lot, made a few mistakes along the way, but all in all it turned out very well,” concluded Peetz. Due to the success of this year’s program, PCRPC plans to hold the event next year. Plans for next year’s Portage County Celebration Week will begin in January 2015. For more information about next year’s events, visit visioninginportage.org.