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For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Young professionals board amplifies the efforts of Cleveland’s chapter of the American Heart Association

By April Miller  |  Photo by Gery Petrof

Jessica Smith has seen heart disease firsthand. In 2008 her father’s heart filled with fluid and grew to three times its normal size. Doctors were not confident he would survive, but they proceeded with aortic valve surgery.

“He came out with a mechanical valve and is still going strong to this day,” Smith says. “Heart disease is a cause that is certainly close to my heart and one that I work hard to educate others on.”

Smith has been a member of the American Heart Association’s Young Professionals board (Cleveland/Northern Ohio Chapter) since it was founded in 2013. Last year she served as fundraising co-chair.

Many of the group’s members also have personal reasons that drew them to AHA. That connection to a cause distinguishes the group and gives members reasons beyond networking and professional development to join. “Our members certainly receive those benefits,” Frank Longley, the junior board president, says, “but because we are rooted in advocating to building healthier lives in our community, it provides membership with a deeper sense of purpose and patronage.”

Cardiovascular disease accounts for 17.3 million deaths per year and is the leading global cause of death, according to the American Heart Association’s 2015 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update. One American dies almost every 40 seconds from heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases. And cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Even with those shocking statistics, board member Justin Eddy says he thinks these are some of the more overlooked conditions.

“It’s troubling because so many are affected by it,” he adds. Eddy decided to join the AHA YP board because he had lost multiple family members to heart disease and stroke. “The goal is to raise awareness within the community and to increase the likelihood that people will take better care of themselves and to provide the necessary education,” he says.

AHA Cleveland Metro Executive Director Amanda Miller created the board to get young professionals involved in the mission and give back as well as to provide them with the experience of sitting and serving on a board. The YP board functions as an affiliate of the American Heart Association-Cleveland Metro office. Its official mission statement is to engage the future leaders of Cleveland in the AHA’s mission of building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke, by providing them with opportunities to volunteer, advocate, network, and develop leadership skills while making a significant impact on the health of our community.

“We were working from a blank slate,” Longley says. “When we met in September of 2013, there was no set board charter or mission statement so we had the opportunity to materialize our vision of what an AHA-affiliated board should look like.”

The group currently has 20 members. Longley says they are looking to expand in 2016. Members range in age from mid-20s to mid-30s and represent a variety of professions and local companies, such as Sherwin-Williams and KeyBank. Longley is an IT operations manager for the Cleveland Clinic, Eddy is an attorney with Mansour Gavin LPA, and Smith is an ecommerce sales assistant at InterDesign.

“Our board is a great cross-section of young and passionate Greater Cleveland community members who are looking to make a difference,” Longley says. In recruiting members, referrals often come from AHA staff who find talented and interested individuals while out in the community promoting events and advocacy initiatives. The board also works with Engage! Cleveland to market itself and its events to the young professional community.

“Our real challenge, like many boards, is finding a happy medium between staying passionate and engaged about our mission while keeping a good work/life balance,” Longley says. “Along with a full work schedule, many of our members have young families or are going back to school, so we are very cognizant to make the time we request meaningful and efficient.”

In addition to supporting AHA events, the YP board holds its own quarterly fundraising events. These have included an OSU Watch Party, golf outing, bowling fundraiser and the Cleveland Heart and Stroke Ball 2015 Young Professionals Afterparty. Early 2016 plans include a 5K. Events are typically promoted through Facebook, Twitter, and word of mouth.

With the quarterly fundraising program the group developed this year, Longley notes that board donations have almost tripled. “For every $1 raised here in Cleveland, $4 actually comes back to this community from national to fund heart and stroke research projects right here in Cleveland,” Michael Long, senior Heart Walk Director for the AHA and YP Board liaison, adds.

Keeping its fundraising model in place, Longley says the board in 2016 plans to shift focus to community outreach and education.

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