ECC 2019 Catch-Up: Akron, Saint Paul and San José

Emerging City Champions (ECC) is a fellowship program led by 8 80 Cities. ECC provides young civic innovators with leadership training and $5,000 in seed funding to launch transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city. ECC is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Visit for more.

We just launched ECC 2020, and now we’re spending this week catching up with the ECC 2019 cohort to learn about what they accomplished during their 2019-2020 fellowship amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and mass movements for racial justice.

Akron, Ohio

Sheri Yearian is a hard-working single mother of three looking to improve the community she is raising her children in. Sheri is the founder of Youth 2 Adults, a nonprofit youth organization working with at-risk children in Akron, Ohio. As a resident of the Kenmore neighborhood, she sees the potential it has to be a great working and family community, and that is what has motivated her to help her neighborhood thrive.

Her ECC project, Boulevard Pop Up Bike Shop, The Kenmore area in Akron, Ohio is undergoing a redevelopment process and the streets have been transformed to allow a more residential atmosphere with one-lane roads, more parking space, and bike lanes. I want to add bike racks along the boulevard, as well as a pop-up bike repair shop in conjunction with other community businesses and partners.has not launched yet due to COVID-19. Sadly, the virus has halted the project significantly. Due to the colder months, Sheri and her team had planned to launch their project in the Spring, right at the moment when the virus shut the state down and has since stopped all social gatherings. Due to safety issues surrounding the virus, Sheri and her team have decided to plan the launch for Spring or Summer 2021, depending on the evolution of the current situation. “We are still very excited to launch the project and have been planning our launch. This has given us more opportunity to investigate more options for how we will move forward when the virus is not as dangerous. The health and safety of our members must be put first; we felt it would be better to wait until we have a safer environment to launch the program”, says Yearian.

“The ECC program and grant have helped our organization and me tremendously. We were able to buy supplies and pay for services we would have never been able to previously. It also connected me with a lot of like-minded individuals who have helped us along with this project. We are greatly appreciative of the opportunity and look forward to launching the project when we are confident in the safety of our volunteers and the community at large”.

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Credit: Xia Xiong

Xia Xiong is a Hmong artist in the Twin Cities. Originally from southeast Asia, Xia’s family, like many other Hmong families, relocated to the midwest after being displaced by the Vietnam War.

Xia is passionate about working with marginalized communities, much like her own. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Mass Communications. Professionally, Xia works to manage HR information systems at a nonprofit home healthcare agency. Her education and work experience reflect her creative interests to design effective communication mediums that will connect people together.

For her ECC project, Xia created a podcast called The Digital Story Cloth to celebrate cultural heritage and address shared traumas as a way to promote healing and growth in the Hmong community. A story cloth is a very unique embroidery stitched by Hmong women embodying the lived experiences of Hmong people through the Vietnam war and our immigration to the United States. Today, there are over 260,000 Hmong people in the United States, with over 66,000 residing in Minnesota alone. The Digital Story Cloth podcast aims to strengthen the Hmong identity and community by providing a space for story-telling and dialogue. Since Covid19, the podcast will release mini-series of interviews on how life has changed and offer insight on self-care strategies in times of uncertainty and change.

San José, California


Credit: Ellina Yin

Ellina Yin was born and raised in San José to refugee-immigrant parents from Cambodia. Growing up, as an English learner, enabled her with two different cultural experiences and practices: the American and Southeast Asian experience combined into a unique perspective that has expressed itself throughout her academic, career, and life pursuits.

She has over a decade of marketing, branding, business development, and strategic planning experience from the design (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) industry. Over and over, she found herself in situations and jobs that involved bridging understanding between different world views and experiences, for companies, communities, and people. A couple of decades later, through the ECC Fellowship, she is now the producer of the Only in San José podcast on one of the most complex and divisive topics that have yet to be resolved: meaningful and equitable civic participation in local government-ground zero of systemic change.

Over a year in the making and behind its original schedule, Only in San José launched from Ellina’s closet during a shelter in place in June 2020 during the global COVID-19 pandemic and civil BLM protests against police brutality. To say nothing went according to plan would be an understatement. Against all odds, the project became essential and provided people who were looking for the very ways to best engage by demystifying and democratizing the dense information around civic participation in local government.

The ECC program provided invaluable support for the project, producing a podcast and diving into journalism, two things she had minimal experience, and expertise in. Through the grant funding, Ellina was able to afford a baseline education in production and through the ECC network, she found journalism/podcast broadcasting workshops to learn and start on the right foot.

The next step for her project is to revolutionize civic participation and engagement in San José. OSJ,’s mission is to EDUCATE, ENABLE, and EMPOWER the residents of San José in the co-creation of a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient city, today, tomorrow, and onward. Listen to the podcast here:

Credit: Lucila Chavez

Lucila Chavez studied psychology and biology at Norte Dame de Namur University to get a better sense of other people and herself. She is a first-generation immigrant and the first to get a bachelor’s degree in her family. She is a social worker for Abode Services serving the population experiencing homelessness to rehabilitate and helping them to get out of the streets by giving them the proper tools to function well in society.  Lucila also works as administrative staff for Chick and Bowls, a female empowerment group of roller skaters that encourage to take up space at the skateparks in San Jose.

“With my ECC project, Welcoming Skateparks,  it became difficult to execute the initial strategy. When COVID first emerged, there were already plans to be able to activate Plata Arroyo Park, the target of my project, through live music, live art, and a skate competition. It was going to be the day to be able to enhance its beauty while working together with the community”, says the 2019 ECC champ.

Throughout this year, Lucila and her team were able to build relationships with the existing community to execute the enhancements. No matter where they call home, or what has shaped them, the space they utilize gives them the confidence and ability to overcome their own insecurities. By utilizing a safe and welcoming space, people will feel like they can belong. “The first thing you see in your community is a direct reflection of what the community represents.”

Her project creates sustainable partnerships within the existing community with new involvement and supports the growth of communities that will involve others who choose to be a part of Plata Arroyo Association.

COVID-19 has challenged people to reimagine the way they live. No longer can we gather in numbers. Indoor activities and large events have been cancelled. Plata Arroyo Park, the target of her ECC project, as a way to responding to the crisis, is empowering the community to be able to use the park as a means to be together while practicing social and physical distancing. Parks that house skateparks tend to get a bad reputation. Reimagining how one can use these spaces will allow people to get together and be able to take ownership of the park. “Welcoming Skateparks, my ECC project,  will continue to provide the community to come together to hold neighbors meetings at Plata Arroyo. With this in mind, we want to be able to amplify people’s voices and to educate about San Jose’s political system providing the tools, stewardship of the skatepark to the city, and empowering the community to take action in maintaining the skatepark safe”, shares Lucila.

“The ECC  Program has given me the political tools to seat at the grant community table. I gained insight into how to best approach the project. It allowed me to collaborate with others that are involved on the east side and be able to educate myself on the resources and attention that the skateparks deserve. Furthermost, the ECC program allowed me to have full leverage of power to achieve my goals. It gave me the confidence to be able to execute my project by having a cohort that I can bounce ideas to.”

Catch up on other ECC 2019 projects all week on our Stories & Insights page and learn about the new ECC 2020 cohort at

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