For Sara Continenza seeing the world as it truly is has been her personal mission since she was a teenager growing up in Woodmere.
A drive to learn from other cultures took the Orange High School 2000 graduate to Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, from 2005 to 2007 as a Peace Corps volunteer after earning her B.A. in English and B.S. in human development and family science from the Ohio State University.
After Burkina, she taught English as a second language in a high school in Japan for two years, becoming proficient in Japanese. She succinctly summarizes the four years as “going from the Flintstones to the Jetsons.”
Being in both countries, she said, taught her about the healing power of foods. In Burkina she oversaw the planting of Moringa trees to aid malnourished people. The entire Moringa tree is edible including the roots, leaves and flowers. In addition to helping people with diabetes, hypertension and low breast milk production, she said, the tree can be used as a food staple.
At the heart of Ms. Continenza’s mission is a drive to change society through healthy living.
The goal, she said is “creating a cohesive movement toward health and wellness for all, a culture of health, where gardens are everywhere.”
From 2012 to 2016 while working on the Stay Well Project and Gardens of Giving Program at the Hunger Network, she began to put into practice her vision of changing food deserts in Cleveland and teaching people to see and use food as medicine. A year ago she founded her company Whole Vision LLC, a consulting firm for social initiatives that fundraises and does community engagement, program coordination, and organizational development. The mission is to promote community development and wellness through agriculture, active living and the arts.
“I support programs that promote healthy eating and living, the arts and youth empowerment,” Ms. Continenza said. Her goal is to have an open source model. Presently, she is building a model of community work with community gardening and a care van. Just last week she worked with a group in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland at Iowa-Maple Elementary to develop an urban garden and other environmentally friendly projects such as making rain barrels. The rain collected provide a pure source of water for the gardens.
Her vision has its roots in the Chagrin Valley. Growing up in Woodmere and attending Orange schools, Sara felt out of place around her more affluent peers. She remembers focusing on what she perceived to be lacking for her—the newest car models, highly landscaped lawns and vacations. A crucial shift occurred at age 8 when she started accompanying her mother, a social worker, on her rounds in economically deprived areas of Cleveland. Visiting people living in apartments with no furniture, no food and cockroaches turned her mind to what she did have - reliable meals, housing, the space of land and loving parents. Her mother’s clients made her see her own life and Cleveland differently.
Aiding the Greater Cleveland area with her international healthy living perspectives has long since been her mission. Presently, she is a board member of the nine community gardens of South Euclid where she resides, and she spearheaded the Brexley Garden. She is also running for a council seat. In South Euclid and in Cleveland her vision is to create a new generation of leaders so the youth have a sense of responsibility and ownership. Instead of relegating the young to the sidelines, Ms. Continenza said she believes in empowering young people through engagement in assessing and actively solving local problems so that “they are ambassadors of our health.”
Her passion for work and politics is to bring people together and unite them around improving the community’s well being, she said. When community ties are strong, people thrive, she added.