By Noell Wolfgram Evans
A large crowd converged on the Hollywood Casino on Nov. 27. They were not there to play games of chance, but to celebrate those who have set the goals and done the work to see that everyone on the Hilltop comes out a winner.
The event that drew this large and diverse crowd together was the annual board meeting of the Friends of the Hilltop (FOTH) which was hosted by the Hollywood Casino. The evening provided an opportunity for the FOTH board to conclude some business, for old friends to catch up, and for civic and business leaders to share their commitments to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.
The evening led off with the installation of Adam Miller as vice president of FOTH. Miller spoke about his honor in taking on the position and his hopes in continuing to find synergy in his work on the FOTH board and as a member of the state legislature.
FOTH Operations Manager Bill Huffman then took over the proceedings, but before bringing on the guest speakers he implored those in attendance to make their outing that night the first of many Hilltop interactions.
“The year 2018 is just around the corner,” he said “and I know changes are coming. We need volunteers. We need people to be committed to making those changes.”
With that, he brought up Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther.
Ginther spoke broadly regarding some of the initiatives that underline his often-stated mantra on what the three most important things in the city are: “Neighborhoods, Neighborhoods, Neighborhoods.” He discussed the CARE Coalition, part of an overall community action plan.
“CARE aims to address the ripple effect that violence can have,” Ginther said as he noted that victims and their families often don’t get the care and attention that they deserve and need.
Another component of that action plan is the Safe Street Initiative, which aims to broaden the reach of the police by putting them on bicycles and on foot patrols across neighborhoods. Ginther noted that in all of the homicides that the city has suffered this year, 50 percent have a lead in their cases. He believes that greater police accessibility will not only help in existing cases, but also be a strong deterrent to future criminal activities.
“I want to build relationships between the citizens and police and safety teams to make our city safer,” said Ginther. “Our investment in the Hilltop is about more than just safety.”
To this point, he shared that in the current capital budget, $136 million has been earmarked for improvements to the westside. Of that, $75 million has been set aside specifically for the Hilltop.
“Friends of the Hilltop is an incredible organization,” Ginther said. “They are an incredible partner with the city; they help us stay connected and bring other partners to the table.”
Following Ginther at the podium was Hollywood Casino Vice President and General Manager Himbert Sinopoli who spoke about the symbiotic relationship between the casino and the residents of the westside. He noted that the casino currently provides employment to over 1,000 people, with over 70 percent of those being full-time jobs.
Sinopoli shared numbers showing the amounts that have been returned to the community both monetary and material.
“What I am proudest of though,” he said “is our ability to touch the community through the volunteer work that so many of us do here.”
He continued by saying that he was so pleased that the original plan to put the casino downtown fell through.
“I am so, so happy we ended up on the westside amongst such passionate people.”
Also speaking was Greater Hilltop Area Commissioner Jay McCallister who provided a brief overview of the history of the Hilltop and Sherri Palmer of Keep Columbus Beautiful who shared a number of initiatives for litter and trash pickup.
At the end of the evening, Paul Pennell was given the Karen Whitman Award for his service to the Hilltop and its residents. In presenting the award to Pennell, FOTH President Dan Downing summed up what so many in attendance clearly felt by saying, “We are a community. We respect each other and we love each other.”