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Published: Monday, 8/23/2004

Home is in suburbs, but executive's heart is in the central city

BY MEREDITH HEAGNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sharon Rappaport, formerly head of Central City Ministries of Toledo, says she wants to help the poor and needy. Sharon Rappaport, formerly head of Central City Ministries of Toledo, says she wants to help the poor and needy.
WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge

Sharon Rappaport is a devout Jew who lives in Sylvania. That hasn't stopped her from dedicating her career to the issues of central Toledo and the Catholic church.

"My heart is with the central city," she said. "With education of the young, with helping the poor and needy."

Today is Mrs. Rappaport's first day as fund-raising and marketing director for the Lagrange Development Corp., a nonprofit organization working to revitalize the Lagrange Street neighborhood and surrounding area. For the past 10 years, Mrs. Rappaport was executive director of the Central City Ministries of Toledo.

"Sharon has a tremendous background. She is well-known in town, she knows a lot of people," said Terry Glazer, LDC executive director. "[She] has the unique skill of being able to relate to people of all different backgrounds."

In her new position, Mrs. Rappaport will help raise money for a new community center. She'll also be involved with the annual Polish festival. Her main goals are to further the organization's "good name" and revitalize the neighborhood.

"These are the older communities, they're not the suburbs. They're still very stable and viable. Just because they're old doesn't mean they're not alive," she said.

"They're just a little shabby with age. They need to be repainted."

Taking what the central city had to offer and making it better was also Mrs. Rappaport's mission at Central City Ministries, which she called "my home." She led countless efforts to raise money for the 12 parishes and five parochial schools supported by the organization. She said she learned much about Catholicism while continuing to practice Judaism personally.

"I don't espouse Christianity, but I do espouse values and ethics and morals," she said. "I am respectful of the Catholic religion as they have been respectful of me."

Mrs. Rappaport's religion made her an asset when soliciting donations, said Tom Kress, a longtime CCMT volunteer.

"She would say, 'I am a Jew and I still believe in this cause so much,'‚óŹ" he said.

In her decade at CCMT, she started the parish nurse program, which offers health education and advocacy for central-city parishes. On any given day, a parish nurse may take blood pressure after Mass, take Communion to the sick, or stay by the bedside of a dying person.

Mrs. Rappaport also organized pilgrimages to the Holy Land, dance and movement classes for primary-grade students, and the Urban All-American Awards, a dinner honoring those who have graduated from a central-city school and gone on to better themselves and their community.

"She's very passionate about the central city, our parishes, and our schools," said Kathy Jeffery, parish nurse coordinator. CCMT provides more than $600,000 in tuition assistance each year.

Mrs. Rappaport said leaving the organization was a difficult decision.

"It's time for new blood, a new approach," she said. "There are changes within the Catholic church, within the schools in the central city. Fresh ideas need to be thought out.

"I'm not going to stop. I'm a very young 67," she said. "I don't know how you're supposed to feel [at my age], but I don't feel it."

Mrs. Rappaport is confident that she'll be successful in fund-raising for the 20,000-person neighborhood.

"There are so many people who want to give, you just need to ask or tell your story," she said.

Contact Meredith Heagney at: mheagney@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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