Summit Lake Build Corps galvanizes Akron residents to reshape cultural and physical landscape of their neighborhood

Communities / Article

Hunter Franks is an artist and founder of the League of Creative Interventionists, which Knight Foundation supports. The league is carrying out a series of resident-led creative projects in Akron, Ohio’s Summit Lake neighborhood that includes efforts to transform a vacant pump house building into a community space.

Ramon stands about 6 feet 3 inches. All he wants is a bench where he can sit and his legs can dangle off the ground. “Normal benches are too close to the ground for me to do that,” he said on a recent day–a day when he was going to change that.

17-year old Ramon along with 10 other young adults ranging from 14 to 22 years old, gathered at the Summit Lake Community Center to become the first members of the Summit Lake Build Corps. We launched the Build Corps for the same reason Ramon was at the community center to help these young residents create the place they want to live in, a place where they can envision a taller bench, or a place to sit and look at the lake, and build and care for that bench themselves.

Jay (left), Divad and Ruth (far right) work with Build Corps mentor Bryan Huber on their bench.

Summit Lake is a neighborhood that has not seen a lot of investment in public space; it is in dire need of more seating around the beautiful shoreline, at neighborhood bus stops, and many other locations. “People are going to be running down this [Towpath Trail that runs along the lake] and get tired and need somewhere to sit and rest,” explained 22-year-old Jay.

Stephanie Leonardi, neighborhood resident and League of Creative Interventionists project manager, led the effort to assemble the group of youth. Neighborhood partners Let’s Grow Akron, Summit Lake Neighborhood Association, Students With a Goal, and Summit Lake Community Center provided support in the planning and execution of the event. Local grocery store Mustard Seed Market & Café provided pallets for the creation of the benches, and local builders Bryan Huber, Jeff Horner and Megan Shane assisted in the build.

The day began with visits from Summit Lake Councilmembers Veronica Sims and Margo Sommerville, who offered their support for the youth as they embarked on their building. Everyone split into groups and was paired with one of the builders, as we brainstormed the best approaches for transforming the pallets into benches.

Members of the Summit Lake Build Corps pose with their finished bench. From left to right, Julie, League of Creative Interventionists fellow Megan Shane, Ramon, Markado, and League founder Hunter Franks.

The group with Ramon, who wanted a really tall bench, soon realized that it might be difficult to maintain a sturdy bench with tall, skinny legs, and so they turned their efforts toward making nice armrests for the bench. A second group embarked on an ambitious effort to create a double-sided bench, and the final group created a sturdy and basic bench that they quickly set to painting. The youth enjoyed learning how to use new tools and thinking about how to provide a sturdy and comfortable bench for future use. When the benches were built and the paint was drying, Ramon and David began creating a tool box out of wood scraps and Ruth started work on another small box.

It was inspiring to see some of the youth continue building new things using the new skills they had learned. They will continue to have the opportunity to keep building physical assets that serve the neighborhood as the Summit Lake Build Corps continues with upcoming build days to create neighborhood kiosks that will be spaces for community information and resource sharing. These benches and upcoming build projects will continue to let the young residents of Summit Lake directly impact their neighborhood and shape the place they live. It is these principles that will foster their love for the neighborhood, and ultimately create a more vibrant and connected Summit Lake. Learn more about the project at

On Twitter, follow @Hunter_Franks and @theleagueofci