Bonnie Blankenship has always been deeply invested in her community. A native Cincinnatian, she attended the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University and continues to reside in the Mariemont neighborhood, where she has used her housing-rehab experience as a general contractor on remodeling projects at her home. But even she couldn’t have imagined the impact of her work at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, building opportunities in the region she knows and loves so well.
Bonnie’s interest in housing took root early in her career. As the executive director for a non-profit housing organization in the Cincinnati area, Bonnie steered the building and rehabilitation of homes for first-time homebuyers in low- and moderate-income areas. Her move into community development work when she was hired as a regional outreach manager at the Cleveland Fed, covering southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, seemed like an organic transition. One of the things she enjoys most about her work is her colleagues’ knowledge and their desire to support others.
“I feel extremely blessed to work with a lot of smart people with a depth of knowledge in small business, workforce development, and housing, all with a lens to help communities. It’s a real collegiate atmosphere.” While she works on many initiatives, her work in the housing field will always be special to her.
Making connections across Ohio and Kentucky
Improving her own home has certainly been a labor of love. And through her relationships she has found innovative ways to support revitalizing housing in the region. In 2013, early into her role at the Fed, Bonnie heard from a contact in the housing industry who was concerned about the growing number of foreclosed properties in the area. Bonnie connected him with PowerNet, a consortium of concerned citizens working together to improve the quality of life for adults and juveniles with, or at risk of, criminal records. PowerNet was able to obtain some of the foreclosed properties for use in hands-on training with recently released inmates. Participants learned construction skills and improved the properties, some of which were used for transitional housing.
Over the years Bonnie has developed relationships well beyond her own neighborhood and the Cincinnati region. She has worked on projects in Dayton, Ohio, and coordinated outreach events which brought Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester and Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard to eastern Kentucky.
Her work for the Cleveland Fed extends beyond housing, too. Bonnie has partnered with the Appalachia Funders Network on issues impacting rural communities, with the Kansas City Fed on a digital equity workgroup to help with affordable Internet access, and with coworkers and stakeholders on the Fed’s national Small Business Credit Survey.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bonnie and her community development outreach colleagues engaged with small businesses in the district to learn how they were coping and the issues they were experiencing. Applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans, setting up GoFundMe accounts, and securing rent waivers from landlords were some of the strategies discussed among small businesses waiting to reopen.
Just like building a house from the ground up, it takes a great deal of hard work, planning, and commitment to keep moving in challenging times. “It really is humbling to hear how people are trying to help one another.”