Q: Can you share a bit about yourself, where you’ve lived, schooled, worked and your moves with your husband and children?
My name is Valda Clark Christian. My parents still live in the suburban New York home I grew up in. But since college, I’ve constantly been on the move. Our story is that of a two career household. Job opportunities for my husband and I, prompted relocations we never had imagined. I completed undergraduate studies at Williams College in MA then on to Yale Law School in CT. I met my husband in undergrad and we went to law school together. Following law school, we moved to the Washington, DC area for judicial clerkships and early legal practices.
An unexpected job and subsequent opportunities brought us to and moved us around my husband’s home state of FL. We spent a few years in Jacksonville, moved to Tallahassee, with a third move to Miami where we settled in for nearly 10 years. Our oldest son attended 3 different elementary schools and identifies with the entire state of FL as his hometown! He was able to complete middle school and high school in Miami. Our second son spent half of kindergarten through first semester of high school in Miami. And yet again, a new job opportunity brought us back to the Washington DC area. William finished high school here and my daughter, Maryam finished preschool through second grade. It was time to move again! We came to Cleveland in February 2019 and are happily settled in.
Q: It’s been almost two years since you first were connected with EA, what brought you to CLE and what were the impressions you had before and after your look-see trips?
I received a cold call from a recruiter. I wasn’t looking for a new opportunity. But I agreed to listen. Everything I heard sounded more and more intriguing. I agreed to visit and then I was hooked on a new work opportunity as Chief Compliance Officer with University Hospitals. As it so happens, I hadn’t thought much of Cleveland in the past as I had spent most of my time in coastal areas. That said, I knew a number of Cleveland natives. I was impressed by their devotion to and praise of the city. The day I came for my first look-see trip, spent with EA in September, was a day “ordered by the Chamber of Commerce” – it was beautiful. We drove around town looking at mature trees, cultural gardens, the vibrant Playhouse Square community, University Circle with its wealth of museums and so many picture perfect neighborhoods. It was hard not to fall for the city!
Q: As you experienced with your second oldest son moving a child can be challenging, with decisions on where to buy a home and where to enroll your daughter in school. How did you navigate through the choices?
We learned from our second son’s experience. In his last move (from Miami to suburban DC), he moved in the middle of the school year. We rented interim housing and started him in the public school our rental home was zoned for. The transition was tough for him. The mid-year change, specifically, was difficult. So, when we looked for a permanent home, we restricted our search to neighborhoods zoned for the same school. We didn’t want to change his school again if our new home was zoned for a different school.
We knew we were moving Maryam to CLE in the middle of a school year, too. We had decided that we weren’t going to tackle a permanent home commitment and a move all in one step, not wanting a repeat of our son’s experience. So, we started thinking of independent schools. (Historically we had used public schools for our older children. Most of our prior moves had taken place over the summer.) I wanted to minimize the impact of a mid-year move on Maryam. I imagined a smaller class size and more intimate school environment would facilitate her transition. Further, since we had decided to pursue interim housing while we looked for a more permanent home, an independent school would allow her to stay in the same school even if our housing changed. The public school might not have allowed that.
I shared our thoughts with our EA contact and some friends who lived in the area. It all made sense. We received recommendations for private schools. And we found one that offered the nurturing and extra attention that I thought would help Maryam with her mid-year big change. The first days still were hard. But I think we handled it the best way for us. I also looked for school and housing close to my place of work. My husband would still be traveling back to his job in DC. Maryam and I would be managing on our own a lot (the older children were away for college, etc.). So, a shorter commute would make things easier. Now school, work and home are all within a five mile radius.
Q: What do you most enjoy about living in Shaker Heights? In Cleveland?
It’s beautiful here! We love walking in our neighborhood, riding bikes as a family. We can just tour beautiful tree-lined streets. Or, we can bike into the Van Aken District and pick up ice cream or another treat. Shopping, entertainment, fine dining are all steps away but home is so peaceful, you wouldn’t guess amenities are so close. As said, my work, school, our house of worship and our doctors are all nearby too. Moving from other areas where locations were less convenient, traffic was heavy and commutes were long, this is a breath of fresh air. Moreover, we can easily access parks and bike trails that build in health fun for our whole family, even with mixed ages. If we are looking for something more inside rather than the great outdoors, Pinecrest is nearby with bowling, movies, pottery painting and more. And best of all are the easy commutes to such rich treasures and the museum area and Playhouse Square. We’ve enjoyed a number of shows and exhibits since our first look trip.
Q: Congrats on being selected as both YWCA Cleveland 2020 Women of Professional Excellence and for Leadership Cleveland Class of 2020. Can you share what you’d like to focus on with your LC Class. In what arena do you believe Clevelanders should be proud of and what is a concern or challenge that you’d like to draw our attention to?
I think Clevelanders should take a lot of pride in its history and its people. I don’t say that to look retrospectively. Rather, it’s a history worth celebrating and focusing on all the time. I love touring neighborhoods and seeing their diversity. I love seeing the architecture, monuments, the cultural gardens and parks. The history of Shaker Heights as a planned community is a national treasure. There really was a lot of thought into how one could grow and evolve through life and not need to leave your town. All stages of life can be accommodated here. I feel like I reap the rewards of this historical development and diversity every day.
What I’d like to work on, though, is not a secret. Cleveland has an astonishing rate of child poverty. Frankly, I’ve mentored and worked with disadvantaged children in many cities. But the depth of childhood poverty locally is striking. We have too many great things going on in this city to not lift these little ones up and give them great opportunities for the future.
Q: As we are living and working through a pandemic, what are the silver linings in your days as you’ve re-calibrated your professional and personal life?
The pandemic has been frightening and challenging on so many levels for all. But that said, it’s given me a gift I never thought I would have. Everyone came home! My husband stopped travel. My college student moved back in and continued his studies remotely. My oldest (finished with college/grad school and teaching at a boarding school in CT) found his campus closed too. So, he came home to us and taught remotely from March through July.
Kids grow up, as we want them to, and move out. We had reached the point that most vacation schedules don’t coincide and distance is a challenge. So most reliably we only saw each other all together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. These are special occasions with lots of other family around. Grand special dinners and lots of rushing around. But with the pandemic, all of the sudden we had a simple family dinner again – five of us sitting at the table together eating a meal that didn’t require two whole days in the kitchen (for me!) to prepare. We had great conversations that lingered into the evening. My youngest Maryam, who is many years younger than her siblings, had some sibling bonding time that she hadn’t had since her infancy. And, this time she could fully participate and remember it! I thought these days were done forever. But the pandemic gave us another few months of nuclear family time. I’ll treasure those days forever.
Q: And, we all love a recommendation for a family fun spot, a good book, a must have treat at one of our independents. Would you share some favorites?
Don’t miss On The Rise bakery — Jennifer cookies, sticky buns or chocolate cherry bread are my top picks. I just read Little Fires Everywhere which was fun just because the sense of place (based in Shaker Heights) resonated even though it is fiction. For a nice outing, trying hiking and swimming at Whipps Ledges.