I met Megan Mitchell for the first time one morning when I had stopped by their newsroom earlier this year to talk about the 2017 ReelAbilities Film Festival. I had asked for suggestions of news staff who may be interested in helping to emcee our screenings, and was pointed in the direction of their newest news anchor.
They say first impressions are so telling when it comes to making judgements about people. And I will always remember that first conversation began Megan and myself. She was sitting at her desk, turning her attention to me as soon as I sat down. She had this incredible enthusiasm about herself that infectiously made my energy soar. As I spoke about the Festival, her eyes seemed to have a sparkle. “Oh, I know her. I LOVE that show! Wow, I saw her on Broadway!,” where among her comments when the names of our VIP guests came up.
Megan not only emceed a screening for us this year, she also co-hosted our Kick Off Party, and arrived early at the Festival to conduct Red Carpet interviews with two of the stars she admired most.
Having her in your presence just makes that moment and that day so much fun. And that attitude about life is so very genuine. Clearly Megan has a huge heart. a huge appreciation for her relationships, and a deep passion for telling the stories of those whose stories need to be told with dignity and respect.
It is all those qualities that have made her a such a popular news anchor. Originally from Brookfield, Connecticut, Megan interned at MSNBC and MTV in New York City during college. She is a proud alum of Emerson College where she received an AP Award for Best Documentary for a half-hour show she executive produced on the Primetime Emmy Awards, and an EVVY Award for Best Television Personality. From there she has gone on to win numerous other awards, and her most recent (and probably most proud) award was First Place our of every local news station in the country (major markets included) by the National Association of LGBTQ journalists for a documentary she made with Cliff Naylor on Two Spirit and/or LGBTQ Native Americans. She and Cliff also received 1st place in the Eric Sevareid Awards and the Associated Press – Great Plains Awards for that documentary, which, is important to mention, they created on their OWN time, without compensation because they felt so strongly that the story needed to be told.
“Two Spirits” is a documentary that examines how a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage did not settle the contentious subject for sovereign nations. Tribal courts are not affected by the ruling. Eleven Native American tribes, including the two largest, the Navajo and Cherokee Nations, still prohibit gay marriage. Only a dozen of the 566 recognized Indian nations recognize same-sex marriage. None of the four tribes in North Dakota issue same-sex marriage licenses. “Two Spirits” examines how Native American attitudes on marriage have evolved, how the topic continues to divide reservations, and the tragic consequences, such as suicide, that result because the issue is still unresolved for Native people.
(You can watch the documentary here: https://youtu.be/eaIWR27sg1c).
When I asked Megan what makes her the most proud of her work on that documentary, she told me, “I feel proud of the Two Spirit documentary because it was a true showcase of why I got into the news business and the work I want to do through storytelling. I always hope I can give a platform to the subjects and allow them to tell their own story, as opposed to me taking their voice from them. And I feel the documentary does that well.”
Let’s get to know a little more about Megan.
Lisa: That documentary was so important to you, and giving a platform to difference. Why is that important to you?
Megan: It is great to celebrate difference. I love being different, it makes me, me. We don’t all think alike but that is the beauty of it. Being different provides a bit of empathy because you learn that things are not just one way, and your heart grows as you learn you can love and be loves as truly you.
Lisa: And this is what makes you such a real journalist.
Megan: My favorite part of my job is being able to strip away the layers to see everyone as human beings. I feel like the best way to tell a story is by providing a voice for each side. If there is one that is not as heard or not as privileged, it is important to raise those voices and be heard equally. We tend to dehumanize people we see as different from ourselves so that human connection can make you see someone as you see yourself. When I talk to people, I get to hear a side that not everyone does, which is so valuable.
Lisa: You are someone with such a positive outlook. Where does that come from?
Megan: My parents. My mom was literally a cheerleader growing up. All she wants to do is look at everything in the best light. Whenever something bad happened to us, she would tell us, “This too shall pass. We’ll laugh about this someday.” You know, she was right.
My dad too was always like, “keep moving forward.” I look back at baby videos of myself and my parents were so animated. They sounded like they were talking to a baby puppy. That is why I am an animated person because they were so excited they had a kid.
Lisa: I love this photo of you. Please tell me why this is so special to you.
Megan: I was traveling the California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway and was in Big Sur for this photo. I find so much beauty in nature. I think all of us want to feel like we’re a part of something bigger and greater, and I feel at home when I am reminded I am an inhabitant of this Earth. I even believe I said to my best friend in this photo “I feel so comfy and cozy right now.” Beautiful scenes like this remind me how we are all connected to our planet and each other. That’s why I love to travel. To remind myself with all the bad news out there, there is always something greater that connects us all and we’re living in it.
You may find them dancing, sightseeing, hiking, tending to vegetables in a garden, or volunteering their time. One day they may be exploring Fort Ancient, the next they may be touring one of the local waterways on a pontoon boat. One day they may be sorting items at Matthew 25: Ministries, and another day you may find them giving of their time to a different organization. They may be checking out the butterflies at Krohn Convservatory, exploring one of Cincinnati’s parks, or learning about history or art in one of our area museums. Or they may be in the kitchen practicing their cooking skills.
One thing is for certain, the adults who participate in LADD (Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled)’s Community Connections Program are living fuller lives. They are surrounded by friends and a supportive network. They are learning more about this great region that all of us share.
LADD’s Community Connections is the only non-facilities based program of its kind in Cincinnati. In groups of 3 to 5 adults with developmental disabilities, participants choose places in our area to explore with one of LADD’s social guides. The Program reduces isolation and also provides an opportunity for participants to learn and strengthen life and communication skills, build confidence through decision making, and explore their own likes and dislikes.
Melissa Caywood once told me that, “Without it, I would be doing nothing. Community Connections keeps me busy and I like to be busy.”
Faith Maynard is program manager for LADD. “Part of this process of advocacy is taking stock of who they are – and what they want to accomplish by exploring what they like and don’t like in the world,” she explained.
I love that whole idea. In my work with the organization, getting an opportunity to tag along with one of the groups makes my whole week. These adults have become my friends. When they smile, I smile. When they they tell me about how their making a difference makes them feel good, it makes me feel good too. When I see the interaction between staff and participants, I am reminded of what working with heart is all about. When I see them out in the community, doing what all of us have a right to be doing, I think this is just as it should be.
Community Connections is about so much more than just an activity to occupy a day. It is about relationships being built and strengthened. It is about people who deserve to be included and valued, being included and valued.
One of the groups recently gathered at the Contemporary Arts Center to create handmade birthday cards for children at St. Joseph Orphanage. A few visitors of the CAC stopped by to help. Each card was personalized with stickers, drawings and messages.
“Our kids that stay with us love to receive cards to display in their rooms. Oftentimes they are in the custody of children services and the cards received from caring card pals will be the only cards they get. Knowing someone in the community cares enough to make a card helps them feel valued and special. Thank you LADD!,” Lisa Caminiti, community relations/volunteer coordinator for St. Joseph Orphanage told me.
And how did Community Connections participants feel about their gifts?
“I think it is going to make the kids feel good and it makes me feel good to do that,” Trip Huggins told me.
“It makes me happy to make the cards because I know I am helping someone,” Erin McDermott said.
There is something so uplifting about seeing the beautiful heart of a little child who already at a very young age knows and appreciates what it means to be kind to others. And behind that child is very likely adult role models from whom those values have been instilled.
Just recently they delivered filled boxes to Adopt a Book, a local nonprofit organization run by two teens and their mother, to be given to other young people without the means to buy their own books. It was an incredible gift; but what makes it even more so is the story behind that delivery.
It all began when plans were underway for Eva’s third birthday party. Kristin and Tim came up with the idea of asking guests to each bring a book or two toward the collection. It seemed like a perfect age and a perfect opportunity to be teaching their daughter a lesson in giving back.
Eva and her mom made a banner to hang above the donation spot, and thank you notes for their friends who pitched in. “Our hope was to collect 50 books or so. Given that we only had about a dozen families coming, we thought that was an ambitious but still reasonable goal to achieve,” Kristin told me. “We were blown away by their generosity. We collected nearly 230 books!”
And that wasn’t all. Eva and her mom spent an afternoon painting lots of pieces of card stock, transforming them with brilliant hues into bookmarks that would become part of their donation. “Eva picked her colors carefully and told everyone she talked to for the next week about how she got to make bookmarks for kids who don’t have books,” Kristin said.
Below is more of my conversation with Kristin.
Lisa: What are some of Eva’s qualities that you would like to share with us?
Kristin: Eva is an amazing littler person! She can be shy and slow to warm-up to people, but once you’ve made it into her inner circle, she will do whatever she can to let you know how special you are. She is very smart and stubborn. It amazes me how well she already knows her own mind at only three years old. There are so many things I could tell you about her, but it’s her kind and loving heart that I love most!
Lisa: Explain how this whole idea came about?
Kristin: My husband and I have always hoped to instill a sense of community and a spirit of giving in any children we have. We’ve both always made it a priority in our own lives to give back and serve our community when we can, and have both had wonderful examples of that in our own parents. Eva is at an age where she’s really excited about being “a big helper”. As she develops her own individuality, she is learning to be more independent. That newly discovered independence combined with her big heart make her incredibly eager to help others in whatever small ways she can.
As we are seeing this side of her personality develop, we thought she might be at a good age to show her ways we can be involved in our community and help others, so we decided to invite guests to her birthday party to bring a donation of some sort instead of gifts. We wanted to pick an organization we felt represented Eva’s interests, and something she could be excited about. Since she loves books and reading so much, we started looking for organizations that serve children and somehow foster learning, literacy, and a love of reading.
Lisa: Does Eva understand why she did it?
Kristin: We decided on Adopt a Book a couple months before the party, which gave us lots of time to talk about it and help her understand what we were trying to do. Because she has such a giving spirit, she understood pretty quickly and was excited about the idea of it. When we went shopping for books to donate, she helped pick most of them out. She tried to pick books and characters she knows her friends like because she thought other kids might like them too. When the party came, I heard her telling several people that we were going to take all of the books to kids who don’t have books of their own, which was pretty cool.
Lisa: As a parent, I bet you are very proud of her.
Kristin: Leading up to her party and after we collected all of the books, I was just so amazed by how much Eva understood our goal and how excited she was by it! I really wasn’t sure she would get it, and figured that this year it was more my husband’s and my project, and maybe next year she could be more involved. Boy was I wrong! From choosing the books we donated, to explaining our goal, to making the bookmarks…she was involved every step of the way!
The moment that really got me was after her party. We were opening the handful of gifts she’d gotten, and a few people had gotten her books in addition to the books they donated. As we’re sitting there looking at the books, she picked up a couple of them and took them to table of donated books. When we told her she could keep those books, she said “I know. I have lots of books. Kids who don’t have books can have these.” And they were pretty cool books!
For her to decide, completely on her own, to give away birthday presents she liked and would enjoy simply because she thought other kids needed them more was really amazing to me. It’s a side of her I know we will get to see a lot more of, and I think we have a new birthday tradition!
Last night, I asked Kristin to talk with her daughter about the meaning of their actions. She shared with me how it went.
Eva explained that the reason they collected books was, “because I like reading books and I want them (other kids) to like reading books too.”
The rest of Eva and her mom’s conversation went like this:
Kristin: “Was it nice of us to get the books for kids who don’t have them?”
Eva: “Uh huh!”
Kristin: “And why do we want to do nice things for people?”
Eva: “Because it makes them happy.”
Kristin: “Any other reasons?”
Eva: “Because when we’re nice to people, they get happy and feel good, which makes me feel happy too!”
Such a powerful lesson from an amazing little girl!
I love this quote by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
It reminds me a lot of Amy Tobin. When I think about Amy, I smile. She just has that effect on people. I’m not really even sure how we first met but each time our paths cross, what stands out to me most is her energy and enthusiasm. It is infectious.
The header on her website says it all…’Inspired Ideas’.
“I love sharing ideas, inspiration and advice with people that make our everyday life just a little more celebratory, beautiful and delicious,” she told me. “I’ll never forget, one Thanksgiving years ago, looking around the table and taking such pride and pleasure in the mood, the food and the experience I had created for my family. I was also struck by the fact that creating a holiday meal, dinner party or even a weeknight dinner, didn’t come easily to everyone. That fueled my focus on creating easy, approachable “food for family and friends” and my cookbook by the same name. From time saving ideas to presentation tips to products I love, I especially love when people let me know that something I’ve shared with them has made a difference in their life.”
Amy has come a long way since throwing her first dinner parties in high school. These days she divides her time between being director of the Event Center at New Riff Distillery, owner of Amy Tobin & Company (a lifestyle consulting company) and host of Amy’s Table on WKRQ/Q102 (and spending quality time with her family and friends).
“My passions are found in my work, from creating great food to interviewing interesting guests to encouraging my team to expand and grow, I love how I spend my time. These same channels allow me to give back to the community, too. From raising awareness on-air to MC-ing events to my team and I working with Northern Kentucky youth, I try to share my resources with the community,” she told me.
Lisa: What are some of your simple pleasures; why are they simple pleasures, and how do they make you feel?
Amy: My morning ritual is a simple pleasure that I couldn’t live without! My husband brings me coffee in bed every morning and I honestly savor it as I wake up and think about my day. I do a bit of reading, journaling and meditation before my feet even hit the floor. I know this practice puts me in a great position to seize the day.
Lisa: Do you have a favorite saying or words you live by? If so, what and why?
Amy: My favorite saying comes from Emily Dickinson who said “I dwell in possibility”.
I dwell there, too. I frequently put the “what” I’m trying to do before the “how” which creates endless possibilities in the way I work and play. I don’t focus on obstacles- instead I spend my time thinking about life’s potential.
Some morning reflection. It is so easy to get caught up in our day that we forget to notice and appreciate all the simple pleasures that surround us. Someone is in our thoughts but we don’t reach out, or we are afraid of speaking our feelings. But the truth is, we are never guaranteed tomorrow. Today, let’s smile more, let’s open our eyes to seeing the beauty in even remote places, let’s say and do things that matter. This is our day to make the most of it! ~ Lisa