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
It was very hot and humid day in downtown Cincinnati. Traffic was heavy. Pedestrians hurriedly walked along the sidewalks. The sun’s reflection bounced from windows and caused deep shadows among those in its path. Hours later there would be loud music reverberating from the stage at Fountain Square. Families and friends would be celebrating a win from the Great American Ballpark – or at least a good time. Bars would be filled with professionals, laughing, letting off stress.
I was standing on the other side of the glass at 21C when her car pulled up to the entrance. The driver’s door opened and out came a woman wearing a grey baseball hat with a Mr. Reds emblem facing forward and a black, white and red jersey with ‘Cincinnati Reds’ placed boldly in the center. She had this confident way about her that just attracted you to her, and when she caught someone’s attention she welcomed it with a beautiful smile.
It doesn’t take but a few minutes in her presence to feel like Charisse Gibson has been your friend since childhood. You laugh. You share. You are inspired. Conversation is just easy.
The charismatic morning news anchor on Fox 19, who begins her day when some are just ending theirs, treats everyone like she has known them for years. What you see when you watch her on television is exactly what you see when you are with her out in the world.
I really just love being around Charisse. She has a way of brightening my day and she is such an attentive listener that I have got to be careful to not let my stories ramble way too long. I did, after all, want to have plenty of time to learn about HER.
It is a natural instinct to think this Ms Cincinnati was born and raised here but her appreciation, she told me, actually stems from being an outsider looking in. Her roots are in New Orleans, a region known for its Dixieland jazz and creole cuisine, and she has worked all along the Gulf Coast before settling into Cincinnati’s artsy Pendleton neighborhood with her sister and her dog (now two dogs).
“I love Cincinnati. It has inspired me in a way to do my best work,” she told me. “My bedroom has a lot of natural light and it is pointed to a park. When I wake up on Saturdays, I hear basketballs dribbling, kids screaming, people riding by with pedal wagons or walking dogs. I hear that old church bell. Those sights and sounds just inspire me and I begin to write.
“I love seeing the neighborhood go through change, seeing how the old and new interact. And I love the fact that in this city, not a day goes by that there is nothing going on. Having grown up in New Orleans, what I missed about back home was that I could walk out my door and find music. I didn’t realize when I came how much jazz there is here.
“I think people here have no idea how culturally diverse Cincinnati is. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside like me to get people to realize all Cincinnati has to offer. I want to help people to recognize all these great things our city has to offer. That is why I love working on the Morning Show, to bring out the best in Cincinnati.”
When Charisse ends her day at Fox 19, the rest of her day begins. I wouldn’t be surprised if she spends as much time giving back as she does on the set. Charisse is president of the Greater Cincinnati Association of Black Journalists and is diversity co-chair of the Journalism and Women’s Symposium. She also has one-on-one Skype conversations with college students helping them to navigate their journey and career path.
AND generously gives of her time to many local causes along the way. She even organizes her own fundraiser in January called, ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ that sold out last year.
I asked Charisse where this never-ending energy comes from. “My parents. They are very young at heart and that is passed on to us,” she told me. “They still love Disney World and want to ride all the rides.
“I turn 30 next year and sometimes I feel like I am 17. I want to be involved and help do things. It keeps me motivated.
“I find happiness in everything. You have to. You have to find opportunity and happiness in everything that is around you. And it is not only opportunity for yourself but finding opportunities to help others. That is why I do as much as I do. When your joy comes from seeing other people happy instead of it being self-indulgent, then that makes you feel better. I know that even just sitting down with someone and talking with them, being able to give them advice or bringing them on the Show and seeing how elated they are, that makes me so happy.”
When it comes to being your best self, Charisse had this advice, “If you want to find purpose, go out and put yourself in situations where you can have some sort of impact or others can have an impact on you.”
Words we can all live by.