I can’t remember how Elizabeth Truitt and I first met, but I know this. She has an effervescent smile that lights up a room and having lunch with her can be a ton of fun. Her passion for her work and life is contagious. It is what I enjoy so much about her.
Elizabeth is the director of public relations for Broadway in Cincinnati and she loves her work. It introduces her to so many diverse and incredible people (including stars), challenges and excites her. How very fortunate for her to have a job that is so fulfilling…and how great for Broadway Cincinnati to have Elizabeth on their team!
Let’s learn more about her…
Lisa: Please tell us a little about yourself, what you did before Broadway, what led you to your current job, some of your outside interests.
Elizabeth: It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t work for Broadway Across America as I’ve been with the company for the last 12 ½ years. I’ve been really lucky that new opportunities became available when I was ready for a change within the company. I started in customer service in our Indianapolis office, then handled Box Office Management before moving into Group Sales. After some changes within the company, I was offered a job in public relations just over 7 years ago and moved to Cincinnati to cover the market here. I absolutely love PR and consider myself blessed to work in an industry that I’m so passionate about day in and day out. As far as outside interests go, I absolutely love to read, listen to live music and explore new places in Cincinnati.
Lisa: In your career with the Broadway series, has there been anyone (or an experience) who has significantly made an impact on you? If so, please explain.
Elizabeth: One of the first shows I worked on after moving into PR when I moved to Cincinnati was the Broadway tour of RENT. RENT has long been one of my absolute favorite shows and was actually the first Broadway touring production I’d ever seen. Both Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal from the Original Broadway Cast were in the tour and I took them out for interviews. We had breakfast together during a break in the schedule and as we sat there discussing our cats over coffee, I realized this is my job. It all felt a bit surreal and reminded me of how amazing this opportunity is to do what I do. I get to work in an industry that offers the chance to witness incredible productions on par with what one would see if visiting New York. Cincinnati has a thriving arts community that offers so much support to the Broadway series, and I don’t take that for granted.
Lisa: When I think about you, I always think about your smile. It is so inviting and you wear it a lot. What makes you happy in life and what inspires you?
Elizabeth: I’m lucky enough to have a job I love going to day after day, but beyond all of that I have an incredible community of friends and family that bring a lot of joy to my life. They’re spread across several states but mean the world to me. They inspire me with their approach to the opportunities they are given and how they’ve risen in the face of adversity. Whether it’s the loss of a spouse or cancer or a major career change, it’s a gift to walk with them day in and day out.
Lisa: What is something about you that people may be surprised to learn?
Elizabeth: I love books so much I’ve had a part time job at Joseph-Beth Booksellers for over 3 years. I get to be around people who appreciate and support reading which, next to theatre, is probably my biggest passion. I get a lot of satisfaction from offering a book suggestion to someone and having them come back to tell me just how much they enjoyed what they read. It’s a fun environment and a really amazing independent bookstore to be a part of.
Lisa: What are some of the reasons why you enjoy living in Cincinnati?
Elizabeth: Cincinnati is a really beautiful town. I grew up in central Indiana so even after living here over 7 years, I’m still not tired of the hills or view of the river. As I mentioned earlier, Cincinnati has a thriving arts community. There are always opportunities to see things on stage I haven’t seen, or experience art in a way I haven’t before. I didn’t ever picture myself ending up here, but now I can’t imagine ever living somewhere else. I love our city.
It had been years since Karyl Cunningham and I had last seen each other. In fact, admittedly we had a hard time remembering where we met, but that didn’t seem to matter. Within in minutes I felt as I was sitting across the table from a very close friend.
That is Karyl’s way. When you speak, she listens with careful focus. She naturally inspires others to want to do more, be more, achieve more. Her smile leaves you with a strong reminder that she is someone who cares.
Ironically I learned she has the role now of another woman who also held a special place in my heart, Toni Miles. Karyl is executive director of the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Black and Latino Achiever’s Program which provides teens with essential tools for pursuing higher education and identifying career opportunities. One hundred percent of the Program’s high school seniors graduate high school, with over ninety percent entering post secondary education and over eighty percent, completing college, earning Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees. I remember well seeing the importance of this work during the five years I did public relations work for the Y.
It is no wonder Karyl is the recipient of numerous community activity awards, including the 2016 Venue Magazine Women of Influence Award, 2006 Star Award, Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, for individual community contribution; Urban All-American Achievement Award, Toledo, Ohio; and Ohio State Assembly Community Service Recognition.
She has served on several nonprofit boards, including the Leadership Council, Seton High School, and Healthy Moms and Babes. And she serves on the boards of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, the OTR Foundation and the 3CDC New Market Funds Advisory board and member of the Citizen Advisory Panel for Agenda 360.
Let’s learn more about Karyl.
Lisa: Please tell us about a life experience that may have been difficult or challenging, but ended up being a positive growth lesson.
Karyl: I would say that the most difficult challenge for me, was as young women beginning my first non-profit position in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. After working there about a year, I was approached by my employer who had an interested in transferring me to Covington, Kentucky to open up a satellite office that would serve individuals who were underemployed or unemployed and interested in starting a career in retail sales. To say the least, I was nervous and skeptical in moving from my hometown, which at the time felt so final. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions that I made. As a result of this move, I fell in love with Cincinnati and decided to take a leap of faith and look for other opportunities that would align to my skills, knowledge and abilities in the field of education or non-profit work. I overcame my fear of leaving my safe place and jumping right in! And I am still here, after 30 plus years.
Lisa: What are some of your greatest passions and how do they impact your career and life choices?
Karyl: Definitely I’d say connecting with people, reading history/novels and cooking. In life…we are all connected, somehow and in some way, and it is a beautiful thing. People can impact your life in so many good ways, ways that give us hope, gives us advise and teaches us to advance to our greater good! History teaches us so much about who we are, why we are – and supplies us with a foundation and framework for making decisions in both our personal and professional lives. Cooking allows us to blend people and conversation over great bounty!
Lisa: What is the greatest legacy or impact that you hope to be remembered by when others think about you?
Karyl: I want people to remember me as someone who was always honest, trustworthy and a true friend! Someone who made a difference!
Lisa: What is one of your favorite pieces of advice and why?
Karyl: Never allow anyone’s negative opinion of you, become your reality! That advice says it all!
Today I wanted to introduce you to someone who has championed the lives of more than 265,000 high school and college students. Nick Jackson commands the stage. When he gets in front of audiences he lifts them to a higher place, gets them excited and inspired. It truly is a gift and he has dedicated his adult life to sharing that gift with as many people as he can.
Nick is the first African-American male teacher and coach at Norwood High School in Cincinnati, later going to Ft Thomas Independent School District in Northern Kentucky. If you know him, it would come as no surprise to learn he coached two football teams to state championships, ever once having a losing season. Shortly after, he was selected by NBC, Showtime and Fox Sports’ Cris Collinsworth to become the national spokesperson for a nonprofit called UGive.org. Today, through Nick’s organization – NickJacksonSpeaks.com – he gives transformational speeches to packed events.
Let’s learn more about him.
Lisa: You have devoted your adult life and career to inspiring and empowering people. Where does your inspiration draw from?
Nick: My inspiration comes from inside me. Deep, deep inside me there is a young child that was told that the world doesn’t change nor care about you. The best you’ll be able to do is to “fit in it!”
Lisa: Was there a young experience that influenced your life?
Nick: Absolutely, my grandparents are phenomenal. Every time we spoke (they’ve passed) there was another reason to walk away from the conversation uplifted. They had this ability in my life to convey a message of love and empowerment at the same time. I’d walk into their conversations feeling beat down by struggling with an ability difference and the frustration of the day. They would always remind me of the big picture. And in doing this they would remind me that I’m a big part of this bigger picture.
So – keep fighting the good fight.
Lisa: What has driven you to this mission?
Nick: My biggest driving force is the amount of people out there that don’t have positive role models, parents or grandparents that point them in this positive direction.
Lisa: Who is someone that is a role model to you and why.
Nick: My grandfather. I mean he was just awesome! He had a way to connect that was as much spiritual as it was physical. He had a way of making you believe that you are special, and the outcome of your awesomeness opens doors for others to also be awesome!
Lisa: When others think about or remember you, how would you like to be remembered?
Nick: I would love to be remembered as the guy that helped others remember their awesomeness. I’d love to be remembered as the coach that was coaching people in life and the man that gave to them without expectation of return.
Lisa: What is something about you that people may be surprised to learn?
Nick: I have a serious fear of squirrels they freak me out!
Lisa: Do you have any stories of how one of your talks made an impact on your audience and yourself?
Nick: Wow where to start –
The two that come to mind are ones that are very close to my heart. I remember when I first started speaking I was at an elementary school called Crosby Elementary. I spoke to the students about never giving up no matter what other people say your disability is and also knowing that your ability will never be given to you by man. A young man stood up in the back of the room. He was leaning against the wall and he said he was a person with a disability. He explained after hearing our speech how he wouldn’t let other people’s thoughts of his ability hold him down – it was beautiful.
The next story is very similar. We were able to speak at a convention in Texas before thousands of students were with multiple races represented. As I stood there, I noticed that the Latino students, the African-American students and the Caucasian students all sat in separate sections of the auditorium. During the speech we talked about being one, having one voice, and being forgiven together in unison. The crowd of many colors, faiths and backgrounds came together as one in the hallway and we as one took the best selfies ever!
Margaret Kastner and I met at a meeting of the Cincinnati Blogger Network many months ago, and she has become one of my Good Things Going Around followers. We have kept in touch and talk when we see each other. She has always struck me as someone very easy to talk to, a kind and uplifting person. I am so glad I asked her for her story, as it gave me an opportunity to get to know an important part of her…and share it with you.
Originally from Detroit, Margaret came to Cincinnati in 1985 with her daughter and fiancé to put down new roots and begin a career with Procter & Gamble (P&G). By 2012 she was ready to do something very different. She retired and began designing and making beautiful sterling silver jewelry. She also started an online business called The Brooch & Bangle which specializes in one of a kind, handmade jewelry that uses a variety of gemstones.
Margaret’s life changing experience…in her own words
I remember our table at the Thunderbird Restaurant with its perfectly white linen table cloth and napkins. This was uptown dining in central Iowa in the 1980s. It was prime rib Sunday and the church crowd was filling the place after morning services.
My serious boyfriend Dave and I were joining his parents for dinner. I’d met them once briefly, but I suspected this dinner was their way of sizing me up as the prospective daughter-in-law. I was a ball of nerves.
Parents Tony and Olga were quite a bit older than Dave, and Tony was getting frail from a grueling schedule of kidney dialysis. Although he drove the car with a lead foot, Tony walked gingerly into the restaurant. Was he in pain right now? Should I offer to help him in some way? I felt all thumbs and tongue-tied. I honestly didn’t know how to act around someone who was so ill. I just hoped to avoid any awkward moments.
We decided that Dave’s parents should be first to get their dinner. When Tony got up from the table, Dave also got up without any hesitation. He guided his father to the buffet, and patiently held and filled Tony’s plate with each of the foods his father requested. This simple act of kindness was given with such love and respect.
I remember my immediate thought: “I’m not like that. Why?” I was accustomed to keeping to myself. And that had to change.
My formative years were spent in Detroit and its suburbs in the 1960s – 70s. The upside was that the Motor City was the automobile capital of the world, and the birthplace of Motown music. But in looking back, it felt like everyone was in a bad mood about something: strikes, crime, declining graduation rates, corrupt city government .. to name a few possibilities.
It seemed to me that while neighbors knew each other they weren’t really all that friendly. People walked while looking down, rarely make eye contact with anyone else. At the grocery store, people didn’t make small talk with others waiting in line. People kept to themselves.
The impact of that experience
Eventually it dawned on me that I was in the right place at the right time to help others pretty often. So, I just started paying attention to what was going on around me, began reaching out.
Like when, while on a business trip and sitting in the hotel lobby, an older woman had fallen in the parking lot and her calf had a deep cut. I asked my colleague to get the rental car, I got some paper towels to clean her up, and we drove her and her husband to an urgent care. Once I also got my car to drive a fellow P&Ger who was running in the pouring rain without an umbrella to her car in a far off parking lot.
So maybe I’ve been in training for even more important opportunities to reach out.
A few years ago, Dave’s mother moved from central Iowa to Cincinnati. Although in her 90s, she lives independently, but she cannot drive. I’ve taken her to a variety of doctors. We developed a routine of how we walk together, she with her cane in her right hand, and holding onto the crook of my arm with her left.
And this year, I found a way to raise awareness about organ donation in our area. As a Cincinnati LifeCenter ambassador, I talk with people about the incredible need for people to become organ donars in our tri-state area. I tell them about the Polycystic Kidney Disease that Dave’s father had, and that we now know Dave has inherited.
One of my favorite quotes is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
I use the last line as a yardstick to measure my day. In the evening, I think about how I may have made people feel that day. I’ve been known to drive back to a store to apologize for being less than kind to someone.
Heidi Jark, senior vice president and managing director of The Foundation Office at Fifth Third Bank, has long been someone I have admired.
A 2013 YWCA Career Women of Achievement Honoree, Heidi has learned some mammoth lessons about life and the strength of her will from her own personal experiences. Growing up on a farm, and having been raised by loving, hard-working parents, gave her an early solid foundation. That, and a diagnosis of cancer at the young age of 19, gave Heidi a deep inner purpose and drive for building good and philanthropy. In her role at Fifth Third, she oversees investments from the bank’s own foundation, more than 20 other trustee foundations, and private family foundations. She and her husband, Steve Kenat, are active in the community. Among Heidi’s list of engagement, she has served on the United Way Leadership Cabinet, and is a past board member of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.
Please learn more about Heidi below.
GTGA: You grew up on a farm in South Dakota. How did your early experiences help to shape who you are today?
Heidi: Growing up on a farm definitely had an impact on the person that I am today. I didn’t necessarily appreciate or know the true impact until I was older, but those experiences have imprinted on several things in my life. First and foremost, it taught me the value of hard work and how work can bring great joy and be essential to your wellbeing. My Dad was always “working”, whether it was in the field, at his desk, or even doing carpentry in the winter months. He’s an amazingly happy person and takes great pride in his accomplishments, even today at the young age of 88. His greatest words of wisdom to me were to find something that I loved to do with my life and I would never do a day of work. Dad was definitely right about that! Secondly, working on the farm taught me the value of humor. That seems like an odd thing to say, but there was plenty to laugh about when things were good and when things went the wrong way. My parents had a great sense of humor and even work had its fun side. Whether it was gatherings via snowmobiles to the river bottom to ice skate and roast hot dogs on a moonlit winter’s night (one of my favorite memories) or impromptu family get togethers with tons of homemade food, laughter was always present in our lives. Farming wasn’t all about work. It was about community, spending quality time together, and having some of the best laughs I’ve ever had in my life. We had fabulous adventures on and off of the farm and it’s something I value and try to practice as much as I can. Finally, it taught me to appreciate the earth and all of its beauty. I still crave wide open spaces and look forward to those trips each year when I can get back to South Dakota, breathe the fresh air, and get my hands dirty.
GTGA: You were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. What are some life lessons learned from your experience?
Heidi: I was diagnosed a month before my 20th birthday and it was a shocker. You never want to hear the words, “you have cancer”, no matter the age. I was so fortunate to have made my way to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and to have parents who figured out a way for me to stay there for 4 months of treatment. I spent a lot of that time on my own, as it was planting season and my parents needed to be back home on the farm. I learned to be fiercely independent and to take charge of my health. I also learned to listen to my body and to let it rest when it needed a break. I also had time to think about who I was and who I wanted to be. I also learned that I can’t let fear of the unknown get the best of me or keep me from moving forward. I came out of the experience stronger and wiser than my years. I also made a list of the things I would do in my life if I got a second chance and it’s something I still try to follow every day. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s great to get the midlife crisis out of the way much earlier than your friends.
GTGA: Who is someone who has impacted your life in a positive way and how?
Heidi: It’s hard to pick just one person, so I’m going to have to go with the 2 most important women in my life: my Mom and my oldest sister Becky. I was different from the other kids in our farming community, and my family recognized that at an early age. They embraced my differences and always made sure that I had support so that I could be whoever I wanted to be. My Mom was a school teacher and a very strong independent woman that you didn’t mess with, and she was my crusader and #1 supporter. Her words of wisdom live with me every day and I miss her terribly. We talked every day until her health deteriorated and she was unable to have a conversation with me. She’s in heaven looking over me now and I hear her voice in my head at least once every day. Becky is definitely like Mom and the two of us bear a striking resemblance to Mom in our looks, mannerisms, language, and even in our style of dress. She’s been my best friend and confidant for as long as I can remember. Becky lives out West and we only see each other a few times a year, but we talk on the telephone constantly. I know who to call if I need to laugh or cry.
GTGA: What are some of your simple pleasures in life?
Heidi: Reading, gardening, singing and playing the piano bring me great joy. I also love to cook and bake – that’s the farm girl in me coming out!
GTGA: When you think about the word ‘philanthropy’, what does that mean to you?
Heidi: Generosity always comes to mind when I think about philanthropy. The act of giving to me is the most beautiful part of humankind. When someone gives of their time or treasures, it’s truly a gift of heart and spirit. A farming community is one of the best places to learn the meaning of giving and how to care for each other. Little did I know that growing up on the farm would lead me to “work” that I love.
GTGA: What advice do you have to young people about living life?
Heidi: My advice is to live life to the fullest and to never have regrets. As a cancer survivor, every day is a good day because I’m alive. Even on the worst days, they are still better than the alternative. Dream big and surround yourself with positive people who can support you in the good times and the bad. Most of all, you need to believe in and take care of yourself. And, as my mother always reminded me, “If you’re going to kick some butt, make sure you wear some awesome shoes!”