When Ric Urban walks into the area of Newport Aquarium where the African Penguins are housed, they all waddle over to him…especially one little girl, Paula. It is yet one more reason why this man who has been doing his work (Newport Aquarium is his fifth employer) for 35 years has no plans for retiring. He loves what he does. It is his passion and his purpose.
“With the birds at the Aquarium, I have been able to promote penguin conservation to a whole new level. When people see and meet a penguin, they are making a connection that will hopefully empower them to do something,” he said.
As the Aquarium’s Chief Conservation Officer, Ric’s job is about promoting the mission of conversation in our community…and around the globe. He wants visitors of Northern Kentucky’s destination favorite to be enthralled while they are there, and leave with information to become interested and engaged in saving wildlife and the ecosystem beginning in their back yards.
However his job entails so much more. On any given day, he could be testing water, speaking to groups, teaching classes, creating programs, or traveling the globe. He has participated in many research projects through his career. This past spring he was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the program coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Identification Project. The goal of the Project has been to tag at least 10% of the world’s declining population of African Penguins over the next 3 years. That’s around 5,000 birds to be tagged and identified in South African and Namibia. It is an especially important program as African Penguins were placed on the endangered species list in 2010. The Newport Aquarium is one of 50 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums that house these birds, and Ric did the original hand feeding of all eight that are on display in Northern Kentucky. Paula is often their ambassador, traveling with Ric on appearances to local events. I actually met Paula and Ric for the first time at a Muscular Dystrophy fundraiser.
When I asked Ric about his most interesting journey, he brought up the 2012 research project in Peru to learn about the Humoldt Penguin. They were working to prevent the decline in population of these birds, just as what has happened with the African Penguin. Guano, the fecal matter produced by sea birds, is a very effective and natural fertilizer, and of great value for the harvesters. The problem is that, being a natural pesticide, also makes guano an excellent place for Humoldt Penguins to lay eggs, and when the guano is harvested it has the potential for great harm to the Humoldt Penguin population. Ric was an observer. He was in South America to make sure the nests were undisturbed during harvesting. The whole experience was one he will never forget.
He shared this story.
“It was exciting to see wild Humoldt Penguins for the first time and go out with Peruvian biologists to watch what they are doing to save and protect the species, and preserve the ecosystems. Peru is one of the largest reserves for that penguin.
We were definitely roughing it. There was only power for three hours in the evening and no refrigeration. For toilets we had to use bail water from the ocean. We had male and female sides of the bathrooms, and would do bucket brigades every few days to fill the needed supply. We had to walk to the headquarters, about two miles away and across a coastal desert, to get a few minutes of shower time.
One night after our day was through, a young biologist invited me to explore. We wandered down into this area where the coastline had fallen onto the beach and created a long cave. The biologist had seen birds go there and then disappeared, and decided to follow them one day. That night he told me to crawl under a rock, and then we went on this incline that must have been 20 to 30 feet. You could feel the bottom of the cave below your belly and the space was so small that you couldn’t raise your neck. Then we got to the top and there must have been dozens of birds sitting on nests.
It was incredible. No where have I ever read about penguins nesting in the darkness of caves. It took everything I had ever learned and added a whole new level.”
With stories like that, it is no wonder why Ric has no immediate plans for retirement.
Thank you so much to my speakers Kilee Brookbank and Vickie Mertz, and to everyone who attended my September A Night of CINspiration for making this another very special night. Below is a link to the photo album. Please click on the image to begin viewing the photos. Hope to see you at another upcoming event!
On the other end of the phone, I hear “Lisa! You just made my day!”
It is the kind of welcome that I have come to expect when I call my long time friend, Bobby Harrison; and pretty high up there on my list of reasons why I value our friendship. This is not only the way in which Bobby approaches our relationship, I have a pretty good indication it is how he sees all of his life, and the people who are part of it.
One could say he has a knack for being at the right place at the right time. But that would not give credit to where credit is due. People like to work with Bobby, and just be in his presence, because he has so many outstanding qualities. In his personal and professional relationships, he exudes genuine integrity and a sense of caring about the welfare of others. He has a rare ability for spontaneously coming up with jackpot ideas for creating impact. And his positive outlook is infectious.
Among those for whom he has created outreach programs include NBA player Tyrone Hill’s Celebrity Basketball Classic and Stedman Graham’s Athletes Against Drugs Program. He has created a statewide HIV/AIDS minority advertising campaign and created a video for Dial Corporation’s 75th anniversary of their flagship brand, Dial soap. His long list of clients (past and present) has included Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, Boy Scouts, YMCA, Honda, and Stedman Graham. And, for the past 23 years Bobby has served as creative director for the Macy’s Music Festival, working with industry greats such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.
Really, this only scratches the surface of Bobby’s achievements. He is an accomplished musician who, many years back, was in a band that opened for the Jackson Five and the Commodores. He is an artist who draws and paints, and attended the Cincinnati Art Academy. Currently he is pumped about his idea and project that is quickly gaining momentum. It is about building interest in music among school children. Bobby and his team have been presenting it to organizations, businesses and educational institutions. Every time we talk, more organizations are stepping up to become involved. You will be hearing more about it soon.
I look up to Bobby, president of The Harrison Group, as a creative genius who has no fear of looking adversity in the face and saying, “You will not get in my way.” For my dear friend, that foe is non-hodgkins lymphoma. It is something that lives in his body permanently and nearly took Bobby’s life. It has changed his perspective and given him renewed incentive to appreciate everything with stamina and vigor.
Bobby told me his story one day over lunch. It came on suddenly. One day he began limping. Three days later his leg was becoming numb. He drove himself to the emergency room and had to crawl on the ground from the parking lot. The physicians told him he probably pulled his hamstring running, gave him food and crutches and sent him to his own doctor, who, after a five minute exam sent Bobby back to the emergency room. It ended up being the result of a massive blood clot that stopped six inches from his heart. During that ten day hospital stay they found out the underlying reason. Bobby experienced an intense ringing in his head like nothing he could even describe, and he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in his bones. It was the one time in his life that Bobby contemplated suicide.
“But I was lying there and couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom. And I looked out the window and saw birds landing on ledges and realized ‘that is life’. I realized I want to be that bird and be able to fly anywhere. It changed everything. I decided I don’t want to be around negative people any more. I don’t want to have any more arguments. I want to have a good time in life. I never want to live with regret,” he said.
These days Bobby is the one to lift others up. When he gets his chemo treatments, he is the one to make others smile and forget for a little while of the unpleasantness of the moment. When friends are going through difficulty, despite his crazy busy schedule with deadlines and meetings, he is a present spirit with encouragement.
He is an incredible human being who makes the world brighter by being in it. I, for one, am better for having him around.
Holly Young walks to a map of Greater Cincinnati hanging on the wall behind a front desk where there are many hundreds of blue and red dots, so densely populated as to obliterate entire blocks, even neighborhoods. The blue dots represent homes were lasting memories were created on or around furnishings that are no longer needed. These are the places where New Life Furniture Bank begins the process of ending the cycle of homelessness one individual, one parent, one family at a time. The red dots on that map represent all of the dwellings where that donated furniture has found a ‘new life,’ amidst a family who has moved into a place to call home with often nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Since that day ten years ago when a Teresa, mother of three children, stayed overnight at Holly’s church through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, Holly’s passion and mission in life has exploded from seeking out three mattresses so that Teresa’s children would not have to sleep on mattresses their mother pulled from a dumpster into a nonprofit the more than 1000 volunteers, two delivery trucks, five employees, and such a huge stock of donated furnishings that they have outgrown their 5000 sq ft space and are searching for 20,000 sq ft of storage. New Life Furniture has relationships with 18 homeless shelters and agencies, as well as over 60 places of worship. In 2015 alone, it has provided furniture and housewares to 1424 people including 752 children. The organization is faith based, having originated from the generous outpouring of support from Holly’s church; however, it helps people of all religions and backgrounds.
In addition to furniture, every family receives a package of dishes and household items, a welcome home bag with personal care items, cleaning supplies and hangers. Whenever beds are delivered, they go with blankets, sheets and pillow cases. And, volunteers build dining room tables for families so they have a place to congregate around and share experiences of their day.
Holly is quick to point out that 85% of those who move into a dwelling without furnishings find themselves back on the streets. That number isn’t acceptable to this mother who has always, from a child, been sensitive to those less fortunate. “I am that child who kept asking my parents, why aren’t we picking that person up. I knew it was my calling,” she told me. “I worked the corporate world but I just knew my heart was in serving the homeless. I am the one who goes to a ball game and packs four lunches to feed people. I was the person who would stop and make sure people knew where to find shelters.”
In Holly’s words:
“So many of the people we have helped have touched me in deep, very personal ways. I have lots of stories in my mind from when I did the deliveries myself. I remember Moses well. We walked into his very small apartment and all we saw was one chair. Moses was smiling ear to ear. He was 78 yrs old and walking with a walker. With each piece we carried in he just giggled, and said. ‘Is that for me?’ And I said, ‘of course it is.’ I peeked into his empty bedroom and noticed a Veterans ball cap that had Vietnam on it. ‘OMgosh,’ I said. ‘Moses are you a veteran? My dad also served in Vietnam and retired as a colonel.’ He proceeded to share a bit of his story. He served the same time my father did…….and how in the world did this happen to Moses? How did he become homeless and in such need?
We proceeded to fill his empty apartment and make it a home…..His home. We were so grateful we get to serve a man who served us, a man who fought for our freedom. He teared up many times and I just hugged him tightly and cried with him. I thanked him for serving his country. He said he didn’t know he deserved all this stuff, and I assured him he did deserve it. We left his place with such a full heart.
Our goal is to always do this from a place of dignity. Our delivery people are trained to be compassionate and we send follow up cards to everyone letting them know we are thinking about them.
This work has been such a blessing for me. Never did I dream this would grow so big. Now funders and donors are coming to us. We have way outgrown this space. We are at a place now where I can step back. God has told me it is time to go on to other things. Actually he told me that two years ago but I kept going. Dana Saxton is our new executive director but I will always still be involved.”
If you would like to help, please reach out to New Life. They are especially in need of mattresses.
Last week, I got to meet someone who in my book is a true hero. You may have heard about a horrific explosion this past June in an Oakley apartment building that killed a mother and her son. The reason the rest of the residents lived to talk about it is because of a brave young couple, who, after making it to safety, risked their lives to go back into that inferno to makes sure everyone else made it out alive too. Mastafa ran through the 12-unit building banging on doors, yelling, ‘FIRE!’. His wife helped a 79 year old woman out of her basement patio by pulling her over the metal railing. He carried down an older woman in a second floor apartment, and pulled two men who were also living in lower level apartments out to safety. Those two men are roommates Mike and Vince, who are living on their own with support from LADD – Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled. (LADD has since helped Mike and Vince find and move into a new apartment.) I was fighting a lump in my throat after meeting Mostafa. He is such a kind, gentle and upbeat man who refuses to see himself as a hero. “This was just humanity,” he told me.
Mastafa got to see Vince again at the LADD Taking Flight Awards and it so touched me to see their arms around each other. That embrace said it all.
I am thrilled that he and his wife will be joining us for A Night of CINspiration on Wednesday night so that we can celebrate that sense of humanity, for which Mostafa and his wife are beautiful examples, that breaks down those barriers of differences and brings us together human beings.