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Newtown Giving Box Is Little Food Pantry


I have seen little pop up libraries around town – small stands in residential neighborhoods inside which are books for people to take, read and enjoy. But I have never seen a pop-up food pantry before…until I heard about a project by a group of Turpin High School students in their school’s chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America. It is part of the business management class.

The Newtown Giving Box is a hand-made container that is shaped like a house, and has a large door that opens to containment blocks where non-perishable food, hygiene and household items are stored for those in need to anonymously stop by and take what they need. The free little pantry is a partnership with the Newtown United Methodist Church (3546 Church Street; 45244) – where it is located – and is stocked by community donors, many of whom are Turpin students. It is to help families and individuals who struggle with occasional food insecurities.

“One of the biggest things we have learned is that there are people everywhere who need help,” said Jessie Pierce, Club vice president, “and, where there are people in need, there are people willing to help. I have always loved community service. This has really opened my eyes to who I am helping.

“The Newtown Giving Box has taught us a lot about leadership and how much it takes even for a smaller project. It was a lot of work to get this in the ground.”

I asked some of the other Club participants for their thoughts. This is what they shared.

Lindsey Viel told me, “A teacher said that someone else wants to do this now. That makes me happy that we have opened other people’s eyes too.”

“This week was the first time we saw it being used substantially. When I showed photos to our class, it was so exciting. It makes me feel like I am contributing to the community which is a really good feeling,” said Molly Campbell, Club president.

The students maintain a Facebook page where they post what is needed. Your contributions are very welcome.

What is accepted:

– Non-perishable food items: peanut butter, canned meats, canned fruit and vegetables, nuts, grains, bread, crackers, baby formula, baby food, pasta, etc.
– Hygiene Items: Shampoo, Conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, feminine care products, children’s bath products, etc.
– Household Items: Toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, sponges, diapers, etc.

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Saint Ursula Students Take On Waste Reduction


I love hearing about young people growing by practicing and learning about how they can contribute to strengthening their community. At Saint Ursula Academy in Cincinnati, one way students are doing that is through their Earth Club. The group has implemented a “reduce/are-use/recycle program that has made a HUGE impact at the school and has dramatically decreased the amount of trash generated. Skye Toomey, a senior this Skye Toomey, a senior at Saint Ursula Academy in Cincinnati, shares why she is in her school's Earth Club and how her group is helping to reduce waste.year, wrote about her experience in the Earth Club and why it is important to her.

In her own words…

“Here at Saint Ursula Academy, we take our mission to build a better world seriously. Amongst the many ways that we achieve this is through our Earth Club and “Green Team”. The Green Team consists of members from the Earth Club as well as students taking the AP Environmental Sciences elective. The Earth Club’s mission is to promote environmentalism and natural resources through understanding our environment and our impact upon it as human beings.

One of the ways that the Earth Club has implemented its mission is through the Composting, Recycling, and Upcycling system. Over the course of the First Semester of  the 2017- 2018 school year (August 10-December 19) we have sorted our lunch trash into landfill, compost, upcycling, and recycling categories. We as a school have also implemented reusable dishes to further cut down on waste. Here are some of the statistics that show how successful this program has been at reducing our waste:

  • 85 composting days (24 lbs/day average) = 2,040 pounds
  • 85 upcycling days = 50 pounds of packaging upcycled (soft plastics, foil-lined granola bar wrappers and chip bags)
  • (Recycling program already in place before grant; the new waste reduction initiative ensures that recycling is now properly sorted)
  • Disposable plates saved: 150/day x 85 days = 12,750 plates
  • Disposable cups saved: 100/cups x 85 days = 8,500 cups
  • Disposable silverware saved: 150 pieces/days x 85 days = 12,750 silverware

Total pounds of waste diverted (from last year as well)

  • 3,216 pounds of compost diverted
  • 74 pounds of upcycling diverted

I have been a member of the Earth Club for my entire 4 years at St. Ursula. For the last two of those years, I have been in a leadership position. To see such a huge success in this endeavor is really exciting to me. Every day at lunch, two to three girls from the Earth Club or one of the AP Environmental Science classes monitor the recycling program at lunch and also answer questions about what can be composted versus thrown out, or recycled versus upcycled. This helps to educate our fellow classmates as well as ensuring that each item ends up in the right spot. We all sign up for lunch days voluntarily, and everyone really enjoys it.

Why is this important to me? Well, I was raised by my mother who is an active environmentalist and has taught me to respect the environment from the very beginning of my life. She instilled in me a sense of awe at the wonder of nature and a sense of ownership for the stewardship of our planet. I hope to be able to make a difference or to educate others through this recycling program, or any of the other wonderful things we do here at Saint Ursula to make the world a little bit better, because every little bit helps.”

~ Skye Toomey

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Being A Teenage Mom Taught Resiliency


I have been involved with Toast of the Town Toastmasters Club in Kenwood for close to a year now. In addition to the incredible opportunity it has given me to practice and hone my speaking skills, it has opened a door through which I have built relationships with many uplifting and inspirational people.

Rakel Sanchez, health management director at Horan, is among them. Most definitely she is one of the reasons I look forward to my Tuesdays at Noon. She greets everyone with a smile. Whether or not she has known you for a year or an hour, she asks questions to learn more about you. She encourages you to participate. When she serves as an evaluator – a role I think is one of the most difficult of roles – she gives positive, constructive feedback in a way that makes people feel good about themselves and their abilities. As a fellow Board member, I have seen how she steps up to the plate with creative ideas and initiative to take on tasks for the betterment of our Club.

Rakel Sanchez, health management director at Horan Associates, talks about lessons learned from being a teenage mother.One day, Rakel shared with us a very personal story about her journey and life lessons from having been a teenage mother.  It touched all of us. It gave us yet one more reason to be proud to have her as one of our leaders. Since I didn’t record it, I asked Rakel if she would write some of that story for my blog. Please read it below.

In her own words…

“A life challenge that I overcame was not allowing an event, that shaped my life forever, to derail me from achieving my dreams.

When I was 16 years old, I became a teenage mother. As one can imagine, this had a profound effect on my life and my future. However; I was determined to not allow my new identity of being a teenage mother define my legacy and close doors on my future. Instead, I allowed for it to become the catalyst in which I would strive to achieve my goals, not only for myself but for my young son.

As challenging as it was to redefine who I was as a young adult, I knew that without an education my life dreams would not be achieved. Ultimately, what I sought was to become an independent woman who could support myself and my child and provide the life I knew he deserved.

I graduated high school with honors and continued my studies at a local community college. Upon receiving my associate’s degree I continued forward to a four year college and graduated two years later with a bachelor’s degree in health education with honors. From there, I went on to pursue an advanced degree and graduated a few years later with my master’s degree in public health.  It has been more than 16 years since then. My life was forever changed by the birth of my son but, because of my strength, determination, grit, family support, and faith in God I would not be where I am today.

I have learned through my life challenge, no matter what unexpected event life throws your way, you have to discover your self-resiliency and never give up on yourself. We all face trials and tribulations but the key to overcoming any obstacle is to have faith, do the work, make the sacrifices, and surround yourself with people who are going to uplift you–especially when you feel defeated. Know that it will not be an easy path but once you climb the mountain and get to the top, the view is AMAZING and it’s in that moment you realize the gift was in the climb.”


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My Furry Valentine Volunteer Has Heart For Pets


For hundreds of Greater Cincinnati families and individuals each year, Valentine’s Day has become a holiday to treasure…as it represents the day their lives joined with a life of a furry (and even feathered) looking for a forever home. It happens because of what has grown to be the largest mega adoption event in the region, My Furry Valentine, that attracts over 1400 visitors and has more than 700 animals (dogs, cats, birds and some other species) from dozens of rescues. If you are looking to add a non-human friend to your household, you just may find your new companion Valentine’s Day weekend!

(More information on My Furry Valentine is below.)

Melanie Corwin, executive director of UCAN - Cincinnati nonprofit spay/neuter clinic, shares why she is passionate about her job and volunteering with My Furry ValentineEach year I like to profile a volunteer who helps make the event possible. This year I spoke with Melanie Corwin, My Furry Valentine’s rescue shelter coordinator.

Hers is a very important role that includes writing the application and vaccine requirements, communicating with the rescues, helping them set up on Friday, and coordinating the team of veterinarians and vet techs who check in every animal before opening the doors to the public.

The role is a perfect fit for Melanie, who, as executive director of UCAN (nonprofit spay and neuter clinic), already has a relationship with many area shelter and rescues. AND the heart for this cause. She herself shares a home with her son and five rescues – two dogs (Peanut and Blackie) and three cats (Katniss, Grayson and Calypso).

Melanie came into this line of work because it is her passion. Prior to joining the staff team at UCAN, she was a private practice attorney for 25 years working with nonprofit organizations. She and her son began volunteering at a no-kill shelter as a way of her teaching him the importance of giving back. It was a fateful activity that would change the course of her career – and he life.

“It got to be so depressing,” she told me. “We’d see the animals all get adopted and then the next week, all of the cages would be full again.”

She saw spay/neuter as a solution and began supporting UCAN financially. Then she joined the Board, having served as director, then vice-chair, and then chair of the Board before ultimately joining UCAN’s staff as executive director in 2012.

“People love their pets. Some say you should not adopt one if you can not afford the care but I don’t believe it. There should be community resources to allow them to have that animal,” she said. “There are so many benefits. Everyone deserves the love of a pet.

“Almost every day someone comes in and I have never had to say no. I enjoy getting grants to enable us to do free spay/neuter to help people who can not afford it,” she said.

UCAN was founded in 2001, to stop the endless cycle of unwanted births and euthanasia. The two main reasons people do not sterilize their pets are cost and lack of access to spay/neuter services. UCAN solves both of these issues. It provides low-cost spay/neuter services and free transports to its Colerain Ave clinic from several locations in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana. The nonprofit clinic performs over 13,000 surgeries each year and this past year began offering low cost vaccinations also.

Melanie and the rest of the My Furry Valentine team will be very busy February 10 and 11, doing their part to help hundreds of animals find their forever homes.

Looking for a dog or cat (or other small animal)? Plan on being there!

My Furry Valentine Facts:

Where:  Sharonville Convention Center (11355 Chester Road; 45246)
When (and cost):
Early Bird Entry Saturday, February 10th       10am – 12pm: $25

Saturday, February 10th                                       12pm – 5pm: $5 ages 5 & up

Sunday, February 11th                                           10am – 5pm: $5 ages 5 & up

For a list of participating rescues and to see pictures of many of the adoptable animals, please visit www.myfurryvalentine.org.


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A Lesson In Unconditional Love


I love asking people questions about their lives. I often learn new reasons to empathize, respect, admire, and appreciate them.

Jodi Franks is one of them. I have known her for years…beginning from way back when, when she was a producer on Warm 98 (98.5 FM). We stay in touch a lot through Facebook and usually see each other at Broadway in Cincinnati shows. (I was even sitting next to her on the evening when this photo was taken.) Still, when I asked her about an act of kindness that changed her life, I wasn’t expecting what I heard.

Jodi Franks shares a lesson in unconditional love and kindnessThose beautiful girls who were sitting beside her (and me) that evening, have an incredible reason for which to celebrate being together. Through sadness and family hardship, Jodi taught them lessons in unconditional love. Before Daytona’s second birthday, she already experienced the loss of her mother and was uprooted to live with her grandparents.  It was seven years later – after the death of her grandfather and the toll of dementia set in on her grandmother – that Jodi drove hundreds of miles to bring Daytona to Cincinnati to be part of Jodi’s family.

Please read Jodi’s story in her own words.

“On November 27th, 2006, my sister-in-law was involved in a fatal car accident. Both of my brothers were also in the car, and both were critically injured. Due to legal issues, custody of my niece was given to my elderly mother and father.

Daytona was just a little over a year old, and I tried to convince my mother and father that because of their age, it would be difficult to raise a child so young. My mother insisted that they were fine, but should there come a time when they could no longer care for her, she would make sure that custody passed to me.

Sadly, in June 2013, we lost our father, and due to several strokes, our mother’s dementia began to take its toll. By the end of August 2013, I took the long drive to central Kentucky and brought home a little girl who barely knew us. The first year was hard for everyone. My daughter had to learn to share her things, her room, and her parents. Day had to learn how to grieve for not only the loss of her beloved grandfather, she had to deal with being separated from her granny who was the only mother figure she had, and move 300 miles away from the only life she had ever known.

Day is stoic and brave. She’s also wonderfully creative and funny. She completes our little family.

It’s been my honor to fulfill my mother’s wishes. I’m also eternally grateful for the gift I was given, another child that I desperately wanted.”


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