Today I would like to introduce you Liz Johnson, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Computer Science at Xavier University with a big heart for cats. In addition to her busy career, she is the volunteer executive director of Cincinnati nonprofit, Ohio Alleycat Resource (OAR), a position she has held since 2009. Please read more about her below.
Lisa: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Liz: I grew up in Dayton, Ohio with 3 brothers. I graduated from Baylor University with a degree in computer science and worked at various universities in computer user support. During that time, I discovered that I loved teaching so I went back to school at Indiana University and completed a doctorate. I’ve been a faculty member at Xavier University since 1997 in computer science and am currently chair of the Department of Computer Science. One of my passions is increasing the diversity of the computer science field. I’ve been involved in various activities focused on that, including a summer camp for middle school girls to promote interest and confidence in science, technology, and math. I live in East Hyde Park with my husband of 31 years.
Lisa: We would love to learn more about your work with OAR and why it is important to you.
Liz: In 2001, I heard about a cat rescue in O’Bryonville and decided to look into volunteering. I quickly became hooked, joining the board of OAR the next year and becoming its executive director in 2009. I’ve done most of the jobs at OAR at one time or another – cleaning litterboxes, fostering kittens, doing trap-neuter-return (TNR) on feral cats, driving the Neuterville Express van to bring cats to our spay/neuter clinic.
Since 2001, OAR has grown from a small rescue in the basement of a local business to a spay/neuter clinic, adoption center, and community cats resource housed in 2 buildings in Madisonville with about 15 staff members and more than 200 volunteers. We spay/neuter almost 10,000 cats a year and last year we adopted out almost 500 cats. We’re working closely with county shelters in our area, including the Cincinnati SPCA, to save cats who enter the shelter system.
I’ve loved cats since I was a young girl begging for a kitten of my own. My work at OAR is an extension of this love. I’ve recently been working with a woman who has been feeding stray cats in her yard. Even though these cats are too wild to be pets, she loves them. She started with two cats but these multiplied so she asked OAR for help. We’ve trapped and spayed or neutered 11 of these cats and will soon get the rest. 8 of them were female so many litters were prevented. She’s appreciative and her neighbors have also thanked us. This work is important to me not only because cats’ lives are bettered through our efforts, but also because we are helping the people who love the cats.
Lisa: Please share with us an experience during your volunteer work that really touched you.
Liz: One of the reasons I got hooked at OAR was that I helped to socialize a shy kitten who was not adoptable when I started. Each week, I would spend time with her after my cat care shift was finished, slowly winning her over through treats and petting. Eventually she learned that humans were ok and she was adopted. Though I don’t have as much time to do this now as in the early years, I’m still drawn to the shy cats who need reassurance and love in order to come out of their shells.
I try to do the same thing in my teaching – encourage a struggling student to overcome a barrier, convince someone that they can succeed in computer science who may never have considered it as a career. Whether human or cat, we can all use affirmation that we matter in the world.
Lisa: What is something good that has happened to you?
Liz: I just finished a four-year term as chief reader for the Advanced Placement Exam for Computer Science. We score the exams for almost 60,000 students to determine if they should receive college credit for their high school course. My colleagues in this work surprised me with a farewell gift of sponsorship of a cat at OAR in my honor. I was quite touched by their thoughtfulness in honoring me by supporting a cause dear to my heart.
Lisa: What is one of your life lessons?
Liz: I’m a firm believer in the power of kindness to change the world. Every day, especially at OAR, I see this in ways big and small, shown to both animals and people. Practicing kindness rewards us with a warm glow and makes the recipient feel better about the world. Life would be pretty barren without it. I’ve regretted missed opportunities to show kindness but I’ve never been sorry when I made the effort to be kind.
The past few weeks, I have been working with Sean Rugless to help raise awareness of an issue that affects all of us in Greater Cincinnati…and of an upcoming event where you can have input into trying to find solutions. What is it?
It is poverty. Childhood poverty.
When our region is ranked #4 nationally in child poverty (source: The National Center for Children in Poverty) with nearly half of children estimated to be living below the federal poverty level, it is a problem that affects EVERYONE. And the Child Poverty Collaborative wants everyone to be a part of looking into a solution.
On Saturday, June 25, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, over 650 people representing nonprofit organizations, friends, neighbors, civic and business leaders, will be coming together at Xavier University’s Cintas Center for a critically important Community Summit organized by the Child Poverty Collaborative (CPC). Charged with the very difficult process of creating an action plan for moving 10,000 Cincinnati children from poverty over the next five years, input and action from diverse people and perspectives is critical. At the Summit, attendees will share their voice and their ideas, connect with others who share an interest in strengthening lives children and their families within our region, and ultimately be part of the larger community effort that is taking action to find solutions.
“As a city and as a region, we must all realize and take ownership of the fact that this is about all of us,” said Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. “It is encouraging to see so many people step forward and want to be a part of this process of figuring out what we need to do differently to help our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and loved ones to move past financial hardship. We have a long road ahead. This Community Summit will be an important step in this process.”
In one unique, open-to-the-public large Community Summit, people of different socio economic, cultural, racial, and neighborhood backgrounds will come together in an interactive day that will include speakers, small group break outs, and continuous reflections. Input from this Summit be used to co-develop strategies that will be introduced at an October 2016 Summit. To reduce barriers of participation, the event is free, provides accommodations for child care, and includes lunch. (Pre-registration is preferred at this website.)
“We have been charged with the very difficult process of creating an action plan for moving 10,000 Cincinnati children from poverty over the next five years. Solving an issue as complex and deep rooted as this is going to require many different perspectives and approaches, and it is imperative that we begin with and include people who are impacted at every level help us determine how best to move forward,” said Lynn Marmer, executive director of the Child Poverty Collaborative. The innovative format of this Community Summit promises that regardless of attendees’ titles or status outside, everyone will have an equal voice in frank, engaged discussions about where we are today and where we want to be as a region.
More information is at: www.childpovertycollaborative.org
The Poverty Facts
The Census Bureau’s American Community shows that nearly half (47.2 percent) of all children in the city of Cincinnati and one in five children in the Tri-state live below the federal poverty threshold. That’s over 30,000 children within the city and 105,000 children in the Tri-state region; this big and complex issue touches everyone and will require a coordinated effort to solve it.
66% of City children in households headed by women live in poverty
In the City, the poverty rate for African Americans is 41%. (That’s double the poverty rate of Whites). 70% of African American children under 5 in the City are in poverty.
From a workforce perspective, many people in poverty are actually working: 40% of adults in poverty work at least part time; $48,500 per year is necessary for a family of 4 to afford the basics. (That’s 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.); 72% of all jobs I the region pay less than $50,000 per year.
About the Child Poverty Collaborative
The Child Poverty Collaborative is broad based community effort by leaders from government, business, civil society, faith-based organizations, and concerned citizens who are committed to co-creating solutions that significantly reduce the number of children living in poverty in our community. It is being managed by the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Among the Collaborative’s goals are lifting 10,000 children out of poverty in the next three to five years and helping 5,000 unemployed or underemployed adults get into jobs and out of poverty.
I love whole idea of matching young, creative talent with seasoned professionals to make lasting art. Not only is their work helping to make our Cincinnati community more vibrant with color and imagery, but also with the education that comes from real life experience working together to build something meaningful.
This summer the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) partnered with students at Fairview-Clifton German Language School and local artist Cedric Michael Cox to paint a beautiful 32-foot mural for CCAC’s east façade.
CCAC Executive Director Leslie Mooney said they are, “honored to have partnered with Cedric. His talent, coupled with his passion for inspiring the next generation of great artists, is really unbeatable. This mural is a visual representation of the community spirit that is so alive at CCAC and throughout Uptown!”
Today I would like to introduce you to a man absolutely deeply passionate about making a positive difference in this world, and in the future of our children. Most recently, Greg Landsman has been leading two very significant education initiatives: the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, an effort to provide every child with two years of quality preschool, and the Every Child Capital philanthropic venture fund, which invests in high impact and scalable interventions for children (parentally through age 9) that can also attract sustainable, public funding. I first met him when he was leading The Strive Partnership, an education consortium of providers and funders working together to improve academic achievement along the education continuum in the urban core of our region. In 2015, at its annual convening in Minneapolis, StriveTogether announced him as the 2015 Bill Henningsgaard Cradle to Career Champion Award recipient for his outstanding work.
In an announcement of his honor, Greg had this to say, “We have the privilege to inspire people to work differently together, determined to change outcomes. They know that when they work together, kids will do better. Thousands of children could have a better future because of what we do, how we do it, where we spend our money, our time, and whether we always strive to get better at our work.”
You could say, Greg’s instinct for serving others runs in his family. His maternal grandfather, Gordon Block Jr., served in the U.S. Medical Corps with the 101st Airborne Division during WWII; and was awarded three battle ribbons and a Purple Heart medal for his time as a POW. Greg’s paternal grandfather, Herb Landsman, ran the Greater Cincinnati United Way’s 1976 campaign as an executive vice president of Federated Department Stores, now Macy’s. As for his parents, Greg’s mother Lee Hamill spent most of her career as a classroom teacher and college professor; and his father John Landsman served for over ten years on both the Board and Executive Committee of the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Let’s learn more about him.
Lisa: Please tell us more about Greg Landsman on a personal level.
Greg: I am first a father and husband, something I get a lot of joy from although I take both roles very seriously. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful marriage, and two healthy, wonderful children. After that, I’m someone who believes in a personal responsibility to help others achieve meaningful change in partnership with those who need change the most – particularly those who have been marginalized and left out.
Pursuing change in partnership with those who need real change is my purpose, beyond being a good father and husband, and it comes from two places. It comes from a deep and personal relationship with God, and the expectations that I believe God has for me to do as much as I can to change whatever needs to be changed in order for there to be real justices and fairness.
It also comes from my intellectual commitment to equality and justice, and what I know to be the very serious moral and economic implications of establishing real fairness for everyone.
Lisa: Where did your inspiration come from for your career path?
Greg: My inspiration comes from God, and my understanding of what is expected of me, but also my parents. My faith is probably the biggest driver of why I do what I do. That said, I have exceptional parents. My father is an incredibly hard worker who cares about the people he works with and for. My mother spent her career working with students with disabilities, recognizing the talents and dignity in each in ways that continue to inspire me today. My step-father, an anthropologist, had us out on Indian reservations out west most summers growing up. Each summer I was exposed to the harshness of the injustice and the incredible power of those who care enough to help. My step-mother is someone who also has an unwavering commitment to fairness.
My parents have this in common: they believe in fairness and know that for millions, things just aren’t fair. We need to change that.
Lisa: What are some of your accomplishments professionally and personally for which you are most proud?
Greg: Having a good marriage and being a reliable and committed father is something I’m proud of. It’s to be expected, I know, but far too often we overlook just how important being a good partner and parent really is, and I am glad it’s been a priority for me.
I also spent time teaching, and I m very proud of the time I was in the classroom. Teachers deserve much more praise and pay, and I ll always be a strong advocate for educators.
Going to Harvard was always a dream of mine, so being able to do so and graduate with a master’s in theological studies is something that I’m proud of. The same is true for Ohio University and the degrees I have in economics and politics science. I worked hard for my degrees, but I also recognize how fortunate I was to be able to access these two universities and have the supports I needed to be successful. Most students don’t have that.
Being appointed by the Governor to run the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives was an honor, and I’m proud of the fact that we cleaned up the office and restored its reputation (it had previously been under investigation for the misuse of public funds). I’m also proud of the fact that we invested tens of millions of dollars into highly effective efforts to help those previously incarcerated find work, children find mentors and summer learning and food programs, and adults struggling with poverty access a supportive network of people and resources previously unavailable to them.
I’m also proud of what we’ve been doing locally to dramatically improve the lives of some of our youngest children. We’ve advanced the Cincinnati Preschool Promise to a point where voters will have the opportunity to invest in two years of excellent preschool for children – particularly those children who need it the most but who’s families just can’t afford high quality preschool. We also created an early development and literacy venture philanthropy fund, Every Child Capital, and it’s initial investment provides a book a month for the first five years of a child’s life. By the end of the summer, we hope to have as many as ten thousand low-income children getting books sent to their home every month.
Lisa: What are some little known facts that people may be surprised to learn about you?
Greg: There isn’t much that would surprise people, I’m afraid. I’m a very basic guy. I do have several tattoos, which I suspect would come as a surprise. I also love to box – mostly the training – but I’ve really fallen in love with the sport.
Lisa: What is a piece of advice or words of wisdom that has stuck with you?
Greg: Never giving up or breaking a commitment has been the most helpful advice I’ve taken. I strongly believe in the power of perseverance and “grit” (which happens to be one of my tattoos!). Everyone has talent, and I know I have some. But effort and a willingness to stick with something you believe in is key to getting things done – especially the big things.
Lisa: What are some of your simple pleasures?
I love when I have time to eat a good breakfast and read the paper.
You may or may not know the name Chris Pinelo but if you are familiar with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra or Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, then you know of Chris’ work. His presence is felt behind every news article and interview, social media post, and public appearance. Chris has been a member of the CSO staff since 2001, the past seven years as the organization’s vice president of communications.
He is also a husband to Tasha and father of a pretty adorable little boy who is featured in frequent ‘moment of zen’ videos on Facebook. Born in Illinois to a Cuban refugee father and the daughter of a U.S. Naval Commander, he learned many life lessons from them. They moved to Northern Kentucky before Chris’ first birthday so that may count as his being a native Greater Cincinnatian. After graduating from Highlands High School, he earned two bachelor’s degrees from Oberlin College. Most of his career has been centered around music. Before the CSO, he was the project manager for Cincinnati’s popular Pepsi Jammin’ on Main festival.
AND, he has a singing voice that can touch an entire stadium. You can watch him sing ‘Good Bless America’ for the Cincinnati Reds below.
Let’s learn more about Chris.
Lisa: Tell us some little known facts about you that people may not know about you.
Chris: My very first job was as a toy tester for Kenner, specifically for their Star Wars line. I was six and paid in toys.
I’m a trained opera singer and have performed as a soloist with the CSO for a Young People’s Concert. I’m also a past member of the May Festival Chorus and the Vocal Arts Ensemble, and sang “God Bless America” at the Reds game as a soloist on the 4th of July both in 2007 and 2008.
I appeared in a series of promotional videos on MTV in 1995 featuring the Jerky Boys.
I spent part of my junior year of high school in Peru and survived a terrorist bombing in Lima by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).
I worked as a college admissions offer one fall and visited too many high schools to remember in virtually all points between Upstate New York and Lawrence, Kansas.
I once arranged disco songs for the acclaimed chamber ensemble, eighth blackbird.
I appeared as a college student in the movie, Little Man Tate. Since I was a college student at the time, it wasn’t a stretch.
Lisa: Tell us about an experience in your job that has impacted you in a positive way.
Chris: I had the honor and privilege to sing in the chorus for Erich Kunzel’s final concert on August 1, 2009 at Riverbend. He was suffering from cancer and not strong enough to conduct the first half, but came out for a truly magical set during the second half of the concert. He did it with such grace and humor and it’s a night I will never forget.
Lisa: Tell us about someone who has been a positive influence in your life and how.
Chris: My parents have been incredible role models. My late father was 17 when he fled from Cuba, not speaking English and without money or so much as a high school diploma. He managed to become a professor emeritus, published author, community volunteer and Fulbright scholar. My mother is a brilliant force of nature and both instilled in me a sense of adventure, a deep faith, intellectual curiosity and an unwavering commitment to family.
Lisa: What are some of your simple pleasures?
Chris: Music – all kinds of music. I also enjoy movies, baseball, good food, a fine bourbon and spending time with friends and family.
Lisa: How would you like for others to describe you?
Chris: I’d like to be thought of as creative, kind, responsible and funny…and a good storyteller.