YWCA Luncheon Inspired Courage


When I was parking my car to attend the 2016 YWCA Career Women of Achievement Luncheon last week, I had figured that it would be an uplifting two hours. It was that and more.

We heard the stories of local woman with such different career paths, whose positivity and determination have forged personal and professional successes not only for themselves but also for the greater good of their team, their organization and their community.

Honorees included:

Claudia M. Abercrumbie, President & CEO, The Abercrumbie Group
Karen Bowman, Principal and Sector Leader, Deloitte Consulting
Laura Mitchell, Deputy Superintendent, Cincinnati Public Schools
Christi H. Cornette, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Cincinnati Bell
Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, MD, Coroner, Hamilton County
Sandy Berlin Walker, President/CEO, YMCA of Greater Cincinnati
Moira Weir, Director, Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services
Susan B. Zaunbrecher, Partner, Corporate Department Chair, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP

And, while they shared their own paths with us, they also shared messages to encourage us to do more, grow more. I especially like Susan Zaunbrecher’s advice, “Approach all you do with a ‘Joie de Vivre,’ the ‘joy of life’ which we are responsible for finding for ourselves.”

The Journey of Truth

Zainab Salbi, keynote speaker at the 2016 YWCA of Greater Cincinnati Career Women of Achievement, reminded guests that the journey of courage and truth begins on a cliff. Read more in this post.The highlight for me was hearing the keynote from Zainab Salbi, who, at the age of 23, founded Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization serving women survivors of wars.

Zainab stood before us and shared her powerful journey. An Iraqi-American humanitarian, she spoke of growing up in an environment filled with abuse, corruption and punishment under Saddam Hussein; and of her initial fear in telling her story. She told us about the women who became her mission, who, like herself endured unimaginable circumstances and whose willingness to talk about their lives so that their experiences could have impact, lifted her up and gave her courage to pursue the truth.

Zainab told us about a 52 year old woman who was wearing the only dress she owned because rebels came to her home and raped her, and her sons were forced to hold her legs open. The woman had never shared what had happened before but felt compelled to tell Zainab, to tell the world and maybe, just maybe, prevent such atrocities from happening to others.

“It was the most humbling moment,” Zainab said, with a raw tenderness in her voice. “I cried for five hours. I was not able to share my story. She had more integrity than I did.

“I realized I must tell my journey and it started with my book and confronting my fear of judgment of what people would say. I was so petrified that if I tell everyone that I was raped, that I knew Saddam, that I was in an arranged marriage, that I was the abused wife. I was so ashamed of all of those things. The self image of being a feminist was not truly there in the beginning. The journey of truth begins on a cliff. You have a choice and that choice can be every single day and everything you do. Do I live my truth? Or do I stay in the safety of where I am?”

The room was silent. Zainab’s words etched in our minds, making us think of our own lives and our own circumstances. She pointed out to us that courage is just that, COURAGE, whether you are standing up to the Nazi’s, Suddam Hussein, someone in your personal circle, or in a board room.

“When you jump over the cliff, it can be leaving a spouse or a career; there is the falling in between in the abyss because you don’t know if you will survive. You go through this where you doubt yourself. You ask, ‘What will happen to me?,” she said. For herself, she said, “It was not one person. It was many people; each was like a log that I was holding onto as I was sinking. The kindness of a word. Someone saying ‘I believe in you’. And little by little you find your peace. The journey of truth, the taste of freedom is so delicious that it makes it worth it to go down that journey over and over again.”

Zainab concluded her talk with another powerful message.  She reminded us that we each need to show up. We need to find our own integrity and truth within ourselves. And we need to bridge misunderstandings and fears of differences with learning, out of a respect for one another.

“When we fear a woman with a head scarf, for me symbolically it is she is just as afraid of you as you are of her. Both of you are wearing head scarves. You think, ‘Why is she so different?’ Everyone is afraid of another. But when we connect with our own human emotions and our desire for peace and justice and integrity within ourselves, it becomes a different relationship with each other.”

As the ballrooms emptied that afternoon, 2200 people departed. We left going in different directions…with a little more courage to jump over that cliff.



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Lisa Woods: A Good Thing Happened


I am beginning a new feature in my blog. I’ll be randomly taking pictures of people in our Greater Cincinnati community and asking the question: What is something GOOD that has happened to you? Please check back for updates. I will be posting images to my social media network too including to my Facebook page and Twitter feed.

When I asked this question of Lisa Woods, owner of the EarthWise Pet Supply at Harper’s Point, this is what she answered.

We had two students with disabilities from Sycamore High School work here for us in the store on Monday mornings through the school year. It was part of the School’s transition Program. What an amazing experience for me. It taught me an amount of gratitude that I didn’t even know existed. One of the gals who worked here won Employee of the Year from Sycamore, and that really meant a lot to me that I had given her an opportunity to learn and grow. She was terrific. Everytime she came in, she knew exactly what to do. She didn’t need to ask. She just went and did her job with an enthusiasm that you don’t see much of any more.

Lisa Woods, owner of the EarthWise Pet Supply at Harper's Point, shared how a student with a disability from Sycamore High School who worked for them earned Employee of the Year


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Aaron Sharpe Has A Passion For Music


Today I’d like to introduce you to Aaron Sharpe, someone I have known and respected since he first came to work at WNKU 16+ years ago and I was working on the publicity for the Appalachian Festival. Aaron is the director of development of WNKU, however, if you have ever heard his voice, you know it is one that seems perfectly made for broadcast.

And, a little known fact about Aaron is that he is also the man behind the music played in the Greater American Ballpark. He has been the Cincinnati Reds deejay since 2000. Let’s get to know more about him and where his inspiration comes from.

Aaron Sharpe is director of development at WNKU and deejay for the Cincinnati Reds. Learn about where his inspiration comes from.

Lisa: Do you recall when it was when you first knew you wanted to get into the radio business and where your inspiration came from? Was there a person who inspired you? If so, who and how?
Aaron: Music has been my passion since I was 12 or 13 years old. Like a lot of people, I would lay on the floor of my bedroom on Sunday mornings listening to American Top 40 with my fingers resting on the record button of my Panasonic boom box…waiting for my favorite songs.  I never claimed to have good taste in music back then, but my taste eventually evolved and I learned to appreciate music outside of the mainstream.  That’s what eventually landed me at a station like WNKU.  But it wasn’t just the music.  My stepmother is an actress, my father is a minister, and they were both involved in community theater when I was kid.  I was never a stranger to public speaking, but I do recall the first time it occurred to me to put it all together and think about going into radio when I grew up. I worked the drive through at a McDonald’s in high school and a day seldom passed that a customer didn’t say to me, “you’ve got a great voice. You should go into radio.”  I figured if people were telling me I sounded great over a drive through speaker, there must be something to it.

Lisa: Tell us about your journey to WNKU.
Aaron: As a kid, I played piano, trumpet, and guitar.  I also caught “the show bug” being around community theater and the church. By the time I got to college, however, I had actually let go of the idea of radio as a career. Mainly, it was because I had become disenchanted with what I was hearing on the radio. It no longer interested me, frankly. Plus, I wanted to make money, so I was pursuing a different path at UC. My summer job, however, was as an audio tech at a conference center in North Carolina where I worked with about a hundred other college students from all over the country. I still loved being a part of “the show,” and the mix of students whom I worked with provided for a veritable petri dish of music discovery.

When I came home, I was even more frustrated with the homogeny of commercial radio.  Then one day, I was digging around on the low end of the dial in the hopes of finding something different.  That’s when I found WNKU playing much of the same music I had been turned on to in North Carolina. Suddenly, radio was interesting again. After some time off from UC, I transferred to Northern Kentucky University, became a member and volunteer at WNKU, and graduated a couple of years later with a degree in Radio/TV. I was offered a job at WNKU before I ever graduated, and I’ve been here ever since.

Lisa: How did you your job with the Cincinnati Reds come about?
Aaron: I had a great advisor and mentor at NKU by the name of Russ Jenisch.  He also happened to direct the Reds’ scoreboard operations at Riverfront Stadium during baseball season.  Midway through the 2000 season, they were in need of a new DJ and wanted someone who could freshen things up. Russ knew my interest and expertise were in music and audio, so he asked if I’d be interested.  I’ve been with the Reds ever since.

Lisa: How do you pick what music to play when in the course of a game?
Aaron: I get asked that a lot, and there’s no easy answer.  I easily play a hundred or so audio cuts throughout the course of a game, and they’re all motivated by different things. There are the players’ walk up songs.  Those are easy.  The players pick those themselves.  Other times, it’s a song about pizza because we’re doing a feature on Strike Outs for LaRosa’s or a song about trucks because we’re featuring the Toyota Tundra Home Run Challenge.  Sometimes I choose a song to make people laugh.  Late in the game, if it’s a close game, I’m choosing music that I hope will pump up the fans and the players.  There are good songs for close games and different songs for not so close games. Songs for when we’re in the lead and songs for when we’re behind.  There’s “big powerful moment” music and “just plain fun” music. 99% of the time, the music selections are motivated by something. Of course, there are times when I’m not trying to affect the crowd in any particular way, so I just play something I think people will like.

Lisa: Can you provide a couple anecodotal stories of experiences during your tenure at the Reds?
Aaron: I was just reminded of one in particular this past Mother’s Day.   We had about a two hour rain delay, which brought back memories of Mother’s Day 2012 when we had a four hour rain delay followed by a game that went into extra innings. The game, which was scheduled to begin at 1:10 in the afternoon, was still going on after 8:00 that night. I don’t recall a better game for Joey Votto – a double, three home runs, and 6 RBI’s weren’t even the best part. In extra innings, more than seven hours after the scheduled first pitch, Joey hits a walk off grand slam.  Instead of the normal “Unstoppable” by Foxy Shazam that we play after a win, I opted for the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. That’s not a piece of music to be tossed around haphazardly for just any win, but it certainly seemed appropriate in that moment.

Other highlights were the two Civil Rights games we hosted, primarily for the ceremonies that took place on the field beforehand.  The same holds true for the time we honored the “Great Eight”. I’d say my favorite musical moments with the Reds have taken place during these special pre- or post-game events and ceremonies. The music selection is SO important in these big moments. My goal is to choose music so appropriate that you don’t even really notice it, and yet, it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Of course, it goes without saying that our playoff appearances in 2010 and 2012 are at the top of the list of memorable moments, but nothing tops the 2015 All Star Game.

Lisa: What stands out to you as a few or the most memorable moments during your work with the All-Star Game?
Aaron: The nine days leading up to and including the All Star Game were one amazing roller coaster ride. It went by so fast, and much of it was a blur.  But, it was also a great thrill. What I will always cherish most about the experience was working with the best scoreboard crew in sports to put on the biggest show in baseball. And not just the scoreboard crew, but the entire Reds organization. I can’t say enough about the people I work with at Great American Ball Park.

Of course, the most exciting moment on the field was Todd Frazier winning the Home Run Derby on his home field in such dramatic fashion.  My little piece of that moment was playing “My Way” by Frazier’s favorite, Frank Sinatra, as everyone celebrated on the field. It was cool to learn later that Chris Berman of ESPN took notice and mentioned the song selection on National TV.

Outside of work…

Lisa: What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Aaron: So, my father is a Presbyterian minister. Every Sunday at the end of the church service, he would deliver the benediction. At some point during my adolescence, he began using essentially the same benediction every week. He still uses it today.  The exact wording varies slightly each time, but it’s something along the lines of, “When life deals you a bad hand…when you feel broken down…when you feel like giving up and you just want to throw in the towel….don’t do it. Instead, reach back, dig a little deeper, and do the best you can.”

There’s a bit more to it than that, but you get the gist of it. I heard that every Sunday for years, and it’s stuck with me.

Lisa: Please tell us about an accomplishment for which you are proud, and why.
Aaron: It’s still pretty early in the game being that they’re just 11 and 13, but I’m incredibly proud of my boys. They’re compassionate, polite, considerate, loving, open-minded, and just…well, good. I keep waiting for something to go horribly wrong, but so far, I couldn’t ask for better kids.  Honestly, I’m not sure I should be taking credit, though. I sometimes wonder if they’re not from another planet.  They’re that awesome.

Lisa: Have you had an experience that changed your life? If so, what?
Aaron: The easy answer is a cliché, but by itself, what could possibly be more life changing than the birth of my children?  The real answer though is, I have experiences every single day that change my life.  Don’t we all?  Had I not married my wife, I would not have the children I have.  Had I not asked my wife out, I would never have married her.  Had I not decided to take a summer job in North Carolina, I would have never met my wife.  And so on, and so on.  So, what I really believe is that we make decisions and have experiences every day that change our lives, no matter how seemingly slight. Not to get overly philosophical about it , but the very act of answering this question is, in some small way, changing my life.

Lisa: Tell us about an act of kindness that you witnessed or were a part of that truly inspired you.
Aaron: I see acts of kindness every day.  At least I try to.  They happen all around us. You just have to look for them, and then you have to allow them to inspire you.


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Carolyn Evans Has A Heart For Animals


To many, Carolyn Evans is better known as Cincinnati’s very gifted and kind hearted PhoDOGrapher whose art is capturing the beautiful relationship between pets and their humans, and their very real emotions. Carolyn is also the heart and soul of what has grown to be one of the largest animal rescue adoption events in the region – even nationally – called My Furry Valentine.

She will tell you, it is a journey she never intended to take but sometimes in life your heart draws you down paths you hadn’t discovered. Carolyn grew up in an animal loving household. Dogs, bunnies, cats, hamsters, gerbils, mice and even a bird were part of their menagerie. Her role model for understanding and appreciating the welfare of animals was her Carolyn Evans, Cincinnati's PhoDOGrapher, is founder of My Furry Valentine dog and cat adoption eventmother. Together many years ago, mother and daughter were among a crowd protesting the capture of beluga whales.

You could say, caring for animals in need was just part of her DNA. It was about 20 years ago when Carolyn founded a non-profit called Happy Tails, that created note cards featuring touching stories and photographs of adopted animals. She couldn’t volunteer at shelters (as the vulnerability to come home with additions to her clan was too great) and saw this as a good solution. On the back of each note card was a description of the shelter or rescue group from which the animal came. Money raised went back to the shelters. Back then there was no such thing as PetFinder or rescue websites so this was an even more valuable service.

One thing led to another. People she had photographed and people who admired her work began asking for more photos, and soon PhoDOGrapher was born. In addition to photographing people and their non-human companions, she also photographed shelter dogs who were about to be euthanized in hopes of helping them find happiness again in a new home. I remember many of those images, portrayals of dogs whose lives were at risk because people had let them down. Carolyn’s talents have helped save countless animals.

She also joined the board as president of nonprofit, United Coalition for Animals (UCAN). UCAN opened our region’s first low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic, offering an effective and humane alternative to euthanasia in tackling overcrowded shelters.

And, somewhere along the way she began holding small adoption events. However, a small thinker does not describe Carolyn. In 2012, she founded My Furry Valentine, an adoption event traditionally held over Valentine’s Day weekend that has grown so large that it now needs to be held in a convention center. In 2015 alone, the event helped facilitate the adoption of a record 813 animals. In five years, My Furry Valentine has collectively helped facilitate the adoption of over 2000 animals. It is a huge accomplishment with wide support from the media, sponsors, and rescue organizations.

Lisa:  What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Carolyn: For me, what is most rewarding is knowing you have impacted someone’s mindset on adoption. There are many people who would not have made the choice to adopt an animal if it were not for our event. Even greater than the numbers of direct adoptions through the actual event, we are planting that seed in people’s minds who, down the road, choose to bring an animal into their life this way. We are also making a long term impact by directing people to the rescues and shelters, who they may have otherwise never heard about. For many of our 2000 plus adoptions, those people were first time adopters and we made them a lifelong adopter instead of a buyer.

Lisa:  Tell us about your own pets.
Carolyn: Currently our home includes two dogs, Abby (a black flat coat mix) and Jack (a golden retriever/irish setter mix) who found their way to us shortly after our other two dogs passed away.

Jack is my photography muse as he is very photogenic. He was the cutest, furriest puppy at an adoption event we had just stopped at so that I could deliver a donation. I convinced my husband to come inside; and, after he had told me that IF they were going to get another dog, it would be older and smaller, he grabbed this flub ball who was not even potty trained. That was it.

Abby was a stray that a friend found wandering the streets of Covington, Kentucky in an area where animals are frequently abandoned. Our plans were to just foster her temporarily but we ended up keeping her.

Lisa:  What would you like to say to people about animals who are up for adoption?
Carolyn: Many animals end up in shelters and rescues through no fault of their own. They are often victims of circumstances outside of their control such as a change of life for their caregivers. But they have big hearts and they can forgive. They may need training and patience to fit into and adjust to their new family and home, but there are huge benefits.



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Diana Mairose Inspires Inclusion

Diana Mairose is an advocate support advisor for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services

Photo taken at a Women Helping Women fundraising event

At 37, Diana Mairose may have a soft voice but it speaks loudly and with purpose. It is the vehicle behind which a confident, driven, empathetic, idea person collects believers of her cause. Sitting on the sidelines is not her thing. No, Diana’s friends, peers, co-workers, and public officials will tell you she is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to getting things done. What she gets done enhances lives, strengthens communities, and ensures people of their human rights.

Diana is an advocate support advisor for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services (HCDDS), that promotes and supports opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to live, work, learn and fully participate in their communities. In a nutshell, what she does, she told me is, “help people to find their voice, and what they believe in and what they want to do in life.”

She has been referred to time and again as one of the best, most effective advocates in Ohio. She has spoken at conferences and events, in the community and before local, regional and statewide public officials; and she provides her peers with information and encouragement to have a voice…to be included.

Diana is also past president of the Ohio Self Determination Association (OSDA) and chair of Advocacy United, a group of professionals and advocates whose mission is to help move people with disabilities into places of power so their voices can be heard.

A driving force behind positive change

That seems to be the theme when it comes to Diana.

She has testified before President Obama’s Election Commission for accessible elections. On behalf of OSDA, she testified before an Ohio State Senate Committee last year about concerns that an amended House Bill would take away opportunities and rights of people with disabilities.

And she is the major reason for the removal of the word ‘handicapped’ from the blue accessibility signs local, and statewide. Diana told me, it was when Ohio changed the name from Mental Retardation Developmental Disabilities Services to simply Developmental Disabilities Services that spurred her quest to change those signs in public places and parking lots. It all began with the Hamilton County Commissioners around the time when the Banks new garage was opening. “I told them the importance of reading symbols and showing respect in the community,” she told me. “After that I took my advocacy idea to the next level. I asked the City of Cincinnati council members to vote yes for the City and for it to also be a budget neutral law. At that time I also helped other counties and cities to remove the word ‘handicap’ from Ohio, and spoke with Eric Kearney about introducing this bill to make it a law.”

That law took several years to happen, but it happened! “I really like the accessible symbol. Symbols help everybody everywhere,” Diana said. “It is a simple way to respect other people. My grandma is 102. Elderly, children and adults with disabilities, family members and friends benefit.

“Advocacy comes from ideas and hopes and dreams. When I see the accessible symbol I smile for a positive change in the state of Ohio.”

Diana has a lot of reasons to smile.


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