Philanthropy – volunteers and nonprofits
It is funny that Dona Jean Gatwood, director of community inclusion programs at Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD, Inc.) told me one of the perks of her job is that it gives her the opportunity to laugh a lot, as, it is because of people like her that I’d have to say that is definitely a job perk for me as well (I do public relations for LADD). I can always count on being uplifted and welcomed. And, especially if DJ is around, I know there will be a lot of smiles.
LADD is a 41 year old Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization that is guided by the belief that every person has ability and value, and that there is great strength in diversity. It works to propel the inclusion and success of nearly 500 adults in Hamilton County who have developmental disabilities through housing and employment options, life skills training, and advocacy leadership. I really think of LADD as a pioneer in this work, always forging new ideas for building a more inclusive community where everyone can contribute and belong.
In her job, DJ oversees many facets of LADD’s work including supportive housing, adult foster care, a unique Community Connections that engages adults with developmental disabilities in decision making and community involvement, and more.
She has many long days but I think it is pretty obvious that her time spent is more than a job, it is her passion. It is no surprise that her career there spans 19 years and prior to LADD, she worked for another nonprofit agency for 16 years.
“The work just kind of found me,” she said.
It all began when the son of her mother’s friend mentioned he needed help at a group home. DJ and her parents drove to Cincinnati, she interviewed, was hired as an assistant and moved in.
If you are one of the fortunate ones to have DJ a part of your life, you know she isn’t one to take relationships lightly. Her ear is always open to listening. Her heart is always full with love. Her arms are always available for hugs. And her door is always open for others to walk in.
It has just been a part of her upbringing since growing up in a rural farming community of Circleville, Ohio. Her parents were the extra parents for any kid who didn’t have a good home. There was an extra plate at dinner for an extra family or family member. DJ even read in her great grandmother’s diary about that family doing the same thing. And it was that way on DJ’s dad’s side too. “I’m blessed that way,” DJ told me. “You learn your values early on.”
And so, of course, DJ called her parents from work one day to tell them she would be bringing the Gena, the youngest girl living in the group home where she worked, back for a visit. When funding shifted, that girl moved into DJ’s home as a foster for twenty years. At 34 years old now, Gena is living in an apartment with support from LADD, and in every way except biological, she is DJ’s grown daughter.
“I’ve learned so much through Gena. She has taught me about resilience and curiosity, and to never put a limit on what you can do. Gena never holds a grudge and she is so passionate about having a vibrant life,” DJ said.
Hmm, I have a feeling DJ has taught Gena those same lessons.
Mary Ronan, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, and John and Eileen Barrett and Chris Bochenek, were recently honored by the Assistance League of Greater Cincinnati at its annual awards presentation for their commitments to giving back.
Mary was recognized with a National Operation School Bell Award. Operation School Bell is an Assistance League program that provides school uniforms annually to more than 2,500 children in poverty in 35 public and parochial schools in greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.
Some of the ways Mary has supported Operation School Bell and the Assistance League include: regularly assisting as a volunteer during Operation School Bell uniform distribution; developing a protocol enabling Cincinnati Public Schools to pay for school buses used to transport students to Assistance League distribution sites, which freed the nonprofit organization’s chapter funds, enabling an increase in the number of children served; and arranging for Operation School Bell coordinators to regularly attend staff development meetings with the resource coordinators from each school, strengthening the AL role and program impact on the children participating in Operation School Bell.
John and Eileen Barrett
The Barretts are long-time community leaders and have received many awards for their philanthropic work.
John is chairman, president and chief executive officer at Western & Southern Financial Group. He serves on the board of directors for Western & Southern Financial Group and Cintas Corporation and is a member and former chairman of the Cincinnati Business Committee. He serves on the executive committee of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) and is active with REDI Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati and its foundation.
Eileen serves or has served on the board of trustees for Central Clinic Foundation; Barrett Cancer Center; Children’s Protective Service-Families Forward; The Children’s Home of Cincinnati; Cincinnati Country Day School; Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden; and The Springer School. She is co-chair for Ride Cincinnati; former United Way Campaign co-chair; and helped raise more than $1 million in 2011 at the Queen City Ball Gala benefitting the Barrett Cancer Center and the Lindner Center of Hope.
Christine A. Bochenek
Vice president and senior program officer for human services with the Haile/USBank Foundation, Christine has served 28 years with U.S. Bank and has been with the foundation since it opened in 2007. She serves on the board of trustees for the Women’s Crisis Center and the Hamilton County Job & Family Services Family Fund; Scholar House of Northern Kentucky; Homeless to Homes Plan; and Seton High School’s Advancement Committee.
The Assistance League of Greater Cincinnati is made up of volunteers who run programs dedicated to aid women and children in crisis, serving Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties in Ohio, and Kenton, Boone, Campbell, Grant and Mason Counties in northern Kentucky.
Children living in poverty, or in need of tutoring or mentoring, are not relegated to certain neighborhoods. They are all around us. They could be our neighbors or someone living down the street. They could be a classmate to your child. Let’s face it, on any given day, any one of us could find ourselves in a situation of needing assistance of some kind.
I learned about a program in my neighborhood this weekend when I went to my local Kroger store. There in the parking lot was a group of youth and adults, including a Blue Ash police officer with a van that had its back end open. It was stuffed with bags of food, and I gave them one more.
They were collecting food as part of a Sycamore Township nonprofit organization called Operation Give Back that provides programs and services specifically to neighborhood students whose families are having financial hardship.
OGB’s signature program is its After-School Tutoring and Mentoring Program, working closely with the Sycamore Community Schools to identify students in 2nd – 8th grades who would benefit from academic support or assistance with other skills. Approximately 35 students per year are transported by Sycamore District Buses for 2½ hours of after-school tutoring, three days per week.
Additionally, OGB provides has a School Supply Drive and supplies over 350 students with a backpack, along with items from their specific school supply lists. The organization also has a food pantry, summer camps, health awareness programs, and a holiday store.
A freshman at Northern Kentucky University, Jayren Andrews has already long established himself as a change agent.
Wise beyond his years, he is a young man driven to be a voice, a leader, and a role model for his peers, his neighborhood, his network, and even his world. While attending Shroder High School, Jayren competed at the state level in track and was on the second team All-Conference in football; and in his senior year, was an award winning public speaker. By 17, he was president of the Avondale Youth Council, guiding other young people to making good decisions. He is also one of two youth selected to serve on the Cincinnati Poverty Collaborative Steering Committee, and is very involved in college.
“Being on the Collaborative’s Executive Board was an opportunity to represent my neighborhood, Avondale,” he told me. “My concern was digging down and coming up with substantial solutions to help get people out of poverty. That opportunity was humbling to be with so many different people who all have the same goal.”
When he thinks about his own life and his motivation, Jayren will tell you it is those trials and tribulations that are your ‘defining moments of character’ and that learning from one’s failures is a key to accomplishment. His mentors through the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative are among those who have influenced his growth. Jamie Wilson, his CYC AmeriCorps College Guide, allowed him to absorb his shine for the moment, come back and be humble. “She showed me that hard work is everything. There really isn’t anything that you can’t accomplish,” he said.
Jayren paused as he recalled another person who has influenced his life, his little brother who was gone too soon, a baby who didn’t live to see his first day. “I think about him every day. I want to show him what kind of big brother I could have been,” Jayren told me.
Most recently honored by the United Way of Greater Cincinnati with its 2017 Youth Leadership Award, last year the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative recognized Jayren among its mentees as a 2016 Outstanding Student Award winner for his determination in overcoming life obstacles to find success in his education and in life.
To my question about what Jayren would like to do with the rest of his life, he answered, “At the end of the day, I want to leave the world better than I came into it.”
To that, I say, that goal has already happened. And I have no doubt Jayren’s little baby brother is proud.
It’s great to see people in our community, leaders and innovators in their fields, to step up and pave the way for future generations to carry on that legacy.
Lori and Bill Beer are doing just that with the establishment of a $500,000 Beer Family Endowed Scholarship Fund to benefit University of Cincinnati students, with a preference toward females, enrolled in the STEM programs of information systems and analytics at UC’s Lindner College of Business.
Chief Information Officer of the Corporate & Investment Bank at JPMorgan Chase & Co, Lori is known for navigating rapid change, particularly in the area of technology. David Szymanski, dean of UC’s Lindner, calls her a “remarkable role model for students.”
The Beers’ daughter, Christina Beer, BBA ’15, previously served as UC’s Student Body President and is now employed at GE Aviation. The Beers’ other children, Morgan and Patrick, are active students on campus and enrolled in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition to being proud Bearcat parents, Lori and Bill have supported UC through the Bowties for Scholarships Fund, the Honors-PLUS Parents Fund and UCATS General Fund. Lori is a member of the UC Business Advisory Council.
“I advise young women to be continuous learners by being courageous and taking risks. By using their education and expanding their knowledge, they will leave a unique mark on the world. Our scholarship will help Lindner students do just this,” Lori said.