Philanthropy – volunteers and nonprofits

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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


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From Teen Parenthood To Blossom


It was before the holidays last year when I was in a room filled with men and women – some of whom began their journey toward adulthood as teenage parents. We were there to celebrate a momentous occasion – the one year anniversary for a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting young mothers and fathers through their many hurdles. Rosemary’s Babies is the brainchild of my dear friend Rosemary Ogelsby-Henry, who had her first child while still in high school and who was determined to not let her personal circumstances stand in her way of success. This is a very personal cause for Rosemary. It is why she spends just about every waking moment thinking about the impact she wants to have with her organization.

And, on that evening, we were there to applaud and support her – and all the volunteers who have helped to make that celebration possible.

Robin Nichole, family assistant specialist contractor at Kentucky National Guard Family Programs, was honored that night with the ‘A Rose Who Blossomed Through Concrete Award’. It is a recognition given to a parent who started his/her adult life as a teen parent and blossomed. It goes to someone who encompasses leadership and wears these qualities as a badge of honor: respect, honest, integrity, trustworthiness, and good citizenship.

In her introduction of Nichole, Rosemary shared, “‘At 15, the love of your family is awesome but it is your community that can be awful. Robin was ostracized, labeled, and heart and body beaten from the boy she thought she loved. Through it all her beautiful baby girl kept her. Her family supported her and her faith guided her. Robin has accomplished EVERY goal that she has set for herself. She now advocates for others (veterans) who are broken or who society claims are broken.”

Below is a portion of Robin’s acceptance speech.

In her own words:

Robin Nichole and her daughter Sydnee Tubbs at an anniversary celebration for Cincinnati nonprofit Rosemary's Babies“I was 15 and a sophomore in high school when I found out I was expecting Sydnee who is now engaged. I had two years left in high school and a dream of becoming a police officer when I became pregnant. I was involved in a teen organization, Police Explorers, where teens learn how to be police officers. I was told I was not what they wanted. My parents marched into the police chief’s office and said, ‘no, all these girls are doing it and she is just the one who got pregnant.’ I graduated high school with a two year old and when I was walking down the aisle, I heard my two year old scream, ‘Yay mommy!’ I went to college right away and everyone said I wouldn’t. They said I wouldn’t be a cop. They said I wouldn’t be anything. And I graduated college on the dean’s list. I am working on a double master’s with a 4.0. My daughter Sydnee has broken the cycle. She is marrying a great man who is serving our country. If they tell you you can’t do it, you tell them, watch me. That is the reason I had a child without an epidural -because my mom said I couldn’t do it.  I truthfully could not have overcome everything without my parents. This award is not mine, it is theirs because they let me live at home home, helped with Sydnee so I could work, go to the police academy and serve on the streets. We are all trying to do the best we can. I met my husband when Sydnee was about 8 and he adopted her.  She got her daddy. I am humbled and honored. Thank you to Rosemary for all you do.”


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Killed Marine’s Dogs Make It Home


I have heard the stories of volunteers who give of their time, their vehicles (and airplanes), and travel expenses to transport dogs who, for all kinds of reasons, have been displaced.

A special homecoming for a killed marine's dogs. Michele Witte, a dog rescue transport driver, shares why she and her husband helped drive these dogs to their grandmother. One recent story especially touched me. This photo taken of homecoming of the marine’s dogs titled, ‘The Boys Are Home’, says it all.

Michele Witte, a retired police officer, has driven more than 100,000 miles over the course of nearly eight years as a volunteer in rescue transport – often accompanied by her husband, Jeff (retired as the police chief of Woodlawn) – but this trek had even greater purpose.

A young marine, walking down a California street in uniform, was killed by a hit and run driver. In that instant, his dogs who were awaiting his return in their Tulsa apartment, suddenly lost their best friend. And a very proud mother living in New Jersey, lost her son. Those two dogs are all she had left of him.

And thus was the reason for the Facebook post requesting drivers. Michele and Jeff took the dogs from Indianapolis to Columbus, one of 18 legs in Axel and Echo’s journey to their grandmother.

I asked Michele why this particular drive touched her.

“Since I am from the police background, the fact that he was a marine just going about his business and was mowed down and left there. It was so malicious. Because of someone’s stupidity, he is dead and his dogs are left to fend for themselves. I can’t imagine how I’d go on if my step kids were killed. His mother wanted those pieces of her son. It really got to me,” she told me, “When picked them up, Axel was a love bug and kissed all over Jeff when Jeff sat in the back with them. Jeff is really good with soothing anxious dogs. I’d hear Jeff say something and then be smothered in dog kisses. Echo was mellow the whole way and slept the whole way.”

I also asked her to explain her passion for this cause.

“I love dogs. I have always had at least one,” she said.  “I went through a bad depression when I retired and the dog I had at the time saved me from myself. I knew if I did something stupid, that my dog would not understand. There is something about the unconditional love of dogs that touches me. This is about paying back what my dog did for me.

I used to think thought being a cop was my calling and I was wrong. This is my calling. I can’t help but love what they do for me. It is a natural high.”


So Much PETential Cincinnati dog training


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Lessons From A Mission Trip To South Africa


In her own words…
Lisa Jones, My Furry ValentineLisa Jones, My Furry Valentine event manager, shares lessons from her mission trip to South Africa event manager, revisits a long journal entry written after returning from a mission trip to South Africa


Our last night in Mamelodi I’m asked at dinner “so Lisa did South Africa live up to the expectations you had before you came?” I hadn’t really thought about it. I heard “life-changing”, “you won‘t ever be the same again”. Perhaps I managed my expectations well by not forming many before I left.

At the Johannesburg Airport we are greeted by probably 20 women from Mamelodi. When I say greet, I mean they have whistles, horns, duck quackers and they grab me as soon as I’m out the sliding doors from baggage claim. They hug me and pass me on for more hugs. They are singing and dancing (making LOTS of noise) and throwing the biggest party ever and I’m crying like an idiot – exhaustion, right? Only the first of many times I saw immense joy radiating from South Africans.

Our first of two days of medical clinics starts out well enough. I volunteer for intake which entails asking the patients their name, living situation, HIV status, etc.. This seems easy and unemotional, or so I think. My first interpreter Mel is amazing. He is 18, smart, funny, mature and so sweet. I want to pack him in my suitcase and bring him home with me. But then he takes a break and I get Girly. Girly wants me to pray out loud for the patients. I don’t want to generalize so I’ll say that most (but probably all) South Africans like to (and are good at) praying out loud. I hate to pray out loud. After praying for about 15 people we intake an 84-year-old woman. She has no fingers on either hand, walks with a cane and wears a black knit GAP cap to cover all the scabs on her head. She is so sweet and full of smiles and she is the same age as my mother. After we pray with her I need to take a break to have a long cry, overwhelmed again. I play with some kids, do cartwheels with them and eventually go back to work with Girly.

That night I write in my journal “Thank you God for this unbelievable difficult day. Thank you for Mel, thank you for Girly. Thank you for filling me with enough of your holy spirit to reach out to these people. Thank you for my little old lady. She pulled me closer to you God, continue to open my ears, my heart and fill my mouth with the words You want me to say and I promise to continue to know more of you.”

Our second medical clinic was set up in Phomollongh which is essentially a squatter’s camp. Dwellings are made of whatever can be found. Metal rooftops are held down by rocks, overturned wheelbarrows, car seats, bikes, whatever. Conditions are far worse today, many more translators needed. The look on most faces is blank and empty. Far fewer smiles today, and shoes. And I am numb. I took blood pressures and tested blood sugar levels at triage. At the end of this day we meet the 5-year old girl that will haunt everyone on this trip. She lives alone with her younger sister, abandoned by their mother. A neighbor (who has brought them to the clinic) tries to look out for them but they mostly eat whatever they can find among the piles of garbage that seem to be everywhere. Her clothes are in shreds. Since it takes about 3 hours for a patient to be seen at our clinics, waiting in line, then intake, then triage, then nurses and doctors, everyone has seen this little girl.

You cannot not see this little girl. Her eyes are yellow and red and swollen and glassy. And they are vacant and dead. Something is seriously wrong with her. One of our doctors tells us later that night through tears that she has a Chlamydial eye infection which means she is being raped.

  • And then there was the 11-year old pregnant girl.
  • And then there was the woman who came to us directly from the hospital, with the EKG pads still attached to her!
  • And then there was the epileptic woman who was carried in a chair to the clinic for treatment.
  • And then there was the little boy with cerebral palsy cradled in his father’s arms, mother also by his side. Eyes rolling back into his head, no body control, being continually kissed on the forehead by his parents.
  • And then there were all the children holding out their hands for our pizza at lunch or offering up empty soda bottles for us to refill with ours – and having to look the other way because we couldn’t start a feeding frenzy.
  • And then there was the sweet little girl happily dancing in my arms to Bob Marley’s “One World” who 15 minutes later would fall fast asleep on my shoulder.

South Africa is a bit of a contradiction. I met people there who don’t just have faith in God they have complete dependence on Him. And I saw things there that might make some people question whether there is a God. In revisiting “expectations” about South Africa I would have to say there are a few things to safely expect on a visit to SA.

You will want to return there before you have even left the country.
You will see unending joy and abundance where you would expect hopelessness and despair.
You will want to pack up someone you meet and take them home with you.
Your transportation will break down, it is just a matter of time.


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Cincinnati Boychoir Inspires Values


“No matter where you come from and where you start, singing brings you together in life,” KellyAnn Nelson told me.

KellyAnn Nelson shares how her work with the Cincinnati Boychoir inspires herThose words are KellyAnn’s passion and her driving force behind her career and her impact. Founder and Artistic Director of the Young Professionals Choral Collective of Cincinnati (with a roster now of about 1000 singers ages 21 to 45), she is also managing artistic director for the Cincinnati Boychoir and has served as a guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator and presenter at various National, All-State and Regional honors choir events, conferences and choral/vocal jazz workshops in Michigan, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, Connecticut, Minnesota, Kentucky and Indiana.

The Cincinnati Boychoir’s annual Sing Me A Story: A Christmas Carol holiday extravaganza is tonight at the Aronoff Center and the more than 200 members will be singing holiday favorites plus new songs destined to be classics.

If you are unfamiliar with the Boychoir, it is a 53 year old organization that has grown to become one of the premiere professional boychoirs in the United States. Hundreds of students from more than 990 different schools come to the Aronoff Center for the Arts each week to prepare beautiful music, make friends, learn, and strengthen character values.

I asked KellyAnn to share how her work with the Cincinnati Boychoir has touched and inspired her.

In Her Own Words…

I have the privilege of watching these boys grow from squirrelly new singers into talented “big brothers”.  I’m also able to craft experiences for them that allow them to work with incredible talent, travel to see incredible places and perform on incredible stages.

Most importantly, they get to see the power of music in action.  They get to shake the hand of a nursing home resident whose eyes fill with tears as they listen to “Deck the Halls” and remember Christmases past.  They get to sing “Carol of the Bells” for a few thousand people in the heart of downtown and watch the Cincinnati Boychoirlittlest kids stop running around for a moment to pretend like they are ringing their own bells.  And they get to take music that they’ve been perfecting for months out into the community at large and share it.  Our youngest humans learn to give and create happiness by sharing what they can – not money and gifts, but intangibles like songs and smiles.

At the Cincinnati Boychoir, we run every program decision through three lenses.

  1. Does the opportunity allow the boys to engage in their community?
  2. Does the opportunity allow the boys to grow as humans?
  3. Does the opportunity allow the boys to travel – either figuratively or literally?

This summer our Ambassadors are headed to South Africa, and this February our DeltaChor and JourneyMen hop on a bus for Philadelphia.  But all of our boys travel – be it to a school gymnasium where they can show other boys that it’s “cool” to sing, show emotion and have fun, or to the stage of Music Hall with the Cincinnati Opera – because music lets you go places in time, in your city, or in the world like nothing else can.

My boys sing well.  But I’m most proud when they sing Happy Birthday to an overtired friend in the choir, or smile at their neighbor as that chord they’ve worked on for so long finally locks.  Our boys help each other, make friends who don’t live in their own neighborhood, and become great citizens who look out for each other while looking outward toward other people they meet at concerts, on trips or in rehearsals.  I’m so proud of them.  But I get a little emotional at this time of year when they are singing – a lot.  It’s powerful to seem them realizing the power of sharing music with others.

Tickets are still available for tonight’s Sing Me A Story: A Christmas Carol. If you miss this show, there are many other opportunities to see and hear the Cincinnati Boychoir.

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