Philanthropy – volunteers and nonprofits
There is a local organization here in Cincinnati that is taking on a global issue. You don’t hear a whole lot about HIV/AIDS any longer but it hasn’t gone away..particularly in areas like the rural communities of Africa, where communicable diseases have the power to run rampant.
When volunteers first founded SOTENI in 2002 their mission was simple – to empower the orphans of AIDS to lead the fight against the disease and prevent another generation of succumbing.
Led by physician-epidemiologist Victoria Wells Wulsin, SOTENI Kenya began in 2003. Their model was and still is called ‘Villages of Hope’ with a goal was to establish a sustainable, grassroots community led by an elected management committee. They work to prevent HIV/AIDS and reduce its effects with love, guidance and resources. Since beginning its first Village of Hope in Mituntu, the organization has expanded to include three additional villages in Mbakalo, Ugenya and Kuria.
Cincinnati Students Get Involved
Four area high schools (Walnut Hills, Indian Hills, Oak Hills and St. Ursula Academy) have gotten involved educating their peers, raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic, and raising important money toward SOTENI’s mission.
In December local students participated in SOTENI’s 2nd annual Students help Students: Cincinnati to Kenya. They wrote letters to the 39 SOTENI sponsored students in Kenya; and assembled gift bags with toiletries, pens, pencils, & t-shirts. But the highlight of that afternoon project was the Skype call to two secondary students in Kenya.
Last year Cincinnati students organized a concert of high school bands and raised over $1000 for the health center in Kenya. Mark your calendars – this year’s concert will be March 4, only instead of bands they are looking for more acoustical groups or solo performers. It will be at the Leapin’ Lizard in Covington. The event name is ‘Paint the Town Red”.
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This is so truly special. To anyone who has ever wondered if your thoughtfulness made an impact, please read the letter below. The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati works hard in every program to instill caring, respect, responsibility and honesty in children at very early ages. It’s just such an important part of raising compassionate young people who are learning that kindness does matter.
So one example is a project from one of the YMCA’s Early Learning Centers. If you read the letter, you’ll see how some very special children brightened the season of some extraordinary men and woman who are making huge sacrifices for us all.
My name is Sergeant Major Richard Wolfe and my Soldiers recently received a care package from the YMCA Early Learning Center, Cincinnati, OH 45237 that included a note from your children. I specifically picked up a card from *Michael thanking our troops and wishing us Happy Holidays. I am the senior Non-Commissioned Officer for a few hundred Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen and on behalf of them I want to thank you all for remembering us here in Afghanistan this holiday season. I am the dad of 4 boys, ages 28, 26, 22, and 6 and recognize the YMCA as wonderful organization doing great things for our youth. God Bless you for what you do. I want you to know that what you and the folks do in support of our troops matters and we appreciate it very much. We have troops from Ohio serving with us and my dad is originally from Salem, Ohio. You and the kids are a great example of the wonderful folks from the Buckeye state. Again, God Bless you all and your families and have a blessed Christmas and New Years. Please tell the kids that their notes arrived safely and we thank them.
*For privacy I have changed the boy’s name.
Working with the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati I am so fortunate to be around people who are completely dedicated to enhancing the lives of others. I’ve seen so many children who in their brief years already have to learn out of necessity how to find their inner strength from overcoming personal hardships. They do that because of the nurturing guidance of YMCA staff and volunteers.
Rebecca Kelley, executive director of the Community Services YMCA, had shared this story with me. It’s a story she shared at the 21st Century Community Learning Center Conference in Washington D.C. earlier this year. Rebecca was speaking about the influence of supportive partners like JCPenney on her branch’s ability to help young kids succeed but the story itself is what inspired me.
could be any of a number of Cincinnati area children who benefit from YMCA led afterschool programs.
“Her smile captures your eyes first, then her dark brown eyes hold your attention,” Rebecca explained. “Monnasia attends the YMCA’s CincyAfterSchool program at her school, where she experiences nine research-based program components. With help from JCPenney tutor volunteers, she’s improving in math and reading scores. She enjoys expanding her knowledge and skills in global learning via the foreign language club, Skyping with students from Ireland, and salsa dancing that brings other cultures to life. She serves on her program’s Youth Advisory Council to develop her leadership skills and engage in service-learning. Right now, Monnasia is enjoying Cincinnati Public Schools’ Fifth Quarter, an extension of the school year for four weeks of instruction and enrichment delivered by school staff and community partners.”
Then Rebecca explained how the little girl so excited about learning told her YMCA CincyAfterSchool coordinator that drawing her self-portrait made her sad and proud at the same time. Monnasia was at the global family portrait project at the Cincinnati Museum Center; and, while she liked opening her mind to other cultures, it reminded her of incredible pain. The kind of pain no child should have to endure.
“You see, Monnasia’s family portrait looks different. She’s homeless.” Rebecca went on.
“Although Monasia receives support from caring adults and staff, as well as JCPenney’s generous gift cards for school supplies and clothing in the past, Monnasia has to think about which house she’ll be sleeping at this week. When her school principal and YMCA site coordinator announced she would be honored as one of 28 CincyAfterSchool All-Stars, she had to figure out more logistics than most 12-year-olds on how she would get to the event and make it safely to her lodging that night.
“In nominating her for our All-Star Award, the principal noted how Monnasia has discovered her spark through the YMCA ArtWheels program. She’s exploring college and career options already, and learning which classes she needs to take to fulfill those dreams in her eyes. She demonstrates care for others by reading to Kindergarteners and listening to 1st graders read. We know she’s going to succeed!,” Rebecca concluded.
Members of Miami University’s Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity walked 40 miles several weekends ago. A significant distance for anyone to trek in just two days, the fraternity’s Freedom Walk traced only a small portion of the brave and treacherous journey of their ancestors who escaped the deplorable conditions that were known as slavery.
Along the way, the eight students and some alumni passed known Underground Railroad safe houses and significant historic landmarks such as the grave sites of Underground Railroad conductors.
“The Freedom Walk was an awesome experience for everyone involved,” said Fraternity President Donovan Potter. “Reflecting on how we completed the 40 miles and experiencing the hunger and soreness that we felt, put it into perspective about how slaves had to endure all of that without the benefits that we dad. We were able to stop and get something to eat, readjust our shoes, and not have to worry about someone trying to capture us. It is very heart-warming to know that our ancestors endured the treacherous weather and wilderness just so we can have the life that we live today. This venture over the weekend is going to be an experience that will last us a lifetime.”
Kappa Alpha Psi also used the event to help raise money for the Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Donations are still being accepted. To give online, visit http://www.freedomcenter.org or send a check to The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) at 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202. The Fraternity asks that you please note on the check that your donation is on behalf of the Freedom Walk.
(pictured) Top Row : Stephen Buchanan, Greg Jordan
Middle Row: Alex Tyree, Donovan Potter, Andre Rudolph
Bottom Row (left to right): Callen Reese, Glenn Miller
Not Pictured: Tyrone Jones
Earlier this year, Ian Martin, a senior at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts, was one of 40 area teens recognized by the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati as a Character Award recipient. The Award recognized young people who exemplify the core values of the YMCA – caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
Growing up in a single parent household for the majority of his life, Ian has grown to appreciate some of the smaller things in his life. As the oldest of four children, he made up his mind at an early age that he would be somebody great. Ian strives to constantly be a positive role model to his siblings and others around him. He has volunteered at the U.S. Bank Boys and Girls Club in Avondale since he was 13 years old, tutoring and providing homework assistance to children. Ian also served as president of the One Voice Poetry Club and Keystone Club. In 2009, he was selected as the Cincinnati Youth of the Year. Through networking he has established volunteer connections with Ceasefire Cincinnati at the Urban League and is currently part of the YMCA Cincinnati Youth Council as Vice Mayor.
I spoke with Ian about some of his life choices.
What motivates you to give back and be all that you can be?
“My mom is a single parent and I have three siblings. She is a strong woman and encouraged us to do better than she did, to go 10 or 12 steps above her. She taught me to aim for the sky. My mom also taught us to value the smaller things and always be grateful. I remember people who were extremely helpful to me and my family so I feel an obligation to give back. It is rewarding to know I can help someone like I’ve been helped. It’s a cycle.”
In my younger years I also had teachers who told me that material things didn’t matter. It is what is in your heart that matters.
What do have character values mean to you?
“I believe character values are the person you are, taking the initiative in your community, school and home to make them better. Character values are your motivation to succeed in all categories. They include having responsibility to take up actions that others may not be willing to do.”
Tell me a little more about your volunteer work and your passion.
“I had to grow up real fast and was always real quiet. I actually went to the Boys and Girls Club first before I became a volunteer. A woman there asked me if I’d consider poetry. I was the only guy in their poetry club but I found a passion for it. Now I write plays and monologues too.
As a volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati I help kids with their homework or we play games in the gym. It is helpful for them to have a youth there who can relate to them. I think I’m making a small but powerful impact and that’s more than good enough for me.”