Philanthropy – volunteers and nonprofits
Jing was 16 months old, just weeks ahead of playing make believe, running, jumping, and exploring. Only those developmental milestones she was on target for reaching, had to be delayed. The course of her life was about to make a detour that would alter her journey for a very long time.
Jing was born to parents who lived in a rural village of southwest China where central electricity and modern plumbing were unavailable. Meals were cooked over an open fire, that one fateful day burned much of the newly mobile infant’s body. By the time Jing celebrated her second birthday, she had already undergone three surgeries.
Her story traveled to the United States via the media and internet, and eventually led her to Cincinnati, one week past her second birthday in 2012, where she has been living with a host family and receiving treatment from Shriner’s Hospital for Children – Cincinnati.
Her injuries caused airway obstruction which made it difficult to stay asleep for longer than 90 minutes at a time. She had lost vision in one eye, and the Chinese hospital had fused the lid. Jing’s mouth was so contracted from scar tissue that she could only consume bottles of formula. Over the next year, Kevin Yakuboff M.D., FACS, FAAPS, surgically released Jing’s mouth and neck, which allowed her to enjoy solid food for the first time. (Meatballs were a favorite!) He corrected her eyelid for a more symmetric and balanced appearance. By her third birthday, Christopher Gordon M.D., FACS, FAAP surgically altered her jaw, a major advancement which opened her airways and allowed her to sleep through the night for the first time.
An ocean separating them, when it had become clear that it was in Jing’s best interest to stay in Cincinnati near to her medical team, her parents wanted that for their daughter, and Jing’s host family became her adopted family.
Enter Portrait of a Soul
It is children like Jing who give Cincinnati philanthropists Lee and Sue Schaefer purpose. Four years ago they founded Portrait of a Soul, a nonprofit organization which partners with elite artists to create beautiful, fine art portraits of children with craniofacial conditions or other differences.
“For a child, having a portrait of him or herself, tells them ‘you matter, you are important’,” Lee told me. “We had a little girl who looked at her portrait and said she couldn’t believe an artist touched that portrait 100,000 times just for her. Most of the kids want their scar showing but don’t always have to. We just want it to be a positive, uplifting experience for them. The fact that someone cares about them is what they walk away with.”
The first step is meeting with the artist to make sure he/she has a “heart for the project and the child”, something top on the Schaefer’s priority list. Once artists have been paired with a child, they meet and typically the artist will take a lot of photos before going into the studio to illustrate their interpretation of their subject’s soul. Children do not see the finished result until an unveiling event – usually some 4 to 6 months later. It is a process that forms special bonds. Lee and Sue, who have no children of their own, have been to numerous high school graduations, birth parties, plays and other celebrations.
Holly Schapker painted two portraits, one of which was just unveiled at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati. “It is interesting that for so many years, I have been building my skillset and it feels like all my skills have been for this purpose. I don’t see a higher purpose as an artist,” she told me.
Jing loves art and reading, and panda bears. And, now, after the unveiling of her portrait by Tracey Ellis-Haynes at Shriner’s Hospital, the world will know that too (as a high quality reproduction will hang at Shriner’s Hospital and Jing has the original). “I love it because it has my stuffed panda, Xi Xi, in it. Then everybody can see her. I am proud because my artist did a great job,” she told me.
I asked Lee how their nonprofit has impacted him and his wife. “We are very humbled by it,” he said. We don’t want the project to be about Sue and me. This is our way of giving back. We have gotten more out of it than we ever thought. It is the neatest thing that we have ever done.”
You may find them dancing, sightseeing, hiking, tending to vegetables in a garden, or volunteering their time. One day they may be exploring Fort Ancient, the next they may be touring one of the local waterways on a pontoon boat. One day they may be sorting items at Matthew 25: Ministries, and another day you may find them giving of their time to a different organization. They may be checking out the butterflies at Krohn Convservatory, exploring one of Cincinnati’s parks, or learning about history or art in one of our area museums. Or they may be in the kitchen practicing their cooking skills.
One thing is for certain, the adults who participate in LADD (Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled)’s Community Connections Program are living fuller lives. They are surrounded by friends and a supportive network. They are learning more about this great region that all of us share.
LADD’s Community Connections is the only non-facilities based program of its kind in Cincinnati. In groups of 3 to 5 adults with developmental disabilities, participants choose places in our area to explore with one of LADD’s social guides. The Program reduces isolation and also provides an opportunity for participants to learn and strengthen life and communication skills, build confidence through decision making, and explore their own likes and dislikes.
Melissa Caywood once told me that, “Without it, I would be doing nothing. Community Connections keeps me busy and I like to be busy.”
Faith Maynard is program manager for LADD. “Part of this process of advocacy is taking stock of who they are – and what they want to accomplish by exploring what they like and don’t like in the world,” she explained.
I love that whole idea. In my work with the organization, getting an opportunity to tag along with one of the groups makes my whole week. These adults have become my friends. When they smile, I smile. When they they tell me about how their making a difference makes them feel good, it makes me feel good too. When I see the interaction between staff and participants, I am reminded of what working with heart is all about. When I see them out in the community, doing what all of us have a right to be doing, I think this is just as it should be.
Community Connections is about so much more than just an activity to occupy a day. It is about relationships being built and strengthened. It is about people who deserve to be included and valued, being included and valued.
One of the groups recently gathered at the Contemporary Arts Center to create handmade birthday cards for children at St. Joseph Orphanage. A few visitors of the CAC stopped by to help. Each card was personalized with stickers, drawings and messages.
“Our kids that stay with us love to receive cards to display in their rooms. Oftentimes they are in the custody of children services and the cards received from caring card pals will be the only cards they get. Knowing someone in the community cares enough to make a card helps them feel valued and special. Thank you LADD!,” Lisa Caminiti, community relations/volunteer coordinator for St. Joseph Orphanage told me.
And how did Community Connections participants feel about their gifts?
“I think it is going to make the kids feel good and it makes me feel good to do that,” Trip Huggins told me.
“It makes me happy to make the cards because I know I am helping someone,” Erin McDermott said.
Just along the southern bank of the Ohio River sits the small rural town of Melbourne, Kentucky, spotted with rustic farms and quaint resting spots. The 2010 Census counted 401 people residing in its neighborhoods.
It is also the home of the Freestore Foodbank’s The Giving Fields, an expansive 10 acre community farm that provides fresh produce for Northern Kentucky food pantries, soup kitchens and other agencies. During 2016 growing season alone, some 2,400 volunteers helped plant, weed, harvest, and glean enough vegetables to supplement nearly 120,000 meals.
Dan is among those volunteers. Most days for the past six years he can be seen navigating the rows, fence lines and pretty much the entire length of the farm driving a lawn mower. As a neighbor, it is a job he enjoys doing in his retirement. “It is something simple that I can do to contribute to our community,” he said.
Interested in helping out? The Freestore Foodbank is always looking for new volunteers. For more information about volunteering at The Giving Fields or for questions about donating gardening items or supplies, please email our Volunteer Services Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (513) 482-7550.
I have often said I am so fortunate that my work has introduced me to some pretty incredible people. Carol Stevie is among them. We came to know each other through my work on the Greater Cincinnati Planned Giving Council’s Voices of Giving Awards. A committee member, Carol had been my main point of contact for numerous years. Always appreciative, upbeat and welcoming, she was one of the reasons I looked forward to that project.
Carol was involved through her work with a Cincinnati nonprofit organization, Catholic Inner-City Schools Education (CISE), which supports the education of about 2000 urban students at eight Catholic elementary schools and several Catholic high schools. The CISE schools welcome all children, regardless of their religious backgrounds and economic circumstances. (Around 75% of the students at CISE are not Catholic, 83% are minorities and 93% are poor.) Carol worked there almost twenty years before her retirement, 8.5 years as its part-time associate director and 11 years as its first full-time director.
CISE was, and probably still is, her passion; although now, in her retirement she is enjoying spending quality time with her family – husband Richard, two adult daughters & spouses – Beth Walker (Tom), Laura Ash (Joe) and our four grandchildren Nathan, Evan, Ava and Eli. Retirement also gives me more time to pursue my love of travel and to plan our upcoming adventures. In the fall, she will be doing more volunteering.
Lisa: Tell me about some of what you are most proud of in life.
Carol: One of things of which I am most proud – in addition to my family – is having had the opportunity to work with CISE and have a positive influence on the lives of so many young people. The growth of community support of the CISE program over the past 20 years has been amazing. It was a privilege to work with the dedicated, hardworking CISE Board and staff, as well as with the principals, staff and faculties of the CISE schools. They are all so mission-driven and inspiring. In addition, I am in awe of the extremely generous donors who have done so much for the students at the CISE schools over the years because they feel committed to giving children the same opportunities that they have receive. Everyone involved with CISE shares the belief that education is the key to overcoming poverty.
Lisa: Where does that drive and passion come from?
Carol: My personal belief in the power of education was shaped by my mother. I grew up in East Price Hill and attended St. Lawrence School, now a CISE school. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend college and worked hard to provide for our family. My mother was insistent that my sister and I go to college because she wanted us to have more opportunities than she had. Mom went to work full time to pay for our tuition at Seton High School and to put us both through the University of Cincinnati. I am so grateful to her and have been inspired by her selflessness and by the great value she placed on education.
Lisa: Tell me a little about your philosophy on life.
Carol: I believe the reason that I was drawn to CISE is that we are all connected through our humanity. I love the following quote by Dr. Martin Luther King: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
Last summer, Kathleen Cail and Nestor Melnyk were awarded a grant by People’s Liberty from the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile Foundation to create Access Cincinnati, an online resource providing accessibility information on restaurants and bars to families with strollers, veterans, seniors and other individuals with mobility issues.
After many, many hours of research, they are launching AccessCincinnati.org, and are marking the occasion with a party TONIGHT at 6 pm at Taft’s Ale House (1429 Race Street; Cincinnati, Ohio 45202). The party will include free appetizers, information about the reviews and website, and a presentation of the first official Access Cincinnati window cling.
For Kathleen and Nestor this project is of personal significance as they are both parents who have children with developmental disabilities and aging parents. “We created the site to make it easier for anyone with children in strollers or with mobility issues to find an accessible venue, feel welcome and confident they can patronize a restaurant or bar without problems entering or being seated,” said Kathleen. “We hope the site encourages restaurants and bars to consider accessibility beyond ADA requirements because it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business.”
Approximately 13% of Cincinnati residents are senior citizens and just over 12% of Hamilton County’s population has a disability. Cincinnati also hosts large conventions with Veterans, seniors and people with disabilities such as the National Veterans’ Wheelchair Games with 600 athletes visiting our city in July.
More than 65 citizens helped crowd source the information. Currently, there are approximately 150 reviews out of about 225 potential bars and restaurants, most in Downtown, OTR, and The Banks. To keep this information up-to-date, more crowd sourcing is needed. Cincinnatians are asked to visit www.accesscincinnati.org and sign up to receive their mobile survey to crowd source additional venues around the city, including other neighborhoods like Walnut Hills, Price Hill, Clifton, Avondale and Northside.
The Access Cincinnati mobile site provides information on Entrance, Space, and Restrooms. Restaurant and bar owners, that have been reviewed, will receive the Access Cincinnati window cling, providing potential customers passing by, with the information they need to decide whether a location meets their unique needs, before trying to enter.
“We want everyone to feel welcomed in our city and we want to provide information that can help individuals make their own decisions about where to spend their money and have a good time,” said Nestor.