Young people and students
Super cool for 5 year old Varen Noell Rogers!
Months back I remember her mother, Stacy Sill, telling us her daughter was in the running for the cover model of Cincinnati Family Magazine…and now Varen’s beautiful face is gracing thousands of issues around the region.
I asked Stacy to share some insight on Cincinnati’s newest superstar. This is what Stacy said:
When I asked Varen what she thought about being on the cover of Cincinnati Parent Magazine, she said it was very exciting and it was awesome that her friends and teachers got to see it. She’s a little performer and really enjoyed the photo shoot!
It’s fitting that she was born on the first day of summer, because her personality is like a ray of sunshine that can light up a room! She’s a typical five year-old in many ways… spunky, opinionated, giggly, and a complete ball of energy. She loves to have play dates, go to the park, watch movies, and play games. She absolutely loves books and is an enthusiastic emerging reader. When I asked her to describe herself, she said “well, I love to sing and dance and do theater, make new friends, and I really like to make people laugh. Oh, and I love unicorns and rainbows too.” That summed it up pretty nicely!
Varen is currently involved in gymnastics, art classes, and ice hockey. She put on her first pair of skates at 18 months old! She also loves taking glass art classes at Brazee Street Studios in Oakley. We’ve really tried to get her into a little bit of everything and then follow her lead in terms of her interests.
From a very early age, Varen has had a penchant for the performing arts. At age 3, she was the only preschooler in her elementary school to audition for the talent show. She decided, all on her own, to sing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music (then her favorite movie)… a capella! She pulled it off in typical Varen fashion, full of fun and charm! This past weekend, she played a Munchkin in the New Richmond High School production of The Wizard of Oz. She was so enthusiastic and confident that the director gave her a line to perform, and she was thrilled! She nailed it. 🙂
She asked me to include things she does not like: stinky socks, macaroni and cheese, and vegetables. Now you know.
This week, she says she wants to be a teacher when she grows up because it looks really fun and she knows some good teachers.
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.
Can a village feed a city? Absolutely! And the entire student body at Indian Hill High School has been working with Suzy DeYoung and La Soupe, Julie Richardson, and Sugarcreek (a co-packer) to prove it can happen.
For two days, they have surrounded tables in their school cafeteria, slicing and dicing well over 5,000 quarts of vegetables that will go into at least 500 gallons of soup base made by Suzy’s team at La Soupe, put into containers with labels, and delivered to Master Provision food distributor for storage. Ultimately that soup will be given to local schools to feed hungry students.
“We did more today than we ever imagined we would. We thought 5,000 quarts was a pretty lofty goal before we began but we already surpassed it,” Cathy Levalley, director of Indian Hill High School’s PPO, told me when I stopped by Thursday morning. “Our kids are loving this and have asked if they can do more of these types of projects.”
As many in Cincinnati know, Suzy has a talent for creating savory recipes and a heart for helping others. Her La Soupe is a nonprofit organization that rescues otherwise wasted food and transforms it into delicious and nutritious soup for customers, and given away to charitable causes and those in need. Partners including Kroger, Jungle Jims, various local organic farms, and now Sugarcreek co-packer make it possible (as well as donations).
You could say that food has always been in her blood. Suzy’s father was head chef at the Maisonette, and her grandparents were chefs in New York. She and her sister ran La Petite Pierre in Madeira before she found her calling. “I didn’t understand how people can be hungry when all I saw was food. I came to realize that my most joyful time in that career was when I was looking for ways to give out the food that we would have waste.”
These days La Soupe gives out thousands of pounds of soup each year, and now that will be even more. Sugarcreek, Suzy told me, found a way to divert and average of about 20,000 edible products from their co-packers monthly. That will help to feed a lot of Tri-State families.
Suzy’s next project is raising money for a new annex and a second shift to up production. If you would like to help, please contact them at.
It is a dream of most girls, to step out in a gorgeous evening gown, a flower corsage on her wrist and a young man on her side as she enters the darkened space. Her peers crowd the floor, watching her enter in awe. Her smile illuminates the room.
But, if not for a local nonprofit organization, Kenzie’s Closet, that dream would not come true for hundreds of teens every year. Kathy Smith knows. She has seen them transform from forlorn, hopeless girls into bundles of joy and laughter when they see themselves in a mirror, just as their dream had pictured them.
At no cost to them, Kenzie’s Closet provides prom attire to juniors and seniors at accredited Tri-State high schools who otherwise would not be able to afford dressing up for their important occasion. Even more than that, the organization provides a shopping experience for each young lady to shop in a boutique with a volunteer personal shopper there to help select the perfect dress.
Kathy was executive director of Kenzie’s Closet for four years, retiring just before our ReelAbilities Film Festival, for which she served as our volunteer chair.
Lisa: Why is this a cause for which you are so passionate?
Kathy: When I was interviewed for my position, I remember being asked a very similar question. They wanted to know why I wanted the job. My answer was that, if Kenzie’s Closet had existed in 1968, I would have been a Kenzie’s Girl. The only reason I was able to go to my prom was because a neighbor bough me my dress. All of Kenzie’s Girls are at or below the poverty level. They don’t have the resources available to buy or rent fancy dresses. Prom should be the highlight of their life. It was important to me to make sure that each girl have the opportunity to get the dress of their dreams. They get brand new shoes, a purse, a wrap, two pieces of jewelry and free alterations; and they keep everything, although we have had many donate back their dresses so that another girl can have the same experience. We are planting the seeds of philanthropy early.
Lisa: Can you share any moments that really touched you?
Kathy: There are so many of them. I felt like we were in many ways like being Fairy Godmothers. Coming to Kenzie’s Closet for these teenagers is their time to shine. Often, they arrive expecting to find a sort of thrift shop but they quickly realize it is very different. They may be scared when they walk through the door and by the time they are finished, they are hugging their personal shopper.
I remember one young woman who came in with a group. She was very tall and large. She kept giving me this look out of the corner of her eyes. She told me with a hardness in her voice that she didn’t think we would have anything for her. I looked at her and said, “Guess what? You are totally wrong.”
After going through her shopping, I went up to her and asked what happened that day. She asked if I wanted the truth. Tears began streaming down her face. She told me that her entire life she had been given torn or tattered clothing and been expected to give thanks. I asked her again what had happened. This time she put her chin out and told me, “Not only did you have a dress to fit me, I got to pick my own prom dress. And there is nothing smack about it.”
Lisa: What are some of your take-aways from your time leading Kenzie’s Closet?
Kathy: I knew all along that we were making dreams come true for over 400 young ladies each year. But I also had my dream come true working there. Our founder was my boss and she was so supportive and believed in me – not everyone has that. I worked with two incredible women that made going to work a pleasure – again not everyone has that. We had about 120 volunteers each year; they were always so joyful and happy to be there — again this helped me have an incredible career. My time at Kenzie’s Closet was a dream come true for me!
You may have seen TT Stern-Enzi’s film reviews on FOX 19 or in CityBeat. He also writes for the Dayton CityPaper. Several months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting him over coffee. He has such a kind soul about him and when he talks about his passions – films, kids, and family – he is an open book.
It is no wonder that in addition to writing about films, he has recently established a nonprofit organization called WatchWriteNow that combines it all. Through WatchWriteNow, TT uses film as a means for developing critical thinking and analysis skills in students, exposing them to creativity as well. He develops programs where participants have weekly exposure to him, then go home to watch and talk about movies and shows with their parents, siblings, and friends. Students also write commentary for TT’s WatchWriteNow blog.
Let’s learn more about TT.
Lisa: Tell us about your love for film, including where it began and how it has evolved.
TT: My earliest memories of movies go back to my mother, before I even started going to see them. My mom loved music and would buy soundtracks (Shaft, Trouble Man, etc.) and I remember spending hours staring at the album covers. I wasn’t old enough to see the movies, but I probably made up my own movies based on those LP sleeves. Then, when I started school and proved to be a dedicated student, my mom would take me to the movies after school, as a treat for a good report card. She took me to whatever I wanted to see (that was appropriate, of course), which meant a lot of fantasy stuff (swords and sorcery). I was into Dungeons & Dragons and I read stuff like Michael Moorcock, Fritz Lieber, and later Stephen Donaldson and Frank Herbert. Really, I would read anything, but sci-fi and fantasy opened the door for me and probably influenced my movie choices for a time, even though I quickly developed a rather eclectic range. I like to say now that I love good movies and good books, and that means there are no genre limitations. Great films can be found in any genre, you just have to be open to them. Sci-fi, drama, romance, foreign language, indie. The categories are meaningless. The same notion applies to music, books, theater, art, everything. You don’t have to like everything, but when it comes to film, I want to try to see as much of it as I can while I’m able.
Lisa: What is one of your favorite films and why?
TT: Blue Velvet is my all-time favorite film. I saw it at least four times during its opening weekend in 1986 and then went to my AP English class that Monday morning and asked my teacher if we could talk about it. I needed to crack it open and that felt like the right place to do it, and fortunately my teacher – who is still at the school – let us. We spent about 30 minutes on it and I then went back to see it multiple times the next couple of weekends. I’ve seen it over 30 times on the big screen over the years and it still reveals little secrets to me each time. Last year, I was able to take my oldest daughter to see a special 30th anniversary print of it in NYC. She was the same age I was when I saw it back in 1986, and it was one of those memories I will cherish forever. We walked the streets afterward, talking about the film and David Lynch, Twin Peaks and everything.
I realize that having a teacher indulge my curiosity and passion like that, was probably what set me on this path, and I hope that through my non-profit, I might be able to do the same for a few of the kids I see in WatchWriteNow programs.
The funny thing about Blue Velvet though is that it is not, technically speaking, the best film I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure what that is or how I could ever determine something like that. I just know that Blue Velvet continues to be my favorite, likely because of that story behind my lifelong experience with it.
Lisa: What is one of your most memorable interviews and why?
TT: Thanks to CityBeat, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a few hundred interviews over the years and there are lots of fun stories in those exchanges. A favorite though is my chat with Martin Landau. He was helping to promote his appearance in City of Ember (2008) and the promotional reps set up a day and time for us to catch up. There was a mixup and I had to leave the house before I received his call. I got back home and there was a direct message on my office voicemail from Mr. Landau. As a film geek, I was already nervous about interviewing him – I mean, he’s had such a career. The man worked with Alfred Hitchcock, and he’s leaving a casual message on my voicemail. When we finally spoke to one another, I stumbled through my questions, trying not to geek out on him, and towards the end, I asked him about his process for finding his characters beyond what’s on the page. In reply, he did this little exercise where he walked me through the five boroughs of New York, creating a set of characters and voices right then and there. It was so much more than an auditory experience. I felt like I was in the same room with him, watching him transform into these people. When he finished, I tried to compliment him (and really thank him for sharing that with me) and he just chuckled and said that’s what he gets paid to do. It was brilliant, and I’ve got it save now in my iTunes library.
Lisa: When you look back at your life, what is one of your proudest accomplishments?
TT: It sounds weird to say this, but I think the life I’m still trying to live is the accomplishment that matters most. I haven’t come close to any kind of perfect example of the things I’ve talked about here, but I’m always trying, striving to live it. I said at the start that I’m still that geeky kid. If I can keep that up and let others (especially the kids I work with) see the effort, then I would be proud and satisfied with that.