Young people and students
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.
Kind, patient teachers who instinctively know how to bring out the best in children are such treasures. They are role models to young minds and their power has the capability of impacting entire journeys through life.
Heather Seurkamp is among them. Her aunt, Terri Hogan, introduced us. Heather is a sixth grade teacher at St. Clement Elementary School in St. Bernard. The more that I spoke with her and learned her story, the more I came to realize her gift.
Heather thought back to how an event in her high school ultimately led to her career path. Like so many other seniors, she really had no idea what she wanted to pursue after graduation until that fateful day. She was doing work study for her favorite English teacher. When Heather walked into the classroom, she found a note instead of the woman she was there to assist. “Her daughter was sick and she couldn’t be there,” she told me. “She had written on the board that I know what to do and I could lead the lesson.”
And lead the lesson is exactly what Heather did. “I felt like they listened to me. They were raising their hands and asking questions and trusted me to know the answers.”
The rest, you could say, is history. I have a feeling Heather is the type of teacher who inspires her students to want to succeed, to have giving hearts, and to be all they can be. After reading my interview, you can see for yourself.
Lisa: Why do you enjoy teaching the sixth grade specifically?
Heather: I have two younger brothers and a sister and so always get along with younger kids. I like their outlooks on life. Sometimes adults can be jaded and kids are happy go lucky. They are just goofy. They are going through puberty and trying to figure out what they want in their world. I really like this age group because they are trying to figure out their world.
Lisa: What do you think are some of your qualities that make for a good teacher?
Heather: Adaptability is one. As a teacher you have to be able to adapt and take things for what they are and move along. With kids, so many things can happen. If you can’t put out fires quickly, chaos breaks out. It is also hard a lot of times being able to motivate kids and so you have to find a way to connect with every single child, and that begins with really listening to them. You have to be willing to get to know, care about them a lot as a person, and ask them about their life.
I was an athlete through school so I love going to my students’ sports games. If they are in the school play then I go to that to be supportive. Some students may live with grandparents or other guardians because their parents are on drugs, etc. and they need a dependable adult in their life.
Lisa: You get your students involved with community service. Can you tell me more about that?
Heather: Every grade level in my school does their own service learning project. This year our sixth and seventh grade social studies unit connected with the Ed Colina Foundation, helping to raise money and awareness for children and families in Kenya. Their Foundation is dedicated to building schools, houses, and churches in a small village of Africa. Parents in that village make hand crafted pieces that Ed brings to the United States to sell through schools here. A man whose education was supported by the Foundation came and spoke to us. Hearing about how students in Africa didn’t have chalkboards or chairs to sit in at school changed our students’ perspectives on things.
Our students made handmade brochures about the beaded animals and jewelry, and then they volunteered during their recess and at events to sell the items. They used their math skills to make an inventory of the items and did a lot of advertising. I just actually told my students today that they raised over $2000 and there was a lot of clapping and high fiving.
Lisa: Have you seen how participating in that community service has impacted your students beyond the project?
Heather: Doing community services has affected the general attitude in my classroom that my students share amongst each other. I have seen more random acts of kindness and children who seem more grateful for the opportunities and the resources that are available for them here at St. Clement.
Lisa: Have you had any students give back to you?
Heather: I have and it means a lot. I’ve had them remember my birthday by leaving me a post it note saying ‘have a nice day’. Some kids may draw her pictures. I treasure every one of those notes. It is really special when a 12 year old draws you a picture. I have them in an album and hang some up.
Lisa: What is the most rewarding part of being a teacher for you?
Heather: For me, what is most rewarding is just being a part of creating who a student is as a whole. I like being a part of the experience of them growing in to people who care about other people. I like sharing my passion for social studies and reading. I love recommending books and inspiring them to travel.
Lisa: What is some advice that you give to your students about life?
Heather: There is so much but my most consistent advice is about choices as your choices reflect the kind of person that you are. You have to make good choices. I am always reminding them of that.
Lisa: Where does your inspiration come from for you?
Heather: It is part of my family make up. My grandparents are the kindest people you could ever meet and that is the environment in which I grew up. My dad has always said that you have to look out for people like us because you never know who you will meet.
My work on the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival organized by LADD, Inc. has connected me with some pretty incredible people in our region. Amy Delgado is one of them.
ReelAbilities is about bringing people together to learn from and about each other and to celebrate our differences that together make us stronger. Amy is a mother to two beautiful children who I got to meet at our Festival Launch Party earlier this year. Our purpose hits home personally for her as her every day involves striving to create solutions for encouraging kids, and in particular, her daughter’s growth.
Amy was 20 weeks pregnant when she and her husband got the news that her daughter would be born with Myelomeningocele (more commonly known at Spina Bifida). The years that have followed have been met with creative problem solving, working through challenges, much love, and sharing their lessons with others. Amy has a blog called Ability Hacker (named, she said, because, “ a ‘good hack’ is slang for a clever solution to a problem, and ‘hacking’ is the act of creating that solution.”) where she shares her lessons and insights with other parents of children who have disabilities.
I wanted to learn more about Amy and her insight that I think all of us can learn from.
Lisa: What are some things you would like to see parents teach their children about kids who have disabilities?
Amy: There are three things that, in my ideal world, parents would teach their kids about disability.
1. In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same.
Look for the similarities rather than the differences. Maybe your kids and mine both love ice cream, or maybe both have curly hair. Everyone has things that are different about them – but we also have a lot that is the same. Finding sameness breaks down the barrier disability sometimes presents.
There is a fantastic episode of Daniel Tiger in which Prince Wednesday’s cousin Chrissie (who has a disability) comes to visit, and the topic of how to approach kids with disabilities is beautifully presented. The little jingle sings, “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways, we are the same” (Episode 133: Daniel’s New Friend/Same and Different). I’d love every parent to watch this episode with their kids.
2. Approach kids with disabilities & say hello.
When we go into a store or a restaurant, we draw a lot of attention. We come in with a determined, curly haired charmer whose leg braces are covered in butterflies and who is usually gleefully chasing her little brother around while using bright blue arm crutches. Adults react in one of two ways – they either smile at us and comment on how cute our kids are, or they look away / see their kids staring and shush them.
PLEASE please (please) do NOT shush your kids. Please don’t look away. Please DO smile and say hello. Please DO encourage your kids to come up and say hi and talk to my children. It is totally ok if they ask any questions. We know they won’t have the perfect words to ask what they want to know, and that’s ok. It really is.
By letting kids be curious and ask questions it teaches them that it’s OK to approach people with a disability. It opens a dialog and creates a conversation. When a parent shushes a child and encourages them to look away – that parent is inadvertently teaching their children that disability is something that is wrong, and that should be separate from the rest of the world. Kids with disabilities want to be included. We, as parents, need to model this inclusion and openness and kindness to all people, including those who have a disability.
I know it’s scary to let you child open up their mouth and not be able to control what comes out … but trust me… it’s so much better than the alternative.
3. Get creative and figure out ways to include children with disabilities in play.
Kids with a disability face a lot of barriers. For my daughter, who was born with Spina Bifida, it can be hard to figure out how to play with other kids because (1) she comes with equipment which is a physical barrier, and (2) she can’t run or climb as fast as others.
Usually, figuring out how to be included in play is left squarely on the shoulders of the child who has the disability (the one who is already trying to surpass so many additional obstacles vs. a typically developing child). This often results in the child playing by themselves, and missing out on the important lessons learned during free play and interaction with other kids.
I would love it if parents & teachers would work with all kids to help them figure out new and different ways of playing that are more inclusive. ALL kids (not just the ones with a disability) will benefit from learning these skills – it teaches kids to think critically, to be creative, and to build a resilient spirited approach to life. As with most things, when be figure out how to be inclusive, it benefits EVERYONE.
Lisa: What has been one or some of the greatest gifts of being a parent for you?
Amy: One of the greatest gifts I received is simply getting to BE a parent. It is a role I’ve always wanted to be in, but the path to get here was quite a bit longer than I expected. I was 30 years old when I finally met the right man for me, and then our road to becoming parents was bumpy and wrought with unexpected twists and turns. We eventually found our way to fertility treatments, and then to IVF, which finally (finally!) brought us Lily and Ben.
Now that I am a parent, the experience has given me so much. A few of the biggest gifts that come to mind are:
• Becoming a part of multiple communities that I would not have connected with otherwise.
• The joy from noticing & celebrating every little accomplishment.
• I found a strong passion for helping parents / children with disabilities.
• Laughing (so much)!
• Bursting love (especially when one of my kids leans over and whispers, out of the blue, “I love you Mommy.”)
Lisa: What is a life lesson you have learned from your children?
Amy: The most important life lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to build resilience within ourselves and within our kids.
Resilience is defined as: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” The tricky thing about resilience, though, is that in order to build it, we must fall down. We must be given the opportunity to fail. We must face tough times. And when we face these difficult things, we then have to practice getting back up and trying again. We have to practice recovering with grace. We have to practice looking back and learning from what we did before. We have to practice finding the positive in the experience of failure, and feeling pride in ourselves when we find ourselves back in fighting shape after going through such difficulty.
Sometimes, resilience means making a brave choice or accepting that what we thought we wanted isn’t really what is best for us. Sometimes it means pivoting and finding a different way. Sometimes it means looking for new and creative ways to solve the challenge facing us.
Lisa: What is a piece of advice you received that has impacted your life?
Amy: We received Lily’s diagnosis of Spina Bifida when I was 20 weeks pregnant. As we tried to process the diagnosis and all of the information flying at us, our thoughts turned to the drastic changes we we would need to make in our lives in order to take care of her. We started talking about selling our house and downsizing to something smaller, about one of us quitting our jobs to take care of her, and started considering moving back to Florida to be closer to family.
A couple weeks later we found ourselves sitting across from a developmental pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s. As we talked, the conversation turned to what we needed to do to prepare for Lily’s arrival. When I asked if we should be trying to make an extreme life makeover in the few months we had before Lily was born, the doctor calmly said, “Why don’t you let her show you what she needs once she gets here?”
We talked for quite a while, and it felt like taking a breath for the first time in weeks. It was also the first time I’d thought about things through that lens – letting HER show US what she needs when the time comes. This advice continues to resonate today. Lily is now 5 years old and sometimes I find myself planning too far out – like thinking about whether she will go to college and what type of accommodations she’ll need if she does! When I start down this path, I remind myself of this advice, and reel myself back into the present.
Oh, and by the way … my husband and I both still work, and we did not sell our house or move to Florida. As it turned out, our ranch style house is perfectly suited to our needs!