Cincinnati nonprofit organization
Today I’d like to introduce you to a friend who holds a very special place in my heart. Kathleen Sheil is an incredible example for all the qualities that I look up to another person. She is confident, yet humble. She is open and honest and genuine, and most definitely unafraid to stand up for herself and for others. She has this incredible way of making everyone feel welcome when in her presence. She gives of her time generously as a board member of Cincinnati nonprofit LADD (Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled), where she lives independently, and numerous other disability related organizations. And she also seeks opportunities to encourage and inspire others to be all they can be.
I see Kathleen as a leader, not only among her peers, but in the community as well. I consider myself so fortunate to be among her friends. Kathleen inspires me to be a better person.
Over dinner the other night, we got to talking about life. Kathleen’s motto, “Go out with the negative and in with the positive,” was inspired early on by her parents who encouraged her to always be confident in herself.
“My mom has always told me to put my best foot forward and that I need to be learning the whole aspect of being on my own completely. My parents never treated me differently from my siblings. They want me to be independent and a person of energy, a leader. They want me to also do my best with everything I do, if they are with me or not with me,” she told me. “I need to live the moment and to think about what that one thing is that makes me happy. That one thing for me is not just talking, not just my friends or my family, and not just LADD, but just being myself.”
“And who IS Kathleen?,” I asked.
“I am someone who is beautiful, honest, respectful, very positive, outgoing, and a leader who encourages others to be very special. I like to make conversations with different people and get to know who they are. I am a person with dreams and goals. I like to sing, do art, and plan events. I have always wanted to find that one person. I am very fortunate to have a family and friends who love me for who I am.
“I am someone who wants to be treated with respect,” she said.
A few weeks back, we heard about a CBS News report of how Iceland is eradicating Down syndrome with genetic testing and abortion. Kathleen was moved to action. She shared her thoughts in a letter to the Cincinnati Enquirer that was published. Among her words…”I want you to know that I have Down syndrome and I am important to this world. Yes, I may be different from you because of who I am, but we are all different from each other….Above all else, I am a person, like you, who deserves to be loved and respected. I have a lot of friends who are like me and who deserve to be loved and respected too. If I had not been born, the world would have missed out on getting to know Kathleen Sheil!”
THAT would have been a huge loss to this world because Kathleen, you make this world a better place.
It has been nearly four decades since Judy (and her husband, Dave) Albert first became one of the Spina Bifida Coalition of Cincinnati’s earliest volunteers. Back in the 1980s, when the Coalition was still very much a ‘grass roots’ organization, its address was her home and the phone rang in her house.
“She personally answered every request for help and deeply connected with those she assisted and worked with,” Diane Burns, SBCC program manager told me. “She led our strategic growth to a small, but effective, professionally staffed non-profit situated in an accessible office building, with an active social media and internet presence, successful partnerships with many other local disability groups, and perhaps most importantly, a close relationship with the interdisciplinary Center for Spina Bifida Care at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Judy is one very significant reason that local support exists for more than 300 babies, children, teenagers, and adults in our community who live with spina bifida.”
Whether she is serving in a Board or committee capacity, volunteering at SBCC activities, recruiting other volunteers, offering ideas for strategic initiatives, or even serving as Mrs. Claus at the annual family holiday party, Judy’s ongoing support is felt in just about every aspect of the organization’s work. Judy even initiated SBCC’s key sustaining fundraiser – the Walk & Roll, an event that was quickly duplicated by the national Spina Bifida Association, and one that has raised around $800,000 since its inception.
Behind the passion of many driven volunteers is a deeply rooted relationship with the cause, one stemming from a very personal journey in life. And Judy is among them.
The year was 1979 when Tim came into this world, the second of three Albert sons. Judy shared her story, “My obstetrician told us he would never break a record in the 100-yard dash but he would walk. He further added that Tim would never have to go to war which I thought at the time was a strange thing to say to us. Later while he was in the hospital a doctor told us he might not walk which contradicted what we had previously been told but he proved them wrong.”
The Alberts were given a book about Spina Bifida describing it as a ‘very serious birth defect’, scary words for any parent. “A parent from the organization told us that Tim probably wouldn’t be affected by everything in the book but to just enjoy him like any other baby. This was the best advice we could have received. As an infant we treated him like our other son, he just had many more doctor appointments,” Judy told me.
Growing up, Tim attended St. James Grade School and LaSalle High School. He played soccer in grade school and was on the swim team at LaSalle. He has worked at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center since 2001, currently in the Pathology Department as a histology technician. Tim purchased his own condo in 2005 and has lived on his own since that time.
His seizure disorder and other issues relating to his spina bifida have meant needing occasional assistance from his parents; however, Tim purchased his own condo in 2005 and has lived on his own since that time. He likes to work out and plays wheelchair football. He walks with braces and has a wheelchair when he needs to walk long distances.
“He never wanted to be treated differently always determined to make it on his own,” said Judy. “Tim has a great sense of humor always making jokes. We are very fortunate to have Tim as our son and admire him for all of the challenges he has overcome.”
From Personal Success To Giving Back
“Raising a child with spina bifida involves commitment, patience, and perseverance, as well as a thorough knowledge of orthopedics, neurosurgery, urology, and a full breadth of therapies, a hefty dose of psychology and an understanding of developmental milestones, Judy not only nurtured her son Tim, but also her two other sons, while working full-time as a CPA and actively participating at her church, St. James White Oak and children’s schools. Judy quickly turned her focus to those in our community who needed to understand what she had learned – how to help children born with spina bifida and their families to thrive,” Diane shared.
“My mother is the kindest woman I know, and is willing to selflessly help anyone in need. She has shown me through example that kindness truly goes a long way,” said Dennis Albert.
I met Lori Gerring several years back through her work on the Paw Joggers Rescue Run. Billie Mendoza, founder and owner of Paw Joggers, whom I have known for many years had expanded her capacity to help pets by forming a nonprofit organization to organize an annual race that would benefit local rescues. And Lori has been Billie’s ‘right hand woman’ since.
The Paw Joggers Rescue Run is this coming Sunday, October 15th, from 8:30am-12:00pm with the race beginning at 10:00am. At Sharon Woods Park (11450 Lebanon Rd; 45241) Competitive Runners, Recreational Runners, Walkers and Runners/Walkers with (well-behaved) dogs invited to participate!
The Race includes a choice of challenging 5k (chip timed event) and a relatively flat 2k course. Proceeds will go to dozens of Cincinnati area dog and cat rescue organizations.
Paw Joggers Rescue Run now includes a Saturday Expo from Noon to 4 pm with a variety of vendors. It will be held at the MARCH FIRST BREWING (7885 Kemper Rd; 45249).
The Paw Joggers Animal Community Fund (Paw Joggers ACF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the local animal welfare community through events, awareness, and monetary donations. The Paw Joggers ACF and its events are powered solely by Paw Joggers Run volunteers.
Lori shared this story of why this Race is her passion.
“Several years ago, my New Year’s resolution was to “do something outside of my comfort zone” each month. I haven’t always kept the resolution after that year, but helping with the PJRR was most definitely outside of my comfort zone: I hate asking for donations and cold-calling and I had no idea what goes into a 5K. The first year was, to put it mildly, a learning experience.
I am involved with the PJRR because I was there when Billie Mendoza decided to form a nonprofit and organize the 5K, based on the Rusty Ball model of beneficiary participation. A dedicated race participant; Billie took care of the race details. I was the “Communications Coordinator”, contacting vendors, sponsors, volunteers, and promoting the new 5K/2K, last year I added the EXPO to my duties.
The animal welfare community is important to me. My first dog, Rocket the Black Lab, was from a backyard breeder. I didn’t know any better. Several rescues wouldn’t let us adopt because we hadn’t raised a dog and didn’t have an established relationship with a veterinarian. We took Rocket to rescue group fundraisers because it was fun to be out with him, where we learned about the work these groups do. Several years later we adopted another Black Lab, Turbo, from a rescue. After Rocket passed, we adopted Flash (From Elvis Presley TCB in a Flash), also from a rescue.
My first rescue ‘job’ was with Kyle New Hope Animal Rescue. Dr. Kyle was such an incredible help with Rocket that it seemed like a good way to thank her. Other volunteer work has been as a Therapy Dog Team with Turbo (and Rocket) for the Alliance of Therapy Dogs; projects, including grant reviews, for the Grey Muzzle Organization; and minor help with the United Pet Fund.
But the PJRR has a special place in my life. I’m a huge believer in the importance of walking with your dog (for all sorts of reasons) and the PJRR promotes just that. It’s also a way to help a variety of rescues. I’ve met so many people dedicated to helping pets. I’ve learned that pets help people in return so it’s a worth-while cause. And selfishly it makes me a better person because I push myself to get things done.”
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.”
Today I want to introduce you to a couple I got to know through my work on the ReelAbilities Film Festival. Jenny McCloy co-chaired the 2017 ReelAbilities, and the more I get to know about her and her husband, Bill, the more impressed I become. Jenny and Bill were recently honored by the Community Foundation West Chester/Liberty with its Patricia F. Alderson Philanthropist of the Year Award. It is a befitting award for two people whose passion is making a difference for so many.
Quietly, without need or want of recognition they give generously with their time and their resources to causes close to their hearts. Jenny is president of the board of Melodic Connections, a Cincinnati nonprofit organization that brings out creative expression in people with disabilities. It is a place where their 22 year old son, Sam, who has Down syndrome and is mostly nonverbal has found a voice. Bill has been very involved with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, having served on its Board and as chairman of its golf outing for many years, a role he continues. He is also vice president of the Board of the Ken Anderson Alliance, a nonprofit organization committed to building live, work, and play options for adults with disabilities.
The McCloys have four children. Sam is their second. “One of the things Sam does for us is that he brings to the forefront the importance of supporting those in need. We both have come from very humble beginnings and lived paycheck to paycheck until 1998. We have been very fortunate to be able to do all that we do for others,” Bill told me.
When it comes to giving, Bill was very clear, they do what they do not for any kind of recognition, in fact, they would prefer to keep everything they do between themselves and the organizations and lives they touch. While they are very appreciative, accepting this award was not something that came easy for them or something they took lightly but they realized that their example may impact the decisions of others.
“We have never used the word philanthropist (to define themselves) but we knew we had a responsibility to give back and to influence our children and others. If our giving encourages one other person to give then it is worth putting our name out there,” Bill said.
Bill’s advice to others? “Give in any way, shape and form you can and it will come back many fold.”