Heidi Jark, senior vice president and managing director of The Foundation Office at Fifth Third Bank, has long been someone I have admired.
A 2013 YWCA Career Women of Achievement Honoree, Heidi has learned some mammoth lessons about life and the strength of her will from her own personal experiences. Growing up on a farm, and having been raised by loving, hard-working parents, gave her an early solid foundation. That, and a diagnosis of cancer at the young age of 19, gave Heidi a deep inner purpose and drive for building good and philanthropy. In her role at Fifth Third, she oversees investments from the bank’s own foundation, more than 20 other trustee foundations, and private family foundations. She and her husband, Steve Kenat, are active in the community. Among Heidi’s list of engagement, she has served on the United Way Leadership Cabinet, and is a past board member of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.
Please learn more about Heidi below.
GTGA: You grew up on a farm in South Dakota. How did your early experiences help to shape who you are today?
Heidi: Growing up on a farm definitely had an impact on the person that I am today. I didn’t necessarily appreciate or know the true impact until I was older, but those experiences have imprinted on several things in my life. First and foremost, it taught me the value of hard work and how work can bring great joy and be essential to your wellbeing. My Dad was always “working”, whether it was in the field, at his desk, or even doing carpentry in the winter months. He’s an amazingly happy person and takes great pride in his accomplishments, even today at the young age of 88. His greatest words of wisdom to me were to find something that I loved to do with my life and I would never do a day of work. Dad was definitely right about that! Secondly, working on the farm taught me the value of humor. That seems like an odd thing to say, but there was plenty to laugh about when things were good and when things went the wrong way. My parents had a great sense of humor and even work had its fun side. Whether it was gatherings via snowmobiles to the river bottom to ice skate and roast hot dogs on a moonlit winter’s night (one of my favorite memories) or impromptu family get togethers with tons of homemade food, laughter was always present in our lives. Farming wasn’t all about work. It was about community, spending quality time together, and having some of the best laughs I’ve ever had in my life. We had fabulous adventures on and off of the farm and it’s something I value and try to practice as much as I can. Finally, it taught me to appreciate the earth and all of its beauty. I still crave wide open spaces and look forward to those trips each year when I can get back to South Dakota, breathe the fresh air, and get my hands dirty.
GTGA: You were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. What are some life lessons learned from your experience?
Heidi: I was diagnosed a month before my 20th birthday and it was a shocker. You never want to hear the words, “you have cancer”, no matter the age. I was so fortunate to have made my way to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and to have parents who figured out a way for me to stay there for 4 months of treatment. I spent a lot of that time on my own, as it was planting season and my parents needed to be back home on the farm. I learned to be fiercely independent and to take charge of my health. I also learned to listen to my body and to let it rest when it needed a break. I also had time to think about who I was and who I wanted to be. I also learned that I can’t let fear of the unknown get the best of me or keep me from moving forward. I came out of the experience stronger and wiser than my years. I also made a list of the things I would do in my life if I got a second chance and it’s something I still try to follow every day. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s great to get the midlife crisis out of the way much earlier than your friends.
GTGA: Who is someone who has impacted your life in a positive way and how?
Heidi: It’s hard to pick just one person, so I’m going to have to go with the 2 most important women in my life: my Mom and my oldest sister Becky. I was different from the other kids in our farming community, and my family recognized that at an early age. They embraced my differences and always made sure that I had support so that I could be whoever I wanted to be. My Mom was a school teacher and a very strong independent woman that you didn’t mess with, and she was my crusader and #1 supporter. Her words of wisdom live with me every day and I miss her terribly. We talked every day until her health deteriorated and she was unable to have a conversation with me. She’s in heaven looking over me now and I hear her voice in my head at least once every day. Becky is definitely like Mom and the two of us bear a striking resemblance to Mom in our looks, mannerisms, language, and even in our style of dress. She’s been my best friend and confidant for as long as I can remember. Becky lives out West and we only see each other a few times a year, but we talk on the telephone constantly. I know who to call if I need to laugh or cry.
GTGA: What are some of your simple pleasures in life?
Heidi: Reading, gardening, singing and playing the piano bring me great joy. I also love to cook and bake – that’s the farm girl in me coming out!
GTGA: When you think about the word ‘philanthropy’, what does that mean to you?
Heidi: Generosity always comes to mind when I think about philanthropy. The act of giving to me is the most beautiful part of humankind. When someone gives of their time or treasures, it’s truly a gift of heart and spirit. A farming community is one of the best places to learn the meaning of giving and how to care for each other. Little did I know that growing up on the farm would lead me to “work” that I love.
GTGA: What advice do you have to young people about living life?
Heidi: My advice is to live life to the fullest and to never have regrets. As a cancer survivor, every day is a good day because I’m alive. Even on the worst days, they are still better than the alternative. Dream big and surround yourself with positive people who can support you in the good times and the bad. Most of all, you need to believe in and take care of yourself. And, as my mother always reminded me, “If you’re going to kick some butt, make sure you wear some awesome shoes!”
I have always loved this quote from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
It is a question Jenny Berg asked herself; and the answer she came up with has lead her on a journey of empowering those whose work and missions are enhancing communities and lives throughout our region.
Jenny is the executive director of the Leadership Council, an organization that helps human services executives of non-profit organizations to strengthen their leaders, their relationships, their impact and ultimately the greater community.
Prior to her current position, she served a two-year role as president of the Board for Impact 100, a women’s grant making organization founded in Cincinnati in 2001 which has awarded over $3.2 M back into our community through grants of at least $100,000. She returned as a board member this year after serving on the board 2006-2012. She is also treasurer of the National Board of the Women’s Collective Giving Network, an association which supports the creation, development, and expansion of women’s collective giving nationwide.
Jenny also currently serves as treasurer of the board of Women Helping Women; and on the Advisory Board of Flywheel Cincinnati, the Advisory Council for Xavier Universities MBA Private Interests & the Public Good Program, and the Pastoral Council Advisory Board of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. In the past she served on the board, and as board chair of Tender Mercies & Ursuline Academy, and she is an alumni of the Leadership Cincinnati Class #35, serving as co-chair of the Securing the Future Conference.
Please learn more about Jenny below.
Lisa: You have accomplished so much with your drive to enhance our local charities. Where does that passion come from?
Jenny: I had early exposure to philanthropy and giving back from my parents. My father served on a number of boards, and was always helping out with his time, talent and treasure. Even though I didn’t really understand what it was all about, I knew that he was helping people. And my mother always supported him in his work and was involved in quiet ways.
As an adult, I have always looked for opportunities to give back. During my term serving on the board of Tender Mercies, going through the grant process with Impact 100 (Tender Mercies received a $184,000 grant from the organization) opened my eyes to what other nonprofits are doing. I wanted to lend my expertise there, and as I became more and more involved, it was becoming clearn that this is where I wanted to be spending my time.
Lisa: What is some of the best advice your parents’ gave you?
Jenny: They instilled in me the philosophy, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’ philosophy. They taught me that it is our job to give back to our community and leave it a better place than we found it.
Lisa: Have any of your children followed in your path?
Jenny: My middle daughter, Emily Schmidt, is also a member of Impact 100 and volunteers in helping to share their message through social media.
Lisa: What is some advice that you give others?
Jenny: I encourage people that it is never too late or too early to pursue your dreams. There is always an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Sometimes it is good to take a break from what you are doing and reassess to see if there are other opportunities for you. Oh yes, and always give back.
At a downtown luncheon before nearly 1000 nonprofit supporters, Magnified Giving was recently named by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cincinnati Chapter as the 2014 Outstanding Youth In Philanthropy Honoree.
The Award is given to an individual, group, organization, corporation or foundation with a record of exceptional leadership and results in encouraging youth (through age 18) to: learn about and participate in philanthropy by planning and implementing a fundraising program to benefit a specific organization(s) or cause(s); demonstrate leadership in a specific organization(s) or cause(s); serve as role models for other youth and/or encourage other youth to participate in philanthropy. Magnified Giving was nominated by CancerFree Kids, Nantucket Creative Management, Northern Kentucky University, Roger Bacon High School, Seton High School, and Villa Madonna Academy.
Founded by philanthropist Roger Grein, Magnified Giving educates, inspires and engages young students in philanthropy through their schools. The vision of Magnified Giving is for every high school student in America, beginning with Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, to someday have an opportunity to learn firsthand how to be generous and wise philanthropists through hands-on experience. Participating school groups are challenged to determine how they want to invest more than $1000 in a nonprofit.
Since its beginning in 2008, the Lockland-based nonprofit organization has given over a quarter of a million dollars through student-awarded grants to local charities; and has grown to include 59 school programs with more than 3000 students involved in Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Dayton, and Northeastern Ohio. For the school year 2013 to 2014, youth participant groups granted nearly $75,000 to more than 60 nonprofits; and for the 2014 to 2015 school year, that number is expected to be over 70 charitable grants totaling more than $80,000.
For more information about Magnified Giving, please visit http://www.MagnifiedGiving.org
In 2007 it may have seemed unimaginable that the run down, abandoned space on Reading Road where a gas station once stood would be transformed into one of the region’s most unique hands-on learning laboratories teaching youth and adults about sustainable practices.
It was to be a dream-come-true for Cincinnati’s Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati. The staff of the Center brought the idea…along with a request for funding and professional leadership support to a group of local philanthropists wanting to build the capacity of area nonprofits.
And soon, the very first grant of Social Venture Partners Cincinnati (SVP) was awarded. By 2009 the innovative Green Learning Station was open, teaching people about environmentally responsible methods for growing gardens – anywhere and everywhere. That includes yards, walls, patios, driveways, parking lots…and even roof tops.
SVP not only granted the Civic Garden Center $74,000 over four years, its partners also gave of their professional expertise and time. They provided guidance and assistance with strategic planning, leadership development, marketing, and fundraising.
That is just the beginning of the SVP story. Since June, 2008 until December, 2011, the organization and its 38 partners have invested over $598,000 collectively including financial contributions and professional service volunteer time to four different Cincinnati area causes. (SVP is in the process of deciding upon its fifth investee.) Those nonprofits include – the Gorman Heritage Farm, Whole Again International, Imago for Earth, and the Civic Garden Center.
“We had the audacious idea that, instead of just throwing money at a nonprofit to address its needs, we would throw ourselves into the organization, giving of our diverse talents to become a true partner,” SVP Chair Wijdan Jreisat wrote in its report to the community. Wijdan is also an attorney at Katz, Teller, Brant & Hild.
When I spoke first with director Lisa Davis Roberts, director, and then Wijdan, their passion came through loud and clear. If we had had all day together, I know each of them could have spent the entire time talking about their common cause.
How does it work? At the heart of SVP are its partners who each donate a minimum of $6000 annually and volunteer their time. (There are 38 partners in Cincinnati.) They go through a rigorous process in deciding upon the organizations they will support, and then, for the next three years they basically give of their hearts and their minds to further missions that are important to them.
“SVP is hands-down my favorite volunteer experience,” said founding partner Susan Ingmire, president of Ingmire Philanthropy Advisors.