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People Working Cooperatively Volunteers Help Most Vulnerable

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Such a great project. Repair Affair is People Working Cooperatively’s (PWC) annual spring volunteer event, providing home repairs and modifications that enable low-income, elderly and residents with disabilities to remain safely in their homes. For a day individuals, businesses and community groups help a PWC client (with supervision from a trained professional) with home repairs that would otherwise be unaffordable.

Our community is so giving that this year 800 people signed up to help 135 PWC clients. In fact an extra day had to be added to accommodate everybody’s generosity.

Repair Affair was developed by People Working Cooperatively in 1983 as a free outreach program to help homeowners who are often the most vulnerable to keep their homes safe and habitable. Presented by Home Depot and sponsored by the City of Cincinnati, the event was held across the Tri-State in greater Cincinnati, northern Kentucky and Indiana.

Would you like to help? PWC also has a fall event called Prepare Affair where volunteers will help people with services from raking leaves to cleaning gutters and other small winter preparation tasks.

Ladybug Hikes With A Purpose

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I got a letter in the mail a few weeks back (I’ve gotten a little behind on my blog posts – sometimes work gets in the way) from a friend. Denise ‘Ladybug’ Hill was off on another trek, an 800+ journey.

“Second only to the love of my family, I am most content when I am alone in the wilderness,” the note began. “In 2004, at 48 years of age, I took my first hiking steps on the famed 2,174 Appalachian Trail to fulfill two promises I made to my sister, Cheryl Rose Walden. I promised Cheryl, during her final stage of a ten year battle with breast cancer that her memory would last forever. I fulfilled that promise by planting hundreds of packets of forget-me-not seeds in 25 states and 3 countries during my treks. I also promised my sister that I would renew my faith and become closer to understanding God.”

A Little History

I think I first met Denise when she was training for her first trek, walking the Appalachian Trail in 2004. She wore a heavy backpack as she walked distances in training. I knew back then she called her journey ‘Walking for Walden’ and she was raising money for Hospice of Cincinnati in memory of her sister, but that was the extent of my knowledge.

Since then I’ve heard her stories…like when she was working to complete the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009 and found herself surrounded by a swarm of rattlesnakes. Her cell phone didn’t work in many places…but it did there.

“I had spoken to Bruce (her husband) earlier that morning and a ladybug crawled into my lap. When I mentioned my ladybug friend, he said, ‘That means you’re going to have good luck today.’ Little did he know, I would be SO lucky,” she told me. (which by the way is, you guessed it, why her nickname is now ‘Ladybug.’)

There are not that many people I know who get rescued from a den of deadly snakes in an emergency helicopter. But I know one.

Denise and I and another friend spent a weekend last fall hiking through Ohio’s scenic Hocking Hills State Park. That Saturday, Denise and I spent the day together walking more than 8 miles. When you spend so many hours alone with someone you get to know her pretty well. At one point she stopped and wanted me to continue. She wanted me to experience the peaceful solitude of walking amidst natural wonders, of being in my own thoughts and just appreciating what I don’t always take the time to see. This, she told me, is what it is like for her every time she is on one of her treks – and she has done a lot of them.

This Time Was Different

So this time, when Denise took to the trails with hopes of raising money and awareness for Hospice, I had a deeper understanding of why she left. This time I felt the desire to read her story that she has posted online.

Cheryl Rose Counts Walden whose spirit is Denise’s rock was a loving mother, daughter and sister to four younger siblings. Her ferocious fight against a disease the ultimately won the battle was testament to the strength of her inner core. Denise described her sister as ‘living a simple, yet full life, graced with peaceful and loving energy.’

As Denise raced to the hospital one last time memories of their childhood together kept her going. ‘Mental images of me with my sister, Cheryl, playing, laughing , scheming, cooking, crying, singing, dancing, and praying  were reeling at fast forward speed in my head and as vividly as those actual moments in time.  Tepid tears flowed freely down my face as I tightly gripped the steering wheel with both hands replaying the images of my youth,” Denise wrote.

Five years after her sister’s death Denise kept her sister close by sharing memories, raising money for breast cancer awareness, burning a candle in prayer every Christmas, and visiting Cheryl’s gravesite in a beautiful Tennessee setting overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains. Hiking became Denise’s choice for honoring her sister.

After trekking close to 4,400 miles on the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail on a hike dedicated to Hospice of Cincinnati in her sister’s memory, this is Ladybug’s emotional finish.

I just heard from my friend. Her 800 mile hike that was originally taking her from Mexico to the ends of Utah had to be diverted, and she is completing her remaining 675 miles in our region. I’ll more than likely be joining her along some of that journey.

If you’d like to read more about Ladybug’s former hiking adventures: please visit www.walkingforwalden.com

If you would like to support Ladybug and her Hikes for Hospice
please send your donation to:
Hospice of Cincinnati, Inc.
C/O Bethesda Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 633597
Cincinnati, OH 45263-3597

SOTENI And Cincinnati Students FIGHT AIDS In Africa

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There is a local organization here in Cincinnati that is taking on a global issue. You don’t hear a whole lot about HIV/AIDS any longer but it hasn’t gone away..particularly in areas like the rural communities of Africa, where communicable diseases have the power to run rampant.

When volunteers first founded SOTENI in 2002 their mission was simple – to empower the orphans of AIDS to lead the fight against the disease and prevent another generation of succumbing.

Led by physician-epidemiologist Victoria Wells Wulsin, SOTENI Kenya began in 2003. Their model was and still is called ‘Villages of Hope’ with a goal was to establish a sustainable, grassroots community led by an elected management committee.  They work to prevent HIV/AIDS and reduce its effects with love, guidance and resources. Since beginning its first Village of Hope in Mituntu, the organization has expanded to include three additional villages in Mbakalo, Ugenya and Kuria.

Cincinnati Students Get Involved

Cincinnati high schools (Walnut Hills, Indian Hills, Oak Hills and St. Ursula Academy)  have gotten involved educating their peers, raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic, and raising important money toward SOTENI’s mission.

Four area high schools (Walnut Hills, Indian Hills, Oak Hills and St. Ursula Academy)  have gotten involved educating their peers, raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic, and raising important money toward SOTENI’s mission.

In December local students participated in SOTENI’s 2nd annual Students help Students: Cincinnati to Kenya. They wrote letters to the 39 SOTENI sponsored students in Kenya; and assembled gift bags with toiletries, pens, pencils, & t-shirts.  But the highlight of that afternoon project was the Skype call to two secondary students in Kenya.

Last year Cincinnati students organized a concert of high school bands and raised over $1000 for the health center in Kenya.  Mark your calendars – this year’s concert will be March 4, only  instead of bands they are looking for more acoustical groups or solo performers.  It will be at the Leapin’ Lizard in Covington.  The event name is ‘Paint the Town Red”.

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Deer Park High School Students Celebrate Haiti

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There is something so beautiful to me about seeing a room of young people exuding positive energy, students who are doing so much more than working toward a goal. They’re working because they want to make a positive difference. They really get it.

Teens with a higher purpose. That’s what I saw a week ago when I walked into Tim Hubbard’s sophomore English classroom at Deer Park High School. It was going on several hours since the last bell rang but no one was even thinking about leaving. They were sprawled out on the floor and sitting at desks grouped together, each student with a specific project.

They really didn’t have a whole lot of time to waste. In less than a week they will be opening their gym up to the public, hoping everyone they know will invite nine people – or at least one, to raise awareness and funds for a culture that has won hearts worldwide after a devastating earthquake rocked what was already a country in need.

But if you come, know this; ‘Soiree Pour Haiti’ is not about focusing on poverty and disaster. It is about celebrating the richness of the Haitian culture. This is the first year in history that that country has had to cancel its Kanaval – an annual ushering of spring – because of the earthquake. So this year, teens, many of whom had never even heard of Haiti before January are committed to ensuring their community is connected. All their funds raised will go toward the relief efforts of the American Red Cross and the Restevek Foundation.

The Soiree will have a Haitian marketplace that will also include authentic food and a Kanaval parade in which kids will be able to participate. Deer Park students have been researching and making traditional Haitian foods, and learning folkloric songs and the Haitian national anthem. Groups from sophomore English classes have been working on posters to educate guests about different parts of the Haitian culture. People who come will also have an opportunity to vote on the best shanty made by the teens (for a small fee).

“Ever since I saw the news about the earthquake, I wanted to do something but I didn’t think I could on my own,” Kalina Procas told me. She was making tissue paper flowers that would be for sale at the event. “One day I want to make a different in the world like the man from Restavec (Restavek Foundation’s Jean Cadet spoke to the students).”

Actually, Kalina already is making a difference in this world. And so are her classmates.

Gini Verbesselt Niekamp, PR coordinator for Deer Park School District, and Tim Hubbard, sophomore English teacher and high school service-learning coordinator, have been overseeing the project.

Soiree Pour Haiti

where: Deer Park High School (8351 Plainfield Rd; 45236)
when: Thursday, March 11 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
cost: $2 for adults; kids 12 and under are $1

(Pictures – upper left, Sarah Keefe making bracelets that will be
for sale; bottom right, Kalina Procas with tissue flowers she made)

A Lesson In Giving Back

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When it comes to making a difference, every little bit helps. Thus was a valuable lesson kids, ages 6 to 12, in the Gamble-Nippert YMCA’s homeschool program learned recently.

For three months they’d been asking their parents to come a little early so they could complete laps around the gym, all on their own initiative. They walked and skipped and hopped, sometimes as much as 10 times around before they started the day’s lesson.

However, this project wasn’t just about getting in shape and having fun, it was about doing something good for other people. For each lap the kids counted, their friends and family pledged them a penny, or contributed a non-perishable food item. Step-by-step, coin-by-coin, the donations added up. By the end, they had collectively raised 10,300 pennies (and 75 pounds of food).

Judy Haverkos, co-coordinator for the Gamble-Nippert YMCA program, said the students chose to give their earnings to Santa Maria Community Services. The food went to the Manna Food Pantry. H.A. Musser, Jr., Santa Maria president explained to the group why their efforts were so important.

Did the kids understand they were doing a good thing? Absolutely! “I like helping people,” said Aiden.

“Community service helps teach them character values and teamwork. Coupling that with having fun while being active is really a great teaching tool,” said Cindy Klopp, the other co-coordinator.

The coin project was just one of many enrichment activities for children in YMCA homeschool programs. Haverkos said their group is studying artists, helping the branch ‘go green’, and learning American Sign Language.

Pictured are kids who helped raise money – Victoria Freudiger; Hannah Musser; Oscar Allen; Aiden Bezdek; Samuel Musser; Nathan DeVoe. David and Rose Homelle; Adriana and Alexandria Norton; Mary Nerswick; and Joe Dupont also helped fund raise but weren’t available for the photo.

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