YWCA of Greater Cincinnati
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!”
When I was parking my car to attend the 2016 YWCA Career Women of Achievement Luncheon last week, I had figured that it would be an uplifting two hours. It was that and more.
We heard the stories of local woman with such different career paths, whose positivity and determination have forged personal and professional successes not only for themselves but also for the greater good of their team, their organization and their community.
Claudia M. Abercrumbie, President & CEO, The Abercrumbie Group
Karen Bowman, Principal and Sector Leader, Deloitte Consulting
Laura Mitchell, Deputy Superintendent, Cincinnati Public Schools
Christi H. Cornette, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Cincinnati Bell
Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, MD, Coroner, Hamilton County
Sandy Berlin Walker, President/CEO, YMCA of Greater Cincinnati
Moira Weir, Director, Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services
Susan B. Zaunbrecher, Partner, Corporate Department Chair, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP
And, while they shared their own paths with us, they also shared messages to encourage us to do more, grow more. I especially like Susan Zaunbrecher’s advice, “Approach all you do with a ‘Joie de Vivre,’ the ‘joy of life’ which we are responsible for finding for ourselves.”
The Journey of Truth
The highlight for me was hearing the keynote from Zainab Salbi, who, at the age of 23, founded Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization serving women survivors of wars.
Zainab stood before us and shared her powerful journey. An Iraqi-American humanitarian, she spoke of growing up in an environment filled with abuse, corruption and punishment under Saddam Hussein; and of her initial fear in telling her story. She told us about the women who became her mission, who, like herself endured unimaginable circumstances and whose willingness to talk about their lives so that their experiences could have impact, lifted her up and gave her courage to pursue the truth.
Zainab told us about a 52 year old woman who was wearing the only dress she owned because rebels came to her home and raped her, and her sons were forced to hold her legs open. The woman had never shared what had happened before but felt compelled to tell Zainab, to tell the world and maybe, just maybe, prevent such atrocities from happening to others.
“It was the most humbling moment,” Zainab said, with a raw tenderness in her voice. “I cried for five hours. I was not able to share my story. She had more integrity than I did.
“I realized I must tell my journey and it started with my book and confronting my fear of judgment of what people would say. I was so petrified that if I tell everyone that I was raped, that I knew Saddam, that I was in an arranged marriage, that I was the abused wife. I was so ashamed of all of those things. The self image of being a feminist was not truly there in the beginning. The journey of truth begins on a cliff. You have a choice and that choice can be every single day and everything you do. Do I live my truth? Or do I stay in the safety of where I am?”
The room was silent. Zainab’s words etched in our minds, making us think of our own lives and our own circumstances. She pointed out to us that courage is just that, COURAGE, whether you are standing up to the Nazi’s, Suddam Hussein, someone in your personal circle, or in a board room.
“When you jump over the cliff, it can be leaving a spouse or a career; there is the falling in between in the abyss because you don’t know if you will survive. You go through this where you doubt yourself. You ask, ‘What will happen to me?,” she said. For herself, she said, “It was not one person. It was many people; each was like a log that I was holding onto as I was sinking. The kindness of a word. Someone saying ‘I believe in you’. And little by little you find your peace. The journey of truth, the taste of freedom is so delicious that it makes it worth it to go down that journey over and over again.”
Zainab concluded her talk with another powerful message. She reminded us that we each need to show up. We need to find our own integrity and truth within ourselves. And we need to bridge misunderstandings and fears of differences with learning, out of a respect for one another.
“When we fear a woman with a head scarf, for me symbolically it is she is just as afraid of you as you are of her. Both of you are wearing head scarves. You think, ‘Why is she so different?’ Everyone is afraid of another. But when we connect with our own human emotions and our desire for peace and justice and integrity within ourselves, it becomes a different relationship with each other.”
As the ballrooms emptied that afternoon, 2200 people departed. We left going in different directions…with a little more courage to jump over that cliff.
At young ages, they have learned about overcoming challenges, about values and role models, and about setting and achieving goals. And, they are headed to college with the help of YWCA Mamie Earl Sells Scholarships. In all ten Greater Cincinnati female African American senior high school students were recognized for their academic achievements and qualities of leadership, extracurricular involvement and community service.
Meet the Top Scholarship Recipient
Sydney Mantell from North College Hill High School
From her vantage point as a high school senior, Sydney Mantell is now aware of the insecurities and challenges she faced as a child. Raised in a biracial family by a single mother and a father she met only a few times, she struggled with racial identification, acceptance and self-confidence. But today, she is the Head Student Mentor of Girls Creating Change at North College Hill High School. The student-run and academic organization helps forge supportive, sisterly bonds between high school girls, focused on improved self-esteem, better grades and fewer discipline problems. Buoyed by her own success on the ACT and SAT entrance tests, the Straight-A student also created the Not-So-Standard Standardized Test Prep to help classmates improve their scores. Sydney is also captain of the varsity volleyball team, captain and co-founder of the Varsity Academic Team, and member of the school’s Drama Department and its Student Leadership Team. At the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America at Princeton University, she studied biology, zoology and marine biology. Sydney plans to study biology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with a goal of one day supporting international conservation efforts.
Sydney received a $3000 scholarship.
Meet the Runners-Up
Miracle Flowers from Western Hills High School
Miracle and her mom have been through a lot together. Miracle calls her mom her role model. She has watched her lift herself up and Miracle is determined to do that for herself. At a very young age, Miracle realized that education and hard work are the keys to her success. She is in both Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment courses (for college credit). She has a 4.5 GPA and is ranked 2nd in her class. She holds leadership positions at school and serves as a Student Ambassador for school events and also serves on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council representing Western Hills. Miracle works part time and is proud that she was able to purchase her own car and save for college tuition. She is well liked and respected by her peers and the school administration. Miracle has been accepted into the University of Cincinnati’s prestigious Design, Architecture, Art and Planning program where she will study Fashion.
Janiah Miller from Newport High School
Janiah knows about personal change and redemption. She embodies integrity and character. However, this is not always how she lived her life. Janiah got involved with some dangerous kids and she made some poor decisions. But Janiah owns those decisions, and she is determined to look forward and not regret the past. She will use past experiences to help fuel her drive to be a better person every day. Janiah is a student athlete, is Captain of the Cheerleading squad and President of the Student Council. She is an active member in Future Business Leaders of America and has placed in Public Speaking in their state conference. Janiah plans to attend Northern Kentucky University and study Political Science with a double minor in peace and social justice studies and pre-law. When asked about her plans for the future, she replied: “I want to create policies that will help the less fortunate and also close the gap on gender equality”.
Miracle and Janiah each received a $1000 scholarship.
Honorable Mentions each receiving a $250 Scholarship include Hemen Aklilu, Mother of Mercy High School, Leola Colvin, Clark Montessori High School, Precious Gary, Oyler High School, Danielle Udosen, Fairfield High School, Kayla Walker, Princeton High School, Felicia White, St. Ursula Academy, Tianna Woodford, Purcell Marian High School
About the YWCA Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship Fund:
Established in 1993, nearly 50 applications from over 20 schools are accepted each fall, and an independent panel of community leaders and educators makes the final decision on the scholarship recipients.
The scholarship serves as a memorial to Mamie Earl Sells, a dedicated community volunteer who gave her time, intellect, and enthusiasm to the YWCA. The scholarship upholds the vision and leadership she provided to the YWCA and its Career Women of Achievement program through enacting her philosophy that we must “lift as we climb” by acting as role models to the young women of today and tomorrow. The Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship is awarded each year in coordination with the YWCA Career Women of Achievement Luncheon. This year’s luncheon is Wednesday, May 11th, 2016.
About the YWCA:
The YWCA IS ON A MISSION to eliminate racism, empower women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YWCA Greater Cincinnati has been serving the community since 1868. It serves more than 35,000 women and their families each year through programs in crisis intervention, health and wellness, education and training, youth services, and recognition and advocacy. For more information call the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati at (513) 241-7090 or visit www.ywcacincinnati.org.
The YWCA of Greater Cincinnati is offering a scholarship opportunity for African American female high school seniors who have overcome significant obstacles. Ten local, female, African American female students will be selected to receive the YWCA Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship. The scholarship recognizes young African-American women who have been successful despite having to overcome significant hardships. The YWCA not only offers
financial support to the students, but also an opportunity to meet and learn from some of Greater Cincinnati’s most successful, empowered career women, as the young women are invited to attend the 37th Annual YWCA Career Women of Achievement Luncheon on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.
The YWCA Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship Fund was established in 1993 to provide financial assistance and support to an outstanding African-American female high school senior entering a post-secondary institution. There is 1 winner who receives $3,000, 2 Runners-Up receive $1000 each, 7 Honorable Mentions receive $250 each.
The application deadline is Thursday, January 21, 2016. Applications are available at www.ywcacincinnati.org/mes
Meet the 2015 Scholarship Winner
Lily-Michelle Arthur’s family’s hopes for a better life in Cincinnati crumbled soon after they arrived from their native Ghana. Her parents divorced, and the then Norwood High School teenager began handling household duties and caring for her siblings while her mother worked at a minimum-wage job. That experience was Lily-Michelle’s lesson in adaptation. She vowed to strive for high academic grades and success in whatever she did. Last year when she won the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Mamie Earls Sells Scholarship presented by Kroger, she was ranked first in her class with a GPA of 3.9, wass Norwood High School’s senior class president, founder of the school’s Key Club and a member of the National Honor Society and Academic Team. She also volunteered at Good Samaritan and Christ Hospitals.
Lily-Michelle attends Emory University and is studying pre-med. She wants to be a pediatric neurologist and dreams of serving in humanitarian medical missions around the world.
“I want to leave behind a legacy that success is attainable despite personal or social challenges,” she said.
The YWCA of Greater Cincinnati will host the 35th annual Career Women of Achievement Luncheon on May 14, 2014 at the Duke Energy Convention Center. The YWCA is seeking nominations for this esteemed award, which 274 women have won over the last 34 years. The Career Women of Achievement Awards recognize outstanding women at the pinnacle of their careers. Former Career Women of Achievement Honorees Diane Jordan-Grizzard, President & CEO, Thembi Speaks, LLC and Kathy Kelly, President Kroger Personal Finance, The Kroger Co., are the distinguished event co-chairs for 2014.
For more information and nomination forms, please visit www.ywcacincinnati.org or contact the YWCA at 513-241-7090. The deadline for receipt of nominations is Monday, January 6, 2014.
The YWCA established the Career Women of Achievement Awards in 1980 to increase awareness and appreciation for the diverse contributions of women in the work force and in the community. An independent panel of community leaders will judge the nominees based on their outstanding career achievements, strong leadership qualities, and ability to serve as role models. “It is an honor to be selected to Co-Chair the 35th Anniversary Career Women of Achievement Luncheon and to celebrate these ‘pearls of our community’”, commented Kathy Kelly. The eight finalists are recognized at the Salute to Career Women of Achievement luncheon. Past honorees have been awarded from all professions, including educators, artists, lawyers, human service executives and government officials. The largest luncheon in the Midwest region, this event is traditionally a sell-out, boasting past keynote speakers such as Alfre Woodard, Anna Quindlen and Maya Angelou. Individual tickets and corporate tables of 10 are available at multiple sponsorship levels.
According to Diane Jordan-Grizzard, “the Salute to Career Women of Achievement luncheon is the single largest fundraiser for the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati and the proceeds from the event directly support critical YWCA programs serving more than 35,000 women and their families community-wide, including domestic violence shelters, job training and literacy, and youth services.”
The mission of the YWCA is to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. For more information on YWCA programs and events, please visit the website at www.ywcacincinnati.org.