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Calling all volunteers: SVDP seeks help year-round

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Cincinnati clients, many who live paycheck to paycheck, wouldn’t be celebrating the holidays without the help of SVDP volunteers who provide things like gifts and food baskets to make it all possible.
 
“While the holidays are a time of joy and celebration for many, for families living in poverty the holidays can sometimes be a season of hopelessness and despair,” says Kristen Klein, Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Director of Development.
 
All parents want the best for their children, Klein says, and volunteers are able to provide a much-needed ray of hope for families “who are struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table.”
 
According to Klein, volunteers contribute more than 25,000 hours of service during the last three months of each year alone, but the need for their service doesn't stop once the holidays have passed.
 
“Each day, volunteers in our neighborhood volunteer groups visit homes of people in need,” Klein says. “With grace and humility, they strive to find out how they can help someone who is struggling.”
 
Some donate their time by visiting homes of individuals in need, answering phones at the West End Outreach Center and working at the food pantry, while others donate items — everything from food and clothing to furniture and vehicles.
 
“St. Vincent de Paul was founded as a volunteer organization, and volunteers remain as the lifeblood of the organization to this day,” Klein says. “We are incredibly grateful for all of the support we receive from so many. We simply wouldn’t exist without our volunteers.”

Do Good:

•    Support the Society of St. Vincent de Paul clients by donating.

•    Volunteer with SVDP.

•    Donate items throughout the year. 
 

Faces Without Places receives gift donations for 500 local kids


The Jonnie Stephenson Foundation hosted its ninth annual toy drive this month to benefit Faces Without Places, a nonprofit that “empowers lives by removing educational barriers and providing enrichment opportunities for local children experiencing homelessness.”
 
The toy drive allows for about 500 children to have a holiday season in which they experience the joy of receiving, as most other children are afforded the opportunity to do.
 
“So many families talk about how cool it is to be able to participate, especially this time of year when their kids are going to school with each other,” says Ramin Mohajer, Executive Director of Faces Without Places.
 
When delivering gifts last year, Mohajer says he dressed as Santa for a party at Interfaith Hospitality Network’s shelter in Walnut Hills.
 
“It’s a really amazing experience,” he says. “Kids enjoy it so much and get so excited. One child kept questioning me whether or not I was the real Santa Claus, and finally I convinced him I was.”
 
At some of the shelters, rather than dressing as Santa, Mohajer and other representatives from the nonprofit drop gifts off to parents, who can then choose what they would like to provide their child with rather than simply being given a gift at random and with less meaning.
 
“It’s not just, ‘Here’s the gift you get,’ ” Mohajer says. “It really brightens the day for all the kids, all the families.”
 
Do Good:

•    Purchase winter items like coats, gloves and scarves for children in need. Contact Gretchen to coordinate your donation.

•    Support Faces Without Places by donating.

•    Volunteer with the organization by engaging in activities like birthday party planning for children at our local shelters.
 

MU holiday performance to benefit Walnut Hills marching band


Twenty-four Miami University vocalists and a 16-member big band will join together onstage at Walnut Hills High School's newly renovated auditorium this weekend to perform “A Swingin’ Holiday: Big Band Choral Spectacular.” A portion of the proceeds from the performance will benefit Walnut Hills’ music department, which has “an astounding reputation,” according to MU’s Ben Smolder.
 
“Walnut Hills High School is full of brilliant and diverse children that have the pleasure of studying in the finest high school in the state of Ohio,” says Smolder, who will director and conduct the show. 
 
Smolder serves as Director of Miami Opera Theater, which launched a fundraiser in support of Walnut Hills’ marching band, selected by Youth Music of the World to participate in the 2016 Paris New Year's Day Parade.
 
“Being from rural Appalachia, I was deeply shaped by a similar experience in early life that led to a lifetime of travel and a deep desire to understand other cultures,” Smolder says.
 
This weekend's performance is a way to help others but also to add joy to audience members’ holiday season.
 
“Our goal was to recreate the musical specials that would appear on TV and radio during the Christmas season from the 1940s to the 1960s,” Smolder says. “One cannot hear this music without being transported back to a time when we were surrounded by our loved ones and gazing at the evening sky in hopes of seeing Santa.”
 
Do Good:

•    “A Swingin’ Holiday: Big Band Choral Spectacular” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Walnut Hills High School. Enter promo code “Santa” at the ticketing box office to receive a discount. 

•    Support the WHHS music program. 

•    Support WHHS students by volunteering.
 

Constella goes digital, aims to draw national audience to spring festival


As the Constella Festival of Music and Fine Arts gets ready to release the lineup for this April’s performances, the goal is to “target audiences nationally to come to Cincinnati,” according to Tatiana Berman, internationally renowned violinist and festival founder.

The name “Constella,” which is derived from “constellation,” is significant to festival organizers because performers and audience members get the chance to connect with one another through music in an intimate setting.
 
“The international concept for Constella was always connecting people and ideas,” Berman says.
 
To do that even more effectively than past years, Constella has made the move of going digital.
 
Berman collaborated with Julie Spangler to compose, perform and record a video performance piece, “Vitali Variations,” and the second digital short, which will be released in March as a precursor to the festival, will feature Roomful of Teeth.
 
“We would like to think this kind of a beautifully produced video can connect a whole new audience in an informal way with music, which we are passionate about,” Berman says.
 
Through these visual musical collaborations that include Grammy award winners and emerging artists, Constella will be able to further its mission of challenging “misconceptions of classical music and the performing arts” by extending its reach to a worldwide audience.
 
“Through production of music videos, recordings and other digital content, we can expand our performance presentations,” Berman says. “It allows for people around the world to experience the power of music and the arts.”

Do Good:

•    Check the Constella Festival website Jan. 15 to view the festival lineup and purchase your tickets for April’s performances.

•    For sponsorship and volunteer opportunities, contact Rachael Moore.

•    Support Constella by donating. 
 

Brighton Center food pantry a candidate for $20,000 grant

Vote this week for the Brighton Center to be named one of 75 food pantries across the country to receive a $20,000 grant from Walmart.
 
More than 150 food pantries are competing to win a share of $1.5 million being distributed this season through the Food Pantry Holiday Makeover campaign.
 
“It’s for an infrastructure-type makeover, which is not typically funded,” says Deana Sowders, marketing and communications specialist for Brighton Center. “We will use the investment to enhance our two food pantry locations through equipment, technology and transportation in Campbell and Boone counties.”
 
The Newport-based nonprofit’s Choice Food Pantry served 4,500 families last year, and Sowders says that many of them include income-earning individuals coming in for emergency assistance because they're unable to make ends meet.
 
“Hunger is a very real issue facing our families as they often are faced with tough choices and very limited budgets,” Sowders says. “Families are constantly balancing issues like keeping the heat on during the winter, having proper clothing for their growing children, transportation, childcare and putting food on the table — all while trying to maintain employment or further their education.”
 
Individuals served by the Brighton Center are working toward self-sufficiency and, according to Sowders, deserve a community of supporters who are there to help them “tackle immediate basic needs.”
 
“Being able to provide families with basic necessities such as food is the first step in getting them on the path toward a stable, self-sufficient future,” she says. “Even today, around 43 percent of those who come in have never asked for assistance before.” 

Do Good: 

•    Vote for your favorite food pantry to win a $20,000 grant; deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12.

•    Support Brighton Center by donating.

•    Volunteer with the Center. 
 

Nearly 200 families to receive gifts from Beech Acres' Shop & Share drive


Beech Acres Parenting Center, a nonprofit that inspires and equips “today’s parents, families and communities to raise capable, caring, contributing children,” will be able to guarantee its clients that their children won't go without gifts this holiday season, thanks to the annual Shop & Share program.
 
Monica McGrew, whose children attend school in the Forest Hills district, works with the nonprofit to ensure Beech Acres families are supported each year by coordinating with schools to get students involved in the charitable act of giving.
 
“Our students work with their families to ‘earn’ money to donate to the program. Some kids do extra chores to get their donations,” McGrew says. “The mission of the project has always been to provide an authentic opportunity for service.”
 
As a parent, McGrew says it’s particularly important to provide for other parents so they, too, can have the “opportunity to experience the joy of Christmas and giving.” 
 
More than 190 families were supported this year as a result of the collective shopping effort, and it wouldn’t be possible without the help from volunteers who donate their funds and their time to shop for those who don’t have the luxury of doing so themselves.
 
“The school district and parents have been so supportive, and we are grateful,” McGrew says. “Beech Acres has been a very important part of our community by helping parents who may need guidance with changing, or (with) struggling families. Some of the families in need are classmates of our students. We want this project to teach the value of giving back.” 


Do Good:

•    Call Katie Helmes at 513-233-4715 if you would like to help. 

•    Support Beech Acres by donating.

•    Connect with Beech Acres Parenting Center on Facebook.

 

Local organist featured in Price Hill celebration of community, giving


Community members will join together at the Bloc Center Saturday evening in Price Hill to share musical talents, engage in fellowship and collect donations for neighbors in need.
 
A Night With Scott and Friends, the west side’s second annual community Christmas concert featuring Scott Elick — member of both the Cincinnati Organist Guild and Starfire Council's Out & About program — enables individuals to celebrate one another during a time of joy and thanksgiving.
 
Beneficiaries from the night’s donations include Manna Outreach in Price Hill and West Fork Christian Faith Fellowship’s Food Pantry.
 
“Now that I'm retired from full-time work, I really enjoy lending my musical talents to causes that benefit our local communities on the west side,” says Sheryl Pockrose, Covedale resident and folk singer.
 
For Elick, who has played organ since age 8, it’s one of the highlights of his season.
 
“Scott can play anything he hears,” says Danyetta Najoli, Starfire’s community coordinator. “It's truly an amazing gift.”
 
Elick says it's also important to him to give back to the west side — Price Hill in particular — because of his close ties to the neighborhood. Not only is it the location for the concert, but it’s also where his brother lives, and family is something for which he’s grateful.
 
“I feel connected to the community,” Elick says. “The people and their culture is something I have always been interested in. I want the people of Price Hill to enjoy the Christmas season, the music, the lights as much as I do.” 

Do Good: 

•    Attend "A Night With Scott & Friends" 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 at the Bloc Center, 931 McPherson Ave. in Price Hill.

•    Support your local food pantries. 

•    Connect with others year-round at events you're passionate or curious about by attending Local Learning Labs.
 

LaRosa's to donate half of Buddy Card sales through December to Freestore Foodbank


Feed Our Neighbors in Need, a LaRosa’s fundraiser that began on Black Friday, will provide Cincinnati’s Freestore Foodbank and The Foodbank in Dayton with half of all Buddy Card sales through the end of this month.

“LaRosa’s Family Pizzeria is all about family, and we consider our local community our family,” says Michael LaRosa, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati staple that’s been in our communities since its first west side location opened in 1954. “Our restaurants are neighborhood-based, and it is not only our duty but also our passion to support the people of those neighborhoods whenever we can.” 

The restaurant chain contributed $36,000 to the Freestore Foodbank in 2013 alone and aims to increase the amount this year. 

“Hunger is a perennial issue,” LaRosa says. “Nearly 20 percent of the population in Ohio is classified as ‘food insecure,’ but about one-third of those people do not qualify for federal nutrition programs.”

Buddy Cards, which cost $10, enable customers to receive a free large cheese pizza with the purchase of another large pizza and are valid for 14 uses in a calendar year. Most of us know where our next meal will come from, but according to LaRosa some of our neighbors do not and it’s our responsibility to address the issue.

“There are nearly 300,000 adults and children in our community who often have no idea where their next meal is coming from,” LaRosa says. “The holidays are a time to bring awareness to the issue of hunger and engage the local community to be a part of the solution.”

Do Good:

•    Buy a Buddy Card and support those in need through your own gift-giving. 

•    Support the Freestore Foodbank by donating.

•    Volunteer with the Freestore Foodbank.
 

PGS seeks volunteers to provide companionship, brighten clients' lives

For the nearly 300 clients of Personal Guardianship Services (PGS), life can be lonely. The ability to make important decisions regarding your health and housing situation is out of one’s hands, and the presence of family and friends is sometimes nonexistent.
 
“I think there are so many people who don’t know a guardian or who have never ran into guardianship, who don’t know what we do,” says Wanda Bevington, CEO of the nonprofit that pairs clients with court-appointed guardians who make decisions “necessary (for individuals) to maintain a safe and secure lifestyle.”
 
In addition to being decision-makers, guardians are friendly faces — individuals who show clients they care.
 
“Nobody wants to have a guardian, although I will tell you when we’re at a particular nursing home and we see lots of the same people at the same time — even if they’re not our clients — we often have people say, ‘Will you be my guardian?’ ” Bevington says. “It’s that visit factor, so that someone’s coming to see them, so that every day is not the same.”
 
Currently PGS has six individuals on staff, but for 289 clients time is of the essence, so the nonprofit is seeking volunteers who can give of themselves and make someone’s day brighter simply through company or conversation.
 
“It would mean so much to our clients who do not have anyone,” Bevington says. “If they had someone who just came to the facility, if it’s somebody coming to see them or just sit with them and play a game or whatever they may choose to do, it’s somebody coming specifically for them.”

Do Good:

•   Check out a short video that shows the impact you could have in the lives of PGS clients. 

•   If you would like to become a PGS volunteer, contact Wanda Bevington.

•   Connect with PGS on Facebook.
 

Giveunity provides easy, meaningful way to donate on #GivingTuesday

The Huffington Post ranked Cincinnati as the No. 4 Most Charitable U.S. City in 2013, but for Mikki Graff, co-founder and designer of the Giveunity app, this year's #GivingTuesday presents the “unique opportunity to put Cincinnati on the map as the most charitable city in the U.S.”
 
Giveunity is a free smartphone application that connects donors with local nonprofits through just a few simple clicks.
 
“Our local nonprofit organizations are doing important work,” Graff says. “They are helping to build better neighborhoods for all of us. We need to show them some love.”
 
Since the app’s development, more than 500 individuals have downloaded it, gaining exposure and giving generously to the more than 100 local nonprofits that have signed up.
 
“To date, our average donation is $39.50, and our largest donation is $1,000,” Graff says. “This #GivingTuesday, donations made to local nonprofits through the Giveunity app will be matched thanks to the Big Idea Challenge of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.”
 
The $2,500 match grant means each donation received Dec. 2 will grow in percentage, which for Graff is an easy way to make more of a local impact.
 
“It's money going directly to help your community," she says. "Explore the nonprofit profiles on the Giveunity app, make a donation, and you get to direct where these generous funds go this Tuesday.

"In previous years, local charities have harnessed #GivingTuesday to collect donations of new and used shoes for job interviews, gift cards and toiletries for homeless teens, financial support for local high schools and even bring a hippopotamus to Cincinnati. The possibilities to donate are truly limitless.“ 

Do Good: 

•   Sign up to create your free donor account, and give. 

•   If you're a nonprofit, connect with Giveunity so donors can support your cause.

•   Spread the word about Giveunity by liking and sharing the nonprofit's Facebook page.
 

Arlington hosts free wine tasting in spirit of giving back

For Arlington Memorial Gardens, a core value is to make a difference that matters, says President Daniel Applegate. When a family is dealing with the death of a loved one, for example, the Mt. Healthy nonprofit puts forth its best effort to assist individuals as they deal with difficult and challenging times.
 
“We realize there’s not a lot we can do to make things better, so we do everything we can so that things aren’t made worse,” Applegate says. “But we like to think we can make a difference by participating in outreach activities that make a difference in our community.”
 
One of those upcoming outreach activities is The Fruits of Our Labor, which is a wine tasting and open house Dec. 14 for the grand re-opening of the Lakeside Chapel Mausoleum.
 
The event is free and open to the public, though participants are encouraged to bring nonperishable donations for the Freestore Foodbank, as the event is intended to be a day to give back and show appreciation for both the community of supporters who helped make the expansion possible and to neighbors in need of extra assistance.
 
“We’re hoping and anticipating that we’ll have a lot of giving on that particular day,” Applegate says. “We hope that our project at Arlington trickles down and helps those people who have needs around the holidays.”

Do Good:

•    Support the Freestore Foodbank by attending The Fruits of Our Labor and bringing a donation. The event is 1-4 p.m. Dec. 14 and includes complimentary valet parking in addition to free wine and cheese pairings. RSVP by calling 513-521-7003.

•    Donate to the Freestore Foodbank today.

•    If you're in the giving spirit, Arlington also participates in The Sharing Tree, which is a food and toy drive for Mt. Healthy students and residents. Donations are accepted in the lobby. 
 

The Christ Hospital to provide free surgeries to individuals in need

Four local residents will be the beneficiaries of free joint replacements Saturday, as The Christ Hospital is participating in Operation Walk USA for the second straight year.
 
“Two of our physicians came to us and said, ‘We ought to be giving back to our community like we do when we go across internationally,’ ” says Herb Caillouet, executive director of musculoskeletal services at The Christ Hospital. "They had been a part of Operation Walk International and had gone to other countries to do the same procedures there. So since it had never been done here in Cincinnati and as a market share leader in joint replacement surgery in Cincinnati, we wanted to be able to give something back to the city and to the citizens of the Tristate area.”
 
So far, one hip and three knee replacements are slated for Saturday’s efforts, in which everyone from surgeons and nurses to food service staffers will give of their time to provide quality care that's completely free of charge, throughout both the surgery and recovery processes.
 
“It’s a way for everybody to share their skills and talents with the community, to share our commitment with them and to them,” Caillouet says.
 
The recipients are more than grateful. Last year, for example, a man lost his job because of psoriatic arthritis and hip problems he was having.
 
“He couldn’t continue to work as a trucker, so they moved him into a warehouse role to continue, but he couldn’t continue it and he actually dropped out of the job market,” Caillouet says.
 
But after his joint replacement surgery, his walking improved, and he's now back in the workforce.
 
“He’s come back to the hospital and spoken, literally thanked the entire leadership group for the difference that their giving of their time has made in his personal life," Caillouet says. "The goal here is to find somebody who otherwise can’t afford it, that if it were done for them, they could reenter productive life, work-life, being a family member, a parent, a spouse, and to do so in a very productive way. These are life-changing events.” 

Do Good:

•    If you're a patient in need and who qualifies for a joint or hip replacement, sign up here. The 2015 Operation Walk USA application will be available beginning in January. 

•    If you're a vendor and would like to become involved with Operation Walk USA, contact Herb to discuss how your products might be of use to recipients throughout the process.  

•    Contact Herb if you're interested in volunteering with the aftercare process. For example, patients may require assistance cleaning their homes and securing transportation to and from therapy or follow-up visits. 
 

The Women's Fund to celebrate male supporters at Guys Who Get It 2.0

The Women’s Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation is the only women’s fund in the United States to include men.
 
That’s because individuals like Aftab Pureval, a member of The Women’s Fund’s Leadership Council, recognize it takes more than half the population working together to make significant progress.
 
While Pureval says he’s proud that Cincinnati’s Women’s Fund is the only mixed-gender one in the U.S., he’s also surprised by it.
 
“The face of poverty in Cincinnati is women. Cincinnati is second in the nation for childhood poverty, and a majority of those children are raised by single mothers working multiple jobs just to make ends meet,” Pureval says.
 
According to Pureval, Cincinnati is also one of the worst in the country when it comes to economic mobility.
 
“If you are born poor in Cincinnati, chances are you will die poor,” Pureval says. “These issues are not just women's issues.  They are important to the future of our city. And the Women's Fund needs the talents from men and women of all walks of life if we are to succeed in our fight against poverty.”
 
To gain more of those talents across gender, The Women’s Fund is hosting Guys Who Get It 2.0 to raise awareness and celebrate the men in our community who understand that women’s self-sufficiency is an effort everyone should get behind.
 
“The Women's Fund sets ambitious, region-wide goals, and works aggressively to achieve them,” Pureval says. “I joined because I was inspired by the people at The Women's Fund and by their results. The simple fact is investing in women works.”

Do Good:

•    If you are a guy who gets it, or knows of guys who get it, sign up to attend Guys Who Get It 2.0 and attend the event from 6-8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

•    Support The Women's Fund by giving.

•    If you'd like to get involved, contact Vanessa Freytag, executive director of The Women's Fund. 
 

Homeless services see progress, number of homeless vets decreases

Many individuals honored veterans last week, but an easy way to honor vets year-round is to be an advocate for human services and a supporter of organizations working to ensure they don’t become chronically homeless.
 
While there is always work to be done, Kevin Finn, president and CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, says the government and others are learning from the past.
 
“In 2012, we had 822 veterans who were homeless, and in 2013, that number dropped to 750,” Finn says. “In 2012, that was 13 percent and it dropped to 9 percent in 2013.”
 
Those averages are from Hamilton County, specifically, but there is a decline in veteran homelessness on the national scale, as well.
 
“The VA has started a program called Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), which is sort of the new thing, and it does two things for veterans,” Finn says. “It funds homelessness prevention, so if a veteran and their family is about to be homeless, those dollars can be used to prevent them from becoming homeless, and it pays for rapid re-housing.”
 
According to Finn, SSVF is the most recent innovation to point to in terms of the decreasing number of homeless vets. HUD-VASH and the VA Grant and Per Diem Program are longstanding programs, he says, that continue to work.
 
In addition to these programs, Strategies to End Homelessness, which works in partnership with 30 nonprofits in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, is doing its part to ensure that all homeless individuals not only have a safe place to sleep, but also have supportive services and resources to transition them out homelessness.
 
“We’re in the process of doing a significant re-do of our emergency shelter system, so we’re providing higher level of services to vets and others,” Finn says. “The goal is at end of day, that person should be closer to getting out of homelessness than they were at the beginning of the day.” 

Do Good: 

•    Help end homelessness in Cincinnati and Hamilton County by donating.

•    If you can't provide monetary support, know that your time is just as valuable. Volunteer with one of the 30 direct service providers

•    Be an advocate for human services.
 

Holidays in the Bag to benefit new nonprofit in OTR

Black Friday shopping is just around the corner, and one way to participate and save—without leaving your Thanksgiving festivities early, and while also supporting small businesses and a local nonprofit—is through Over-the-Rhine Chamber’s Holidays in the Bag initiative.
 
Holidays in the Bag: A Black Friday Shop Local event, allows shoppers to receive discounts at more than 25 participating businesses through the purchase of an official “Holiday Bag” for $5. All proceeds from Holiday Bag sales benefit an OTR nonprofit.

This year’s beneficiary is Future Leaders OTR, a nonprofit that empowers OTR 7th-12th graders to transform themselves and their community through personal and professional development, in addition to leadership experiences.
 
“This program changes the paradigm for these kids in our neighborhood,” says Ryan Messer, founder of Future Leaders OTR. “Before all of this rebirth in OTR, they lived in a predominately African American community, and their exposure to the people coming in may have felt like, ‘Wow, all these people who are largely Caucasian are moving into my neighborhood,’ and I think what we’re showing them is there is opportunity through diversity.”
 
At the Holidays Kick Off Party last Tuesday, Future Leaders OTR engaged with other residents and local professionals, and it was an experience that Renàe Banks, Future Leaders OTR program manager, says inspired a confidence in the youth.
 
“It was quite amazing to see them walk in and someone ask them, ‘What is your name?’ Their head would be down, but then as the night progressed, they became more comfortable and more confident with what they had to say and were excited that people were inquiring about who they are and what they were doing,” Banks says.

“You saw a confidence come over them, and they went from standing at the booth to venturing off into the crowd to engage in conversation with other professionals," she continues. "When you put them in an environment where there’s professionalism, laughter, conversation about culture—they’ll reflect that.” 

Do Good:

•    Purchase a Holiday Bag, beginning November 26, to support Future Leaders OTR.

•    Like Future Leaders OTR on Facebook.

•    Spread the word about Future Leaders OTR, and if you know of an OTR youth who might be interested, or if you want to get involved, contact the organization. 
 
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