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My Furry Valentine finds new homes for pets


Hundreds of pets will be available for adoption Feb. 13-14 as part of My Furry Valentine, when attendees can take home dogs, cats and other small pets from more than 40 Greater Cincinnati area rescue and shelter groups. Last year, 729 animals were adopted at the annual event.

Carolyn Evans, founder and local pet photographer, launched My Furry Valentine five years ago after putting together smaller adoption gatherings for shelters and adoption agencies.

“A mega-adoption event is definitely a need in Cincinnati,” Evans says. “We’re really just trying to reduce the number of euthanasias in the city and find loving homes for these animals.”

Although the event is geared toward adopting out as many animals as possible, there are other things people can do if they attend. If people aren't interested in adopting but love animals, they can donate their time or money to help support local agencies and shelters. People can also donate much-needed shelter items like food, towels, bleach, paper towels, litter and leashes.

My Furry Valentine will give eventgoers a wide variety of pets to choose from that fits their personality and lifestyle. Some available animals are already listed on the event’s website.

“My Furry Valentine has really become a community-wide collaboration of so many different people who are celebrating these animals,” Evans says. “It’s great because it’s during a weekend that focuses on love, and it brings out the best in people--It gives them an opportunity to do something meaningful.”

Do Good:

Register to attend My Furry Valentine Feb. 13-14 at the Sharonville Convention Center.

Take a look at the event’s featured pets.

• Make a donation to help support local shelter and adoption programs.
 

People Working Cooperatively plans final Hometown Hollywood Gala


Throughout the past 18 years, People Working Cooperatively has raised $1.7 million in funding through its Hometown Hollywood Gala, which benefits the nonprofit’s Modifications for Mobility program. 

This year, however, marks the final year for the Gala, as something new is in store for 2017. 

“While we are a little sad about this being the final Hometown Hollywood, we’re equally excited that this Hometown Hollywood will be unlike any other and will give guests a brief glimpse of what we have in store for our exciting new event and format for 2017,” PWC Vice President Chris Owens says.

“Back to Black and White” is the theme of this year’s Gala on Feb. 28, which will take attendees to “old-world Hollywood” as they dress up for their red carpet entrance, eat, drink, mingle, enjoy live entertainment and silent auctions and watch a live stream of the Oscars telecast. 

Most importantly, however, guests will learn more about the event’s beneficiaries — elderly individuals, individuals with disabilities and those who are low income — who are able to remain in their homes as a result of much-needed renovations and repairs offered through the Modifications for Mobility program.

“Each year we look forward to this event as a chance to spend time with our supporters, colleagues and friends,” Owens says, “but we also look forward to sharing the stories of our clients with attendees. That’s the real reason that we’re all gathered together, and we can’t wait for this year’s event.”

Do Good: 

• Find out if you are eligible for Modifications for Mobility.

• Support Modifications for Mobility by attending Hometown Hollywood 5:30 p.m.-midnight Feb. 28 at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel downtown.  

Volunteer at the final Hometown Hollywood Gala.
 

Envision Children to host pre-Valentine's Day painting fundraiser


With Valentine’s Day approaching, there’s no better time to consider thoughtful gift-giving ideas.
 
Envision Children, a nonprofit that provides educational enrichment and added support to students in need of that “extra push,” is hosting Sweet Art, a Feb. 12 “friendraiser” at Art Design Consultants downtown. The benefit features the creation of Valentine-themed art, small bites, wine and, of course, friendship and good company.
 
Rosalyn Fuller, local artist and Envision Children board member, will lead a painting lesson in which participants gain knowledge of various techniques to aid them in the creation of their own unique designs.
 
“No artistic skill or talent is required,” Fuller says. “If you can paint a circle, you’ll be fine. We did an event like this before, and it’s fun to see how distinctly different each painting turns out to be.”
 
All proceeds benefit Envision Children, which will put funds toward tutoring students in need.
 
Space is limited, but interested parties can sign up via Eventbrite, and one lucky winner will go home with an added bonus: a Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant prize package valued at $125.
 
“This is an opportunity to make a gift for your sweetie while having a great time and supporting Envision Children,” says Sheryl McClung McConney, Envision Children’s founder and president.

Do Good: 

Get tickets to Sweet Art, which takes place from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12. Tickets may also be purchased over the phone by calling 513-772-KIDS.

• Support Envision Children by donating.

Contact Envision Children if you’d like to volunteer as a tutor or if you have a child in need of the nonprofit's services.
 

A'cat'emy Awards supports local shelter's expanding programs


The Ohio Alleycat Resource & Spay/Neuter Clinic (OAR) is hosting its fifth annual A'cat'emy Awards Extravaganza Feb. 27 to raise money to support its programs.

Founded in 1998, OAR is a no-kill shelter providing low-cost and high-quality spay/neuter services for feral, stray and domesticated cats. The annual fundraiser will help the organization to continue its outreach and adoption programs across Greater Cincinnati.

OAR is dedicated to finding loving homes for its cats, says Director Sloan Lee, adding that 481 cats were adopted in 2015.

The annual fundraiser will feature food, drinks, raffles and auction items. A creative aspect of the fundraiser is its video contest. Anyone is invited to submit a video. Winners in each category will be announced at the fundraiser and will receive a $50 Visa gift card prize.

Categories include Best Cat Action Film, Best Cat Comedy Film and Best Cat Drama Film. Entries must be received by Feb. 10 to be considered.

In the past, OAR had always focused on intake from volunteers and general public. More recently, it’s focusing its resources on euthanasia lists in local county shelters.

“We desperately need The A’cat’emy Awards to be as successful if not more than the past,” Lee says. “This fundraiser plays a pivotal role in how many cats and kittens we can save.”

Do Good:

• Register to attend the A'cat'emy Awards at 6:30-10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 at The Phoenix, 812 Race St., downtown.

Submit your film in the A'cat'emy Awards Video Contest.

Make a donation to help support OAR’s ongoing adoption programs. 
 

International wines to be featured at 26th annual Cincinnati Wine Festival


Wines from all around the world will be featured at the Cincinnati Wine Festival March 3-5 at various locations throughout the city. 

The festival, celebrating its 26th anniversary this year, has grown throughout the years and has garnered interest from people in cities as far as New York, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, says Executive Director Debbie Dent.

Started by Russ Wiles in 1991, Cincinnati Wine Festival is one of the largest in the Midwest and has donated more than $4.6 million to 45 local charities.

The three main events during the festival weekend are winery dinners, grand tastings and charity auction and luncheon.
 
“There will be more than 700 wines from more than 150 different wineries,” Dent says. “You have the ability to taste different wines from all around the world right here in Cincinnati.”

Do Good:

Register for tickets for the grand tastings March 4-5 at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown.

Register for tickets to the charity auction and luncheon March 5 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 151 West Fifth St., downtown.

• See a list of organizations that received donations from the wine festival over the past two decades.
 

True Body Project celebrates 10-year anniversary, keeps disrupting expectations


When Stacy Sims started True Body Project 10 years ago, she wanted girls to identify and connect with their bodies despite what the media told them they should look like.

Sims began engaging girls in workshops, classes and summer camps to study body, body image, gender and media. Each day, those girls connected with each other and engaged their bodies in a different way: positively.

“I felt like the stakes were getting higher for young women to have a healthy relationship with their bodies and themselves,” Sims says. "I know from personal experience how far you can move away from your best self because of outside forces.”

Sims has done work with young girls in Cambodia, Poland, Equador and various cities in the U.S.

Since its inception, True Body Project has created two books, a documentary film and a website by and for girls, My True Space. While the project originally started out for just girls, Sims has plans to make the curriculum more gender neutral to reach boys and young men.

In celebration of True Body Project’s 10th anniversary, Sims decided to launch City Silence, a network of community gatherings where strangers can meditate and practice mindfulness.

City Silence will take place every Friday during the month of February at the Popular Library Lounge at the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Anyone is welcome to practice whatever form of meditation or mindfulness that is best for them. The weekly meetings are slotted for an hour, but people can come and go as they please, whether they stay for a few minutes or the whole hour.

While True Body Project has a deeper curriculum, City Silence is meant to reach a large group of people in a shorter amount of time.

“I created City Silence with the idea that every human being would be better with more chances to just be still, quiet and meditate,” Sim says. “You become more genuinely understanding of your habits and thoughts."

Do Good:

• Join a City Silence session 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m on Fridays throughout the month of February at the Popular Library Lounge at the Main Library, 800 Vine St., downtown.

• To learn more about True Body project, visit its website.

• Watch the True Body Project documentary.
 

Mentoring program aims to help first-year college students, encourage retention


First-year college students will have mentoring help thanks to a partnership between the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) and local schools and organizations.

Set to launch this spring, the initiative is intended to help college students during their first year and encourage college retention. It’s starting with 40 mentors and a goal of expanding to reach hundreds of inexperienced students who face the difficulty during their first year of college.

“It’s becoming a national dialogue that about one-third of college freshman are dropping out,” says Kate Elliot, CYC communications and marketing specialist. “This is the kind of program the community needs right now.”

Many students don’t have the mental and emotional support they need in the transition from high school to college, as the culture can be very different. The mentoring program will allow students to have a longtime partner who will support them through that transition and during their first year.

The program is a collaborative effort between CYC, Cincinnati Public Schools, University of Cincinnati, The Business of Good Foundation, Cincinnati Scholarship Foundation and Accenture.

While there will be traditional face-to-face meetings, the program will have an online platform where mentors can tutor and share advice online, whether it be school-related or about financial or personal issues.

“This support will help students feel like they have a handle on college,” Elliot says. “We want to make sure someone is in their court so they get the most they can out of their college experience. They won’t do that if they don’t feel supported.”

Do Good:

• If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, contact Cincinnati Youth Collaborative.

• Learn more about the College Mentoring Initiative.

Donate to help support CYC’s mission.
 

MotherLOVE to host first workshop for grieving mothers


MotherLOVE, an organization created for bereaved mothers by bereaved mothers, will host its first workshop Feb. 26.

Many grieving mothers suffer from depression, a lack of meaning or purpose and less life engagement after the loss of a child. MotherLOVE’s programs go beyond the needs of a traditional grief support group, addressing longer term goals that empower mothers to increase meaning, purpose and joy in their lives, says Marcie Warrington, founder and president.

MotherLOVE programs are open to mothers who are at least one to two years beyond the death of their child.

“I know from firsthand experience how important it is to have that mother-to-mother connection,” Warrington says. “I also know that living a more beautiful life, one beyond mere survival, is the best way I can honor the love for my son.  My son’s life was a blessing, not a curse.” 

Workshops will be kept small, no more than 25 people per group, and will combine evidence-based research with proven techniques for increasing well-being and flourishing.  The first workshop, “Mindfulness and Character Strengths,” will be hosted at Mayerson Academy.  Other currently scheduled workshops will be hosted at Main Street Yoga.

MotherLOVE has program partners all over the city: City Silence, VIA Institute on Character, The Lindner Center of HOPE, Women Writing for (a) Change, Ordinary Hero Foundation, Lucy Hone and Sianna Sherman.

Warrington began the process of building MotherLOVE in June 2015 after finding no organized groups--beyond grief support groups--that focused primarily on helping grieving parents take the next steps to integrating the whole of their lives to live more fully. 

“A child’s death is part of your life,” she says.  “It’s part of who you are, but it’s not your whole story.”  

Do Good:

• If you’re a grieving mother or know someone who is, register for the Feb. 26 workshop at Mayerson Academy in Corryville by emailing Marcie Warrington.

• To learn more about MotherLOVE, visit its website.

• Make a donation to help support MotherLOVE’s mission.
 

Local organizations compete for $30,000 to further social innovation via SVP's Fast Pitch


Social Venture Partners (SVP) Cincinnati is once again hosting its Fast Pitch competition, in which innovative organizations learn to communicate their mission to intended audiences in effective and engaging ways. 

Twenty nonprofits and social enterprises will dip their feet in the water Jan. 27 when they share three-minute pitches with SVP members, who will then vote and narrow the field to eight competitors.

“Cincinnati is a giving community and rich in nonprofits working to make a difference,” says Melisse May, chairperson for Fast Pitch Cincinnati. “Yet we still have many challenges.” 

Among those challenges are things like poverty, hunger and lack of access and exposure to the arts. 

“Therefore, Fast Pitch Cincinnati is seeking nonprofit programs with innovative and creative ways to more effectively help solve our community’s problems,” May says. 

SVP will work with the final eight competing organizations, providing guidance via one-on-one coaching and training sessions in preparation for the March 2 finals. 

UPDATE: Here are the eight finalists.

More than $30,000 in funds will be awarded to winning organizations that share their pitches with an audience of more than 500, including a panel of judges looking for compelling, creative and clear messages that describe future community impact.

“Fast Pitch is just one way that SVP Cincinnati is fulfilling its mission to cultivate effective philanthropists, strengthen nonprofits and build collaborative relationships for social change,” says SVP Cincinnati Board Chairperson Sandy Hughes. “Fast Pitch is not only effective, it’s a fun way to engage the community in philanthropy.”

Do Good: 

• Get your 2016 Fast Pitch tickets for the March 2 finals competition, which takes places at The Phoenix downtown.

Contact Melisse May if you're interested in sponsoring this year's competition. 

• Learn more about Fast Pitch by checking out highlights from the 2014 and 2015 competitions. 
 

United Way leads effort for Earned Income Tax Credit awareness via free tax prep


The 10-year anniversary of Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day is Jan. 29, which marks a nationwide effort to draw taxpayers’ attention to its potential benefit while also highlighting sites engaging in free tax preparation. 

According to the Internal Revenue Service, millions of people — one in five eligible workers — miss out on thousands of dollars because they're unaware of the EITC and the Child Tax Credit available to those with a child under the age of 17.

“Both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit provide critical work supports for employees earning low to moderate wages,” says Lucy Crane, Director for Community Impact at the United Way of Greater Cincinnati

The United Way is doing its part to ensure the local community does not miss out on these available tax credits, as the organization and its partners are once again providing free tax preparation both online and in-person at 30 different venues across the tristate. 

“Thanks to our dedicated, trained and certified volunteers, we plan on assisting more than 9,000 households this year,” Crane says.

Free online prep, complete with trained United Way operators available via phone or chat to answer questions, is available to filers with an income of $62,000 or less, while in-person tax prep is available to those with an income of $53,000 or less.

Volunteers are trained to ensure filers who are eligible for tax credits receive them, which can provide much needed relief in day-to-day life.

“Claiming these tax credits can put eligible workers on the path to securing better housing, obtaining dependable transportation, paying for quality child care or pursuing higher education,” Crane says.

Do Good: 

• File your taxes for free online if you make under $62,000 per year.

• Learn about free in-person tax preparation if you make under $53,000 a year, and take advantage of one-on-one assistance available. 

• Join the United Way's volunteer base by donating your time this tax season.
 

Heimlich Heroes plans to double the program's child trainees in 2016


Heimlich Heroes has trained more than 25,000 kids in 37 states since its debut in 2013 and plans to double that number by the end of 2016. 

The interactive educational program is an effort to equip the next generation with the Heimlich maneuver. Four known trainees have saved lives after participating in the program, says Terri Huntington, program manager.
 
The program allows for real-life application of the Heimlich maneuver, which requires trainees to practice on a specially made training doll. The training is created so teachers, nurses and leaders can facilitate using a video in a variety of environments.
 
“We’ve created this training-in-a-box that makes it easy to learn three important things in one hour,” Huntington says. “It teaches them to recognize the signs of choking, learn how to minimize that risk and how to respond in a choking emergency.”
 
Development for the program came from the help of the Deaconess Foundation and The Heimlich Institute in 2012. The program was first piloted in 2013.
 
Heimlich Heroes works with schools and youth organizations like the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs and different scouting organizations to increase their reach.

The program teaches trainees as young as 7 years old. Why so young? Most kids don’t learn the life-saving skill until junior high or sometimes high school.
 
“You just never know when it’s going to happen,” Huntington says. “Kids are learning this skill and hoping they don’t have to use it, but now they have the confidence to really step in and act if they do see that kind of emergency and save someone’s life.”
 
Do Good:

• Read about what people are saying about Heimlich Heroes. 

• Learn more about Heimlich Heroes at its website

Donate to support Heimlich Heroes' mission. 
 

Findlay Market's incubator kitchen nearing completion


Findlay Market’s new kitchen incubator is still under construction but already has a solid group of members ready to open the doors.

The 8,000-square-foot shared-use kitchen space will support aspiring food entrepreneurs, whether they’re just starting out or looking to expand to their business, by providing affordable access to a licensed kitchen facility. Members will pay a $75 annual membership fee to use kitchen equipment and storage space for their businesses. 

“There are so many barriers to not only starting a business but a food business,” says Marianne Hamilton, director of Findlay Kitchen. “This gives people an opportunity to start small without having to invest in a brick-and-mortar space.”

There are 10 available kitchens within the facility and most can be rented by the hour, though some will be leased by the month for members who are dedicated to mass production. Members will have 24-hour access to come and go as they please.

The facility will also feature a space in the front to be used for cooking classes and demonstrations for the general public.

Greater Cincinnati is seeing a wave of entrepreneurial support for food and drink startups — including a new mini-incubator kitchen in Newport, The Hatchery — though the idea of implementing an incubator kitchen within Findlay Market has been discussed for 20 years.

“The timing is right from many different perspectives,” Hamilton says. “There’s a renewed interest in handmade and artisan foods and a trend toward people seeking out unique and different foods. It fits very well within the ecosystem of Findlay Market.”

Findlay Kitchen is also partnering with local organizations to provide business support services for its members, such as accounting, legal, marketing and branding advice.

Findlay Kitchen will open at the end of February if all goes as anticipated, Hamilton says.

Do Good:

• Apply to become a Findlay Kitchen member.

• To learn more about Findlay Kitchen and its mission, visit its website.

• For more information on Findlay Kitchen and how you can get involved, contact Marianne Hamilton.
 

Local group celebrates one year of random acts of kindness


Local group Random Acts of Kindness is celebrating its one-year anniversary by repeating a citywide clothing drive and hosting two fundraisers.
 
Rivertown Stomp will take place Jan. 22, while RAOK the Casbah will take place Jan. 30. Both will be hosted at Leapin Lizard Lounge in Covington.
 
Random Acts of Kindness started when Liz Wu saw a photo of scarves wrapped around trees circulating on the Internet after last year’s big snowstorm left the region hovering in single-digit temperatures. The scarves were not lost but a random act of kindness for strangers to take if they were cold.
 
Wu didn’t act on it right away, but the second time she saw the same photo she was inspired and wanted to pay it forward in the Greater Cincinnati area. She created a Facebook event for a citywide clothing drive, hoping a few friends would help her gather gloves, scarves, hats and other warm items.
 
Little by little, more than 100 people began showing their interest in the event, and within a span of 10 days more than 2,000 items were bagged and distributed throughout 35 Greater Cincinnati neighborhoods.
 
Since then, the group has continued to pay it forward through monthly community outreach projects, #Kindflash.
 
“One of the important integral assets to any of our monthly events is the interactive part,” Wu says. “We don’t just take donations and leave them. Our intention is to create a quality moment where people feel there is a one-on-one connection being made.”
 
And for a lot of volunteers, the relationships go beyond the visits. Many of them stay connected and have created lasting friendships with people they’ve met. For example, a volunteer is pen pals with a Brighton Center member. 
 
Wu hopes the Random Act of Kindness model will be replicated by others in their own lives and will help feed groups or initiatives who are interested in paying it forward.
 
Do Good:

• Join the Random Act of Kindness clothing drive.

• Attend Rivertown Stomp, 6 p.m.-12 m. Jan. 22 at Leapin Lizard Lounge, 726 Main St., Covington.

• Attend RAOK the Casbah 5 p.m.-12 m. Jan. 30 at Leapin Lizard. 
 

Stepping Stones expands reach to west side


Stepping Stones increased its reach to children and adults with disabilities by expanding to the west side at the beginning of January. The expansion is a result of an integration with BeauVita, a local organization that provides services and transportation for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The plan to move west began five years ago, but the timing wasn’t right until now. Stepping Stones wasn’t ready to get involved with another project at the time, says Executive Director Chris Adams.

The organization saw a need for expansion, though, when full buses came in from the west side for its summer day camp. Stepping Stones and BeauVita provide similar programming, so the integration made perfect sense. 

“This seemed to fit really well with what we do as an organization,” Adams says. “It will help us continue to grow our program and offer more additional services that are needed on the west side of town."
 
When it comes to plans for the future, Adams says any plans to expand will be neighborhood-based.
 
This expansion is Stepping Stones’ second in two years. The organization merged with United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati in 2014 at the Norwood campus. Stepping Stones also has campuses in Indian Hill and Batavia.
 
Do Good:

• To learn more about Stepping Stones, visit its website.

Donate to help support Stepping Stones’ mission.

• For more information, call 513-965-5109.
 

Tri-State Trails preps launch of Opening Day on the Trails Challenge


With temperatures currently below freezing, it can sometimes be difficult to envision Spring.

Green Umbrella's Tri-State Trails, however, is already gearing up for the region’s first Opening Day on the Trails Challenge, set for April 16.
 
The Trails Challenge — part of a national welcoming of Spring organized by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy — will take place over seven weeks and encourage families and individuals alike to explore trails and collect prizes upon completion.
 
“We believe the Opening Day on the Trails Challenge will motivate people to explore our region’s trails and incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives,” says Megan Folkerth, program officer of physical activity environments at Interact for Health, which is making the Trails Challenge a financial possibility thanks to a $25,000 grant for implementation. “Interact’s vision is to make Cincinnati the healthiest region in the country.”
 
The Trails Challenge extends through May, National Bike Month, and allows the region to continue gathering momentum when it comes to bicycling, says Frank Henson, chair of Tri-State Trails and president of Queen City Bike.
 
“In addition to current trail users, we’re using this challenge as an opportunity to engage new users for trails,” Henson says.
 
Tri-State Trails will publish details regarding the Challenge as well as an online interactive trail finder map this spring.

Do Good:

• Check Meet Me Outdoors! for details as the Trails Challenge approaches, but in the meantime allow the website to serve as a resource for your current outdoor recreational needs.

• Connect with Tri-State Trails on Facebook

• Become a Tri-State Trails member.
 
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