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VISIONS Early Learning Center celebrates 25 years of service, opportunity


VISIONS Early Learning Center, the childcare program offered through Children Inc., celebrates its 25th anniversary Thursday. 

For Teresa Smith, assistant teacher at VISIONS, it’s a celebration of a community resource that provides children with high quality childcare, but it’s also a celebration for the opportunities presented to young mothers like herself who have sought out assistance from VISIONS while trying to improve their lives through education. 

“I became pregnant at the age of 24 and had my daughter Angelia May 1, 2012 at the age of 25,” Smith says. “I stayed with my mom during my pregnancy, because my daughter was gaining weight too fast, and I was in a lot of pain. So I was labeled ‘high risk’ and couldn’t work.” 

After her daughter was born, Smith moved into her first apartment and began searching for a job, but the process was accompanied by a variety of barriers. 

“I came across the Cincinnati Cooks! program and I was eager to enroll, but I didn’t have childcare or transportation,” Smith says. 

Then she came across VISIONS, a 4 STAR-rated center according to Ohio’s Step Up to Quality program, and her life changed. 

“I went and checked it out, and it was a very welcoming place located across the street from my school,” Smith says. 

After completing Cincinnati Cooks!, Smith began volunteering at VISIONS, where she could spend time with her daughter and put her prior childcare experience and newfound cooking knowledge to use. 

“Then an opportunity to be a ‘nap-aid’ opened up,” Smith says. “I got the position part-time for about six months, then the summer program opened up and they needed a full-time seasonal assistant teacher, and I agreed to fill the position.”

Opportunities continued to arise, and Smith found herself with a full-time position as Assistant Teacher in the toddler room. When she’s not at work she’s working — just as other VISIONS mothers are — to pursue higher education. 

“Here I am a year and a half later going to school part-time for my Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education,” Smith says. “I thank VISIONS for opening up their doors to my daughter and me and for giving me a great opportunity to do what I love. 

“I feel honored to work for a 4-STAR center who has helped the community for 25 years, and it is really a big family. I cannot speak for all young mothers, but from my experience it is hard. But with someone to reach out to and let you know that they can help — even if it’s just a listening ear — means a lot.”

Do Good: 

•    Support Children Inc. by donating

•    Check out volunteer opportunities with the nonprofit.

•    Connect with Children Inc. on Facebook.
 

ReelAbilities Film Festival kicks off Friday with "Meet the Stars" event


When Kathleen Cail watched her daughter excel in her first-ever live theater performance of Fiddler on the Roof this past weekend, she felt a sense of pride and an immediate recognition of the ability her daughter possessed.

Cail’s daughter has a form of Muscular Dystrophy called Myotonic Dystrophy, “but that does not define who she is as a person,” Cail says.

As chair for the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival, Cail is accustomed to seeing individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to celebrate and explore their differences while recognizing the shared humanity we all possess.

Her daughter’s school musical was a precursor to the excitement Cail will soon get to share with so many others, as Cincy ReelAbilities kicks off Friday morning with its Meet the Stars event, which is free and open to the public.

“It is fantastic to see celebrities from across our country who want to be a part of what we are doing here in Cincinnati,” Cail says. “They are talking about us and the great work we are doing to celebrate our diversity.”

Stars include Academy Award-winner Marlee Matlin, Seinfeld and Bones’ Danny Woodburn and Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Yaeger, among others.

“We want everyone to see our Greater Cincinnati region as a place that welcomes everyone, where people want to come, stay, work and raise a family,” Cail says.

Twenty film screenings will occur throughout the community from Feb. 27 to March 7 — including Wampler's Ascent, previewed here — with 2,500 individuals expected to attend. For Cail, it’s an opportunity for the Greater Cincinnati community to develop dialogue while educating and celebrating ourselves and others.

“The fact that Cincinnati and a local nonprofit, Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD), host the national ReelAbilities program and that our festival is one of the largest in the nation is so fitting,” Cail says. “We really are an accepting and diverse community, and our community is truly so connected. The nonprofit, academic and business communities have really united around this festival, and that makes sense — this city supports its arts — and because we are so supportive of each other, we are able to unite so many sectors of our region behind this.”
 
Do Good:

Attend the ReelAbilities’ Meet the Stars event 9:30 a.m. Friday,  Feb. 27, at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati downtown.
 
• Check out the films and events and purchase tickets here.
 
• Support Cincy ReelAbilities by donating.
 

ChangingGears, LawnLife win big at SVP Fast Pitch


Social Venture Partners' Fast Pitch 2015 was a rousing success last week, presenting 11 different awards and seeing four of the eight finalists — ChangingGears, LawnLife, the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI) and Healthy Visions — each coming away with at least $5,000. Just in its second year, Fast Pitch hosted 537 attendees to celebrate the awarding of $30,000 in unrestricted grants, scholarship and marketing support to local nonprofits.
 
ChangingGears won the $10,000 Innovation That Matters Grand Award and will use the funds to purchase tools and equipment needed to add a third service bay to its garage, which will allow the nonprofit to enable more individuals to take advantage of interest-free loans to become vehicle owners.
 
"It will increase our capacity to process donated cars, so we will be able to get more cars ready for clients," says Joel Bokelman, ChangingGears president. "Our capacity will also be increased to perform maintenance and repairs for clients that have purchased vehicles."
 
For Joan Kaup, executive director of SVP Cincinnati, the event's success shows how much interest there is in nonprofit innovation in Cincinnati.
 
"Our attendance and awards more than tripled this year over last year," Kaup says. "But we won't stop here. We are already thinking about how to make Fast Pitch even bigger and better in 2016."
 
LawnLife, whose mission is to "provide disconnected youth with an opportunity to gain real world experience and transferable skills," came away with $8,500 and the chance to represent Greater Cincinnati at the Philanthropitch International Competition in Austin, Tex., where more than $100,000 will be awarded.
 
"Tim Arnold, executive director of LawnLife, is a passionate, persuasive speaker. His story is personal and compelling," Kaup says. "LawnLife will be a good choice for Philanthropitch International, because the issue of homelessness and hopelessness of young men is pervasive. LawnLife is a innovative solution for this critical social problem that is transferable. Any city can adopt the model."

See the full list of Fast Pitch 2015 winners from Feb. 11 event at Memorial Hall.
 
Do Good:

Support Social Venture Partners Cincinnati by donating.

• Become a Social Venture Partner yourself.

• Connect with SVP Cincinnati on Facebook.
 

DePaul Cristo Rey's work-study program grows, extends opportunity to students


Catholic college preparatory high school DePaul Cristo Rey recently added Fifth Third Bank as the 100th partner in its Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP), the only one of its kind locally that allows students to earn funding for tuition — making the private college prep experience more affordable for all — while gaining on-the-job experience at Cincinnati corporations.
 
"Their work-study experiences contribute enormously to both their academic and personal transformation," says Lisa Claytor, CWSP director. "The CWSP gives them access to a professional world most would otherwise rarely see, much less be able to experience firsthand.”
 
Students who participate in CWSP spend five days each month at their jobs, engaging primarily in clerical work, though some work in the health care industry doing everything from patient transport to pharmacy assistance.
 
"At Fifth Third Bank, our student is working in the commercial sales department, and the vice president to whom she reports wants her to understand the work they do," Claytor says. "They are teaching her the language, expectations and tasks of the accounting/finance/banking environment.”
 
The perks of the program are invaluable, offering both tangible and intangible benefits, according to Sister Jeanne Bessette, president of the school.
 
"From a practical standpoint, by working five days a month these young people are paying part of the cost of their own education," Bessette says. "It is DPCR’s mission to serve those families who seek quality private, college preparatory education for their children but can’t afford other private schools. A DPCR education is available to these students because their CWSP earnings are helping pay their own education costs.”
 
And the intangible benefits, Claytor says, are also "enormous."
 
"Through the CWSP, they gain professional skills and confidence while developing their time management, interpersonal and communication skills in a real work environment," Claytor says. "Equally important, they are working with professionals who are role models and mentors. Exposure to diverse work settings and jobs opens students’ eyes to possible career paths. It also contributes to the importance DPCR strives to instill in them to complete college and join the professional world.”
 
Do Good:

Contact Lisa Claytor if your company is interested in signing on as a corporate partner in DePaul Cristo Rey's Corporate Work Study Program.

• Support DePaul Cristo Rey by giving.

• Learn about volunteer opportunities at the school, which is located at 1133 Clifton Hills Ave. at Central Parkway.
 

C2C provides creative opportunities for teachers and students


Not only does Crayons to Computers serve area teachers by opening its doors for shopping days when educators can receive free supplies for their students, but it also partners with volunteers, businesses and other organizations to offer free educational tools and workshops.
 
Most recently, C2C partnered with Photo Pro Expo — the largest photography event in the Midwest — in an effort to support sixth- through 12th-grade teachers and students experiment with and learn how they might incorporate photography into the classroom.
 
In the “Capturing and Sharing” workshop for students, for example, participants spent time moving around different locations of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, where the event took place, to practice their skills. Each individual also received a free point-and-shoot camera to take home so they can continue to build their skills through practice.
 
“The student workshop was such a great experience and offered the kids who participated an amazing opportunity,” says Susan Frankel, C2C’s president and CEO. “Using photography and technology to connect the students to each other and to the world around them was truly inspiring.”
 
With technology constantly evolving, Frankel says it’s particularly important to stay up-to-date and find ways to relate to and connect with students. By offering opportunities to students as well as to teachers — who learned how to use new technology and who became more comfortable with the idea of introducing it into the learning space — participants felt more at ease and also inspired.
 
“The photography workshops offered through our partnership with the Photo Pro Expo provided an invaluable opportunity for the teachers and students who participated,” Frankel says. “With technology changing at such a rapid pace, it is opportunities like this that help us to ensure that the students we serve through Crayons to Computers have access to the opportunities and information that will prepare them for future success.”

Do Good: 

•    Support Crayons to Computers by volunteering and by donating.

•    Connect with C2C by liking its Facebook page.
 

"Voices from the Heart" to benefit women recovering from prostitution


Voices from the HeartCincinnati Union Bethel’s largest fundraising event in support of the nonprofit’s Off the Streets program — takes place Friday, Feb. 13, but if you reserve your spot prior to Wednesday at noon and post a photo of yourself on the nonprofit's Facebook page you’ll receive $10 worth of free raffle tickets at the door.
 
The Off the Streets program empowers women who are involved in prostitution to break the cycle and move toward a life of safety and fulfillment.
 
According to Cincinnati Police, drugs and prostitution are the two most common crimes reported. And it’s a dangerous lifestyle, according to Tracy Megison, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s development administrative associate.
 
“We have clients who have been shot, stabbed and thrown out of cars,” Megison says. “Prostituted women have experienced significant life trauma.”
 
The program provides a safe place for women to receive support and mentorship, as each individual involved is paired with a peer facilitator — a woman who once knew a life of prostitution but has since recovered.
 
“The peer-driven approach helps to reduce the shame and stigma around prostitution, thus making women more likely to engage in services,” Megison says. “This model provides the women with positive role models and demonstrates that change is possible. One client actually knew the facilitators on the streets, and seeing them clean and healthy inspired her to stay in the program.”
 
By attending Voices from the Heart, the program will be able to continue assisting women like Tonya, for example, better their lives and recover from the cycle of addiction and prostitution.
 
“Tonya attended Miami University, where she became an alcoholic. She dropped out and hooked up with a drug user,” Megison says. “She says, ‘The only time I had any relief was when I was high, but even then I couldn’t take away the knowledge of everything I had done to the ones I loved and myself and the sense of impending doom, knowing I would die or end up in jail.’ Today, Tonya has two children and runs her own business. She is active in AA, sponsoring other women.”

Do Good:

•    Register for Voices from the Heart to support the Off the Streets program, starting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center downtown.

•    Post your photo to Cincinnati Union Bethel's Facebook page to get $10 worth of raffle tickets at Friday's event.

•    Support Cincinnati Union Bethel by donating, and educate yourself and others about issues like human trafficking, as it's more common than you might think.
 

Cornerstone provides OTR residents with housing plus opportunity


Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity might provide individuals with safe, affordable housing, but it also gives them the opportunity to earn money back after five and 10 years of responsible renting.
 
“We’re really a social enterprise,” says Rob Sheil, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We’re trying to provide opportunity for folks to lift themselves out of poverty.”
 
According to Sheil, the organization provides “a hand up” rather than a handout. To earn renter equity, individuals must attend monthly meetings — similar to association meetings hosted for condominium residents — pay rent on time and complete a weekly task by participating in property maintenance and upkeep.
 
“Participation in the weekly task not only helps lower operating costs, which is how you earn the renters’ equity, but also gives you a sense of ownership you can’t get anywhere else,” Sheil says.
 
After five years, residents have the opportunity to earn $4,100. After 10 years, they can early up to $10,000.
 
Sheil says many of the residents use the money to pay for things like medical expenses, education or tuition, camps for children or grandchildren and even as a downpayment on a home.
 
“One of our former resident board members who had been with us more than 10 years recently moved with her husband into Price Hill, and they purchased a home,” Sheil says. “And while we miss her day-to-day leadership and her presence as a resident board member, it’s just fabulous to have someone with that success when, by all rights, no one would have really predicted that 10 years ago.”
 
For Sheil, it’s all about “the American dream,” though his vision differs from the typical own-a-home mentality.
 
“As a real estate professional for more than 20 years, I love the idea of — in certain situations — people owning their own home,” he says. “But I think the American dream is having a solid roof over your head and the ability to build wealth over time by doing the right things and by being invested in your neighborhood, your community, your school system, perhaps a worship or faith group or a garden club.
 
“You commit to the people around you in the neighborhood that you come in contact with every day, so to me the American dream is a whole lot more than that picket fence and the house behind it.” 

Do Good: 

•    Support Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity by donating.

•    The organization will host its first-ever fundraising event in May. Contact Rob Sheil for more information.

•    Change your idea of what's possible for individuals who appear to have limited means.
 

Nonprofits to share stories, compete for prizes at Fast Pitch 2015


There’s still time to get your tickets to Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch, the competition in which eight area nonprofits will present their overall story and impact in three minutes or less. More than $30,000 will be awarded at the Feb. 11 gathering, which begins at 6 p.m. at Memorial Hall and is themed “Innovation That Matters.”
 
Having been chosen from a group of 20 semifinalists, the final pitchers are Breakthrough Cincinnati, Melodic Connections, Healthy Visions, Circle Tail, ChangingGears, Faces Without Places, Higher Education Mentoring Initiative and LawnLife.
 
For Melodic Connections Executive Director Betsey Zenk Nuseibeh, the coaching that's occurred throughout the Social Venture Partners process has been valuable, but the event itself will provide an opportunity for awareness raising.
 
“It is such a great way for us to help people understand the power of music therapy,” Zenk Nuseibeh says. “After Wednesday night, no matter the results, 500 more people will understand that music therapy is a science that has the ability to help people change the course of their lives.”
 
The funds awarded will enable the organizations to build capacity and ultimately reach more individuals in need, and one of the eight nonprofits will be selected to attend Philanthropitch International, where they’ll have the chance to compete for more than $100,000 in prize money.
 
“The prize money (from Fast Pitch) would allow ChangingGears to add a third service bay to our shop, so we can expand capacity and impact more lives through car ownership,” says Joel Bokelman, the nonprofit’s president.
 
Faces Without Places, Fast Pitch first-prize winner in 2014, is an organization that works to remove educational barriers for children experiencing homelessness. This year, Executive Director Ramin Mohajer will compete again for a potential $10,000 prize, which he says could allow the nonprofit to provide backpacks and shoes to hundreds.
 
“Every single organization in the room is doing amazing work and deserves more funding and recognition,” Mohajer says. “I remember sitting there last year and being glad that I didn't have to pick the winners.” 

Do Good: 

•    Purchase tickets to Fast Pitch 2015 at 6 p.m. Feb. 11 at Memorial Hall, Over-the-Rhine.

•    Learn more about Social Venture Partners Cincinnati and consider becoming a partner. 

•    Follow SVP Cincinnati on Facebook.
 

NCH City Center in need of funding for air conditioner, roof to allow for summer programming

Two nonprofits have joined together in an effort to fundraise for the North College Hill City Center, which serves as a venue for everything from children’s programming to a meeting and support spot for disabled veterans .
 
The Pro Foundation, which manages and operates the NCH City Center, is partnering with CenterStage Players, the oldest community theater group in Ohio, for The Awesome 80s Prom, an interactive performance and dance party Feb. 6-7.
 
“It’s a unique fundraiser,” says Kathy Harward, director of community outreach for The Pro Foundation. “We’ll have a whole prom court, and they’re all actors. They’ll be interacting with the guests and campaigning for them to vote for prom king and queen. People can dress up or come as they are.”
 
Proceeds will support rehabilitation of the city center, as its current infrastructure doesn't allow for year-round programming and is in need of a new roof and air conditioning unit.
 
According to Harward, more than 50 percent of NCH school district families are low income and 80 percent of the students participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
 
“The families can’t always afford good childcare, so you’ve got young children being left home babysitting the other children, and to be putting a 10-year old in charge of a 3-year old isn’t the best option,” Harward says. “It’s also important to keep the kids off the street. If they’re bored and have no structure, no activities and no one’s supervising them, it’s setting them up for trouble.”
 
Year-round programming would allow children and other community members to engage in intramural sports, fitness classes, summer camps, tutoring and daycare.
 
“We have an accredited dance teacher who scholarships dance students,” Harward says. “And there are just a lot of really good groups there who keep getting displaced, and I don’t want to see them getting displaced because we can’t continue to fund this. I want this to be a thriving community center.”

Do Good:

•    Purchase tickets for The Awesome 80s Prom Feb. 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. at North College Hill City Center, 1500 W. Galbraith Road. Tickets are $25 for singles and $40 for couples.

•    Support The Pro Foundation by mailing a check or money order to 812 Russell St., Covington, KY 41011 (the nonprofit's website is currently under construction). 

•    Contact Kathy Harward if you're a handyman or handy-woman who can volunteer services for the building's repair or if you're interested in volunteering with NCH City Center programming. 
 

Bacchanalian Society, CSO Encore gather YPs together to support Cincinnati Symphony


The Bacchanalian Society, which gathers young professionals (YPs) together to integrate “social and professional networking with philanthropy,” hosted its first 2015 wine tasting last week to benefit the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
 
CSO Encore, which is the CSO’s volunteer committee of YPs raising awareness of and drawing young audience members to the symphony, partnered with The Bacchanalian Society for its Winter Gathering. Jordan Weidner, co-president of the Bacchanalian Society, says the Jan. 29 event had near record-breaking attendance, a testament to the power of Cincinnati’s YP community.
 
“Cincinnati is a very easy town to find opportunities to get involved or be a part of something bigger,” Weidner says. “I believe charitable giving and support is part of the backbone of what makes Cincinnati great, and we believe that The Bacchanalian Society’s biggest accomplishment is not only in the money that has been raised but the awareness it has created for the beneficiaries.”
 
YPs, according to Weidner, “are a dynamic group,” and for the past 10 years the Bacchanalian Society has been able to attract an audience that's philanthropic, active and engaged.
 
Weidner, a Cincinnati native, says he’s more excited than ever to live in the area, and many of the other YPs coming out to support community-rooted organizations like the CSO share similar sentiments.
 
“There is something big happening in Cincinnati, and there a lot of people and organizations to thank for that,” Weidner says. “The Bacchanalian Society is about introducing YPs to new things and supporting the institutions that make Cincinnati a great city, so it was a no-brainer to have CSO at Music Hall for our Winter Gathering.” 

Do Good: 

•    Contact the Bacchanalian Society if you're a nonprofit that would like to connect with the organization and benefit from a future event. The organization usually hosts four wine tasting events a year.

•    Connect with the Bacchanalian Society on Facebook to keep up with future happenings. The next wine tasting is in May to benefit Cancer Family Care.

•    Contact the organization to volunteer at future events.
 

OTR's Our Daily Bread celebrates 30 years


Our Daily Bread marked its 30th birthday recently by celebrating with community members, volunteers, staff and the organization’s founder, Ruth “Cookie” Vogelpohl, who was inspired to open the facility in 1985 after seeing a man digging through the trash to find a bag of half-eaten hamburgers for his next meal.
 
Since the launch of Our Daily Bread, the organization has served as a place of stability in the Over-the-Rhine community by welcoming visitors each weekday morning with coffee and baked goods, followed by a three-course meal and time for fellowship.
 
“By noon, the meal service has ended, and from 12-2:30 p.m. it’s mostly just an open time for people to hang out,” says Melissa Shaver, director of communications for Our Daily Bread. “So people play cards or chess or just talk a lot. Two times a month we do a Bingo game that’s totally volunteer-run, with prizes — dish soap, toilet paper, the occasional clothing item — that have been donated.”
 
The organization serves 400-500 meals each week and totaled 99,255 meals served for 2014. And through its Lunch on Legs delivery service, Our Daily Bread also serves those in the community who are unable to make it to the facility but who are still in need of a meal.
 
It’s ultimately the sense of community, however, that Our Daily Bread provides to individuals that keeps them coming back, Shaver says.
 
The nonprofit offers Kid’s Club programming and even engages volunteers in its Birthday Angels program, in which birthday cakes are baked for and given to community members who might not otherwise have the means of attaining a cake and celebrating with others.
 
“A couple days ago, our furnace went out, generating a lot of questions like ‘Where will they go?’ because there are other places people can get free meals pretty much any day a week, but a lot aren’t necessarily open after the mealtime,” Shaver says. “Some don’t have indoor space for people, and in the cold it reminds you, ‘Oh, some people really don’t have somewhere to go.’ Even people who have apartments, they’re usually isolated one-bedroom apartments, so a sense of community is important.

“Regardless of your economic status, you should have some place where you’re not considered loitering or considered a blight on the community. I think that’s what Our Daily Bread tries to do for people.” 

Do Good: 

•    If you have a skill or talent you're able to share with the organization, reach out to Our Daily Bread and consider volunteering

•    Organize a canned food drive for Our Daily Bread.

•    Become a mentor, reading buddy or dedicated volunteer for the Kid's Club. Contact the Kid's Club if you're interested in helping.
 

Urban mushroom farming project launches on Kickstarter


For Alan Susarret, owner and operator of Probasco Farm on West McMicken Avenue, urban farming is officially underway. He's been growing oyster mushrooms for two urban farmers markets and some local restaurants for the past couple of years, and now he’s ready to expand production.
 
Susarret is passionate about his work and deeply rooted in sharing his passions with the community. In October he provided a free workshop at the Village Green Foundation in Northside, and in April he’ll share his knowledge about growing mushrooms on straw at Garden Station in Dayton.
 
He’s now asking for the community’s help in an effort to jumpstart his endeavor. Susarret recently launched his urban agriculture project on Kickstarter, and in just nine days he reached his $719 goal — yet the project is ongoing, as costs from farming continuously add up.
 
“A promo I’m doing for the Kickstarter will involve donating mushrooms to Cincinnati Food Not Bombs,” Susarret says. “They get together, cook vegan dishes and share the food at Piatt Park on Saturday afternoons.”
 
Susarret has volunteered with the organization in years past and says the mushrooms — which differ from conventional farmed mushrooms in that they're both preservative- and pesticide-free — will most likely be used in a casserole or stir-fry dish for sharing.
 
“The greatest part about the sharing, being across the street from the downtown library, is we'll get a few suits, some down-and-out folks that may or may not know to look for us, and everyone in between,” Susarret says. “Lots of people stop to ask, ‘What is this?’ We respond, and regardless of class or ethnic origin some will turn up their nose and keep walking, while others will stop for food and/or conversation.

“That's the ultimate goal, community building, and providing a safe public space for meaningful interaction.”

Do Good:

•    Check out the promos and consider pledging to support Susarret's urban agriculture project.

•    Connect with Probasco Farm on Facebook. Beginning Feb. 4, if you "share" the project an added basket will be donated. 

•    If you're interested in volunteering with or learning more about Cincinnati Food Not Bombs, contact the organization. 
 

VAE closes season, celebrates 35 years


For 25-year old Matthew Swanson, joining Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble during its 35th anniversary season has been a thrill.
 
Swanson, the youngest member of the ensemble, is a Cincinnati transplant — originally from Iowa — who first became aware of the VAE as a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. He regularly attended concerts and rehearsals at the time, and when the opportunity to join the ensemble as an artist arose he seized the moment.
 
This weekend the ensemble closes its 35th anniversary season with the regional premier of Rodion Shchedrin’s The Sealed Angel, which is a musical interpretation and tribute to the Christian conversion of Russia.
 
“VAE's 35th season is a chance to celebrate consistency and creativity,” Swanson says. “The music is both firmly historical and decidedly contemporary. Shchedrin's sound world is spacious, but the intent of the music is human as it traverses a wide range of emotions.”
 
It’s the emotional appeal that Swanson says the VAE understands and is able to communicate in a way that reaches and moves audience members.
 
“The ensemble's repertoire includes a long list of choral masterworks … and VAE brings those works to life with energy and passion,” Swanson says. “Critical to the ensemble's identity, however, is a long-time commitment to new and inventive works — pieces new to us, to our audiences or that take a fresh look at long-held cultural conventions. It is the co-existence of these identities for over three decades that makes VAE a critical component of the region's cultural scene.”

Do Good: 

•    Check out the regional premier of The Sealed Angel at two performances: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at St. Boniface Church in Northside and 4 p.m. Feb. 1 at Mother of God Church in Covington.

•    Chat with Swanson and other VAE singers after the show. The ensemble wants to connect with you.

•    Support the Vocal Arts Ensemble.
 

My Furry Valentine provides venue to adopt rather than shop


The fourth-annual My Furry Valentine adoption event is just a couple weeks away, and more than 550 animals — including dogs, cats and other furry friends — are in need of a home.
 
It’s a way for individuals to collectively come together to help mitigate the Tristate’s euthanasia rates by advocating for adoption as the preferred choice when searching for a pet.
 
For individuals like MFV board member Robin Tackett, the event is a reminder of the love a new addition to the family can provide. She volunteered with MFV for its inaugural event in 2011 and was introduced to Adore-A-Bull Rescue.
 
“They had the sweetest girl, April, that I fell in love with and started following her story on Facebook,” Tackett says. “By September of that year, I was fostering for AABR.”
 
According to Tackett, more than 1 million pit bulls die in shelters every year, and only 1-in-600 pit bulls find a home to call one’s own.
 
“Those statistics are staggering,” Tackett says. “It’s heartbreaking when a rescue goes into a shelter knowing they have three foster homes available and can only pull three dogs. You know the fate of the other 20-30 in the shelter.”
 
Tackett wants to “see an end to those needless deaths,” she says, so she’s doing her part to help. She’s regularly fostered dogs, and last year she adopted Smith, a pit bull who was four months old when she met him and who weighed only 3.6 pounds.
 
He, along with the other pups in his litter, was flea- and worm-infested and diagnosed by veterinarians at UCAN with a low body temperature, ocular discharge, enlarged lymph nodes and an upper respiratory infection.
 
Tackett says she was in tears.
 
“I had three puppies at my house that we had just pulled from another case, and no one else was open to take these six and I had to convince AABR that we had to take this case, even though it was out of our normal guidelines,” she says. “After many phone calls and getting the pups from UCAN to the hospital, we were able to find three homes to take the three puppies I had, and I took these six home to nurse them back to health.”
 
MFV was quickly approaching, and the six puppies were all healthy enough to attend. Still, Tackett says, Smith was meant to be hers.
 
“He was the runt of the litter and so sick that the vets didn’t think he was going to live,” Tackett says. “He had a special place in my heart, and I knew I could not let anyone walk out my door with him in their arms. He is the love of my life.”

Do Good:

•    To honor Smith and encourage others to spay or neuter their pit bulls, the Smith fund at UCAN was established. Call UCAN and mention this flyer for a free spay or neuter procedure for your pit bull. 

•    Visit My Furry Valentine 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 14-15 at the Sharonville Convention Center.

•    Support My Furry Valentine, and encourage friends to adopt. 
 

Bouquet Restaurant launches monthly wine dinner series to benefit nonprofits


Covington’s Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar kicks off its Charity Wine Dinner Series this week to benefit The Carnegie. The five-course meal with wine pairings will become a regular event on the last Tuesday of each month to benefit a local nonprofit.
 
“It's about sustaining the community and shining light on other local businesses and charities,” says Chef Stephen Williams, who owns Bouquet. “Not only does it benefit them, but us as well as a part of that community. Hopefully the idea of helping others will become contagious.”
 
The idea for the dinner series came about because the restaurant wanted to resume its monthly wine dinners, which it had taken a break from during construction. It transformed into a charity event, however, after Bouquet employee James Reynolds, who Williams says “has a very philanthropic soul,” pitched the theme.
 
“He brought the idea to us, and we loved it,” Williams says. “It makes them even more fun.”

As a small business owner, Williams says he’s happy to support the community because “it all comes full circle.”

“Owning and running a business is not easy,” he says. “People put their whole lives into these small endeavors. I think it's important that we all help each other out. The more people that come to our area, the more we all benefit. Someone may come to The Carnegie dinner this month who has never dined in MainStrasse, then they see Otto’s and think ‘We need to try them too!’ We love the sense of community in this area and really enjoy the people around us.” 

Do Good:

•    If you're a nonprofit that would like to partner with Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar, contact owner Stephen Williams to explain how your organization could benefit from being a recipient of the monthly event. Bouquet is currently searching for next month's beneficiary.

•    Call the restaurant at 859-491-7777 to reserve your spot at the Jan. 27 dinner. Individual tickets cost $125, and $40 will be donated directly to The Carnegie. 

•    Connect with Bouquet on Facebook.
 
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