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Great American Cleanup seeking volunteers for April event

Hundreds of volunteers help beautify various spots throughout Covington every Spring during Great American Cleanup, and more are needed for this year’s event April 30.

The Great American Cleanup — hosted by Center for Great Neighborhoods, Keep Covington Beautiful and the City of Covington — is Covington’s largest annual volunteer event, garnering more than 800 helpers each year.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity for people to come out and join with their neighbors to give back to their community,” says Shannon Ratterman, the Center’s community manager of community development. “This is a big collective effort to make our community a more beautiful place.”

Attendees who sign up will be assigned to specific sites around Covington to pick up litter, place trees, spread mulch and plant flowers. Rumpke is this year’s event title sponsor.

Anyone interested in learning more information about Great American Cleanup can attend an informational session Saturday, April 2, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. at Braxton Brewing Company in Covington.

An after-party will take place at Goebel Park to celebrate, Ratterman says.

Do Good:

Register as a volunteer for Great American Cleanup on Saturday, April 30 from 9 a.m. to 12:00 noon. 

• Attend the informational session Saturday, April 2, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. at Braxton Brewing Company, 27 W. Seventh St., Covington.

• For more information on how you can get involved, contact Shannon Ratterman

Opening Day Diamond seat raffle to benefit UpSpring's Summer 360 program

UpSpring is raffling off Opening Day Diamond seats to raise money to support Summer 360°, its education and enrichment summer program that serves Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky children experiencing homelessness. 

The organization, formerly named Faces Without Places, has been established for almost two decades. The summer program gives children the chance to hone their math and reading skills with the help of licensed teachers while also participating in fitness and other activities. Transportation and meals are provided free of charge each day.
UpSpring found that more than 85 percent of kids increase or retain their skills through the program, and all of them show an increase in hope, stability, comfort and well-being.
“This is simultaneously one of the most heartwarming jobs and horrifically depressing at the same time,” UpSpring Executive Director Mike Moroski says. “When kids come to the program, you see them make friends and do well, and it’s beautiful. But it’s depressing when at the end of the day the kids are going back to the couch, shelter or wherever they are staying.”
The Opening Day Diamond seat tickets were donated by John Burns, CEO of Encore Technologies and friend of UpSpring. Burns donated tickets for UpSpring’s raffle last year as well.  
Funds from the raffle will continue to support children living in poverty and experiencing homeless by giving them access to education and enrichment-based programs like Summer 360°.
“Cincinnati has the second-highest child poverty rate in the country,” Moroski says. “We’re striving harder to reverse the nasty trend of poverty in our town.”
Do Good:

* Purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win Opening Day Diamond seats. Raffle ends March 31. 

• Learn more about UpSpring’s Summer 360° program

• For more information on how you can help, contact UpSpring

Art Museum's Rosenthal Education Center celebrates successful first year

More than 26,000 people have walked through the doors of the Rosenthal Education Center (REC) at the Cincinnati Art Museum since it opened last March.
The 2,300-square-foot space is designed to give children and their parents a hands-on experience inside the museum with interactive exhibitions that rotate based on permanent and special collections. Interactive installations are usually hard to find in most art museums.
“When people come to an art museum, they’re are usually told not to touch anything,” says Jill Dunne, Cincinnati Art Museum Director of Marketing and Communications. “In REC, kids can come in and not only see art but create art of their own. It takes (museum visits) to a whole new level.”
Rosenthal Education Center is also home to family programs like Summer Camp, Wee Wednesday, Art in the Making, Connect, Creative Encounters and Evenings for Educators. When it comes to the future, the REC — and the Art Museum itself — has plans to become more accessible and more open to the community.
“We’ve always been a museum of the people for the people,” Dunne says. “We want to add more interactive and hands-on experiences within our galleries for an overall positive experience for adults and their children.”
Do Good:

• Stop by the Cincinnati Art Museum and visit the Rosenthal Education Center, 953 Eden Park Dr., Mt. Adams. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Mondays; admission is free.

Make a donation to help support the museum’s programs, including the REC.

• For more information, visit the Cincinnati Art Museum website.

Fourth round of Covington Creative Community Grants now open

The Center for Great Neighborhoods is seeking applicants for its fourth round of Creative Community Grants intended to engage and impact Covington for the better. 

In its most recent grant cycle, the focus was on building an inclusive community for all. A total of $30,000 was awarded to grantees creating unique opportunities for togetherness “from incorporating personal possessions into a mosaic mural to highlighting the collective artistic talents of an entire neighborhood to learning culinary techniques in a new way alongside the blind and visually impaired,” says Shannon Ratterman, the Center's Program Manager of Community Development. 

In the new round of grants, the focus is on health. 

“We believe that the health of the community is dependent upon the health of its residents,” Ratterman says. “When residents have access to physical activity, healthy foods and good medical care, they are more likely to succeed in other aspects of their lives.” 

Anyone who identifies as an artist and who has some connection to Covington is encouraged to apply. Finding creative approaches to addressing health-related topics like smoking cessation, food security and physical activity is ideal.

The grant deadline is May 2, and the Center will notify recipients after it reaches a decision June 15.

Do Good: 

• Check out previously highlighted projects and consider applying for a grant.

• Learn how you can help support the Center for Greater Neighborhoods.

• Like the Center on Facebook so you can keep up to date with the projects and other related events.

Handbags for Hope generates $47,000 for literacy programs

The Literacy Network of Greater Cincinnati (LNGC) netted $47,000 at its annual Handbags for Hope fundraiser last month, when about 400 people came together to honor those working to make Greater Cincinnati a more educated and empowered community. 

Highlights of the evening included recognition of key contributors, Chair Couples Ralph and Janelle Lee and Stan Williams and Kristi Clement-Williams, who raised more than $54,000 for Cincinnati youth in the past five years. Specifically, the couples named LNGC as the nonprofit recipient for the Fore Kids Golf Outing in 2015, pulling in $14,000 for programs like the Winners Read tutoring initiative, Winners Walk Tall (focusing on character building and children’s self esteem) and the Children’s Basic Reading Program. 

LNGC works closely with local schools but also makes it a point to focus on adult populations as well. Perhaps the most inspiring element of the night took place when Victoria Mitchell — a student in the Adult Basic Reading Program — took the stage to share her story and receive her 2016 Hope Award. 

Mitchell, who raises her twin grandsons, volunteers at their school and works at a local soup kitchen and food pantry, loves to sing and wanted nothing more than to join her church choir. Because of reading limitations, however, she worked to memorize the words to every song in the choir’s repertoire. 

“God gives you the gifts to make up for what you don’t have,” Mitchell said. 

As she continues to improve reading skills, Mitchell’s memory can take a breather, as she’s gaining both knowledge and confidence in her reading program. 

“No one is more deserving of the Hope Award than Victoria,” LNGC President Michelle Guenther said. “She is doing a wonderful job in class and is dedicated to learning to read. Her selflessness and perseverance in life serves as an example to all of us.”

Do Good: 

Support the Literacy Network of Greater Cincinnati.

Volunteer with the Literacy Network.

Like the Literacy Network on Facebook.

My Furry Valentine event in February found homes for 780 animals

More than 13,000 people attended the fifth annual My Furry Valentine event last month, resulting in 780 animals finding forever homes during the two-day event.
Since the event’s inception five years ago, 2,600 dogs, cats and other small animals have been adopted from various Greater Cincinnati area rescue and shelters groups. Carolyn Evans, founder and local pet photographer, created My Furry Valentine with the goal of educating people on adoptions and dispelling common myths about shelter animals.
“There are always thousands of wonderful animals looking for a great home,” Evans says. “Many people would be surprised to learn just how many great family pets they see in their neighborhoods that are actually rescue animals.”
Event attendees came from all over the region, traveling from as far as Minnesota, West Virginia, Tennessee and even Canada.
Even if attendees didn’t go home with an adopted pet, it provided them with the opportunity to see and meet local shelters. But the annual event is more than just two days in February — it’s about saving animals from being euthanized.
“There are so many opportunities to save the lives of these animals,” Evans says. “It’s great to pull everyone together and work as a united force at an event like this. My Furry Valentine is one of many solutions. … We’re all coming together to solve the bigger problem.”
Do Good:
• For more information on how you can help My Furry Valentine, contact Carolyn Evans.
• Learn more about the groups that participated in My Furry Valentine.
• Find a shelter animal online at PetFinder.

Center for Great Neighborhoods offering free tax preparation in Covington

The Center for Great Neighborhoods offers free tax preparation every year for low-to-moderate income households in Covington to help them make sense of their tax forms.
Last year, 940 families received help from the Center with their taxes, and more than $1.2 million was refunded to those families.
The Center sponsors an IRS-certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site as part of a collaboration with the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, which is also leading efforts to educate local taxpayers about the Earned Income Tax Credit and offering free assistance to low-income residents who want to file taxes online.
The Center for Great Neighborhoods opened a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic this year to help clients with IRS-related questions and problems. The clinic also provides seminars for English as a Second Language clients with the help of translators to educate Spanish speakers with tax questions.
The Center offers a variety of financial education services, including budgeting and credit management workshops, that reached more than 300 individuals last year.
Do Good:

• Tax preparation sessions are offered 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, 4-7 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays through April 16 at the Center for Great Neighborhoods, 1650 Russell St., Covington (map here).

• Learn more about Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.

• For more information about the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, contact Mary Leppor.

COMTO to award transportation, planning, engineering students $10,000 in scholarships

Prospective high school or current college students studying engineering, management, planning, mechanics or any other transportation-related field are eligible to apply for a Cincinnati Chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) scholarship.

COMTO will work to further its mission of ensuring “a level playing field and maximum participation in the transportation industry for all individuals, businesses and communities through information sharing, training, educational and professional development” at its April 21 scholarship luncheon.

Scholarships ranging from $750-$2,500 will be awarded to eligible and deserving students. 

According to Brandy Jones, Cincinnati COMTO president, pursuing a career in the transportation industry presents opportunities with much potential both now and for years to come.

“The transportation sector is thriving and can be a very rewarding career choice,” says Jones, who serves as public relations manager for Metro. 

Students can apply for the Mallory Humanitarian Scholarship, the First Transit Achievement Scholarship and the MV Achievement Scholarship, while current COMTO members are also eligible to apply for the Will Scott Scholarship if interested in career development. Nearly $10,000 will be awarded at the scholarship luncheon. 

“Through our scholarship program, we hope to inspire interest in the transportation industry and help develop its future leaders,” Jones says.

Applicants must complete and submit required information by the March 31 deadline. 

Do Good: 

• If you are a current or prospective student interested in the transportation industry, apply for a Cincinnati COMTO scholarship.

• Learn more about COMTO, and consider becoming a member.

• Like Cincinnati COMTO on Facebook.

National Industries for the Blind recognizes Clovernook Center as 2015 Growth Award recipient

National Industries for the Blind, the nation’s largest employment resource for individuals affected by blindness, has recognized Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired with the 2015 Growth Award. 

As a recipient of the award, Clovernook Center will receive funding enabling it to sustain employment while focusing on upward mobility and to continue growth by facilitating more employment opportunities for its clients. 

“We are incredibly proud of this recognition from NIB,” Clovernook Center President and CEO Christopher Faust says. “We have worked hard to provide sustainable employment opportunities for individuals who are blind and visually impaired in Cincinnati and Memphis.” 

According to the NIB, 70 percent of Americans who are blind and of working age are unemployed.

Clovernook Center’s Community Employment Services department works to change that statistic, providing coaching and job opportunities for individuals on and off campus through Clovernook’s own social enterprises and also through local employers who collaborate with the organization. 

“Our employees are hardworking and dedicated and have truly earned this honor,” Faust says. 

And for the NIB, awarding the Clovernook Center with a Growth Award is an honor.
"Clovernook Center continues to lead the way in creating employment and high-growth career opportunities for people who are blind,” NIB President and CEO Kevin Lynch says. 

Do Good: 

Support Clovernook Center by donating.

Connect with Clovernook Center on Facebook.

• Clovernook Center offers a multitude of volunteer opportunities, so get involved.

United Way aims to improve local access to federal college grants via TEAM-FAFSA

A whopping 47 percent of 2013 high school graduates across the country did not fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) while $141.9 million of college aid was unclaimed in Ohio and Kentucky, according to NerdWallet calculations. 

The United Way of Greater Cincinnati has brought together a multitude of community partners to address the issue in hopes of making postsecondary education for more low-income and first generation students a reality through its pilot program TEAM-FAFSA

TEAM-FAFSA has joined forces with its Earned Income Tax Credit initiative to streamline the process of completing one’s taxes while at the same time providing families with advice on FAFSA completion, a task that can prove difficult when parents’ tax information is not readily available. 

“Too many students are not completing the FAFSA and losing precious dollars that can help fund their dreams of higher education,” says Michelle Bullis, youth leadership development coordinator at Brighton Center Inc., a TEAM-FAFSA site.

According to the United Way, a survey of 500 local students from the class of 2014 indicates that access to parental tax information was a barrier in completing the FAFSA. Without this information, students have no clue as to whether or not they’re eligible for a Pell Grant. 

Through the EITC initiative, qualifying families receive free tax preparation. Immediately following preparation, families and prospective students learn about possibilities for their futures, which Bullis says is a win-win. 

“TEAM-FAFSA is getting teens excited about college and streamlining the process for parents and guardians. Being able to complete your taxes and then immediately receive expert advice on FAFSA completion is huge,” Bullis says. “We’re encouraging students, traditional and non-traditional that higher education is possible, and the way to fulfill that dream is through the FAFSA. Seeing the teens’ reactions to the realization that college is possible and a better future is in reach, tells me that the TEAM-FAFSA project is making a difference.”

Do Good: 

• Attend an upcoming TEAM-FAFSA event to receive coaching and guidance while completing the FAFSA. 

• Join TEAM-FAFSA as a volunteer.

• Learn more about the United Way and its partner organizations working to make TEAM-FAFSA possible.

Join the March Madness at Starfire Council's 18th annual Final Four FlyAway

For both diehard and casual college basketball fans, ’tis the season, as March Madness is almost upon us. 

Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati, “a visionary organization working to build better lives for people with disabilities,” is gathering people together March 19 to engage in the fun of bracket challenges, local eats and drinks and live action on multiple televisions during its 18th annual Final Four FlyAway

The event is aimed at young professionals and basketball enthusiasts alike and takes place during the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament as teams work their way to the Sweet 16. 

Throughout the evening, amidst the festivities Starfire will also share stories of those within its community that showcase the organization and what fellowship with others can do for one’s sense of self. 

Take Josh, for example, who began volunteering at Xavier University Cintas Center’s concession stands about three years ago to help raise money for a local girls’ basketball team. Everyone now knows him by name, and he’s embraced the chance to surround himself with likeminded individuals who are passionate about the same thing he is: sports.

“The data is clear: People with developmental disabilities grow increasingly lonely as they age,” says Mariah Gilkeson, marketing and special events coordinator. “Starfire works to decreases people’s experience of social isolation by forming relationships to people and places in the community based on strengths and shared interests.”

Individuals like Josh and his family will attend FlyAway (Josh’s favorite Starfire event that he looks forward to each year), which presents another opportunity to mingle with those who have similar hobbies. 

“It’s one of our biggest fundraisers of the year,” Gilkeson says. 

Tickets are $65 in advance or $80 at the door and include a chance to win 2017 Final Four tickets.

Do Good: 

• Plan to attend Final Four FlyAway at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine at 7 p.m. March 19.

• Try your luck at predicting the Big Dance and purchase up to 10 brackets at $10 a piece for a Split-the-Pot opportunity with Starfire.

Contact Mariah Gilkeson if you’re able to donate baskets to Starfire, which is need of extras for raffle preparation. 

Random Acts of Kindness launches #Kindcash initiative

Random Acts of Kindness’ latest endeavor #Kindcash — a pay-it-forward initiative encouraging patrons of local establishments to preemptively purchase something for a customer in need — is beginning to catch on. About 10 businesses are currently participating, and their task is simple: keep a supply of vouchers at the register for customers to purchase so future customers can enjoy a free coffee, perhaps a meal or service when they need it most.
“What we hope to accomplish is to make giving and/or acts of kindness an easy, matter-of-fact thing — simple — part of one's daily routine,” says Liz Wu, organizer of Random Acts of Kindness and #Kindcash. “Just like you might impulse buy a granola bar sitting on the counter of a coffee shop, we want it to be just as easy to impulse buy a voucher to brighten another person's day with a free coffee or meal.”
Essencha Tea House and Roebling Points Books & Coffee are among participating vendors, and organizers say they are hoping to partner with a barbershop or hair salon in addition to a place that changes oil.
According to Wu, the goal is not only to brighten people’s days but also to increase sales and community support for small businesses.
“We want to draw attention to the idea that supporting your local small businesses is vital to the community and also make it easy for said venues to host kindness initiatives with intention of creating a feeling of community in their space,” she says. “Hosting the #Kindcash vouchers is such a gesture and lets the public know that this is a business that deliberately fosters community.” 

Do Good: 

Contact Liz Wu if you're a local business interested in getting involved with the #Kindcash initiative. 

• If you see a #Kindcash display, consider purchasing a voucher so the business can hang it on its wall and a customer can use it when needed. 

• Follow Random Acts of Kindness on Twitter.

COV200 still at work ensuring a lasting legacy from bicentennial celebration

Though Covington’s bicentennial year of 2015 is now in the past, celebration continues as volunteers behind COV200 have more in store to make sure the city’s future is as rich as its history.

“We have accomplished a lot of great things this past year celebrating Covington’s history, and as the celebrations wind down we want to continue the momentum of those efforts into Covington’s future,” COV200 Chair Normand Desmarais says. 

To maintain momentum, COV200 is hosting a Legacy Launch Event at the Madison Event Center Thursday, Feb. 25, when the group will unveil plans to meet the goal of the Legacy Education Initiative to ensure success among all children in the City of Covington by closing the achievement gap. 

Covington schools, along with Children, Inc. and other key community partners, have already launched Footsteps2Brilliance, a literacy game app that is free for Covington residents with children between the ages of 3 and 9. This is just one step of many toward healthy students and families in Covington. 

At the Legacy Launch Event, key players will be recognized for their contributions throughout the bicentennial celebration and the finished Bicentennial Time Capsule will be on display for all to see. 

“The time capsule is a way for Covington residents to be a part of Covington history,” Desmarais says, “and leave their own legacy for future generations.”

Do Good: 

Register for the Legacy Launch Event at 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. Tickets are free. 

• Learn more about the Legacy Project here.

• Like COV200 on Facebook.

Skyward rolls out LiveWell NKY to improve health outcomes

Skyward recently implemented a community-wide initiative that aims to improve the health of Northern Kentucky residents, LiveWell NKY.

Skyward, formerly known as Vision 2015, is responsible for developing and managing Northern Kentucky’s strategic plan, myNKY. After months of intensive research and feedback from the community, Skyward found that health was a major concern in the community — so it became one of the plan’s four main focus areas.

“Kentucky overall comes in 47th out of 50 states in health outcomes,” Skyward President Bill Scheyer says. “That number clearly sets the stage for raising the health level of people in Northern Kentucky. It’s not that there is no culture of good health, but a culture of poor health.”

LiveWell NKY is currently in its pilot phase and will focus on helping communities, schools and organizations in three key ways: active lifestyle, better nutrition and smoking cessation. Improvement in any or all of the areas will ideally move Northern Kentucky residents into a better health status and help adjust and improve existing community policies.

Five coalitions in Northern Kentucky are currently piloting the program: Covington, Newport, Ludlow, Fort Mitchell and Gallatin County. LiveWell NKY will focus on those coalitions for the first year and then add others as needed.

Founding partner St. Elizabeth Healthcare donated $100,000 to help launch the initiative, Scheyer says.

Do Good:

• For more information on LiveWell NKY, visit Skyward's website.

• Become a LiveWell NKY ambassador

• Take advantage of various opportunities to eat better, get more exercise and stop smoking.

Accelerate Great Schools announces $1.43 million in grants to Cincinnati public and Catholic schools

Accelerate Great Schools recently announced it will invest $1.43 million in grants to help support Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Accelerate Great Schools was launched in 2015 with the idea that students in every Cincinnati neighborhood should have access to a great school. Funding for the program, which comes from private donations, will help students find a higher level of success in school.  

Accelerate Great Schools is splitting its investment into two grants: $128,000 will help CPS and its work with TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) to develop a talent pipeline of school principals, assistant principals and teachers; $1.3 million will help Seton Education Partners introduce a blended learning model at two local Archdiocese of Cincinnati grade schools.

“We believe every student in every neighborhood deserves a chance to attend a great school,” Accelerate Great Schools CEO Patrick Herrel says. “Our only objective is student success.These initial investments are a bold first step to ensure more students have access to quality education here in Cincinnati. We’re thrilled to partner with Cincinnati Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to build upon their foundation of success.”

Do Good:

• For more information, visit Accelerate Great Schools’ website.

• Make an investment to Accelerate Great Schools by contacting Patrick Herrel

• Learn more about how to apply for funding through Accelerate Great Schools.  
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