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Ameritas employees log thousands of volunteer hours, invest in community giving

Cincinnati’s office of Ameritas, a financial services company, is committed to giving back to the community to further improve the areas in which its employees “live, work and play.” To showcase that ideal, the company recently launched The Hours Project.
To date, Ameritas employees nationwide have donated 16,369 total hours. Its Cincinnati employees are heavily involved in the project and have engaged in everything from serving meals at the Ronald McDonald House and the Over-the-Rhine Kitchen to providing educational assistance at local elementary schools and landscaping for the elderly.
“Being able to give back to the community makes me proud to work for Ameritas,” says Jennifer Mueller, disability claims examiner and member of Ameritas’ Community Involvement Council. “I know that we care about helping others. Part of our mission is about ‘fulfilling life,’ and we really do that.”
Mueller led more than 20 employees at this past year's annual Community Care Day, where she says she and her coworkers engaged in activity like trimming, power washing, removing dead trees from Mercy Community at Winton Woods' senior living facility's property and cleaning up flower beds.
“Fulfilling life” is something Ameritas employees are doing on a daily basis by helping clients to protect what's most important to them, but for Mueller it’s gratifying to be able to extend that reach beyond the company’s typical clientele.
“We not only give of our time, but we also give monetarily each year to worthy causes, like the arts in Cincinnati,” Mueller says. “It’s so important that my company gives back to the community. It shows that we are invested in Cincinnati and especially Forest Park, where we are located.”  

Do Good:

•    If you're a local business, initiate an activity or activities to give back to your community. 

•    Contact The Hours Project if you have an idea to share.

•    Support local nonprofits by giving monetarily. 

DAAP students lead hands-on effort to fix vacant lots

Students from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning have spent the past two years working with the City of Cincinnati, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and Building Value to propose sustainable ideas to neighborhoods about what can be done with vacant lots.
“It’s a major land use issue, it’s a planning issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a social issue, it’s a cultural issue,” says Virginia Russell, facilitator of the Vacant Lots: Occupied project at DAAP.
Keep Cincinnati Beautiful approached Russell, director of DAAP's horticulture program, to come up with a plant-based response as opposed to “turf and mowing.”
So Russell recruited Ryan Geismar, adjunct professor and landscape architect with Human Nature Inc., to get students together for a charrette — an intensive class that met for an entire weekend — and periodically reconvened throughout the course to meet with community stakeholders to discuss ideas.
“It was an academic way to get students of architecture, planning and horticulture together to imagine what those lots could be,” Russell says. “Because they can’t all be community gardens, they can’t all be pop up micro pubs, they can’t all be this one cool thing.”
In the first iteration of the class, DAAP students created the pattern book Vacant Lots: Occupied, which is meant to serve as a resource for neighborhoods when determining what they can or should do with their newly deconstructed properties.
“Keep Cincinnati Beautiful is working with citizens groups to say, ‘Here’s the pattern book. This is what we recommend that you do,’” Russell says. “So you’re thinking about doing a community garden? Here are some things you need to think about before you do that move. You want to do a pop up cinema? Here are the patterns you need to view.”
The project is a win-win for all parties involved, and the students are certainly benefitting. The horticulture capstone class received 2014 Honor Awards — the highest honors — for their work from both the Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Cincinnati Design Awards.
“Any time the students get to work directly with the people who benefit from their work, it’s all good,” Russell says. “The students really enjoy the work, and we had two students who were born and raised in Price Hill [the neighborhood served in this fall’s capstone course], so that was really helpful. But we’ve had students from all over the world working on these projects — three students from France in the fall class — and they just had this image of what they see on the news, the bombed out neighborhoods like Detroit and things like that, so they learned a lot about the truth of the vacant lot problem.” 

Do Good:

•    Support the work Keep Cincinnati Beautiful does by donating.

•    Do your part in keeping Cincinnati beautiful by volunteering.

•    Connect with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful on Facebook.

Permaganic Co.'s Eco Garden provides youth with purposeful engagement in OTR

Permaganic Co.’s youth internship program, in which inner city youth between the ages of 12 and 18 engage in the “maintenance, sales and planning” of the nonprofit’s Eco Garden in Over-the-Rhine, is invaluable, according to Bryna Bass, friend of the garden.
Bass has volunteered with the program and served as Permaganic Co.’s board chair; and the Eco Garden—aside from being a “beautiful place,” she says—holds value for young people in that it merges job readiness, financial literacy, art, science, service learning and agriculture all into one.
“Not only do the kids come in and work, but they’re also learning. There’s a lot of soft skills that are being embedded and learned at the same time,” Bass says. “And the kids come from different neighborhoods—some of them know each other, some don’t—but they’ve got to figure out how to work together.”
Bass currently serves as program manager for Rothenberg Preparatory Academy’s rooftop school garden, so students—many whom are also familiar with Permaganic Co.’s Eco Garden because of its proximity to home and school—are constantly sharing their enthusiasm.
“I hear from them all the time just how excited they are that someday they could possibly work there,” Bass says. “So when they’re 10 and 11, they want to be able to work in the Eco Garden. It’s a place that they articulate and are able to say they feel safe and good about themselves in, and they feel productive there.” 

Do Good:

•    Support youth interns' work by becoming a Permaganic Co. customer

•    Volunteer with Permaganic Co. 

•    Support Permaganic Co. by donating. 

First Impact Covington Day hailed a success

More than 200 volunteers came together last Saturday on Make a Difference Day—a national day of giving—to better the City of Covington.
It was the first of six Impact Covington days, which COV200—the group tasked with planning the city’s Bicentennial Celebration—initiated.
“We want to instill pride in the community,” says Amanda Greenwell, vice chair for the bicentennial. “And we think the best way to do that is for people to actually take part and make it a better place.”
The committee is now accepting applications for the second Impact Day, which will take place December 13.
“If an organization wants to do whatever—beautification, public art, social services—we have a database of volunteers and a pretty big network of people who say they want to get involved and give back,” Greenwell says.
This past weekend, volunteers did everything from painting to landscaping, but the next Impact Covington Day will deal specifically with work completed at social service organizations throughout the city.
“These events are great opportunities to actually meet your neighbors and get engaged with your community,” Greenwell says.
“Today with the digital age we’re in, people are really disconnected with our neighbors, so through the Bicentennial and all the events, we’re hoping to bring the community together as one to meet their neighbors and understand more about the city and the organizations that make it a better place.”
Do Good:

•    Submit your Impact Covington Day application by November 10 if you're a nonprofit in need. 

•    Attend one of the hundreds of events planned for Covington's Bicentennial Celebration.

•    Sign up to volunteer with COV200.


Healthy Roots Foundation continues Bluegrass for Babies, rebrands to expand education and outreach

The Healthy Roots Foundation, formerly Bluegrass for Babies, will host its sixth annual benefit concert Saturday to support Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Perinatal Institute.
The nonprofit rebranded itself this year in an effort to better reflect its focus on educational outreach for familial health education.
“[The name] Bluegrass for Babies no longer made sense for everything we’re doing,” says Anne Schneider, who founded the organization with her husband, Matt, in 2009. “It made sense for one of our events. So basically, it’s grown so much—we thought that the Healthy Roots Foundation was a name that represents the true essence of trying to create healthy families and improve children’s health.”
Since 2009, Bluegrass for Babies has raised nearly $100,000 for Cincinnati Children’s, which Schneider says she’s “incredibly humbled and thrilled” to have accomplished, because the concert—now hosted at Sawyer Point—initially began as a backyard party.
As the event has grown, so has the nonprofit’s goals and outreach.
“We’ve realized there’s a big gap in education for families—health education in general—and people really aren’t getting the knowledge they need to make good decisions,” Schneider says.
So at this year’s concert, six interactive experiences—all aimed at empowering families with healthy decision-making capabilities—will complement the festivities.
The activities are similar in nature to some of the play-based activities the nonprofit has hosted at the Cincinnati Museum Center, for example.
“We have a make-your-own pizza garden, so it’s a gardening activity where kids learn how it’s made,” Schneider says. “And then once it’s made or taken home and planted, we give them basil seeds, and we give them recipes to make their own pizza with it—so they’re looking at where it’s coming from, how it’s made, and then that’s your food—so it impacts your nutrition and healthy choices.” 

Do Good:

•    Support the organization in its efforts to raise funds for Cincinnati Children's Perinatal Institute by purchasing a ticket to attend Bluegrass for Babies. One-hundred percent of proceeds from food purchased at the event, from both Green BEAN Delivery and Mama Mimi's, will also benefit the Perinatal Institute. 

•    Support the Healthy Roots Foundation by giving.

•    Connect with the nonprofit on Facebook.

Rothenberg rooftop garden will give OTR students new growth opportunities

Rothenberg Preparatory Academy will see the completion of its 8,500-square-foot rooftop teaching garden this year, thanks to many donations and supporters in the local community. 

Edwin “Pope” Coleman, rooftop project manager, has worked with the Over-The-Rhine Foundation for the past eight years to bring the rooftop garden to life

When Rothenberg was vacant and facing demolition, Coleman, as well as many residents of the community, approached Cincinnati Public Schools and asked for a renovation instead of a replacement.  

“[Rothenberg] was a flagship and point of pride for the neighborhood,” says Bryna Bass, full-time teacher and garden manager. “The community fought hard to prevent it from being torn down.” 

With the understanding that CPS wouldn’t be responsible for providing anything more than the space, the OTR Foundation took on fiscal responsibility and began restoring Rothenberg through Coleman’s vision. 

Fundraising for the rooftop garden began in late 2008, and more than $300,000 has been raised since then. The recent Midsummer Night’s Gala raised additional funding also need for construction and operation.

The teaching garden, which was once a playground, will allow students to explore science and nature. The developed curriculum uses garden-based lessons to deepen students' educational experience through hands-on problem-solving activities, Bass says.

The rooftop teaching garden educational program will launch at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year. 

Do Good:
  • Visit Rothenberg and go on a tour of the garden. 
  • “Like” the rooftop garden progress on Facebook. 
  • Make a donation to the OTR Foundation

Taking Root offers $5 trees to home and land owners

The Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District (HCSWCD) has sold more than 43,000 trees to Hamilton County residents as a result of joining a local campaign, Taking Root.

Taking Root, which kicked off in September 2013, is a collaborative effort of eight counties in the tri-state area working to raise citizens’ awareness of our region’s tree canopy crisis. The campaign is educating the public on the value and need for trees and how to care for them with a goal of planting 2 million trees by 2020—one tree for each resident in the tri-state region. 

The program allows homeowners and landowners to purchase a tree for $5 in an effort to reduce the threat of the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle and bush honeysuckle as well as many other tree-destroying culprits. American Elm, Ohio Buckeye, Allegheny Serviceberry, Hardy Pecan, Black Gum and Swamp White Oak are the trees available to be purchased and planted.

The deadline to order trees is Sept. 25, 2014; trees will be available for pick-up in October. The district is also asking residents to send in a photo to make sure the trees are planted correctly and maintained. 

But it doesn’t stop with just buying and planting trees. John Nelson, HCSWCD public relations specialist, says there are also ways citizens can protect and maintain existing trees.

“It’s very important to make sure you’re not a victim of these invasive species,” Nelson says. “Inspecting your existing trees is a great way to prevent and control the problem before it worsens.”

Do Good:

•    Buy a tree from the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District.

•    Sign the Taking Root pledge

•    Maintain existing trees in the community. 

Occupational therapist founds volunteer group for Summit clients

In her four years as an occupational therapist at Summit Behavioral Healthcare, Laura Menze says she’s noticed her clients’ strong desire to be helpful.
“They enjoy working around the unit, whether that’s wiping tables or watering plants, so they have a longing to engage in productive occupations,” Menze says.
Clients are sometimes limited, however, when it comes to engaging in meaningful work outside of the facility.
So Menze started a volunteer group that allows Summit’s clients to work with one another, in a safe environment, for a positive cause.
“Most have been on the receiving end of things for most of their lives and are grateful for the services they receive, but this puts them in the position of the ones who can give, and that’s significant,” Menze says.
The volunteer group meets once a week, and for the past few months, Menze says about 10 males have joined together to do things like plant seed trays for Peaslee Neighborhood Center’s Early Learning Center, make birthday cards for residents at Lydia’s House, craft packets for children at the Ronald McDonald House, and fleece blankets to donate to The Healing Center.
“I think they’ve taken pride in their work,” Menze says. “There’s just a great amount of stigma related to this population of folks; so to be able to hear, ‘Thank you for what you did. That was really meaningful. Someone will be grateful,’—that provides something for their self-esteem, their self-worth.” 

Do Good:

•    Contact Laura Menze if you're a nonprofit interested in a collaborative volunteer opportunity that could be completed on site at Summit. 

•    Volunteer with a local nonprofit.

•    Support a cause you're passionate about.

E-Waste recycling drive saves 75 tons of electronics from landfills

With the beginning of May came the fifth annual Players for the Planet electronic waste recycling drive. The four-day drive ran from May 1-4, and an estimated total of 150,000 pounds (75 tons) of e-waste, including cellphones, computers and printers, was collected.
The annual recycling drive came together through a partnership between many different organizations. Players for the Planet, a nonprofit organization designed to bring professional athletes together to inspire and educate communities about environmental issues, partnered with the Cincinnati Reds, who co-sponsored the event and had players like Jay Bruce and Mike Leake in attendance.
Additional sponsors included Cohen Recycling, PNC Bank, Macy’s, Remke Markets, Kroger, Duke Energy, Green Umbrella Cincinnati, the recycling and solid waste district of Cambell, Hamilton and Butler Counties, and more.
“Over 70 percent of electronic waste ends up in landfills and is not properly disposed of,” says Brewster Rhoads, executive director of Green Umbrella, an alliance of organizations in the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana tri-state area working to preserve the region's greenspace. “This is one opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen; Cohen Recycling has the highest standard you can achieve for proper recycling of electronic equipment, so they are an important partner in this event.”
The recycling drive took over a different parking lot each day, taking place outside of PNC locations in Colerain, West Chester, Hyde Park and Newport. In total, 1,669 cars participated.
“As far as I know, this is the largest recycling drive of its kind in the country,” Rhoads says. “It’s grown considerably each year, from the amount of sponsors to the amount of e-waste we’ve recycling. We’re really lucky to have the support of the entire Reds organization on this. They’ve helped us take the issue of recycling away from being something political and simply make it a mainstream value.”

New anti-littering campaign promotes shared responsibility, city pride

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s “Don’t Trash The ‘Nati” campaign from the '90s is back, but this time it’s personal.
Instead of the phrase “The 'Nati,” it’s rebranded as “My 'Nati” so individuals will be more inclined to take collective action and ownership of their communities.
“If people took pride in their neighborhood and wouldn’t trash it or litter, it would result in less crime, higher property values—just an overall better quality of life,” says Brooke Lehenbauer, public awareness and volunteer coordinator for Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.
According to Lehenbauer, people sometimes justify littering—whether intentional or not—by saying it provides a job to those who clean the streets, but in actuality, that time spent comes from tax dollars and only takes away from time that could be spent doing more beneficial things.
“That’s time they’re away from filling potholes, cutting grass,” Lehenbauer says.
Campaign designs relay the message by showing what individuals should trash—things like coffee cups and banana peels—next to Cincinnati staples that shouldn’t be trashed at all.
“It has iconic Cincinnati landmarks like Union Terminal, 20th Century Theater, the Reds’ stadium—that kind of thing—so the idea is that we want people to recognize that the city is ours to enjoy,” Lehenbauer says. “Keeping it clean has to be a shared responsibility between all of us.” 

Do Good:

•    Check out Keep Cincinnati Beautiful's upcoming events and opportunities to get involved.

•    Take photos of your favorite Cincinnati spots, and use the hashtag #MyNati to connect with others through social media.

•    Suppor the campaign by donating.

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a project manager for Charitable Words. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia. 


Eleven local communities receive grants to increase physical fitness opportunities

Eleven area communities and organizations are the recipients of Interact for Health grants to develop or improve upon spaces for physical activity.
“It’s all about creating infrastructure in places where people can be physically active,” says Jaime Love, Interact for Health’s program officer for healthy eating and active living.
The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington, for example, was one the eleven organizations awarded; and as a result, Latonia Elementary School will be the site of a new area from which the whole community can benefit.
“They worked in partnership to convert the dilapidated playground at the school and turn it into a community park,” Love says. “So there’ll be a new playground, fitness equipment—there’ll be a walking track—and it really will be something that both the school and the community residents can enjoy.”
Other organizations will receive things like a pool lift to increase accessibility, and exercise equipment to add to a fitness trail.
According to Love, creating a culture of wellness where people have easy access to physical activity is the goal.
“We want to encourage public places that are free of charge as well, because we know cost can be a barrier to some people being able to participate,” Love says.
“So when we have lots of public spaces that are safe and up to date and easily accessible—people can walk or bike to them, they’re not too far away from their homes—that just increases the likelihood that they can get out with their family and friends and have some activity on a regular basis.”

Do Good:

•    Check out the 11 physical activity and environments grantees, and make use of the spaces when they become available for use.

•    If you're interested in applying for a grant to receive funds for physical activity environments in 2015, there is still time. Proposals are due by noon, May 1. 

•    Connect with Interact for Health on Facebook.

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a project manager for Charitable Words. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia. 


Metro launches year-long contest to promote green living

Metro kicked off a new initiative this Earth Day by launching a year-long contest that gives riders an incentive to recycle their used passes.
“Drop It In To Win” encourages riders to submit their used 30-day passes, stored value cards or 1-ride tickets for the chance to win a duplicate copy of their submission.
“Here at our offices, we’re big on recycling,” says Jill Dunne, Metro’s public affairs manager. “We added stored-value cards, so there’s more and more paper out there, and we thought this would be a good way to reward our riders and also be environmentally friendly, because at the end of the year, we’re going to recycle all of them.”
Five winners have already received their free passes, and five more will be selected at the beginning of each month for the next year.
“Someone could win a pass of up to $170 dollars value if they had a Zone 5, 30-day rolling pass and put that in there,” Dunne says.
According to Dunne, being environmentally friendly is one of Metro’s priorities, and doing what it can to improve the quality of life within our community is key.
“If you’re interested in the environment, if you want to improve the quality of life for your community, riding on Metro is going to provide that opportunity,” Dunne says. “There’s less pollution—it’s an opportunity for you to get out of the car—and a full bus can take up to 50 cars off the road, so that’s going to be a lot of pollution you’re going to save if you’re riding the bus.” 

Do Good:

•    Get the deals on the contest, and Drop It In To Win

•    Ride the Metro

•    Like Cincinnati Metro on Facebook.

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a project manager for Charitable Words. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia. 


Rooted communities at The Civic Garden Center

The Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati’s annual plant sale is just two weeks away.
It’s the nonprofit’s largest fundraising event and brings plant lovers of all kinds together to talk, shop and have all their gardening questions answered by other likeminded individuals—all while helping The Civic Garden Center raise enough money to fund one of its programs for an entire calendar year.
“That allows us to do our youth education programming, or it allows us to do community gardens for another year. It’s substantial,” says Vickie Ciotti, executive director. “If we did not have this fundraiser, we would have to eliminate one of our programs, so that’s like saying, 'You can’t keep all your children.' How would you decide?”

For Ciotti, the gardening, education and environmental programs all build camaraderie; and everyone involved—whether it's one of the 500 volunteers who assist the nonprofit, or the visitor who happens upon the unlikely refuge nestled within the city—feels welcome.
“You see people who you haven’t seen in a long time, and it’s the most enjoyable, relaxed fundraiser I’ve ever been a part of,” Ciotti says. “There’s just this spirit to the place—we see people as they are, meet people where they are—and it’s not a pretentious group of people at all.”

Do Good:

Register for the plant sale's preview party. 

• Attend the plant sale is May 3-4. View details here.

Volunteer with the Civic Garden Center.

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a project manager for Charitable Words. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia. 


Join in effort to reforest NKY

More than 300 volunteers will join together to plant 2,500 trees this Saturday at Northern Kentucky Urban Forestry Council’s annual project, Reforest Northern Kentucky.
NKYUFC tree leaders will spend the morning educating volunteers and showing them where to go onsite to plant the proper tree in the proper place.
“There’s different trees that need to be planted in different areas,” says Tara Sturgill, environmental specialist at the Northern Kentucky University Center for Environmental Restoration and PR chair for Reforest NKY.
“We want people to know where to plant to get the right species. We want them to grow and stay in the ground and not be cut down, so we’re really trying to educate people on right tree, right place.”
One of NKYUFC’s goals is to educate the public about community trees, which is important because when a non-native tree is growing in an area, it creates an unstable environment and must be cut down.
City of Covington Urban Forester Crystal Courtney has recently been working to cut down Bradford Pear Trees, for example, which Sturgill says the neighborhood is upset about because the trees are so big and have been there for so long.
“But they’re not the proper trees for that place—they’re invasive species,” Sturgill says. “So she’s spent a lot of time cutting those downs, and they’re taking a weekend where people can come out and plant a native tree. But had that education been there years ago, there would be no need for that; so that’s what we’re trying to do with Reforest Northern Kentucky—educate.” 

Do Good:

• Pre-registration for Reforest NKY is closed, but you can still volunteer to plant trees. Get the event details here. If you volunteer, consider carpooling. 

Volunteer April 5-6 to replace the Bradford Pear Trees by planting native trees in Covington.

Contact the NKYUFC to learn proper tree planting techniques, in addition to what types of trees should be planted in particular areas. 

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a project manager for Charitable Words. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia. 

Local club teaches gardening to elementary school children

Fairy gardens, shade gardens, gnome gardens—they all make up the backyard of Joyce Mohaupt, who’s served as president of the Monfort Heights Garden Club for the past two years.
The club, which will celebrate its 85th anniversary March 28, works to beautify Greater Cincinnati by doing things like maintaining landscapes and engaging in community plantings.
“At Montfort Heights Elementary, for example, we have two gardens—one is more of a vegetable garden, and the other one grows more flowers and things like that,” Mohaupt says. “But our club does a program in connection with third-grade students, and we have quite a few of our members that come in to the school, and the students really and truly love it—they’re learning about gardening, and it’s hands-on.”
The garden club members plant corn in the elementary school’s vegetable garden, for example; so students learn how to plant seeds. They later gather the corn, and a popcorn party eventually transpires.
“It’s usually a monthly thing,” Mohaupt says. “They’ll work with potting soil. They have planters they take home—they might do something special for Mother’s Day—things like that.”
For Mohaupt and other garden club members, gardening is more than a love or a passion. It’s a duty to enhance the various communities that make up our city and its surrounding areas.
“Our projects don’t just deal with the Monfort Heights area,” Mohaupt says. “We don’t just stay local—we move around.” 

Do Good:

• Support the club in its fundraising efforts.

Contact the Monfort Heights/White Oak Community Association if you're interested in becoming a member of the garden club, or if you'd like to volunteer to help maintain community landscapes.

• Maintain your gardens so you can provide homes for our birds and bees. 

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a project manager for Charitable Words. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia. 

85 Green Articles | Page: | Show All
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