Finalists announced for 10th Annual Duke Energy Children’s Museum Difference Makers

. February 7, 2018

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) is ready to celebrate the inspiring individuals, organizations and businesses that are making a difference in the lives of children in our region. Finalists for the 10th Annual Duke Energy Children’s Museum Difference Makers Celebration have been selected from a remarkable group of nominees. Honorees will be announced and all nominees will be celebrated at the 10th Annual Difference Makers Celebration February 24. Tickets for the event are on sale now.

The Difference Makers program was started in 2008 in celebration of the Duke Energy Children’s Museum’s tenth birthday. Difference Makers recognizes those individuals, organizations and businesses that work to make a difference in the lives of children and the communities in which they grow, learn and play. Since the inaugural event, CMC has recognized more than 350 incredible Difference Makers in our community!

We asked the community to nominate youth, adults, volunteers, businesses and organizations they knew that were making a difference and inspiring others. The response was overwhelming with nominations submitted from across the Greater Cincinnati region, each demonstrating leadership and compassion.

A total of 15 finalists in six categories were selected for their contributions to children and the community around them. The Difference Makers program will also recognize one community honoree for their positive impact on the lives of children and their families. The 10th Annual Difference Makers Community Honoree and Difference Maker is Lighthouse Youth & Family Services.

Lighthouse Youth & Family Services works to advance the dignity and wellbeing of children, youth and families in need. Dedicated to providing exceptional services and compassionate care, Lighthouse is a nationally-recognized innovator and leader in services for youth and families in crisis, foster care and adoption, youth involved in the juvenile justice system and homeless youth and young adults. In keeping with its belief that every young person deserves a place to call home, Lighthouse is leading the transformative effort to end youth homelessness in Cincinnati by 2020. The non-profit agency serves 6,000 children, youth and families each year.

“We love the opportunity to celebrate the many different people, organizations and businesses who are working to make a difference in the lives of children in our region,” says Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “This family-friendly event is a wonderful teaching moment where we can shine a light on community spirit and encourage future leaders.”

In celebration of the Difference Makers program’s tenth year, CMC is honoring three legacy Difference Makers.

Norma Petersen and Thomas J. Klinedinst, Jr. were integral to the growth of the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). As executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center (GCAEC), Petersen worked with Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel to spearhead funding for the new building. More than a building, Petersen helped build one of the country’s most touted revitalized urban arts districts in Over-the-Rhine, an area that continues to grow. While Petersen played a key role in tapping the generosity of Cincinnatians in a campaign that gave rise to the new SCPA, Klinedinst used his business acumen to transform the GCAEC into the SCPA Fund . As the Fund’s Chairman of the Board for more than 10 years, Klinedinst helped guide the SCPA through many phases and into its current era of excellence. Sadly, Petersen and Klinedinst recently passed away. However, their legacies live on in the thousands of students whose lives have been transformed by the SCPA.

In 2015, Logan Brinson was honored as a Difference Maker for his work fundraising on behalf of Kindervelt and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. As a patient of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital himself, Logan worked to give back to the hospital and build better lives for the thousands of patients just like him. He was an inspirational young man with a brilliant smile who worked with organizations and individuals in Greater Cincinnati and beyond to make a difference in the lives of others. When Logan passed away in 2016, over 1000 friends attended the service to celebrate his life. The Lovis Foundation was founded in 2016 in his honor, combining his name with that of his favorite singer, and sometimes alter ego, Elvis. The Foundation continues Logan’s legacy of spreading joy, with a mission to promote charitable initiatives that celebrate individuality, inspire compassion and encourage others to shine.

The finalists by category for the 10th Annual Difference Makers Celebration, each nominated by members of the community, are:

Cecille Figueroa and Dasha Peñas Johnson – Cecille and Dasha started Warm Hugs with a humble mission: provide a small blanket to Hispanic immigrant children in the area who lack basic necessities most often take for granted. The blankets are a symbolic warm hug that makes the children feel warm and loved, especially for children who may not be used to the cold Ohio winters so different from their home countries. Last year they distributed over 300 blankets and are actively seeking donations to grow that number to 650 next winter.
Latasha Hamner – Latasha has impacted countless children and families in Greater Cincinnati through volunteer efforts with her church, tutoring younger children and organizing a clothing drive for homeless youth. As a member of CMC’s Youth Programs she has engaged children and their families with educational programs at CMC and the Cincinnati Art Museum and helps mentor new teens in the program.
Adult – Volunteer
Jacqueline Cox – As founder of Sisters of SCPA, Cox works to empower young women at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. She focuses on building self-esteem, encouraging the young women to understand how their own unique talents and personalities can offer so much to those around them. She requires participants to engage in one volunteer project each month, such as their Beat Cancer Bra Drive which provides free bras to any young woman as long as they take provided breast cancer awareness information. She has also led a sock drive for the men of City Gospel Mission and fork, purse and earring drives for the Esther Marie Hatton women’s shelter and Our Daily Bread . What Cox started as a group to help eight young women who could not afford prom dresses has blossomed into an organization providing more than 50 young women with the tools to improve their own futures and communities.
Colleen McGrady – In 1998, as a volunteer with the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative , McGrady began a 20-year relationship with 12-year-old JeMiah and her two younger siblings. When they first met, JeMiah’s parents were both incarcerated and they were cared for by their bedridden grandmother. McGrady made a promise to never disappoint JeMiah and over the years grew closer to the family over lunch dates, shopping trips and visits to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. She helped guide JeMiah and her siblings through ups and downs, providing stability and encouragement. JeMiah graduated Cincinnati State with honors and a leadership award and plans to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati. Her brother Je Marr attended the University of Cincinnati and is working with the Boys and Girls Club , following McGrady’s example, hoping to have a similar impact in the lives of other children.
Sheryl Rajbhandari – Rajbhandari left the corporate world in 2012 to start Heartfelt Tidbits , an organization focused on helping refugees assimilate into American society, regardless of origin, race, religion or educational background. Understanding that many refugees are coming from traumatic experiences, she helped 34 teens attend a summer camp program focused on trauma and healthy relationships. She also mentors refugee women who help teach children how to cook a dish and share the culture of their country. She helps coordinate registration and transportation for a variety of summer camps, filling children’s time with learning and playing alongside their peers. Programs for children from preschool through high school introduce them to reading, art projects, sewing, cooking healthy food and career opportunities, empowering them to grow confidently in their new home.
Adult – Professional
Caitlin Burke – As the Prevention Coordinator for Women Helping Women ‘s comprehensive program on ending gender-based violence for youth in Hamilton and Butler counties, Burke teaches 5-day and 10-day programs in schools or other youth organizations. Her programs explore signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexual assault and harassment (including use of social media and technology), consent, bystander intervention and resources to help a friend or loved one. She also coordinates a Youth Prevention Team to help students gain leadership skills, volunteer experience and opportunities to continue the conversation about dating violence prevention. She empowers children in our community to seek healthy relationships and be there for one another.
Lindsey Dewald – Dewald founded the City Flea and Kids Flea in OTR, providing an opportunity for children under the age of 15 to sell their wares and learn about entrepreneurship. As the Kids Flea enters its third year, Dewald continues to act as a mentor and catalyst for young entrepreneurs, encouraging them to showcase their talents in a safe, enjoyable environment.
Christi Kettman – For more than 17 years, Kettman has been a staff member with Fernside , a non-profit organization that helps children sort through feelings of grief and loss after death. It’s an organization she was drawn to after her own experience coping with the loss of her parents in the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire as a child. Now she leads Fernside’s School Program which offers onsite grief support for students at no cost to them or the schools. When the program began in 2003, Kettman and her team served 16 children. Since then they have served over 195 schools and last year her team served 385 students. Drawing from the strength of her own experience, Kettman helps create a safe space for students to find themselves again after loss.
Empower Youth – Founded in 2015, Empower Youth works to break the continual chain of poverty by providing resources to children living through generational poverty. In its first year, Empower Youth provided 140 students with backpack meals each week during the school year in five school districts. That number grew to 600 last year. They also facilitated 149 scholarships for students to attend summer camps and provided 340 pillows, pillowcases and stuffed animals to kindergarten students through their Dream Big program. In the last three years, Empower Youth has provided 12,000 weekly summer meals. Their true impact is not in the tangible numbers, however. The group has seen students who were once labeled as “problems” become successes and has seen students finally find a place to belong.
Pets for Patients – Three years ago, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center called Carol Bonner to help find an adoptable pet for a cancer outpatient. As a volunteer with the Cincinnati SPCA , Bonner helped them realize that wish and Pets for Patients was born. Pets can be transformative in a patient’s recovery but can be daunting for a family to take on. Pets for Patients works with local shelters to find adoptable pets and will even foster the pet to train it and acclimate it to home life. Each pet is vet and temperament checked before it is placed in its forever home. What began with just one pet has grown into almost 30 unbreakable bonds of love and healing.
Seven Oaks Farm Miniature Therapy Horses – Seven Oaks Farm uses miniature horses to bring joy and offer hope through animal-assisted therapy for children. Their “Just Say Whoa to Bullying” program teaches children that everyone has something valuable to offer, encouraging acceptance, tolerance, respect and understanding. The miniature horses make learning fun and engaging, capturing the attention of children. Seven Oaks Farm has partnered with local police departments to bring the program to 30 schools last year with the hope of eventually reaching all 60 schools.
Antonio Violins – Store owner Shawna Wingerberg and her staff devote countless hours and boundless energy to non-profit music programs in the area, helping children gain confidence and musical education they otherwise would not have access to. The company regularly donates instruments and accessories to groups like MYCincinnati Youth Orchestra and the staff allots special time on weekends to repair instruments for the youth orchestra. Antonio Violins also supports programs like the Adaptive Music Project, which provides music education to youth with disabilities through the use of innovative instrument adaptations. In addition to donations supporting music education, Ms. Wingerberg and her staff regularly donate clothes, furniture and personal items to families in need.
School & Youth Group
Anchor Service Club – Made up of 7th and 8th graders, the Anchor Service Club of St. Antoninus provides opportunities for students to volunteers at organizations and for causes they may not be exposed to otherwise. Each student is responsible for volunteering in at least four events per school year. Students have worked with the Boys and Girls Club, Crayons to Computers, Matthew 25: Ministries, Pregnancy Center West , Ronald McDonald House and the Yellow Ribbon Support Center. Students not only give back to others but learn and grow themselves, recognizing the value of giving back to their community and the power one individual can have to transform lives.
PeaceJam – Elementary, middle and high school PeaceJammers build their own skills and reach out to others to help solve problems. They build their skills as peacemakers, such as active listening, goal-setting, anger management, positive identity expression and role development, applying them to build a safer community. Their projects are youth-centered, youth-designed and youth-led. One group learned that veterans experience homelessness at a higher rate than other populations and organized a movie night featuring a documentary on veteran homelessness to raise money for the Talbert House. Another group developed lesson plans for the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati to educate younger children on environmental concerns. Students who participate in the group leave knowing they are change drivers in their community.
Student Organized Service (SOS) – Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy encourages students to become leaders in their community through Student Organized Service (SOS), a group of 30 teams and 70 student leaders. Students in SOS facilitate service experiences ranging from weekly tutoring programs for students learning English as a second language, after school sports programs for elementary school students and dance and theater clinics culminating with performances for friends and family. SOS challenges students to identify needs in their own community and develop programs to address them, instilling leadership and problem-solving among the participants.
These finalists will be recognized for their inspiring work and dedication at the 10th Annual Difference Makers Celebration on Saturday, February 24 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center . During the event, we’ll share the finalists’ stories and celebrate the strides they’ve taken to better the lives of children in the Greater Cincinnati region. They’ll also have a chance to engage with fellow Difference Makers during the family-friendly event and to encourage others to become further involved in their community.

To purchase tickets visit or call (513) 287-7000.

Category: Museum News

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