All posts by Carmen Lawrence-Billé

ABC Doesn’t Take a Summer Break

Once upon a time, many years ago, ABC staff used to call summer our “quiet season.” While schools were out on break, ABC staff would slow down and plan for the year ahead.

When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Cincinnati students back in 2020, we decided that education and enrichment can’t be put on hold. Futhermore, recent data reflects that the average student loses 17-34% of the prior year’s learning gains over summer break, and that learning loss is exacerbated for students in low-income households. 

Nowadays, there is no “quiet season” at ABC! We don’t want summer to be a time of loss and struggle; it should be for fun, experiential learning! We are proud to provide programs and support to our students year-round. With the help of our many partners and the individual schools we work with, we’ve served over 4,600 students this summer alone. Even compared to our impact during the school year, when we serve approximately 15,000 students, this is no number to balk at!

Take a look at some of the fun we’ve been having this summer.

Summer Scholars at Cincinnati Public Schools

Throughout the month of June, ABC partnered with Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) in their Summer Scholars initiative.

CPS launched the landmark Summer Scholars program to provide additional educational and enrichment opportunities to students throughout the month of June at no cost to the students or their families.  While students spend their mornings focusing on academics and social/emotional learning, their afternoons are filled with enrichment activities, provided through partnership with ABC and other nonprofits.

Enrichment curriculums were designed mindfully and carefully to cater specifically to the needs and interests of each school’s student population. Some examples of the programming offered include music, visual arts, performing arts, STEM, team sports, American Sign Language, financial literacy, yoga, martial arts, and environmental learning.  

In total, ABC provided enrichment activities to 4,560 students at 19 different CPS schools. This totaled 312 activities per week and 2082 total hours of programming to students during Summer Scholars.

Big City Jazz

This June, ABC helped eleven students in the CPS Jazz Academy have some once in a lifetime experiences. Students participated in an all-expenses paid excursion, first to Pittsburgh, where they had the unique experience of recording their own playing in the MCG Jazz Recording Studio and later played in a jazz club. From there, students traveled to New York City and had the opportunities to play at the historic Harlem Nights Music Club and Lounge, take a Jazz workshop at the Lincoln Center, see a world-class ensemble play Duke Ellington’s top hits, and meet internationally acclaimed Jazz artist and educator Wynton Marsalis.

“Marsalis is perhaps the most recognized jazz artist and educator in the world today. He really doesn’t have any peer. He’s done so many amazing things for jazz education in his life and he’s the model that all of us jazz educators look up to. He’s a brilliant player, amazing composer, multi-Grammy winner, he started the jazz at Lincoln Center program, and directs that orchestra- so for me, one of the real highlights was the students getting to personally meet him,” Dr. Rudnick, Fine Arts Curriculum Manager at Cincinnati Public Schools, commented. 

While in New York City, students also had a chance to visit historic and iconic landmarks, including Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty. “Very few student groups get an opportunity like this,” Dr. Rudnick said. This opportunity was especially remarkable, given that it was free to participating students. “We don’t want any student to be excluded due to financial situations.”

ABC consistently supports the Jazz Academy throughout the school year. “Students are always taught about Beethoven and Mozart, but to qualify this as the only culturally significant music is a Eurocentric fallacy. It’s just not true,” said ABC Executive Director Sally Grimes. “Especially in Cincinnati, where we have such a rich history of jazz. That’s why the Jazz Academy is so important. We need to show kids role models of different colors in music; how are kids supposed to be something they can’t see?”

Basketball Camp with NBA Expertise

Over the July 22 weekend, a basketball skills training camp took place with instructors including Tim Hardaway Sr., five-time NBA All-Star Champion, and his son Tim Hardaway. Jr, current shooting guard for the Dallas Mavericks. “I’m here, I’ve got my son here, I’ve got my nephews teaching here; this whole opportunity for this camp came about when my brother met the camp director, Daniel Ross. It’s great to have this time with my family, making an impact with so many other families,” Tim Hardaway Sr. shared. 

In partnership with The Ross X Factor, the organization running the camp, ABC offered scholarships to 23 students who otherwise could not have attended the pay-to-play camp. “I want this partnership with ABC to last for years to come,” said camp founder and director Daniel Ross. “This is too good an opportunity for any kid to miss.”

"It's a wonderful thing, [ABC] is doing," said Tim Hardaway Sr. of scholarship opportunity.

The three day-camp took place at Seven Hills High School and included students of all genders grades 3-12. Students honed their skills in speed, agility, and basketball technique as well as built social-emotional skills, such as self-confidence. “These kids could be at home, sitting around, getting into trouble but instead, they’re here. [On day one of camp], we’re wearing them down and getting their blood up; [days two and three], we’re going to teach them about endurance and perseverance,” Tim Hardaway Sr. explained. “These kids didn’t come to goof around, they’re here to work.”

Our special and most ardent thanks to Coach Daniel Ross, Tim Hardaway Sr., and Tim Hardaway Jr. for giving our students such a fantastic opportunity this summer!

Return of the Jazz Fest – ABC Celebrates Increased Impact

You may remember the first Jazz Festival, taking place October 5, 2019 at the Aronoff Center. Over 250 Cincinnati students, grades 4-12, gathered to participate in workshops, masterclasses, and a culminating performance on the mainstage of the Aronoff Center. The evening featured performances from student grounds and an ensemble of professional musicians, including award-winning Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana, Todor Bakardzhiev (Bulgaria), pianist Shamie Royston (New York City), bassist Chris Berg (Dayton, Ohio), and drummer Art Gore (Cincinnati). Over 600 members of the community attended this evening performance. The event was so successful that Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC) decided to make the event the first of many; the Jazz Festival would be an annual celebration.

A year later, we wrung our hands in anxiety as COVID-19 tore through the city. No international artists would be flying in; no students would get hands-on coaching with their instruments; no unmasked performances would be taking place. We knew our students questioned what the future looked like for Jazz Festival and for their own music instruction. We made ourselves busy connecting students with resources and virtual music instruction, all the while biding our time.

That is, until we got the fateful call: the International Jazz Festival was back. “We were given an unexpected call by the Cincinnati Arts Association sometime in March,” explained Director of Advancement Carmen Lawrence-Bille. “They said they had a date open at the Aronoff and did we want to bring back the Jazz Festival? We took a deep breath, knowing we had only a very short time to pull it all together, and we said yes.”

The International Jazz Festival returned May 7, 2022. Internationally famous jazz saxophonist Joan Chamorro from Barcelona Spain joined 107 students and 11 regional jazz musicians for a full day of workshops, masterclasses, and performance opportunities, followed by an evening performance on the main stage at the Aronoff Center. This year, because we knew cost of tickets was a barrier to access for families at the previous Jazz Festival, ABC waived ticket fees and allowed all members of the public free access to the show. By the time the instruments started playing, 1200 seats were full in the Aronoff Center (about double the attendance from the first Jazz Festival).

The second Jazz Festival increased impact on the Cincinnati community by 153%. “It was outstanding to look out from the stage and see almost the entire orchestra section of the house filled,” Sally Grimes commented. “To know that all of these families and individuals were here to celebrate Jazz and these students… to know that perhaps they’d all wanted to come last time but couldn’t because there was a ticket price, was amazing. We’ve learned from that. The Jazz Festival will remain free and accessible in future years, so that anyone who wants to learn about and appreciate jazz will be able to.”

Jazz Festival 2023

We are pleased to announce that the third annual Jazz Festival will take place May 6, 2023 at the Aronoff Center. “We’re incredibly excited for this event and are planning for it to be bigger and more impactful than ever,” shared Carmen Lawrence-Bille.

In the meantime, Jazz lovers and our student musicians will have plenty to keep them busy.

In September, members of the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) Jazz Academy will visit Barcelona with Fine Arts Curriculum Manager Dr. Isi Rudnick and ABC Executive Director Sally Grimes to join this year’s international artist, Joan Chamorro, at his own city’s jazz festival, the Jazzing International Jazz Festival. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these students,” Dr. Rudnick excitedly shared, “and it would not have happened for these students without the International Jazz Festival or ABC’s help.”

Furthermore, in November, our CPS Jazz Academy will host a Jazz Cabaret Fundraiser at Kennedy Heights Arts Center to support the Jazz Academy and all the inspiring work these students do. Marlin McKay, Cincinnati-area Trumpetist and professor at Georgetown college, applauds the program, saying, ““What Dr. Rudnick has accomplished by founding and growing the CPS Jazz Academy is astounding. This program is a national model of school and community jazz education. Every aspect of providing high quality jazz education to students has been carefully constructed by Dr. Rudnick. We are in the early planning stages of starting something similar in Lexington, Kentucky and we will model it on the Jazz Academy in Cincinnati. This is the most inclusive and dynamic jazz education program for school age students I have seen.”

If you would like to support the Jazz Academy or the third annual Jazz Festival, please consider making a donation or contacting us for more information!

200 Cincinnati-Area Students Attend Black Futures Program at TQL Stadium

D.A.D. Initiative Program to Focus on Remembering Black History and Developing Teen’s Futures

On February 24, 2022, The D.A.D. Initiative (Directing Adolescent Development) hosted the 2022 Black Futures program. The program took place at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati’s Historic West End, with over 200 teen students in attendance. The D.A.D. partnered with ABC, the FC Cincinnati Foundation, Buildwell Development Group, and other local organizations to support the full day event.

“Black Futures” was designed to honor black history while also focusing forward by providing career exposure for black teenagers in the Greater Cincinnati area. The program offered a new and engaging way for black high school students to learn about potential career options directly from successful black professionals who have exceled in various fields.

“All too often black adolescents are simply unaware of the career possibilities in front of them,” says Tyran Stallings, Executive Director at The D.A.D. Initiative. “But in a single day during Black History Month, we provided a forum for local students to learn from role models who look like them, about the infinite and very real career possibilities available to them.”

The 200 students in 11th and 12th grades met with 35 black professionals spanning a wide array of career fields. Not only did the students gain career insight, but also learned about the journey that these professionals experienced. The intention was for students to see the similarities between themselves and the speakers, learn about careers they might not have known about, and thus find motivation for their own future success.

ABC was honored to partner with the D.A.D. Initiative to sponsor and support the Black Futures Event at TQL Stadium. In addition to ABC, the D.A.D. Initiative partnered with several key sponsors to host Black Futures, including:

• FC Cincinnati Foundation
• Buildwell Development Group representing a wide range of careers have volunteered to engage Black students in candid conversations about their respective paths to success.

“All too often Black adolescents are simply unaware of the career possibilities in front of them,” says Tyran Stallings, Executive Director at The D.A.D. Initiative. “But in a single day during Black History Month, we provided a forum for local students to learn from role models who look like them, about the infinite and very real career possibilities available to them.”

About The D.A.D. Initiative

The Directing Adolescent Development (D.A.D.) Initiative is a nonprofit founded in 2013 when founder, Tyran Stallings, noticed the need to grow black male participation in the educational process, where only 2% of teachers are black men. The ethos behind the initiative is that “the foundation for massive change starts with incremental ones”.

The D.A.D. Initiative now serves thousands as it engages students, families, and the community in programs spanning from technological education to workforce development. The initiative provides mentorship, education workshops, 21st century skills development courses, summer enrichment programs, community health events, and workforce development trainings.

ABC’s Cheri Jordan Named Resource Coordinator of the Year By Adopt A Class

Activities Beyond the Classroom is proud to share that Cheri Jordan was named the 2022 Resource Coordinator of the Year by Adopt A Class.

Cheri Jordan is the resource coordinator at Silverton Elementary, where 74% of students come from low-income households. “We’ve seen some really tremendous successes at Silverton Elementary, due to Cheri’s hard work,” shared Deputy Director Rachel Stallings. “She has connected the school to some great support and been essential to nurturing the relationship with other nonprofits like Adopt a Class.”

“Cheri is truly a joy to work with,” said Director of Advancement Carmen Lawrence-Bille. “She is an excellent listener who hears the needs of her community. She’s great at finding solutions to meet these needs, and she follows through on these ideas with clear communication and efficiency. She’s a team member I know I can count on. I’m not at all surprised Cheri won this award; she is an exemplary resource coordinator.”  

“Our resource coordinators have tremendous impact in their schools,” said Stallings. “Through ABC’s network of support and partners, our team is able to bring projects to fruition incredibly efficiently.” ABC’s resource coordinators connect students and families to organizations and supports to promote their success and wellness both in and outside of school. “We are incredibly proud of the work our resource coordinators do in their ten schools across Cincinnati and we plan on growing our resource coordination program at ABC.”

Adopt A Class Celebration Breakfast at Greenacres

Adopt A Class Executive Director, Sonya Fultz, presents Cheri Jordan with the award for the Resource Coordinator of the Year

Cheri was honored at an awards ceremony held on June 7, 2022, at Greenacres Arts Center. The audience consisted of luminaries from across Cincinnati’s corporate, nonprofit, and government sectors. “It was a beautiful ceremony, held in one of the most gorgeous spaces in Cincinnati, filled with honorees that are making this city a better place every day,” commented Carmen Lawrence-Bille.

Adopt a Class is present in 33 schools across the Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky region. With the help of over 130 partner organizations, it has reached 5,000 students in our communities. It was through a partnership with Adopt a Class and ABC’s Cheri Jordan that enabled VEGA America’s field trip to Silverton Elementary this past school year. ABC is grateful to have Adopt A Class provide incredible learning opportunities at four CPS schools where ABC is the lead agency, and we hope to strengthen our partnership with their organization, and increase their presence where we are the lead agency.

Brian Leshner Commended by CPS Board of Education

On June 13, 2022, former Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC) Executive Director, Brian Leshner, received a formal commendation from the Cincinnati Public School (CPS) Board of Education for his 18 years of service to the district.

“Brian has always completed his executive obligations and duties for ABC with understanding, consideration, and good humor and always with a sense of integrity, keen intelligence, and a gentleness of spirit to everyone,” reads the commendation, which was passed unanimously by the six board members present. Brian attended the meeting in-person to accept the commendation, where he received a standing ovation from the Board of Education and an engraved plaque celebrating his achievements.

“Brian has done a magnificent job,” Dick Friedman, ABC’s President of the Board, acknowledged to the Board of Education. “We are so pleased, and we thank [the Board of Education] for the commendation and the resolution. Brian deserves everything. He is the best of the best.” ABC board members Bob Bedinghaus and Carol Gibbs, as well as current Executive Director Sally Grimes, also joined Dick, standing behind Brian Leshner as this resolution was passed. Their glowing smiles as Brian received his plaque spoke volumes about the pride they each feel in being a part of Brian and ABC’s stories.

Brian shook hands, bumped elbows, and hugged all board members present with a mutual respect and admiration that comes from years of collaboration and support. As Brian accepted his commendation, he shared, “I said [this position] was going to be my ‘legacy job,’ and it turned out to be my legacy job. I can’t feel any better about anything I’ve ever done, than head up ABC.”

Though Brian has exited the role as Executive Director, he remains an active member of the ABC family as a member of the advancement staff. To learn more about Brian Leshner’s accomplishments with ABC or to congratulate Brian on this commendation, please visit abccincy.org or get in touch.

VEGA Americas visits Silverton Elementary

In late January, Silverton Elementary was visited by an old friend with some cool, new technology.

VEGA Americas, a global manufacturer of measurement sensors and integrative software with a manufacturing site here in Cincinnati, has been connected to Silverton Elementary through Adopt A Class for about six years. Adopt A Class reaches out to corporate organizations and connects them with schools in the Cincinnati area, such as Silverton. Through this partnership with Adopt A Class, VEGA has built an ongoing relationship of support and experiential learning with a fourth grade class, and this year the entire school got to benefit from their support.

“We started our relationship with Adopt A Class at Silverton because we wanted to get involved in our community,” shared Allison Hornschemeier, a customer relationship management (CRM) training specialist at VEGA Americas who has been involved with the class personally for four years. “We’re an inclusive company and we do a lot ourselves. All of our volunteers represent different parts of our company, so the kids get exposure to careers in CRM, service teams, engineering, and technical support. They also got to see how companies like ours work with other companies, like MadTree Brewing, to make everyone’s work, work better.

Experiencing the Brand New Trailer from VEGA

This January, Silverton students got a special treat when VEGA Americas partnered with Adopt A Class, ABC, and Silverton Resource Coordinator, Cheri Jordan, to bring their brand new demo trailer onsite to the school and gave students a hands on tour of the many tools and products the company manufactures. “This was actually the debut event of the trailer,” Allison shared.

Modeled after their onsite learning lab (which is always available for educational events and bookings), VEGA Americas developed the trailer to bring an interactive lab space onsite to customers instead of singular pieces of equipment. “This was a really special treat for our employees too. Silverton Elementary helped us test all our demonstration materials and it went great!” 

The trailer houses a variety of level measurement devices representing a range of VEGA Americas’ products. Students were shown and talked through measurement tools that use radar, radiometric, and ultrasonic tools specifically. “Truly, STEM at its best. It was a lot of fun.” VEGA Americas representatives also talked with students about technology, manufacturing, logic puzzles, charting measurements, and how to read measurements. The trailer was onsite for about four hours and about 100 students had the opportunity to experience the lab for themselves.

“You’re always nervous, when it’s the first time you do anything new,” Allison shared of her experience at the school, “but it was really exciting. The students asked such good questions, and the school was so excited for this STEM opportunity because it introduced a lot of cool STEM conversations. It got kids really excited about math and science in fun, hands-on ways.” Students also shared how cool it was to see their classroom lessons being directly applicable to real-world situations.

Allison shared that one of her favorite parts of the event was the exposure students had to different careers. “Students got to see a great diversity of employees: some of college degrees, some with masters and advanced degrees, some high school graduates, and all of them from very different cultural backgrounds. All of the employees they met were happy in their careers and were able to find a version of success that works for them, through very different paths. That’s so important to show students: that there’s no one road to success or happiness, but a variety of paths they can take to get where they want to go.”

Thank You Adopt A Class and VEGA Americas!

Adopt A Class works with numerous schools throughout Cincinnati, including 4 CPS schools where ABC is the lead agency. Adopt A Class helps connect corporate organizations such as VEGA with schools like Silverton, enabling thousands of students to engage in opportunities such as this one.

VEGA Americas looks forward to events like these in the future, maybe even at different schools. “Though the trailer was built to increase sales and strengthen customer relationships, this event proved it holds tremendous community value as well,” Allison said. The company hopes to bring the trailer onsite to more schools, including high schools, in the future.

Thank you to Adopt A Class, VEGA Americas, and our Silverton staff for making this very special event come to pass! We look forward to future partnerships with Adopt A Class, VEGA Americas, and our partners throughout Cincinnati.

Meet Your RC: Covedale’s Taneeka Porter

ABC is proud to say that the greatest gift we receive this holiday season is that of our tremendous staff. “100% of our staff busts their butt to achieve our mission and support our students,” said Director of Advancement, Carmen Lawrence-Bille. “I believe that each and every one of our staff is doing the most (and in many cases, more!) for our students. That thought alone brings tears of joy to my eyes.”

Our Resource Coordinators are just one group of ABC’s hard working staff. While their title may sound vague, their work gets specific and targeted to ensure that every student at their school has the tools they need to succeed. We’ve introduced you to many of our Resource Coordinators through the blog recently (check out our profiles on Roselawn Condon’s Darcus Anderson, Silverton Elementary’s Cheri Jordan, and Cheviot School’s Onyango Collier), and this week we’re taking a trip to Covedale.

To learn more about what ABC Resource Coordinators do, please visit our website. 

Q&A

Meet Taneeka Porter, resource coordinator at Covedale School. Taneeka holds a degree in liberal studies and sociology from Wright State University. Taneeka has over ten years of experience working with youth in different capacities, from Camp Counselor to Preschool Teacher to Mentor Coordinator and Mentor. In her role here at ABC, she coordinates and implements community partnerships and programs by engaging Covedale families and the community.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Interacting with students and getting to know them on a more personal level, while also allowing them to get to know me. I started in this position about a year ago (I just celebrated my one-year work-i-versary!), during virtual schooling when COVID was at some of its most dangerous, which meant that I didn’t really get to meet or interact with most students until late spring of 2021. It has been a privilege getting to know the students since then.

One of my favorite times every week is Friday lunch. I’ve started meeting with a group of five students that have had some behavioral problems, so over lunch we have ‘girl talk’ and get to know each other. We talk about a lot, from bullies and communication methods to positive motivators and how they can better support each other. These lunches have helped mitigate some of those disciplinary issues,  but they’ve also allowed me to learn a lot about them while I also get to share with them a part of myself. It’s been eye opening and refreshing to get to know them.

I also love helping families and building relationships with them. There’s a particular family I’m helping right now: a grandmother who is undergoing chemotherapy and just got custody of her grandkids. We’ve rallied the community and connected her to the clothes and toiletries she needs to help her kids, and that warms my heart. I feel like in this job, I really make a difference.

What is something particularly unique/special about the Covedale School community?

The first thought that comes to mind is how amazing our parent/teacher association (PTA) is. Our PTA at Covedale is very involved! They’ve made me really feel welcome here. They do hard work around the school, appreciate our staff, and go above and beyond for our students. They are so supportive and I love how much they love.

That’s a great thing to be able to brag about! Schools nationwide really struggle to engage parents in this capacity. What is your secret recipe that gets your PTA so engaged? 

Honestly, I wish I could take credit- but our PTA was amazing long before I got here. If you’re wondering what the secret sauce is that makes them so spectacular, it’s them. THEY, the parents and teachers, are the special sauce! They are flexible with and inclusive of each other in ways that make it easier to be engaged. Whatever they’ve done to build their PTA so strong, it has worked. They are amazing.

If you had $1,000 today to make a difference at your school, what would you do with it?

What a great question, because I’ve been looking for donations recently! If I could have that money today, I’d use it to buy more things I can give to our families in need, like clothes, food, and toiletries. We work closely with the church next door to the school, who has a free pantry, but we work hard to supplement what they can offer and make sure families in need have total coverage. 

We’re also looking for more money to expand our elementary sports offerings. We offer a lot of cool activities at Covedale, including girls/boys basketball, dance, choir, 3D printing, student council, flag football, soccer, cross country, and even ABC Clubs. When the kids get engaged in these activities, it changes everything. These kids show up to school earlier, they study harder, they do better. The only problem is that we don’t have enough spots on the teams for all the kids that want to play. If we had a little more money for another basketball team, for example, we could get so many more kids engaged in enriching activities that make them more successful throughout their lives.

What is something you are excited about this school year?

Like I mentioned, I started during COVID- which means I haven’t had all the time to get to know students that I wanted. Now that I’m actually in the school with students, it makes my days so much better. I think I’m most excited to keep building relationships with students and see them grow throughout the school year and do all the things that had to be put on pause during COVID.

I’m just excited to be here. I love being able to support Covedale and our community here.

Learn more about Covedale School:

To learn more about Taneeka Porter or Covedale School, we recommend you check out the Covedale School website.

Q&A With Kate Solomon of the ABC Board of Trustees

1) The age-old Cincinnati question: where did you go to school?

I grew up in the Columbus area and have answered this question incorrectly many times – especially when I first moved to the area. I attended the University of Dayton for undergrad and Xavier University for my MBA.

2) What is your professional background?

I have spent the majority of my career in professional sports. I spent six seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, moved to DeanHouston, a B2B marketing firm in the area, and then joined FC Cincinnati in January of 2016 ahead of our first year in the USL. I’ve been blessed to be with FCC from the early days and to see the incredible community support to bring Major League Soccer to Cincinnati so quickly!

3) Tell us a little about your family!

My husband and I live in Montgomery with our two children and enjoy playing and attending sports and exploring the parks around the city.

4) When you were in school: did you participate in any extracurricular activities? If so, which ones and what skills do you think you gained from them?

I played sports (mostly basketball), attempted to play piano and flute and participated in a few clubs and activities. We learn so many soft skills through sports and extracurricular activities – how to treat people, work as a team, face adversity and overcome challenges. Extracurricular activities also help us find talents and create confidence in ourselves. This is one of the many reasons I love ABC!

5) Outside of ABC, in what ways do you give (or in what ways have you given) to the community?

Most of my community efforts are focused around my role with FC Cincinnati as our VP, Community Relations and the Executive Director of FC Cincinnati Foundation. In building the club, we have been very intentional about being present and active in our community. We believe it is a responsibility of all professional sports teams and we have invested heavily in this space. In its first three years, FC Cincinnati Foundation has launched and grown quickly, investing over $1 million in the community each of its first three years and reaching over 30,000 children annually. Our work is focused around improving the lives of children through soccer with programming focused around soccer, education and character development.

6) What do you see as the greatest challenge for today’s students, and what do you think ABC’s role is in addressing that challenge?

With all of the uncertainty that children are experiencing related to the pandemic, creating opportunities for them to find a positive outlet and reliable support is key. ABC and its programs provide moments of normalcy and fun.

7) What is one of your favorite ABC programs and why?

I would be remiss not to say the soccer program, which we partner on at FCC Foundation. This program helps expose children to the game of soccer while incorporating the soft skills we touched on earlier. In addition to this program, it has been incredible to see the early adoption and growth of programming in the arts space with the Jazz Festival. Children have unique talents and interests and it is great to see so many children embracing opportunities to learn new skills and find a positive outlet.

8) What are some goals you’d like to see ABC accomplish in the future?

I am excited to see the growth into new programs and opportunities for kids. As noted with the Jazz Festival, children have unique talents and interests and it is great to see so many children embracing opportunities to learn new skills and find a positive outlet.

9) What is the most important thing you would like the public to know about ABC?

The public is very familiar with CPS and often not as familiar about the role that ABC plays in partnership with CPS. It is a classic example of one plus one being greater than two. Without ABC many of the opportunities available to these students would not be possible and together the two organizations can and do have a greater impact on the students they serve.

Meet Your RC: Cheviot School’s Onyango Collier

The last couple of months, we’ve been conducting a sort of meet-and-greet for you and our resource coordinators serving your schools. Previous posts have included introductions to Roselawn Condon’s Darcus Anderson and Silverton Elementary’s Cheri Jordan.

We’re hopeful that in these posts, we can get you a bit more familiar with what’s going on in your schools and communities, see if there are ways you can be benefitting that you didn’t previously know about, and/or find ways you can support these everyday superheroes in their work. We work hard to meet each communities unique needs rather than prescribe a one-size-fits-all plan to help all schools. “Every school and every neighborhood in Cincinnati is different,” said Deputy Director Rachel Stallings. “It’s part of what makes this city so vibrant and beautiful. And to nourish and grow each of these communities, we need people with unique skill sets that suit each neighborhood. What unites our resource coordinators is that all of them are great listeners and hard workers.”

To learn more about what ABC Resource Coordinators do, please visit our website. 

Q&A

This week, we’d like to introduce you to Onyango Collier (also known by colleagues and friends as Mr. O), resource coordinator at Cheviot Elementary School. Mr. O has been in this position since 2013 and has a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Central State University specializing in Graphic Arts. Previously, he has worked with Beech Acres Parenting Center as a School Based Case Manager, providing him experience as a qualified mental-health specialist, and with Children’s Home of Cincinnati as a behavioral health technician, providing direct service to children with mental health needs.

Mr. O was also honored in May 2019 by Mt. St. Joseph University, who named him the Community Partner of the Year, representing Cheviot School.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is when I have provided a resource, such as food or a uniform, to a child or student’s family in need. I know that, a lot of times, families don’t expect these types of service from a school. I also enjoy that I get to provide the opportunity for some students to play sports and recreational activities at the school.

What is something particularly unique/special about the Cheviot School community?

Cheviot is very special and unique, but there are some things that are particularly interesting about our school community. First, we have a Gifted Academy within our neighborhood school that has a specialized educational program where academically talented students in grades 3-6 can be eligible by ranking as superior cognitive on a cognitive abilities test.

Second, we are also the first FranklinCovey Leader in Me School in Southwest, Ohio who has been awarded LightHouse status, which exemplifies being the pinnacle of a Leader in Me School. Leader in Me is a whole-school transformation model developed with educators that gives students the leadership and life skills they need to succeed in and outside of school. Leader in Me helps our students become self-reliant, set and track goals, prioritize their time, complete their homework, and create balance in their lives. Our young students know how to take initiative in their own lives and they have a respect and appreciation of differences that other students don’t. At Cheviot School, we follow Steven Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people by promoting leadership opportunities as a point of reference. 

Finally, one last cool thing about Cheviot: our community has statues of the Cheviot Sheep all over various businesses and the school. Cheviot is a breed of sheep who get their name from a range of hills in NorthUmberland and the Scottish border. It’s a fun mark of community pride to see the Cheviot Sheep around town and says a lot about our community’s appreciation for our heritage and history.

If you had $1,000 today to make a difference at your school, what would you do with it?

$1000 can do a lot. I think I would utilize those dollars to buy shoes or recreational items to promote healthy living choices for our students. Those dollars could put a lot of kids in motion, keep them active, and keep them making safe, healthy choices.

What is something you are excited about this school year?

Sporting activities! In elementary schools, athletic programs were not as high a priority to maintain; it was much more important to make sure students were socially distancing, keeping their hands clean, and staying healthy. That year and a half off due to the COVID-19 pandemic kept kids standing still- and now they’re on the move once again. The sporting activities at Cheviot School help to promote family engagement and a sense of work ethic, plus team building skills and positive sportsmanship.

Learn more about Cheviot School:

To learn more about Onyango Collier or Cheviot School, we recommend you check out the Cheviot School website.

Meet Brian Leshner: Director of Special Initiatives

Brian Leshner has rejoined the Activities Beyond the Classroom team as the Director of Special Initiatives, and is already working diligently with Executive Director Sally Grimes and Director of Advancement Carmen Lawrence-Bille.

But Brian’s face is not new around the ABC offices. Brian was the founding Executive Director of ABC and helmed the organization for 17 years. He resigned from this position as of June 30, 2021.

“Back when we started ABC, we had humble dreams: to make sure students didn’t have to pay for their own soccer jerseys, or to make sure students weren’t blocked from playing on the basketball team because they couldn’t afford the shoes,” said Leshner. “Those dreams have come true. In fact, ABC today has far surpassed my hopes and dreams.”

The ABC of today that Brian refers to is one that not only makes high school athletic opportunities more accessible, but a vast selection of wellness and after school activities accessible and equitable. ABC serves approximately 15,000 students annually across the Cincinnati Public Schools district, 90% or more of which live at or below the federal poverty line.  Programming is targeted to support each school and community in unique ways, and programming areas range from athletics to arts to STEM to wellness.

“Over the last 17 years, we’ve grown to accommodate the particular needs of each community we serve,” said Deputy Director Rachel Stallings. “The Aiken community needs are different from Walnut Hills’, which are completely different from Silverton Elementary’s, and so on. Rather than pretend to know what’s best for these communities, we’ve spent the better part of two decades listening to these communities and responding to what they tell us they want and need. Now, we support the student experience in holistic ways that address root causes to systemic problems.”

Brian cheerfully resigned from his position and took a two-month sabbatical while the new Executive Director, Sally Grimes, stepped into the leadership role. “Now,” he grins, “the fun begins.”

Special Initiatives at ABC

In his new position, Brian will be helping Activities Beyond the Classroom create a legacy that will last generations. “We’ve been helping kids for 17 years now,” Brian recounted. “I’d like to see ABC still around to help their kids, and their grandkids, and the generations beyond them. There is no limit to the amount of students we can support- if we have the necessary support to get there.”

Brian plans to spend his time in several areas of legacy planning across the organization, including…

Arts & Music Funds- For seventeen years, ABC has supported high school athletics efforts. As ABC matured and we increased our partnerships and resources, we began investing in other, more expensive activities, including the arts. “The only reason ABC hasn’t supported arts in schools as long is because it’s cheaper to provide soccer cleats to a team of players than it is to provide cellos to a class of instrumentalists,” Brian explained. “But we’ve come a long way, and we’re able to support these big initiatives now.”

With ABC’s greater bandwidth and capacity, planning has begun to increase and expand arts programming across the Cincinnati Public School district. “CPS is onboard, ABC is onboard, the students are totally excited,” Deputy Director Rachel Stallings shared. “Now all we need are the resources to really run with this. There is no reason why every student in CPS cannot be, in their own unique way, an artist.”

Reserve Funds- One in three nonprofits needed to close their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic due to financial instability. Fortunately, ABC was not one of these unfortunate nonprofits… “but I hate to imagine if that had been us,” speculated Executive Director Sally Grimes. “We pulled through the pandemic in one piece, still serving our community, because our donors and community believed in the power of ABC programs. That made us strong. And we’re smart enough to know, we’re probably going to need that strength again someday.”

ABC is starting to plan for the future in ways it never has before by establishing a reserve fund, in case of national disaster. “If something like COVID were to happen again, we don’t want to scramble. We want to know that we have 6-12 months of operational funding tucked away, so we don’t need to consider lay-offs or suspending programming or anything else that would go against our mission,” Sally continued.

While other organizations may pursue endowments for this purpose, ABC is opting for a more liquid reserve fund. “There is a lot of research being done on endowments and how this model of longevity planning can actually harm equity and diversity efforts,” explained Carmen Lawrence-Bille, Director of Advancement. “With these values being so dear to our mission, we cannot in good faith pursue an endowment. Instead, we’re excited about this reserve fund. It means we can take risks and try new things for our students without fear that one small failure will poison our success.”

Planned Giving- Some people call this legacy giving, or estate giving, or planned giving, but the intent is all the same. These are gifts that require more planning, thought, and paperwork than your standard donation. “A planned gift is often a person’s final gift to the world,” Director of Advancement Carmen Lawrence-Bille explained.  Oftentimes, a planned gift comes in the form of a bequest in someone’s will. “What people don’t always realize is that these gifts keep giving. That final gift you make through a bequest can give a student the gift of swim lessons, which could save their life, which then helps them teach their families to swim and save their lives. These gifts compound in ways that keep us alive long after we’re gone.”

ABC is incredibly fortunate to have Brian’s expertise and knowledge as we discover that many of our donors and friends already have planned gifts for ABC that had not yet been documented! “It’s incredibly important we know about these gifts so that we know they can continue, they can grow, they have the support of the community. But it’s also important to us to be able to thank you while you’re still here, and to make sure you get to see the brightness you bring to our community through your foresight and generosity.”

For more information on Brian’s new position, ABC’s special initiatives, or the future of ABC’s programming, send Brian a message at brian@abccincy.org.