Sink or Swim

Walking to my car from his garage, he is already wearing his swim trunks, carrying his backpack on one shoulder, garage door opener in one hand and water bottle in the other.

“Hey Candice.  How’s it going?”  It is the same question he asks every Monday at 12:30PM, a predictable routine each week.  Always dressed in his swim gear waiting on the asphalt when I pull into his driveway, we’ve talked about changing at the gym many times before.  “It’s no big deal.  I’m already ready.”

He puts his belongings in the backseat of the car, climbs into the passenger seat and fastens his seat-belt.  We make the drive 1.75 miles from his house to the YMCA.  The front desk attendant scans his card and punches the guest pass for me.  We enter our separate locker rooms and meet on the other side some minutes later.

The first time we went to the pool a month or so ago, he stood over the deep end looking blankly, his towel still thrown over his shoulder.  “Do you want to still swim?” I asked, half-hopeful that his answer could be no.  “I’m just getting ready.”  On the other side of the pool a handful of children wore yellow floaties strapped on their backs and kicked wildly to a swim instructor.  A mom sat on a bench, iPhone in hand.  An older gentleman bobbed up and down the lap lane.  A lifeguard stared blankly at her feet in a chair perched above the pool.

He tossed his towel on an empty bench, leaned forward and jumped in feet first.  A wave rushed over the water and a few people looked our direction.  I followed suit and jumped in as well.

“Do you have a goal for how much you want to swim today?”  I asked, pulling wet hair out of my eyes.

He smiled shyly, shrugging his shoulders.  For a second, I worried perhaps he didn’t actually know how to swim.

“Well, do you swim a lot?  When’s the last time you’ve been swimming?” I continued.  His response skated around answering directly.  “Oh you know.  I swim.  I mean I do swim from time to time.  It hasn’t been too long.”

That day, we managed 25 laps.  Twenty five lengths of the pool.  We were tired and a bit out of breath, perhaps underestimating how much 25 lengths would take out of people who weren’t “swimmers.”  We finished off our day with a walk around a local park with his chihuahua.

The next week we swam 30 laps.  The following week, 40.  I stopped and dried off a few laps before 40.  Not being a strong swimmer myself, I have a few moments of panic every now and then that I will drown if I push myself too hard, get a cramp in the deep end and then die, unexpectedly, tragically.  (I have little confidence in the lifeguards after observing one use her cell phone to prop a door open.  A man entered through the door she had propped open with her phone and the phone came crashing down on the tile floor.  I’m not confident that person who uses a cell phone for a door prop is properly trained in lifesaving techniques but that’s another story…)

“33, 34?” he asked.  His eyes looking for permission to stay longer.  “Go for it.  I don’t have it in me.”  Up and back, 33, 34.  He paused in the shallow end, “so 35, 36?”  “35, 36.” I nodded.  Up and back, 35, 36.  Then 37, 38, and 39, 40.

At 40 he stood up at the end of the pool and looked the length of the pool for some seconds in reflection.  Turning his head towards me, he asked “40?”  I smiled, “yep!  That was 40!”

On Monday, he swam 72 lengths of the pool.  The sign on the wall said 72 lengths equaled one mile.

72 lengths = 1 mile

72 lengths = 1 mile

After the second time at the pool I started down a dark road of thinking that swimming every single Monday would, to be blunt, be incredibly wasteful of my time.  I hate swimming.  I hate swim suits.  I hate the smell of chlorine.  If given the opportunity, I would swim the entire time without getting my nose wet.  I have a distaste for the way pool water burns the eyes.  I hate the way skin smells after being in a pool.  I do not enjoy the monotony of up and back, up and back.  And swimming, certainly wasn’t fully using my intellect, my gifts, what I was good at.

It wasn’t until the day he swam 40, that I noticed I was missing the point.  Monday afternoons weren’t about me.  I could either continue every Monday loathing how my time was being spent, or I could realize that Monday’s weren’t about my time, but his time.  I could either sink, hating each Monday afternoon, or swim, and be respectful of how he would like his time to be spent.

As a staff member, it’s hard to separate the feeling of not being interested or not liking something, and the role that we play in supporting people in doing things that person enjoys, things they are good at or interested in.  It’s tough sometimes to play a role and being curious about something you could care less about.  (Art, historical reenactments, sports, religion….These have all been things staff here didn’t personally “care about” but still helped the person explore and deepen their role in it.  Because the “caring about” doesn’t have to be about the topic, just the person you’re working with.  There’s a marked difference between the two.  There is a particular sweet spot of caring about the topic and the person and we’re learning our way into that design, too.)

It would be easy to sit on the bench next to the pool and just watch or play on my phone, as many other “providers” have done for people with disabilities (or wait in cars, or sit outside, or do anything else but participate with).

There is something important to being along for the ride as you watch someone discover something new about themselves, meet someone new, come up with an interesting project idea.  And while I never liked beer and can’t stand the taste of it, if I refused based on my own preferences, where would Michael be?

I have no intention of just swimming every single Monday, swimming behind him in the lap lane.  But, we have started to notice “regulars” and are hoping to create a meet up of people who work out at similar times at the YMCA.  While building his confidence through swimming, he’s understanding that he can push himself a little harder physically, can accomplish small goals and we’ve already discussed the idea of building a team of friends and neighbors to walk a 5k together in the Spring of 2015.

Next Monday we’re going to hit the weight room first, after observing a few guys our age working out, and then swim.  I’ll jump in the pool, too, feet first, not because I care about swimming, but because I care about him.

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A Motion

Who will we sue when we discover
That our privacy has been protected
By the fact that no one knows us?

Which insurance policy will
Cover the cost of our jobs
Monitoring each other’s performance?

What procedures should we follow
When we hit the dead end
Of unlimited fear and imagined tragedies?

Whose permission should we ask
To do the right thing?

Who makes the rule that requires
Our hearts to recognize freedom?

When do we get our license for love?

Who will second this motion?

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The Schaefer Housing Journey Part 2

A guest post by Patti Schaefer.  Read Part 1 here

After we bestowed quite a bit of love on our 74 year old/new house in the way of updates and improvements we all decided that this will be a home that will shelter us and we will care for.  We very much love our new home in Blue Ash!

But this is a house that we will not be staying home nearly as much as we did in our former house. We’ve committed ourselves to be much more involved.

Since the original presentation (given at Good Life Networks in 2013) we continue to ride our bikes…we’ll be riding in our first bike-a-thon fundraiser at the end of this month…. There’s a 7mile and a 30mile ride offered…..we will definitely be doing the 7mile and enjoying the party afterwards.

Chris on a recent bike ride with Allison (taking the picture) & Candice

Chris on a recent bike ride with Allison (taking the picture) & Candice

Chris now has two unpaid connectors in our community. One, a family named the Connor’s, Allison, Dan and their three children Dylan, Mari & Hank. (and Hurley the dog). They have become an extension of our own family. They also have brought many other people into Chris’s life, who are also beginning to spend time with Chris and include him in functions.

Chris’s other connector is a young man named Shaun Smith, who has shared his time and personal friends with Chris. I overheard him say to a friend on the telephone, “I’m over at my friend Chris’s house. We’re going to go to the Rec Center to work out. Why don’t you meet us there too?”

My friend Chris.


Chris and his dad, Ron joined a group called MOBO. This is a bicycle club in Northside where you can bring your own bikes to repair or adopt one of theirs, repair it and donate it. They also have the tools that you can borrow and experienced people who can teach you how to make the repairs. They have an inventory of most needed spare parts that you can purchase for a nominal cost.

So far, Chris and Ron have repaired our daughter Katie’s and my bike. They also have purchased two older bikes online. They rebuilt one of them for our son-in-law Scott. And are currently working on the other one for Allison who wants to participate in a marathon. Who knows….If Chris continues there, maybe he will help out as one of the instructors at Mobo!


We’ve been adopted by another of Chris’s friends and her boyfriend, Emma & Jason. We meet them periodically for dinner and during football season go to their house every Monday night for a group potluck dinner and football or crafting for those of us that aren’t fans. We have met people of all ages through them and the food is always great.

invite from the meet & greet

invite from the meet & greet

Chris is now working on his Senior Capstone project with Starfire. He’s decided that his passion is people. He wants to connect other people in Blue Ash just like he’s being connected. His first event was a Meet & Greet Open house held at his home on September 6th with the help of Candice, from Starfire.

There were approximately 30 people in attendance. To our amazement everyone stayed the entire time.

Afterwards Chris, Ron & I discussed all the different connections that took place.

1) Emma and Jason found out that they live on the same street as Shaun’s coworker Tammy who was there. She and her family are now invited to the football potlucks.

2) One of the Connor’s friends Patrick mentioned he liked to work-out and he, Dan and Chris went to the Blue Ash Rec Center last Tuesday night.

3) One of the UC student’s, Nathan, that had visited Starfire, came to the three day event there. Chris invited him to his Meet & Greet. Nathan came and Chris took him out for Pizza last Saturday night. We also are all going on a bike ride on the Loveland Trails this Sunday.

4) Our friend, Roger came to the Meet & Greet and brought a brochure for a fundraiser being held at a golf course in Kentucky for his friend who has been battling cancer. Several people are going to play golf, Chris his cousins and I are playing putt-putt and my sister-in-law was able to hook Roger up with an organization to help with the silent auction.

I’d say the first event to connect people was a great success! Not only did Chris connect others, he met new people who are now a part of his life!

On the whole, we feel our move has been a very happy and healthy one, especially now that we are on the other side of most of the work that was involved….but, we whole heartedly agree that it was all worth it. We have high hopes that the efforts we are all making will continue to prove fruitful.

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The Schaefer Housing Journey Part 1

A guest post by Patti Schaefer

I had the privilege of being invited to a Good Life Network meeting by Patti to hear the story of how the Schaefers went from being a West Side family, to living in the East Side of Cincinnati. I asked Patti if we could share her story here on Cincibility:

western hills viaduct

This journey began on the West Side of Cincinnati.

After Chris finished high school he worked at Oak Hills School on the Grounds Crew. Chris’s dad Ron and I began thinking of downsizing our home in Delhi and also wanted to provide Chris with an opportunity to have his own section of our home to practice independent living skills.

We moved into a lando-minium in the Miami Heights/Cleves area of Western Hills.  It was pretty remote and very hilly.  At the time, Chris had a job, lots of contacts and enjoyed many social outlets.

Chris had his own living area in the new house that included a sitting area, an efficiency kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and laundry room. With some help, Chris became very good at maintaining his area and a real “whiz” at doing laundry….! Believe it or not, I think the laundry room was Chris’s favorite part of his living space, except for the TV of course. He would even offer to do his friends laundry if they cared to bring it over.

During this time we discussed what we wanted the future to look like for Chris as far as housing was concerned. There was a group on the West Side that intended to build a community type setting for individuals with special needs. The area where it was being considered to be built was near our home, Chris’s job, and was in a good area of town that offered shopping and possible social outlets. At the time we thought this might just meet Chris’s needs when he was ready.

Not long after our discussion, things began to change. The Oak Hills School District, as many other organizations and companies, began to downsize. Chris left his job and, at about the same time, his contacts and social opportunities began to go away as well.

We knew the living facility that was in the planning phase in Western Hills would probably be built, but we were beginning to feel that it wasn’t going to be finished in time to meet Chris’s needs.

Without all of the above, we began to see Chris become lonely and somewhat isolated. Ron and I started attending anything we could concerning housing for individuals with special needs. We got a lot of good information, but also began realizing that we couldn’t count on government waivers to always be available to help us with housing.

After Chris left his job, he began attending Starfire in Oakley. Their program tries to not only include their participants in the community, but they try and wrap the community around the participants.

Between what we had learned in the Housing Sessions and Starfire we began to rethink our situation.

We asked ourselves….”If Ron and I weren’t around anymore, what would life be like for Chris in our current neighborhood?”

We began talking as a family to see what we would like for Chris as an individual living on his own. Here are a few things Chris, Ron and I came up with.  Not just any housing, but housing that will allow Chris:

* To continue the lifestyle he is accustom to and/or how he chooses
to live.
* To live in an area where he feels safe
* To have an opportunity to have one or more roommates or building-mates
* To live in an area where he can use public transportation or be able
to walk
* To live in an area where necessities are easily accessible, such as
grocery stores, restaurants, department stores & social activities
* To live in an area where he already has friends with opportunities
to make more friends.
* To continue to be able to connect with his community.
* To live in close proximity to maintain family connections.

We realized in order to get all these things……..we’d have to move. And for Chris and my husband, who neither had ever lived outside of Western Hills……

This was quite a huge idea to wrap their around.

We started looking at neighborhoods in October of 2012. We centered on the Oakley/Hyde Park areas as they met most of our criteria and already had a few living situations that Chris could be put on the waiting list. These neighborhoods also have apartments and two family homes.

We looked at homes weekly through March of 2013 without finding anything that would work for us. In April we thought we’d better widen our search area.

One Sunday in early April we were scoping out new neighborhoods to consider and stopped at an open house in Blue Ash. It was the first house we’d seen that felt like home as soon as we walked in. We put in a bid and among the six other bids received that day ours was the one accepted. I might share with you that I’m now a firm believer in HGTV’s strategy that a heartfelt, hand written letter to the owner attached to an offer DOES work!

Handwritten Letter With PenIf you are thinking we were crazy……believe me, so did we. We were in a bit of a fog for several days not sure if it was due to buyer’s remorse or just sheer stupidity. AND, we still had to sell our home in Western Hills.

Once we were able to go through the Blue Ash house again we realized, to our “great” relief, that it had everything we needed for a living situation and more. And, the neighborhood seemed perfect. Flat sidewalks, an easy walk to downtown Blue Ash and several people who lived close by that also attended Starfire with Chris.

It certainly looked like a good place to continue our journey for independent living for Chris. The other great benefits were my mother is only two expressway exits away and now we drive 45 minutes less to visit our daughter and her family in Columbus.

As it turned out, we were able to sell our Western Hills house in about 45 days and moved into our new home on June 10th, 2013. Just twelve days after the birth of our first grandson. It was quite a whirl wind time!

In a little over three months after we moved into our new house we purchased bikes, rode the Loveland Bike Trail and enjoyed pedaling on our now “flat” street. Chris is planning to hook up with a biking group and he’s been included in several events.  In the near future, we are meeting with a family that may serve as a community connector for Chris.
And, we attended a block party and got to meet most of the neighbors on our new street.

In hindsight, Ron and I think he and I had also gotten in a rut in our old neighborhood. There was a certain comfort level there with friends and the fact that we had lived there so long. We weren’t venturing into new situations. We’ll definitely still see our old friends. People from Western Hills are used to driving wherever they go, so a jaunt across the viaduct is no problem.

But, now we are taking our clues from Chris. We are getting out and engaging with the community more so, hopefully, we will also have a successful quality of life as we grow older.

Was all this difficult? Well, I won’t lie. It was a lot of work. It still is a lot of work. But, having the potential for a happy, successful, independent life for Chris made the move more than worthwhile.

And while we by no means think we have all the answers yet, we do feel, for us, we’ve made a good, new beginning and are building momentum.

Chris & Friends on the porch of our new house at a meet-and-greet

Chris & Friends on the porch of our new house at a meet-and-greet…over 30 people showed up!

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The story Ben told was important.  They made the trip up 75 North to Ikea.  She’d recently moved into her own apartment, and as Ben described it, she had very little “things.”  The apartment was barren, Ben recalled to us, no personality, and it didn’t look like someone had just moved in.

Sure, she had a bed and a few dishes that her staff’s agency likely provided, but other than the bare bone basics, her apartment didn’t have stuff.  Ben mused aloud the difference between materialism and the needing things of one’s own, as if to justify going to Ikea with her.  We all nodded, and I got what he meant.  She didn’t have things, not like most of us do.  She didn’t have the things that make a house a home– no artwork on the wall he said, no pictures of family and friends on side tables, no knickknacks of any sort to decorate the space.  She did not have the kind of things that we tell stories about when people come over to our homes and remark “how interesting!” or “that’s darling!” about our things.  She did not have things to tell interesting stories about in how they were acquired, where they came from, and what they mean.

So they went to Ikea, the place where people can spend hours daydreaming about how to change their drab space into cozy abodes with soft lighting, patterned comforters, throw pillows, and the kind of stuff that makes a house feel a little homier.  Ikea is the place to go when you want to dream about the place you wish you lived in (and do so on the cheap).  Stepping into any perfectly designed showroom, one can walk in and out of the types of moods you’d like your space to reflect.  Edgy and modern?  Shabby chic and all white?  Cozy and homey?  Ikea has it all laid out for you in aisles and aisles of fake living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, offices and playrooms.

Ikea catalog bedroom

Ikea catalog bedroom

Ben continued that he wasn’t sure if it was okay that they’d spent some of the budget at Ikea, but she really enjoyed picking out things for her apartment, things that would be hers.  Some Ikea artwork for the walls, he said, a clock.  Most of us don’t think buying a $3.99 clock from Ikea to be a great memorable experience, but it was for her.

People hold on to things like gifts, and pictures, and antiques, and other heirlooms from family.  They mean something, a connection to our roots, a tie to family members, a token of our belonging to each other.  She, it was obvious to Ben, didn’t have those kinds of things.  She didn’t have the precious kinds of belongings that tie her a belonging.

What the outside world would see as junk, things we would just as soon pitch in the weekly trash, she sees as hers.  These are the things she can keep, things that have meaning, when not many things in her life do.  An old foam beer koozie is sometimes worn as a bracelet, an inflatable alien toy from a carnival or festival she must have attended once decorates her neck sometimes, a cheap bracelet from a quarter bubble gum machine at a restaurant adorns her wrist, old RingPop rings are still worn as rings–the candy long gone, all treasured items that are hers, and hers alone.  It’s clear that she doesn’t have much and never has, given what she clings to and carries with her.

In winter she’s been known to wear more clothing that necessary, likely because she grew up in a house frequently without heat, or in the type of situation that might bring eviction at any moment.  Better to be ready and have your stuff with you, than to return home and see it sitting on the curb piled in trash bags waiting for collection.

What makes a house a home is more than just stuff.  Looking around my house there’s a story attached to most of the items I have.  The dresser that I use my husband and I found in Clifton.  A couple was moving and didn’t have the space.  As they carried it down the sidewalk, we asked if they were leaving it behind.  They said, yes, unfortunately, they had no space in their new apartment.  It was carved juniper wood with delicate scroll work and ornate brass handles. We took it giddily and it’s held my clothes for over seven years.

Dining Room

Dining Room

The credenza and hutch in the dining room belonged to my father’s grandmother.  My mom used them for awhile until she replaced them with her own mother’s furniture.  The mantle in my baby’s room was the original mantle in my grandmother’s house.  The painting in the living room was done by my brother-in-law when he was a budding young artist in high school.  His parents were giving it away when they sold their house.  He’s now a professional painter and professor of painting at Tulane University.  The billy balls and wheat sitting in the vase were from my wedding bouquet.  Three years later they look the same and remind me of that beautiful day in October.  There are pictures on the fridge and magnets holding up save-the-dates, sports’ schedules, birth announcements and thank you cards.  The cedar trunk upstairs was a Christmas gift from my in-laws, and it holds afghans my grandmother and great-aunt made in the 70s, yellows, orange, and brown weaved together.  On the bookshelf there is a large sample of my favorite books all of which I’ve read and meticulously never dog-eared;  there are framed homemade artworks like the macabre birthday cards I made for my husband’s Halloween birthday, a stained glass window that someone gave me as a present, a picture of my grandmother the year she died and a picture of my sister at her high school graduation.  Two guitars hang on the wall that my husband takes down nightly and strums.

Each item is ours and most have a story of how they came into our home.  I know it’s all just “stuff” but it’s the stuff that’s important to me, and the kind of stuff that makes coming home comfortable and personal.  It’s the kind of stuff Ben recognized she didn’t have.

So she has her first apartment that’s her own (as much as it can be her own when a sister is a roommate and there’s 24/7 staff of rotating people).  Ben knew he couldn’t give her antique mantles connecting her to her family’s past, or photographs of her family and friends from wonderful vacations and parties past, or the possessions we all have that makes our spaces ours, but he could help her find a few items that she picked out herself, her own belongings, to put in a place, where perhaps one day, she’ll feel she belongs.

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12 of Cincinnati’s Most Passionate Citizens

Imagine if Ben Crawford never stepped foot in a casino… or if Cat Amaro never got sunburned in Phoenix… or if Vonceil Brown never took a chance… Maybe these are new names to you, but you can learn their full story over the next two days at Starfire’s un-conference, and get to know what they’re so passionate about. Join us at Starfire, 5030 Oaklawn Drive in Cincinnati, OH to be part of this “un”-conference! 


1. Ben Crawford, Financial Apprenticeship

“Money is a tool, not a goal.” That’s what former blackjack team co-founder, responsible for “legally and mathematically taking millions of dollars from casinos,” wants you to know. His real estate investments and run-ins with casinos over the years have given Ben the sort of background that lends itself to this discussion. This Thursday 8/28 at 3pm (in the Oakley room at Starfire), come hear some of Ben’s financial sagacity and why he thinks money doesn’t need to be a source of fear or anxiety. But be fair warned: he knows what it’s like to bring home millions, but his lessons learned aren’t about getting rich quick; they’re about getting over wanting more.


Okay, so Ben is from Bellevue, but you can check out his CINCINNATI based digital communication company start-up, “Epipheo.” And learn more about his philosophies on the dollar bill here:

2. Cat Amaro, The Bird Haus

Cat thinks college degrees are for the birds. And she knows a thing or two about success sans degree, having launched the successful start-up “Bird Haus” in 2012. Bird Haus is a non-traditional learning platform that offers up classes taught by local people in a classroom that “migrates,” or pops up in spaces around the city. Join her discussion about ways to be successful as a non-degree holder, and reducing the stigma that gets attached when you don’t have all the BS, BA, MA, MFAs, PhDs behind your name – This Thursday at 3pm (in the Art Room at Starfire).

SONY DSC After a short stint in Phoenix that put the business on hold, Cat came back to the Queen City and will be rehatching Bird Haus in the coming year. Stay tuned. #LEARNLIKEYOUMEANIT

3. Aaron Kent of DIY Printing, Screen Printing

Aaron is back again this year to offer up his studio and screen printing skillz. Join him Wednesday 8/27 at 7pm (at Essex Studios in Walnut Hills) - you will draw out a design and print your own t-shirt by the end of the session! So come learn the art of screen printing and lovin’ on artists in the community. You might recognize his posters around town at Coffee Emporium and events, or perhaps you’ve seen his collaborative art piece in Starfire that he did with Krista Brinkmeyer and Public Allies 2 years ago, the Cincy Story Mural!


Be sure to check out DIY for all your printing needs! 

4. Mike Moroski, From Tolerance to Celebration 

A rabbi once told Mike his life goal was to rid the English language of the word “tolerance” and replace it with celebration. Mike would like to share the significance of this message and discuss his take on the mental models of poverty, middle class, and wealth.  Join him Wednesday at 3pm (in the Ridge Room at Starfire).


You may remember Mike from last election, when he ran for city council on the platform of social justice and equality. Find more inspiration from Mike at his website.

5. Vonceil Brown, Voices of Freedom Spoken Word

Vonceil opened this un-conference with her poem, “Take a Chance,” a perfect start to 3days of meeting new people and swapping ideas with one another. Last year, Vonceil and a group of volunteers put together a spoken word showcase at Elementz (the hip hop center in downtown Cincinnati). Wednesday at 6pm (at Elementz on Central and Race) she invites you to join her and Jori Cotton at Elementz for their weekly Voices of Freedom session, where you can try out the art of poetry and spoken word to express yourself, or just listen in!


Learn more about Elementz here.

6. Jake Hodesh (and Naomi!), People’s Liberty

Jake is a founding team member of Cincinnati’s new philanthropic “lab” — People’s Liberty. This project invests in your ideas to make Cincinnati’s neighborhoods better. He invites you Wednesday at 3pm (at Starfire) to learn how to get your idea funded by framing your idea so that it grabs funders’ attention. This funding opportunity is open to anyone within the 275 beltway.

SONY DSCCheck out the article Soapbox did on this awesome philanthropy project, here’s an excerpt: “…A joint collaboration between the Haile Foundation and The Johnson Foundation, the lab is fueled by three main tenets: Innovation must be disruptive. The future of a city is determined by who gets involved. Philanthropy is more than cutting checks.”a

 7. Dove Crawford, Taking Care of Brothers and Sisters

Dove (another Bellevue-ian) may look pint-size, but she has years of experience being the older sister of 5. She’d like to share her insights and tips on how to be a caring and responsible older sibling. Her session is Thursday at 4pm  (at Starfire in the Oakley Room), right after her father finishes his seminar on Financial Apprenticeship!


8. Jerry Friemoth and family, Living Sustainably at Home

If you’re looking to turn your city lot into an urban garden oasis, look no further than the Friemoth’s home in Pleasant Ridge. Wednesday at 4pm (meet at Starfire to get a ride!), the family invites you over to their home to explore their lot equipped with vegetable garden, solar greenhouse, chicken coop, and solar panels! And he’s offering up all the tomatoes and green beans and eggs you can grab, can you beat that?


9. Annie Callan, Relationships 

Annie would like to start a discussion on relationships, one of the most important aspects of our lives. Her experience on this topic goes a few years back, as she has been giving talks around the city to share her insights on this. Come join her Thursday at 6pm (at Starfire in the Madison Room) and be part of this conversation!

SONY DSC10. Nern Ostendorf, Queen City Bikes

Nern is a familiar face in the biking community, being the founder of Queen City Bikes and one of the strongest leaders of the street cycling movement in the city. Come get dirty with her Wednesday at 6pm (at Starfire in the Art Room) by making art out of recycled bike materials. It’s certain to make you look at your bike in a whole new way.

SONY DSC11. Therese Wantuch, How to Make an App

Therese is no coder, and she’s not a computer whiz, but she has built 7 apps that are all currently selling in the App Store. Join her Wednesday at 6pm (at Starfire in the Ridge Room) and she’ll teach you tips and tricks that will get you well on your way to creating your own fancy mobile app!


12. Angela Pancella, Caregiving

Some of us rely on caregiving, or are caregivers ourselves. Be part of this session Thursday at 6pm (in the Oakley Room at Starfire), that will focus on the stories of caregivers and those being cared for. Angela is also part of the Woven Oaks Initiative in Norwood, learn more about it here.


Alright, sound good? Well that’s only a snippet of what the 3day is offering up. There’s a Flash Mob directed by Kim Popa, yoga, essential oils class, Zumba, card making, compost making, seed swapping… the list continues!! Check out the rest of Wednesday and Thursday’s schedule below, and be sure to follow us on Facebook. See you all TODAY!





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From the Archives: Aggie & Bernie

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In 2008, when I was at UC, I took a class on education as it fits into cultural phenoms and cultural groups.  We had to write a long, detailed ethnography, exploring our own families traditions, familial patterns, and the like, as a distinct cultural group with a lens towards historical events which would have shaped behavior.

We were to interview the oldest person we knew to begin to collect “data” and understand our families through genealogy, culture, spirituality, material possessions and artifacts, educational patterns, etc.  At the time, choosing the oldest person in my family was slim pickin’s.  Uncle Ron, my grandmother’s last remaining brother, was the oldest living relative I knew, at the ripe old age of 66.

While I had heard family names of people I’d never met frequently while growing up, and visited annually each Easter their graves at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, I hadn’t given much thought to who these people were.  Two particularly great aunts were told in stories together and their names sounded like one: AuntieAggieandAuntieBernie.  The sounds kind of bumbling in your mouth like a car hitting speedbumps and potholes.  Fused in pronunciation and every story, they became one entity, a duo of women that existed together in every recollection, every tale.

"Aggie" circa 1928

Interviews with Ronald Lee Meyer,  Sr. (grandchild of Edward and Margaret Bahr Suermann) indicate that the youngest Suermann, Mary Agnes was born with cerebral palsy.  The Suermann family followed advice from the town physician [In Indiana] to institutionalize Mary Agnes, “Aggie” around the age of four, since public or private schooling did not exist for children living with disabilities.  Margaret was not comfortable with this decision, but followed the physicians advice regardless.  The institution was located in a nearby town in Indiana, though the exact city could not be recalled and public records on rural Indiana could not be found.  Ronald Meyer, Sr. continued that family visited Mary Agnes in the institution.  Each visit they found Mary Agnes weeping and incredibly unhappy.  The staff insisted that Mary Agnes was unable to talk.  The Suermann’s however, were aware that Mary Agnes could talk and that she told them stories of the treatment in the institution.  The Suermann’s followed the traditional advice at the time that children with disabilities should reside in institutions.  However, the breaking point in the Suermann family was on a final visit to the institution when Mary Agnes recalled to them that all children were stripped naked, laid out on a gymnasium floor on mats, and sprayed with a hose to be bathed.

I want to be upfront and honest that this is neither a criticism of the Suermann family or praise for how they lived and what was decided.  I wasn’t there and we all know that families make the best decisions they can with the resources and answers they are given.  Aggie, being institutionalized at age 4 was what was expected.  It was, the “norm” for a child that was deemed not “normal.”  The Suermann’s removing her from an Indiana state institutional was not the norm, but it would change how Aggie’s life would unfold.

Read the entire original post here

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What’s a conference when it’s not a conference?

…It’s an un-conference! Don’t forget to come next week and be part of the 3Day, Starfire’s 3rd annual “un-conference” – where YOU and everyone else set the agenda together. The first night (Aug 26th) is the kick-off, starting at 5pm with dinner — followed by us creating the schedule together by filling in one big blank canvas, like this one:


…What the next two days of the conference will look like is unknown! Well, not entirely unknown. We DO know there will be dinner each night, and lots of people from around the city sharing their gifts and passions. The rest depends on you taking the chance to be part of the most unique 3Days you’ll have in Cincinnati all year!

Oh, and  to our interview on 91.7 WVXU – you’ll hear Tim, Leah and Megan give a complete rundown of the ideas behind the 3Day, a few logistics, and a sneak peak at some of the presenters we know will be there.

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For Hire

“By the end of the year, though, Jamie had lowered his sights from “marine biologist” to “marine biologist helper.” And by the end of eighth grade, when we met with all his teachers and aides and paraprofessionals to go over the Individualized Education Program that would chart his way through high school (good news: the high school French teacher agreed to have him in French 1 for two years and French 2 for two years!), when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, “Groceries, I guess.” I’m not sure what I would have felt that day if I had known that he would have to settle for less than that.”  Full article here

As Starfire has started to dip our toes in some cases, and jump in headfirst in others into what meaningful work works like, this article hits a lot of the barriers when it comes to employment.  A few places in the city that we’ve met with, carved a position, or simply applied has seen the value of hiring a person with a disability, and they are a part of a small change to the story of employment for people with disabilities.

Ruth’s Parkside Cafe recently hired Andrew, a self-taught culinary magician to assist with Saturday morning preparation.  His first shift was a few Saturdays ago, and a few of us shared first day advice: some comical,  “Don’t rave about how great the other restaurant up the street is while you’re there” to practical “Do you have nonslip restaurant shoes?”  “Make sure you introduce yourself to your coworkers when you get there.”

Mike has worked for GBBN for almost two years now, as they continue to invest in him as an employee even when he has days when he’d rather be a college basketball coach, or an actor, or something else entirely than their employee.  It’s quite a change from his nearly eight years at Outback Steakhouse, a job he worked after high school and during some of his time with Starfire, a job that frequently upset him with immature coworkers and their lack of professionalism.  It takes a little help now again from Starfire to check in at GBBN, get him back on track and help him refocus his energies.

Douglas, you’ll recall, applied at Eli’s Barbeque because staff at Starfire recognized him as a foodie given his tasty packed lunches.  He had experience in food service previously and lived a few miles up the hill from Eli’s.  What started as Saturday evening shift bussing tables, has grown into a Tuesday afternoon shift, a budding friendship with a coworker, and the additional role of band hospitality.  “Douglas works on busy nights…Saturday nights which are ridiculously busy.  Customers ask if Douglas is working…”  Douglas has someone check in with him too and helps him navigate any issues that might come up at work.

Josh spent much of his senior year at Starfire with Leah job hunting trying to get back into the restaurant/bakery business.  He now has an internship with Donna’s Gourmet Cookies downtown, and a paid position at Jason’s Deli.  Roles that fit his interest of baking and serving others, as well as his experience of having worked previously in bakeries.

Zak was recently hired on at Dunham Recreation CommissionMichael is still employed with both 50West and MadTree Breweries.   Each of these people have some time set aside to have someone coach them at work, help them learn new tasks, or work on mastering their job duties.  And it works, for the most part.

It’s evident that there are people and businesses willing and able to see the value of a person with a disability’s contribution, though the barriers to employment are real and often difficult to overcome.

“Whenever we talked about his employment prospects after the age of 21, we reminded Jamie that he did not want to live a life of watching YouTube, wrestling videos and Beatles Anthology DVDs in the basement. He always agreed; the idea of watching YouTube in the basement was preposterous.”

And yet, we know many, many people whose day to day life includes YouTube watching, or DVD watching, or television watching to fill the hours.  I cannot count how many times in someone’s PATH, that someone’s interest, the great positive and possible of what a “good life” might look like, was suggested to be television watching, proof of imagination being stifled when it comes to what a person with a disability could do, could be, might be able to accomplish with a little luck and a lot of hard work.

“But I look sometimes at the things he writes in his ubiquitous legal pads when he is bored or trying to amuse himself — like the page festooned with the names of all 67 Pennsylvania counties, written in alphabetical order — and I think, isn’t there any place in the economy for a bright, gregarious, effervescent, diligent, conscientious and punctual young man with intellectual disabilities, a love of animals and an amazing cataloguing memory and insatiable intellectual curiosity about the world?”

A little luck, and a lot of hard work is a typical experience for anyone job searching.  When it comes to people with disabilities, whose skills may not be as easily explained in a typical resume format, and who can often do some parts of a job description, though not necessarily all parts, this changes the game a bit.  Surely, there are more places in Cincinnati like Eli’s, and Ruth’s, and GBBN and Dunham and MadTree who are willing to work with a person to figure out how they fit, figure out how they can contribute to business, and places that value their contributions over the long term.

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Hells Angels & English Tudors

It is easy to understand why my husband prefers to walk the streets bearing the names of old trees: Maple, Oak, Beech, Chestnut Street.  The lawns are mowed weekly with a chessboard pattern, each house is updated and beautiful, all in similar style.  It helps that there are lots of trees lining the winding, clean streets, giving a shaded path for two dogs and leading the way for two parents with a three month old in tow.  We can walk for a mile or more and not have anyone on a front porch or in a front yard say hello or raise their eyes to greet ours.

More often than not, I oblige, enjoying a cool, shady walk as much as the next person (and admittedly, fawning over the English tudors we don’t live in).  But, when I get my way, I prefer a different route.

We walked down Bramble to Winona, to Verona, to Castle and found ourselves in front of a house we had looked at last summer.  I have an impractical soft spot for historic houses that are in need of love, and modern utilities.  The sight of stained glass windows, scrolled woodwork and original brass hardware has me immediately overlooking shoddy electrical work and suspicious mold as I swoon over what it would look like to restore the built-in fireplaces and strip paint off original hardwood floors.  The house was built in the late 1800 with scrolled cornices on the porch still intact, and a big windowed covered porch.  At the time, the house was in need of, among a thorough cleaning, new box gutters, an updated kitchen, and an updated bathroom (one that did not include carpeting).

As we walked past I said to my husband, “I want to ask him about the bedroom!”  Unfortunately, the man who had apparently bought the house was on his cell phone, watering the lawn that could have been mine.  We continued walking past, staring at the ladder against the house, box gutters currently being repaired, it seemed.  He hung up the phone just as we were passing his fence line, and I went for it.

“So…” I yelled, wheeling the stroller backwards approaching his yard.  “Did you keep the mural in the bedroom?”  I smiled and he immediately laughed and answered, “Sadly no.  We painted over it, but not before documenting it!”

The mural in the bedroom was a Hells Angels biker adorned in black leather and a red bandana, riding his Harley through a field of orange and yellow flames.  It covered the wall in the master bedroom.

We talked for in the street about the neighborhood, the biker’s lair he had purchased and another neighbor, a bouncy dog and a very hip-dressed six year old girl joined as well.

The following week we walked Bramble, Windward, Marietta, observing a spirited basketball game at Bramble Park and encountering the mom of a former student my husband had coached in volleyball years ago.  “She got into Walnut” the mom reported, beaming over her daughter’s accomplishment.  “The only one in her class to get in.”  We congratulated her and my husband recalled how he never scored well enough in math to get in.  “She said it was easy!” the mom laughed.  “I’m gonna be back in 7th grade myself, trying to find x!”  We all reminisced how little we’d retained of middle school math, wished her luck, and then we made our way through the neighborhood.

A few streets up, Jim stood up on his porch and waved at us.  He had gotten involved in the Brew Review project and coincidentally bought a house next door to my husband’s aunt and uncle.  We waved, smiled, and caught up briefly before making our way back home.

While the route my husband prefers is shadier, and passes by nicer houses with nicer landscaping, I prefer the route littered with people: ones who say hello and stop and chat for a few minutes abut biker gangs and children versus the quiet and immaculate English tudors where we nary see a soul.

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