News & Event
Colleen McCarthy Blair, Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Director, Donor Services, is a Cincinnati native. A graduate of St. Ursula Academy, the University of Dayton and the University of South Dakota, she lives in Oakley with her husband Mark and their dog Oakley.
Share details of your personal and professional background that helped to guide your path to Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF).
Volunteerism — along with an awareness of community needs and a healthy recognition of our good luck — has always been important to my family. My grandparents were incredibly charitable people; they lived and breathed the importance of taking care of your neighbor. That focus transferred to my parents and, in turn, to us kids through frequent community service activities.
When I got to high school I had an incredible community service director who really made volunteering fun and interesting and that, too, impacted the direction I took. In college I participated in a summer program in the Appalachian region of Kentucky. What I found there was a culture that didn’t revolve around the “what” as much as it did the “who” – and the joy found in spending time with people. That was really attractive to me.
Through a volunteer fair at the University of Dayton, I learned about a program at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. After graduation I went there to volunteer-teach middle school social studies to Lakota kids. As I had done in Appalachia, I really immersed myself in the people and the community and made life-long friends.
While I was on the reservation, though, I kept thinking about a summer I had spent in India. So, after two and a half years of teaching, I returned to India to serve street children at a skill-training center. I filled a lot of small gaps in the organization’s work over the next two years: building a website, creating annual reports, and teaching the kids English and life skills classes. (And there was a lot of time spent on the cricket pitch!)
Just after I wrapped up my time in India, I received a call from the Jesuits on the reservation to help again – this time with fundraising and public relations. That job involved traveling the country to raise money for this school that was situated in one of the poorest counties in the United States. After several years, I maintained the same job but did so based out of New York City and later Cincinnati – where there was green grass and family! Eventually I started to feel that I wanted to be more intentionally connected to the community that I was once again living in, though, and knew that a role at GCF was the best way for me to do that. That was two years ago, and I still feel the same way.
Overall, I have just been really fortunate in my path. I had the luxury of time to be able to try out things that felt like passions and learned along the way that I could make a living out of something that is meaningful, important and about making a difference.
Who or what is your inspiration, and in what ways has that driven your passion for GCF’s mission?
I suppose it goes back to my upbringing and the values my grandparents instilled in their kids. My mom is one of six and my dad is one of eight; that became a very large network that demonstrated the importance of using what you have to help others. Beyond my family’s personal philosophy, my experience and interactions with the kids, families and communities in my previous roles have made so apparent to me the potential that people have, if only they’re given opportunities. GCF’s work in making sure that there’s a level playing field and that people have the chance to be the best versions of themselves is a focus for which I am honored to play some small role.
What are three things about you that most people don’t know?
In addition to teaching social studies at Red Cloud I was a yellow school bus driver on the reservation – through strong prairie winds and terribly icy conditions - at the all-too-young-for-such-responsibility age of 22.
I come from a large family! I’m an only daughter with four brothers – and cousins in cities all around the country. Undoubtedly that has shaped who I am, for better or worse!
My undergraduate degree is in fine arts. And my father still asks when I’m going to start utilizing it.
What do you like most about working at GCF?
We have a group of people who are really committed and motivated, every day, to do the best that they can for this region and our community members. That passion is exciting. I’m energized by and curious about people, so a job that aligns me with supporting my neighbors to do what it is that they want to do more effectively — whether that’s giving away money, innovation in our community, creating a more equitable region, whatever it is — is the best place I can be.