News & Event
Kelly Birkenhauer works full-time as a geologist, has a young son, and spends more than 16 hours a week working to improve the lives of Greater Cincinnati’s refugees. The chair of the Junior League of Cincinnati’s (JLC) RefugeeConnect Committee said her motivation is that the refugees themselves are nothing short of amazing.
“A refugee is someone who is persecuted because of their politics or religion, or there was genocide or warfare in their country,” Kelly explained. “It’s really easy to want to work with them because you think, ‘if they can survive all these things, my problems are so trivial.’ They are really inspiring to work with.”
Refugees are forced to leave their countries, flee to refugee camps where they can spend years, and then move to a country where they don’t know the language or the culture.
There are 11,000 refugees living in Greater Cincinnati and include the Chin people of Burma/Myanmar, the Burundians of Africa, and the Bhutanese of Asia. “One of the Burundian families shared a story that had us all in tears,” Kelly said. “Their daughters grew up in hiding.”
Refugees usually receive help from resettlement agencies for three months and then they are on their own. The JLC has been working on RefugeeConnect for three years with the goal of making the lives of refugees easier, promoting community acceptance, and building a support system. A piece of this is providing accessible English classes to help the refugees adapt to the culture and be able to secure employment.
The English class segment received more than $10,000 in prize money as part of GCF’s Big Idea Challenge last year. The Big Idea Challenge was created to celebrate the Foundation’s 50th Anniversary and asked citizens to submit ideas that would make the community better.
English classes are just the beginning of what Kelly and the JLC are working on. The long-term plan is to best serve this part of the community by connecting all of the many agencies and volunteers that serve the refugee population.
“How could you not want to help?” asked Kelly.
This story appeared in GCF's 2013 Annual Report.
Generous volunteers are the heart of GCF. Governing Board members and other community volunteers contribute their time and expertise on a variety of standing committees and task forces. Volunteers also helped plan and implement our 50th Anniversary and Big Idea Challenge in 2013.
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From our long work in this community, we’ve gained perspective on the many initiatives created to preserve our assets and address regional challenges. As you decide how best to deploy your charitable resources, we hope to be a helpful and trusted resource for you.
Because many of you seek our assistance on effective local grantmaking, we present a new way to partner and support your philanthropy. By combining your grants with ours, together we can help meet more funding requests in the areas about which you’re most passionate.
Co-investment is an opportunity for you and GCF to make a transformational grant that fully aligns with your interests in our community. It will never be an obligation. Interested donors will be invited to join GCF staff for site visits and have the chance to explore local organizations and GCF grantmaking in depth.
Last spring, Jackie and Roy Sweeney generously co-invested to support the Clifton Cultural Arts Center and renovations of its Auditorium. Their co-investment made that grant possible, and it secured funding for the Clifton neighborhood where Roy grew up.
“GCF brings giving opportunities that we would not have known about,” explained the Sweeneys.
As GCF launches this initiative, we’d like to know your thoughts. Would you consider co-investing? Please contact your Giving Strategies team at 513-288-2880 to learn more about the ways in which we can be generous together or to inquire about current opportunities.
When you set a table, the different elements — cutlery, plates, glasses, and, of course, the food — collectively create a welcoming experience. The same is true when you bring people together to make lasting change in our community.
GCF has created a table where we can help lead this change.
It’s called collective impact. Because of your generosity and commitment, Cincinnati has become a national leader, along with a special group of partners who are helping transform systems that will help change people’s lives for the better all across our region.
We have made multi-year investments in seven “backbone” organizations (see the list here), who serve as catalysts for change in various areas of civic life. These groups have agreed to work alongside and learn from each other, with shared goals and measures of success. We believe bringing all the elements of their experience together will nourish our community and help it grow.
Collective impact works because no single organization, program, or institution can bring about large-scale social change on its own. Individuals and groups work better when they work together, sharing visions and goals — at the same table you might say.
This commitment is a natural evolution of our other community investments to sustain important community change, for needs right now and long into the future. It builds on past efforts in our community that didn’t always have all the right ingredients to keep positive change going.
Change and community progress take a long time. GCF is proud that, thanks to generous donors past and present, we can commit to pulling our chair up to the table and staying there as long as it takes. And we’re thrilled that other communities are sitting up and taking note.
Agenda 360’s regional action plan aims to transform Greater Cincinnati into a leading metropolitan area for talent, jobs, and economic opportunity. Diverse by Design and other projects have grown through purposeful collaboration and aligning goals with other regional organizations.
Green Umbrella works to promote a more environmentally sustainable region, facilitating collaboration among more than 200 businesses and organizations. Communitywide projects like Paddlefest and Taking Root engage thousands, and coordination on planning and policies promotes sustainability for our region.
LISC Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky strengthens neighborhoods by mobilizing funding, providing technical and management help, and bringing awareness to public policy issues that affect neighborhoods. The “Place Matters” initiative has helped raise the level of housing, financial opportunity, and economic development in key Cincinnati neighborhoods.
Partners for a Competitive Workforce focuses on meeting employer demand by growing the skills of current and future workers. More than 150 partners have worked together to better align educational opportunities, improve work readiness, and connect qualified workers to employers.
The Strive Partnership is transforming education in Greater Cincinnati’s urban core. Shared priorities, data-driven continuous improvement, and aligned leadership and funding have helped create positive trends in kindergarten readiness, reading achievement, and college retention.
Success by Six® is the driving force that all children will be prepared to succeed in kindergarten. A focus on quality early learning, parent engagement, better support at school, and kindergarten readiness are key to continuing improvement that’s already been tracked for local kids.
Vision 2015 is a vision for the future and a plan to make Northern Kentucky the place of choice for families, businesses, and visitors. Vision 2015 now has close to 25 active projects involving 40+ partners.
This story appeared in GCF's 2013 Annual Report.
Imagine a beautiful church overlooking Lake Michigan with areas for contemplation and organic gardens to help the less fortunate.
Keke Sansalone not only imagined it but helped this vision become a reality.
She worked with The Greater Cincinnati Foundation to make a gift to the Archangel Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church in Grand Traverse County, Michigan.
Father Ciprian Streza of Michigan, has known Keke since he served at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a Cincinnati parish.
“She’s as generous as she is humble,” he said. “Keke is all about making a change or impact be it here or in Chicago or Michigan. She’s not the loud supporter, she’s in the background, quiet and humble and encouraging.”
Keke’s connection to the church is her dedication to her Greek Orthodox background and a love for Michigan.
She also gives of her time to numerous organizations in Greater Cincinnati, including The Cincinnati Ballet, The Cincinnati Parks Foundation, Junior League of Cincinnati, The Cincinnati Woman’s Club, University of Cincinnati Breast Cancer Advisory Board, Holy Trinity-Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and the Summit Country Day School. She is past Board Member of The National Hemophilia Foundation, Junior League, Fernside: Center for Grieving Children, Beech Acres Parenting Center and Past Chair of the American Heart Association Heart Ball.
Nationally, she is working on philanthropic projects in Montana and internationally in Greece, her parents’ country of origin.
According to Keke’s attorney Gail Glassmeyer Pryse, she has a 20 year history with GCF and “loves the staff, the organization, the purpose, the service.”
Her love of giving back extends to leading by example for daughter Anna Catherine. Several times a year, the eleven-year-old violinist and dancer, visits nursing homes and shares her love of the arts.
“The beauty of Keke is she wants to connect with the person,” said Father Streza. “She’s spiritually healthy all around.”
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