Why I Give

Meet a few of your tri-state neighbors who are working to make a positive impact in our community.

Bob & Beth Staggenborg
Ages: 63 and 68, respectively
Occupations: Retired. He owned an accounting firm; she was an elementary school teacher in St. Bernard.
Cause: Environmental education
Organization: Imago

Bob & Beth Staggenborg
Bob & Beth Staggenborg

Photograph by Aaron Conway

Although they live in Anderson Township, the Staggenborgs found their passion for volunteering with like-minded people in East Price Hill, where Imago and its 16-acre nature preserve are located. Imago staff and volunteers offer a variety of adult and children’s programs that foster a deeper relationship to the planet. The children’s programs, some of which last several hours a session, serve about 8,000 youth each year and are offered to Cincinnati Public Schools as well as other local school districts.

“Imago just has this energy, this freshness, this immediacy with what they do with urban kids, most of whom are at risk and have no opportunity to spend time outdoors,” says Beth, who along with Bob, serves on the group’s board of directors. The couple also volunteer at the Cincinnati Nature Center.

Bob says he is especially proud of the Music in the Woods fund-raising festival that Imago hosts every fall. All proceeds go directly to supporting Imago’s programs.

“It’s a great thing,” he says. “A person at that event took me aside and said ‘This is the No. 1 event I look forward to each year.’ That’s because we’re all part of a community.”

He and Beth give what time and money they can to Imago because they are passionate about connecting people to nature and have seen firsthand the results Imago achieves.

Beth says she has been impressed, in particular, with Jim and Eileen Schenk, who established Imago and created its base near Old St. Joseph Cemetery more than 30 years ago.

“They’re the elders of the community and set an example of generous giving,” she says.

“Small organizations don’t have a lot of money, so what you give can make a huge difference,” Bob says. Imago staff and volunteers, under the direction of Chris Clements, “do a lot with a little and really impact both adults and kids in a huge way.”

Karen Bankston, Ph.D.
Age: 61
Occupation: Associate Dean for Clinical Practice, Partnership, and Community Engagement, University of Cincinnati College of Nursing
Cause: Eliminating domestic violence
Organization: YWCA

Karen Bankston
Karen Bankston

Photograph courtesy Karen Bankston

Bankston, who is president and CEO of her own behavioral management consulting company, KDB and Associates, is a prolific public speaker and award-winning volunteer. Her giving résumé is long and includes service as a volunteer or director with agencies such as St. Vincent De Paul, United Way, The Children’s Home, and the Legal Aid Society.

“I am a survivor of domestic violence myself,” says the Youngstown native, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Kent State University and her doctorate in nursing research and organizational behavior from UC. She began volunteering at the YWCA more than 25 years ago and was one of its 2001 Career Women of Achievement.

“The YWCA is helping young women and not-so-young women establish themselves in terms of their own self esteem, providing the resources and support they need to live their own lives.

“I’ve been so impressed with the work they were doing, I immediately became a volunteer. I have a passion about their work because of my own personal history. I believe so much in lifting others up. I have been more successful than I ever imagined, and I feel obligated to give something back.”

Bankston continues to draw inspiration from her family, particularly her maternal grandparents and her mother who are now deceased.

“No matter what they had, if they were able to give, they did,” she says. “That led me to believe you can make a difference. I’ve been blessed to be a blessing to somebody else.”

Sue Porter
Age: 66
Occupation: Retired vice president of programs, Scripps Howard Foundation
Cause: Feeding the hungry
Organization: Inter Parish Ministry

Sue Porter

Photograph courtesy Sue Porter

Porter has won national and local awards for volunteerism benefiting the journalism profession, Cincinnati nonprofits, and her Terrace Park community. But she considers support for Inter Parish Ministry her most vital contribution of all.

“Hunger typically isn’t visible,” Porter says. “A job loss or medical emergency can destroy even a firm financial foundation, leaving people who’ve never needed a hand-up in dire straits.”

The nonprofit organization where Porter volunteers has served Clermont County and eastern Hamilton County for more than 52 years. It distributes food and clothing at locations in Newtown, Batavia, and Amelia and has a mobile pantry that distributes food in a farmers’ market style to remote areas.

“With the mobile pantry, IPM takes food to where the need exists,” Porter says. “It’s a real safety net.”

Porter attributes her affinity for volunteer work to a 39-year career with the E.W. Scripps Company and the role model she sees in Scripps CEO Rich Boehne. “It’s a company that makes service part of its culture, starting with a chief executive who truly has a servant’s heart,” says Porter, who jump-starts every school day by helping her daughter teach kindergartners in the Mariemont School District.

“An hour of volunteer work, a couple of canned goods, or even a few dollars in the hands of organizations like IPM can go a long way toward helping people through hard times,” she says. “These simple volunteer acts are the dues we pay for strong communities.”

Fred Myrtle
Age: 27
Occupation: Director of Chapter Operations, Beta Theta Pi Fraternity
Cause: Raise awareness of mental illness and prevent suicide
Organization: American Foundation of Suicide Prevention

Fred Myrtle
Fred Myrtle

Photograph by Aaron Conway

Five years ago while he was a senior at the University of San Diego, Oxford resident Fred Myrtle lost his father to suicide. “It was the hardest thing I ever experienced,” he says, but it moved him to talk openly about dealing with the stigma of mental illness.

Working a crisis hotline helped his recovery, as did Ironman competitions in which he swims, cycles, runs, thinks about his father, and seeks inner peace.

Two days before what would have been his father’s 57th birthday in 2015, Myrtle completed the Ironman Louisville race, finishing 53rd in the 25–29 age bracket. His goal was to raise $5,700 for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, but he exceeded expectations and raised $7,400.

The money goes to help AFSP build educational programs and better public policy and to support the survivors of suicide loss like him. He used the fund-raising website CrowdRise.com to land donors and support the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks, which honor loved ones, raise funds, and save lives.

“It creates an important community,” Myrtle says of the program. “It’s really about speaking up and speaking out about mental illness. It makes it less scary and allows people not to suffer silently. It can be incredibly powerful to surround yourself with people whose lives have been impacted by suicide.

“There’s such a very obvious, real stigma attached to mental illness, particularly suicide,” Myrtle says. “People don’t want to talk about it.”

Myrtle says it is likely he’ll register at CrowdRise again to honor his father’s 60th birthday with another Ironman. This time, his goal is to raise $10,000.

Hannah & Aaron Leow
Ages: 26 and 24, respectively
Occupations: She is a studio and volunteer coordinator at Visionaries + Voices; he is a utility engineer with The Kroger Co.
Cause: Helping people out of poverty
Organization: CityLink Center, West End

Hannah & Aaron Leow
Hannah & Aaron Leow

Photograph courtesy Hannah & Aaron Leow

Hannah and Aaron, both University of Cincinnati graduates, volunteered during college with CityLink, a faith-based, nonprofit partnership of Cincinnati churches that targets poverty. They belonged to The Navigators, a student ministry of UC friends seeking spiritual direction in their lives and fun within a tight community.

Hannah, who grew up in Hamilton, has served on the committee that organizes CityLink’s major fund-raiser, MashUp, in which about 600 people gather to share live music, art, dance, and interactive art projects that spotlight the need to raise people out of poverty through employment, education, and financial literacy.

Aaron, originally from Toledo, has tutored CityLink clients seeking their GED diplomas.

“Everybody at CityLink is walking through some kind of poverty,” Aaron observes. “We go through it together, whether it’s financial poverty, physical poverty, or spiritual poverty.”

Giving, Aaron says, is something his father encouraged, particularly in the days before Aaron went off to college. “My father said ‘Make sure you are giving the money you have and the available time,’” he recalls.

Volunteering, he says, has been “a breath of fresh air … a time to go and not think about yourself. I found that I grew to care for specific people, GED students like Anthony and Jerome. I really grew to care for those two guys.”

Hannah served two years at CityLink through the AmeriCorps VISTA national community service organization. She says she is inspired to give her time and money by a passage in the Bible, Matthew 10:8, which says in part: “Freely you have received, freely give.”

“We both definitely have a heart for the city of Cincinnati,” she says. “Poverty is a big issue in Cincinnati, and we give financially, and we give by serving as volunteers.”

Aaron says he and Hannah support CityLink because it teaches people “that they are valuable, that they are cared for, and that Jesus loves them…that they have a lot to contribute.”

Tania Carreón-Valencia

Age: 52
Occupation: Research epidemiologist, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; volunteer associate professor of environmental health, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
Cause: Spaying, neutering, and matching sheltered cats with new owners
Organization: Ohio Alleycat Resource & Spay/Neuter Clinic (OAR), Madisonville

Tania Carreón-Valencia
Tania Carreón-Valencia

Photograph by Aaron Conway

Tania Carreón-Valencia, who earned her master’s degree in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and her doctorate degree in epidemiology at UC, began volunteering at OAR more than 15 years ago and has done “pretty much everything there.” Her more recent roles have been to raise funds and help at adoption events that OAR holds in places such as PetSmart in Oakley.

A mother of one, Carreón-Valencia also volunteers with the UC Department of Family Medicine at a free clinic for Belterra Race Track employees, many of whom are Spanish-speaking, as well as her daughter’s school and synchronized swimming team. As a result, she spends less time at OAR these days, but she notes, “You don’t have to dedicate too much time. Giving a few hours a month helps enormously.

“I like to give back. Many nonprofit organizations require not only money but also people’s time. I like to give my time to hopefully affect some change.”

She chose to volunteer with OAR, she says, because “it makes a difference in the lives of not only cats but also people. You’d be surprised.”

She has drawn a lot of inspiration from OAR Executive Director Liz Johnson, who manages 20 staff members and about 200 volunteers. “[Liz] is the most selfless person I have ever met. She has dedicated so much time to the organization despite having a full-time job.”

When Carreón-Valencia started volunteering at OAR, she recalls that it was located in the basement of a business. Now due mainly to Johnson’s leadership, she says, “It’s a beautiful facility that does so much more than sheltering cats.”

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