Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Meet Me at The Table: Food is Tradition, Art, and Love

Remembering

Close your eyes and imagine the food of your childhood, deeply breathe in that remembered scent, more importantly that feeling. Perhaps it’s the sweet smell of an apple pie baking or the slow cooking of a marinara sauce.

Picture the moment when you throw open the door on a cold crisp day to be blasted by the warm scent of a turkey roasting. For some of us it may be the smell of chicken soup being heated up from a can, the feeling is no different; your loved one caring for you and nourishing you with food is such a beautiful, meaningful act.

Reflecting

Bringing it all to the table is such a fitting topic for this time of year, as we gather around with our loved ones and reflect on what we are grateful for, surrounded by the beautiful bounty of the season.

What an important ritual of reflection and gratitude. I have so very much to be grateful for; I’ve been welcomed to sit at many lively kitchen tables in my life, and as luck would have it, all over the globe. I’ve gobbled down steaming piles of dumplings on the streets of Taiwan, dined on delicious kangaroo in Australia, and sat down to a feast of pork and veggies I helped harvest in Costa Rica.

Often times I did not speak the same language as the host, and I am so grateful to those folks who welcomed me to their table as a weary, and at times confused, traveler.

Sharing

One misty humid day in Taiwan a group of us decided to hop on our motorcycles and journey up into the crisp mountains for a day of hiking to waterfalls. The further and higher we hiked into the mist, the harder the rain began to fall, and soon we transitioned from sweaty to shivery. I was downright miserable, hungry, and tired. We finally reached our destination where I laid down on a rock in total exhaustion and stared at this unbelievable waterfall surrounded by slippery green rocks and lush tropical foliage.

I sat up and as I did, an old man under a tent caught my eye, he was waving me over to him. His radiant smile was welcoming, and I sat under his tent on a log he had gathered from the forest. He was boiling a pot of tea, the warmth instantly seeped into my body. He attempted to chat with me in Mandarin Chinese, and I could simply thank him and tell him where I was from; my Mandarin isn’t great. I’m sure he quickly realized from my accent and horrible pronunciation that our conversation wouldn’t go much further. He simply smiled and proceeded to pour me a small cup of tea, I held the tiny warm cup in my hand smelling the scents of a completely new and fascinating liquid; hints of pine and grassy sweetness with a complex roasted flavor.

As I gulped it down I felt my whole body warm. I looked over to the man and saw him gingerly sipping his tea, I looked down at my cup, and together we laughed as I realized my mistake in gulping it down. He poured me another and we had a wonderful conversation that did not involve words, just the beautiful act of sharing.

Growing

I’ve had the good fortune to work for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, I spent the summer growing fresh organic vegetables for those in need. My job was to run a pay-what-you-can farm stand; and what an honor it was to spend a day in the sun and fresh air picking and tending to vegetables and giving away fresh food in the evenings.

Those who came to the farm stand told me their stories, days spent with little to no fresh food on the table or no food at all. One young participant in particular stands out to me, this person had come to work days on the farm as a volunteer. He had brought his whole family back to the farm for the evening farm stand and proudly named each vegetable and how we had harvested it.  He shared recipes he had learned and some he himself had created, all while helping me to pass out items to elderly participants that need help moving things to their cars.

His mom then spoke to me of their families’ hardships and how the farm had changed this young person’s life. He had started drying herbs from the farm to make dried basil to put on top of their spaghetti and eagerly wanted to plant a garden at their home. With tears in her eyes she told me we had changed her son’s life, and hers.

Cooking

The world is full of generous souls who have welcomed me to their countries, kitchens, and warm tents; I am forever grateful to those who have supported me on my journey.

This holiday season I encourage you to open your heart in your own way: cook a meal for an elderly neighbor, donate or volunteer at a Foodbank, or simply pay it forward by buying a stranger a cup of coffee.

Sit still in a quiet place and reflect on your own personal bounty, practice gratitude. Food brings us all to the table, it crosses all borders and languages; food is tradition, art, and love in its own way timeless.

Paving New Roads To Be The Next Comeback City

Paving New Roads To Be The Next Comeback City

It was a cold December day, 20 years ago.  The plane had landed on the tarmac of JFK airport an hour ago and now I stood nervously, clutching my passport tightly, waiting to be signaled by the immigration officer to his window. When it was my turn at the window, the officer sternly asked me why I was in the United States? I am sure I gave him a half-intelligent answer because he stamped my passport and waved me in. But thinking back to that moment, I realize that the right answer would have been to “pave new roads for myself.” Because that was what I had set out to do. To leave the comfort of my home country and to come to a foreign land, to build a life for myself among strangers. And the journey that began that day, brought me to Mansfield three years later, where I have chosen to stay and raise my family, nurture friendships, educate my children and find my tribe. I am sure all of you can look back and remember some moment where you decided to pave your own road. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

“Do not go where the path may lead, but go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”

The same can be said for a city.  Often longtime residents who have been witness to the glory days, are bitter and disillusioned by the present version of their city.  I bet you have heard someone say  “There’s nothing in Mansfield anymore.” And, I find myself confounded by this attitude. Why do we feel that we are not worthy? That Mansfield has nothing to offer: not to its residents or to outsiders. That the glory days that made Mansfield a shining star are behind us. But then I am comforted by the dozens of examples I witness around me of residents who have chosen instead to go down a new path: of entrepreneurs willing to take a risk and invest in our community… their dreams, their hard earned money, their blood, sweat, and tears, of community leaders and nonprofit organizations who seek to move the needle, with out of the box solutions like the SXSW419 project. We are fortunate that we are home to news organizations that believe in solutions journalism and not just on the gloom and doom stories about our City. To reflect on the progress we’ve made and to continue to shift away from the mindsets that can limit us in terms of what we can accomplish in creating the “City we want to live in”,  I want to share three mindful actions we can support to accelerate this rebirth.

Advocate for your City and feel the pride

Too often we assume others should just know what we want and provide the solutions to our problems or issues. But relying on outside sources can lead to resentment and frustration. We know our worth, we know what we can be as a city and a community. Let us take pride and be brave and deliberate in our actions. Community-based investment, in fact, has the greatest chance for success because ownership translates to pride. Let us proclaim loudly and often that we are #MansfieldProud and #RichlandRocks .

Commit to a plan but write in pencil

If you don’t know where you want to go, you can find yourself “cruising around.” The fact is unless we have a vision for what we want our City to be, it’s easy to find ourselves falling down the path of least resistance. That said,  as important as a well laid out plan can be, it’s important to be flexible in applying it. Margie Warrell in Stop Playing Safe says to, “Write your plan, but use a pencil.” Conditions and economies are constantly changing  – with opportunities presenting themselves out of left field when least expected and obstacles tripping us when we are near the finish line. The future is unknowable but we can shape it if we can set direction and know where we are headed…and we need to be ready to make the needed detours from the linear path to reach our destination.

Risk failing more often

Many factors—whether a large employer leaving town, disinvestment, or simply not managing resources can have devastating results on a city—the most important thing is to not let it define us. Failure is not fatal; it’s how we process it that can be dream killer. It is important to heal and repair but then to take risks. When the Carousel idea was proposed for downtown, it was ridiculed. It took committed believers to sustain the belief and take a risk.  It is said if you’re never failing, you’re playing too safe. We discount the cost of inaction in the long run. Our City is on the mend… the tide has begun to turn… people are sharing the same narrative… thanks in no small part to the increasing number of passionate citizens driving change by paving new roads… And, for me personally, that is an inspiration and I hope it will be for you too. It is inspiring to meet people every day in this community whose focus is on shaping our City’s collective future and I am committed to being part of it.
Paving New Roads

Paving New Roads

What? …in Mansfield!?

Just this time last year, I found myself asking this exact question. I was searching for my first “big kid job” and never would have thought I would find myself working and living in Mansfield, Ohio. Being a native Clevelander, I’ve witnessed first-hand the trials and tribulations of the Northeastern area. However, the City of Cleveland has miraculously found a way to pull itself up by the bootstraps and make changes for the better. All of the passion, hard work, determination, and faith of local leaders, as well as that of area residents, have invested into the revitalization of the 216 have turned CLE into one of America’s hottest cities. I see many of the same characteristics and patterns happening here in Mansfield/Richland County and sincerely believe that this piece of North Central Ohio is a true gem. It also has the potential to gain national recognition… for all the right reasons.

Change can be difficult

To reinvent one’s self is a tremendous struggle. Think about all the times you’ve tried to drastically change your diet, your exercise routine, etc. From a health behavior and psychological perspective, humans are very good at setting goals but have difficulty achieving them. While we may experience small successes, these are usually short-run bursts that sputter out before real change happens. Long-term, sustained change is tremendously difficult to attain, however, this well-researched area of human behavior has identified eight primary reasons why we cannot grasp and hold on to our goals:
  1. We are motivated by negative emotions.
  2. We get trapped by thinking/believing fallacies.
  3. We try to “eat the entire elephant” at one time.
  4. We neglect the tools/resources available to us.
  5. We try to change too much.
  6. We underestimate the process of change.
  7. We forget that failure is usually a given.
  8. We don’t make a commitment to change.

We can all achieve change

The key to success is making the new behaviors rewarding. Two approaches to this strategy are increasing reward with personal sources of value (i.e., linking the new behavior with core values and beliefs that are central to an individual’s identity) and increasing reward with social value (i.e., leveraging social norms and interpersonal relationships to increase the importance of the goal). Both of these methods have an advantage over tangible forms of value, such as money, because they can be far more enduring and universal. Money has the ability to run out and does not have the same meaning for all people, but we all have a set of core values and care deeply about our social ties. These characteristics are what make the City of Mansfield/Richland County community so special, unique, and meaningful.

Vision, leadership and commitment

The residents of this community are incredibly generous and have a grand sense of pride for the area that they live in. I constantly hear the locals expressing to me that they think the City of Mansfield/Richland County is a great place to live, yet, there is always a “but…” that follows. The theme of the “but…” seems to be that the area is a great place to be, BUT we’re at the precipice of being excellent, we’re just not “there yet.” The “want” and the “drive” to see the Renaissance of the community is there, however, we need to do more as a cohesive collaborative effort to make this dream come to fruition. This is going to take vision, leadership, and commitment from all sectors of the local community. And although these positive changes will take an incredible amount of time and effort, there’s no better time than the present to get involved in the regeneration of our community.

The Road Ahead

During the 12-months I’ve lived and worked here in Mansfield/Richland County, I’ve had the pleasure to observe and be a part of our area’s transformation. I am incredibly impressed with the activities, resources, programs, and local organizations/businesses this area has to offer. There is never a day or a night of the week where I can’t find anything to do in the City of Mansfield/Richland County. Yet, there is still work to do to ensure the continued success of our community. Paving these new roads is simultaneously exciting and exhausting labor. However, keep in mind that change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end. If the City of Cleveland can go from “The Mistake on the Lake” to “Believeland,” I have no doubt in my mind that the City of Mansfield can change its perception as “Danger City” to “Dreamfield” in the not too distant future.
Women and Philanthropy in Richland County Ohio

Women and Philanthropy in Richland County Ohio

Two Richland County Foundation funds are available for women to support women via philanthropy; the Women’s Fund and the Mind Body Align Charitable Fund.

The MBA Charitable Fund

Established to support projects that support women and empower them to lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Examples include, but are not limited to: alternative wellness, women’s entrepreneurship, yoga for under-served populations, healthy foods initiatives, arts & culture, and professional development.

Annamarie Fernyak created Mind Body Align which is located at The Butterfly House, 20 North Mulberry Street in Mansfield to facilitate collaboration and to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth for women.

The Women’s Fund

Formed in 1996 to help meet the unique needs of women and girls. The role of women has changed much since then, and the Women’s Fund will continue to adapt as our community evolves.

The Women’s Fund began as a concept of Linda Smith, who envisioned an endowed fund to encourage philanthropy among Richland County women and to provide funding to 501c3 programming that supports women and girls.

“I grew up in a very supportive encouraging family, something that I took for granted.  As I grew older, I came to understand the many unique challenges women face and the difference having a strong support system could make in your life.  I felt strongly about helping other women, and fortunately so do many others,” said Smith.

Smith and then Foundation President Pam Siegenthaler reached out to people in the community to discuss the idea of a fund especially for women. A core group became interested, committed, and joined the effort to establish the fund.

Smith served as the original chair and the other founders were Suzanne Davis, Erin Fain, Carol Goldman, Catherine Goldman, Edith Humphrey, Joanne Humphrey, Carol Payton, Bets Risser and Suzanne Wilson.

The founding members felt working with the Foundation would provide trusted fiscal oversight as well as respect in the community.

The fund was established in 1996 and is one of more than 335 charitable funds at the Foundation. Past and current advisory committee members along with its donors celebrate the fund total which now exceeds $1,000,000.

Since its inception the Women’s Fund has awarded 137 grants to local nonprofit organizations that support women and girls and 29 scholarships to women who are non-traditional students attending local colleges totaling over $285,000.

Each year the 15-member advisory committee works with staff to review applications and visit organizations seeking grants.

Current Women’s Fund Advisory Committee members are Charma Behnke, Carolyn Carto, Carol Chambers, Paula Cohen, Jodie Dees, Lynn Fahmy, Erin Fain, Susan Gentille, Sally Gesouras, Jill Haring, Edie Humphrey, Kristie Massa, Jeanne Meisse, Della Phelps and Deanna West-Torrence.

In addition to annual grants, the Women’s Fund provides college scholarships to nontraditional female students, awards the JoAnn Dutton Award to honor volunteerism, and conducts a Mother’s Day Fundraiser as a way for people to honor the special women in their lives.

Applicants for grants from the MBA Fund and Women’s Fund must be a 501c3.

To donate:

Women’s Fund

MBA Charitable Fund

The Greatest Investment

The Greatest Investment

Being a part of the Baby Boomer generation, I can remember often hearing that “Men have careers, women have jobs.”  This always seemed unfair to me, because my investment in myself and my work is just as valuable as any investment that a man would make. No man I ever worked with was more dedicated, reliable, or willing to learn and grow at any company where I’ve been employed.

In 2005, after several years in various management positions with JCPenney, I decided to change directions in my career.  To do this, I knew I had to come up with a plan. And I really wanted my plan to include ways for me to be more involved in the community and to give more of myself through helping those in need.  

So, I retired from JCPenney.  After a short retirement, I went to work for Empire Affiliates Credit Union to help keep myself busy while working on my new plan.  Very shortly after going to work for Empire, we merged with the Toledo Area Community Credit Union, and I accepted a position in the Human Resources department that would also include working in our Education department.  In this new position, I quickly learned that sharing information with others and helping them improve was very fulfilling. I realized my plan was starting to come to life.

Through various mergers and acquisitions, Empire eventually became Directions Credit Union.  Once we became Directions, the Board of Directors made the decision to make financial literacy education a part of our strategic plan.  The goal was to have Directions Credit Union become the number one place people in the community came to for basic, everyday financial education.  At this point, I accepted the position of Community Outreach Education Coordinator. My plan had now become a reality. I had a new career that I was going to be able to mold and create that would allow both the Credit Union and I to give back and get involved throughout the community.

I believe that the greatest investment that any of us can make is the investment in our communities.  To be a part of the growth and development of the space we occupy with our neighbors, lending ourselves to the things that make our community stronger.  My new position with Directions enabled both the Credit Union and I to get out into the community to help in many fascinating ways.

The truth is that a community that is smarter financially is a stronger community.  My role as Community Outreach Education Coordinator was created to develop and present programs that give participants an understanding of how to make better financial choices.  So, when I took on this new role, I began developing workshops and programs that covered topics including budgeting, saving, credit, understanding checking, money scams, and identity theft.  Today we have over seventy five programs, with new topics such as work ethic, customer service, financial abuse of the elderly, along with updated versions of our original presentations.

In Mansfield and the surrounding area, we interact with over 5000 youth and adults annually, making an investment in them that they can carry into the future.  When a child remembers a lesson about savings, or a senior citizen makes a choice that protects them from a scam, or an offender at one of our local prisons makes better financial decisions because of something they learned at one of my workshops, I know my time has been well invested.  

Out of all the programs and workshops I’ve completed over the years, a couple stand out that I am most proud of because of the potential positive impact they have had on our community.  For six years now, I have done a quarterly 6 week Money Management course at the Richland Correctional Institution as part of their Reintegration program. This program helps encourage offenders to make better financial decisions as they move forward in their lives.  And, for eight years now we have held Reality Store workshops in many of the area Middle Schools. This program brings together many volunteers from the business community to help 8th grade students gain an understanding of income, budgeting, credit, and how to manage their life around their finances.

In addition to all of the presentations and workshops I’ve completed over the years, my role at Directions has allowed me to become involved throughout the community in a variety of organizations.  I am on the RCDG Leadership Team. I provide leadership to the Be Focal Buy Local group, which is a sector of the RCDG. I am the Chairperson of the Area 10 Workforce Development Board of Richland and Crawford Counties.  And, I Chair the Advisory Board of Catholic Charities. Not only have I been able to serve in these positions, but I have encouraged and gained the participation of many business leaders throughout the area in these groups.  

My plan that started many years ago has played out well for both myself and those that I’ve been able to help throughout our community.  I have been able to give the gift of my time and knowledge to help many people. Along the way, I have also invested a lot of time in myself to learn and become an expert in the topics of my workshops, and how to make the various organizations I’m involved with function better.  I have learned to share my knowledge effectively, and to find new ways to connect with people who might need my help. I have learned to connect with others who are not necessarily like me, who may have different values, who have had different life experiences, or who may approach life differently.  I’ve learned that these differences do not make these people wrong, it just makes them different. I’ve learned that the biggest investment I can make in myself is to embrace these differences and to accept any and all that I may be able to help through all that my job at Directions allows.

This has been a fascinating journey, and I look forward to see what the future holds.

Community: Something Bigger Than Myself

Community: Something Bigger Than Myself

communityCommunity used to be a nebulous concept for me. Sure, I belonged to communities before now: The writers’ community in Boston, a spiky, jealous, yet reluctantly supportive group of nascent authors. The expat Ohioans living in Washington DC, who spoke exclusively and longingly about the Indians and Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Even the honors dorm in college became a community, where nerds of every stripe unified behind underage drinking.

What does a community look like?

If pressed to give a definition, I would have said community was a group of people united by place, occupation, or interest; ideally it looked something like Sesame Street, but without Oscar the Grouch. A community seemed like a helpful but somewhat archaic thing, much like pay phones and encyclopedias. Surely the collective knowledge of the Internet was really all I needed. It never occurred to me that I may ever want to accomplish something bigger than what I could do alone.

I grew up around Mansfield, Ohio, and left town after high school. After college at Ohio University I spent eight years on the east coast. When I moved back home in 2011, I was broke, discouraged, and above all, lonely. I was surprised and thrilled by the warmth with which I was welcomed into both the artist and downtown communities.

What does a community feel like?

One summer evening, not long after I moved back home, I sat by myself on a bar patio, rereading To Kill a Mockingbird. I was feeling friendless and was pretty low on confidence. Next to me was a string of rowdy tables, packed with people about my age, laughing and enjoying themselves. It wasn’t long before they invited me to join their group, bought me a beer, and became the friends I hold dear as my closest today. Since then, I have tried my best to do the same for other new members of the community. Also, in the years between then and now, I came to learn how community is truly defined, both in words and actions.

Community is not just a physical place, but also an emotional one.

It is composed of a multitude of sometimes very different people working toward a similar goal. It is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a positive zone of thinking, a shared mindset where, no matter how truly annoying your neighbor is, you can work together for the betterment of all involved.

In downtown Mansfield where I work, community means taking care of each other. I had not experienced this kind of community before as an adult: more family than anything. We send our friends and customers to other downtown stores and we all pitch in to keep Homeless Garry warm in the winter. We loan each other our tables, chairs, rock salt, ladders, wine openers, employees, and cars. We joke, we gossip, we give advice.

Now that I feel established, strong, I can help all of us achieve something none of us could do alone: our dreams.

Look around you: who else sees what you see?

Who shares your vision and sees the possibilities you see?

Imagine what you could accomplish, if you had a little help.