Lynn Rosenthal, President of The Center for Family Safety and Healing (TCFSH), was taught at a young age to be a voice. “Growing up, I learned that it was important to stand up for what you believe in.” Lynn’s mother was a role model to her. She was a schoolteacher and very active in their Unitarian church, as well as serving many causes.
It is of no surprise that Lynn chose a path of service and support for others. She studied social work in college and was always interested in community organizing. She worked in family planning clinics as a health educator where she saw women with injuries related to domestic violence.
When she later worked in a domestic violence shelter, Lynn was able to identify that a relationship she had in college was in fact abusive. She credits her college friends with helping her get away from the relationship before it escalated. It wasn’t until later, when she was more educated on domestic violence, that Lynn realized what a traumatic impact this relationship had on her life.
Lynn was empowered to get involved. She became involved in policies and how the country responded to the issue of domestic violence at the local, state and federal levels of government. She worked in the D.C. area on federal policy for domestic violence. While working in D.C. Lynn’s mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Lynn made the heartfelt decision to move to Miami to help care for her mother and be there for her.
“You can never really plan – life gets in the way,” Lynn adds. In Miami, Lynn was vice president for strategic partnership at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and held leadership positions at state domestic violence coalitions. When an opportunity later arose in New Mexico, where Lynn was born, she couldn’t resist returning to a state she loves. “I would have stayed in New Mexico, but I received a call from the White House with an opportunity that was too good to pass up.”
For five years, Lynn served on various task forces in the Obama/Biden administration, and was appointed to the role as director of violence against women initiatives for the Biden Foundation. She was the first-ever White House advisor on violence against women and remained in that role from 2009 to 2015.
She supported initiatives on campus assault, domestic violence in homicides, The Violence Against Women Act 2013, HIV, Aids and domestic violence. “In the White House, there are so many things happening behind the scenes that people do not hear about,” says Lynn. “There are groups of people working to make a difference in people’s lives.”
In 2019, Lynn was recruited by Nationwide Children’s Hospital as the president of The Center for Family Safety and Healing. “There is no other organization like this,” explains Lynn. “No organization that provides comprehensive services across one’s lifespan, that is part of a pediatric hospital.”
This was an opportunity Lynn could not pass up. She was captivated by the dedicated people, the energy around change, the innovation and the cultures in the Columbus area. “I really saw and felt that I could implement what I was working on in the White House, on a local level,” adds Lynn.
As Lynn set out to define her role, she embarked on a strategic plan to identify gaps and to put a plan into action as to how those gaps could be filled. As a result, TCFSH began to focus on several areas were that could benefit from growth initiatives.
TCFSH is focusing on the needs of young survivors of trafficking and those at risk of commercial sex exploitation. TCFSH was awarded a grant from the Office of Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice to support work with victims of human trafficking in our foster care and child assessment center and at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We worked really hard for the grant,” adds Lynn. “My background on the federal level added a unique contribution to the grant writing process.”
The emergency department at Nationwide children’s Hospital was seeing cases and that was instrumental to use as case studies for the grant. The grant will focus on universal screening, specialized mental health services and trauma-informed training to recognize and appropriately refer victims of commercial sex exploitation. Lynn explains “Trafficking is often more visible to those caring for youth at risk.”
Family violence is being addressed in more depth and initiatives are being put into place to better identify and serve families in crisis and contribute to community efforts to end family violence. Lynn explains, “Our strategic plan has outlined ways of strengthening our crisis response, offering excellence in the services we provide, expanding our housing and supportive services and working to prevent violence from happening in the first place.”
Lynn and the team at TCFSH are working to raise awareness with policymakers, service providers and the community so they know and understand how family violence impacts a person’s overall well-being over the course of a lifetime, with the ultimate goal being prevention.
“We will reach out more in the community expanding our communication to the schools and community agencies,” says Lynn. “Middle school and high school students will be given more tips and tools on awareness and prevention on teen dating, abuse and technology abuse.” The TCFSH will work on creating more tools for teachers and staff members to recognize an issue and support a student. “Early intervention creates a better well-being for everyone.”
In support of all of the initiatives that the TCFSH has moving forward, crisis response is key. Working internally and with external partners, it is a top priority to educate and train in order to improve identification of victims to offer them services. The services need to be designed to be immediately available to those that seek them. Live support via text, chat and call center will be made available.
In order to close the gap in the support of family violence, it is important to address housing and supportive services for those in immediate need. TCFSH has started reaching out to community partners, including YMCA, Community Shelter Board, landlords and hotels. “To date, the direct assistance fund for housing and basic needs has provided crisis relief to nearly 400 families,” explains Lynn.
In addition to the programs that have been created to support family violence and those affected, it is the mission of the TCFSH to lead the campaign for prevention in our region and to destigmatize family violence and continue to develop new programs.
As part of a comprehensive approach to family violence, TCFSH’s child abuse pediatricians have recently established a new clinic to care for children who may have been physically abused. The clinic takes a multi-disciplinary approach to evaluate children who present with concerns of non-accidental trauma.
Lynn hit the ground running by taking on some major initiatives during her first year and ensuring that programs and services could pivot when COVID hit our country. “It was important to make sure that our adult domestic violence services were available,” adds Lynn. “We had to transition to telehealth, even offering virtual support groups.”
In her role as president of TCFSH, Lynn leads a team that works closely with local advocates and community partners, including Franklin Country Children’s Service, Columbus Division of Police, Columbus City Prosecutor Office, LSS CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network and a diverse group of community organization to address all aspects of family violence, including child abuse and neglect, teen dating abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse.
Lynn is fairly new to the area but loves the feel of Columbus as a community. She moved to Columbus last year, with her partner M.J. Dougherty. Much to their delight, Columbus’ reputation as a gay-friendly community proved to be true. “I have never lived somewhere where the residents showed so much support for the community and the people that live in it,” adds Lynn. “As soon as we put up our Pride flag, many welcoming neighbors stopped by to say ‘Hello’!” Lynn loves spending time in her garden growing vegetables. “It is relaxing and a great outlet for my creativity.” She spends time with her dogs, loves to hike and is passionate about saving the bees!
Lynn has invested a tremendous amount of time in her work. She knows that by giving it her all, she might be able to create change. “My job at The Center for Family Safety and Healing is to inspire. My accomplishments are less tangible. I want to make people feel like they are a part of something larger.”
Nichole E. Dunn
Flying Horse Farms
For many of us, work-life balance is often a struggle. At a young age, Nichole Dunn, President & CEO of Flying Horse Farms, knew this was something important and learned this strong value from her family.
Growing up in Minnesota, Nichole’s family has always been very close. Her parents became pregnant with Nichole in their teens, married and added her sister to the family three years later. Nichole beams, “I come from a very close-knit family. My parents are still married!” She was raised with a strong commitment to family values.
Her parents, both having grown up on farms, made a decision early on to move closer to Minneapolis and raise Nichole and her sister in the suburbs. Nichole was active in sports. She played softball, basketball, and tennis. Much of her childhood was spent with the sentiment of “go play outside” including enjoying being on a lake in the summer or riding snow mobiles in the winter.
Nichole was always heard and shown the value of hard work. She began babysitting at the age of ten. Had her first hourly job at 14 working at Orange Julius, at 15 worked at McDonald’s; all while still babysitting every Saturday night for the same family for six years.
It was the fun of babysitting and being with kids and knowing that the job at McDonald’s was ideal because it fit better into her schedule, she made more money, and it offered her the flexibility to pursue her outside interests as she could set her own schedule.
After graduating from high school, Nichole attended the University of Minnesota with intentions of majoring in pediatric medicine. A few quarters into her college education, Nichole realized that this wasn’t the right major for her and switched to early childhood development and child psychology.
She received a certification in alcohol and drug prevention and later secured her licensure in counseling, specializing in high risk adolescent behavior and the family dynamic.
When Nichole graduated from college, she was offered a job based on her answer to an interview question of where she saw herself 5 years from now. She shared that she would like to start a recovery high school program for students after they’ve completed alcohol and drug treatment, to foster a safe and sober learning environment.
It was just two months later that she founded the EXCEL sober school. “There is a significant stigma for adolescents who get ‘in trouble’ or are given a diagnosis such as addiction to substances that is so often related to behavioral or mental health; and this program was designed to change the norm of this thinking,” says Nichole.
In 2001, Nichole and her long-term boyfriend got married. This was after Michael had moved to Wisconsin, which meant Nichole found herself on a detoured path away from Minnesota, her family, and her roots. But she packed up and away she went.
While there, Nichole found a new opportunity of her own as the Director of the Juvenile Drug Court in Winnebago County. She worked hands-on with adolescent treatment centers, schools, families, and the court system.
In October 2001, just 90 days after the initial relocation, the aftermath of 9/11 occurred and her husband was informed of either a layoff or relocation. They chose to relocate to Columbus, Ohio. “Columbus proved to be a great community for networking,” says Nichole. “I emailed the leaders of non-profits in the area and I always received a gracious response.”
Her first role in Columbus was with the Buckeye Ranch where she served for about a year. As opportunities started opening up for her, she accepted a position at the United Way of Central Ohio. Nichole was part of the Health Vision Council’s KNOW! Program. This role combined coalition building, marketing, and public messaging with tips and tools for parents to use in the prevention of first-time use of drugs and alcohol.
Nichole focused on Columbus’ south side and the Upper Arlington area. “It was a multi-tierd effort to understand, to be curious in the communities, and to facilitate community conversation and commitment to the health and well-being of youth,” adds Nichole. “As an outsider not from either community, nor even a parent at the time, I embraced the ability and humility to allow each community to be their own experts and own the process while being a connector and simply a facilitator for a shared goal.”
In 2005, Nichole and her husband welcomed their daughter. During this time, her mentor suggested that if she was going to hone her leadership skills and community connections, she should learn fundraising. This happened at the same time as being a new mom, and the invitation to work at the YWCA as the Director of Development was offered. This aligned with Nichole’s ability to raise funds for something that mattered to her and was personal: gender equality. She learned in this role for over two years.
Three years later, her son was born. In 2008, Nichole accepted the role of being the second President & CEO at the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. Here she galvanized her passion for systems change, social justice, and gender equality with a foundation in data informed decision making and advocacy. “This was the first time since founding the EXCEL school that the work felt both personally motivating and yet tapping into a tenacious commitment to create a space for others to have their voice heard.” shares Nichole.
She spent nine and a half years at the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, working with some of Columbus’ legacy philanthropists, innovative nonprofit partners, and engaged corporate partners into new dialogues around policy changes. “Some of her favorite work she reflected on that still continues today, is including young girls into the grant reading process so that they could be leaders of social change from the ground up. We recognized who needed a seat at the table and can be present to get the job done.”
As the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio was about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Nichole knew that, after her nearly 10 years there, it was a good time for her to look to what could be next.
She received a phone call from Flying Horse Farms regarding an opportunity. “Initially, I didn’t think it was a good fit for me or quite right timing, but thought I could at least offer suggestions or connections to others that could be the right individual to fill the role,” recalls Nichole. After she received a nudge from one of the board members to consider the position for herself, and a similar nudge from her husband, a few days later she was on a call with Flying Horse Farms gaining an understanding of what this position could mean.
This role encompassed and culminated to all aspects of what Nichole had dedicated her career toward with her experience in trauma informed care, holistic healing for a family, community connection, and desire to see fulfillment for a child to experience joy and happiness for themselves. This was and is Flying Horse Farms. “I stand for individuals to have a safe place to show up as their true, authentic selves; to have a sense of belonging.” says Nichole.
Located in Mount Gilead, Ohio, Flying Horse Farms is a medical specialty camp that provides healing and transformative experiences for children with serious illnesses and their families – free of charge. The camp serves children, teens, and young adults who live life with cancer, facial differences, arthritis, rare diseases and disorders, heart, lung, blood, kidney, and gastrointestinal system issues. Many of the campers face post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and other mental illness as a result of their diagnosis.
The camp serves the entire family, including caregivers, and allows them to experience outdoor activities and adventures designed to ensure that every camper can participate and feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and freedom. Each year, the camp hosts more than 900 children and their families.
The camp is supported by a medical team of staff and volunteers that provide first-rate care on-site during camp programming and within their Well – Nest; like an urgent care in the woods. They are proud of the partnerships with eight of Ohio’s children’s hospitals and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Nichole explains, “Children get to come and laugh and through living out our core value of Fearless is Free and choose how they want spend their time at camp.” The camp applies a bullseye model, where the bullseye in the center represents the child’s (or anyone’s) comfort zone (where they spend most of their time), followed by the stretch zone and around the outside is the panic zone. “The stretch zone can feel uncomfortable and scary if too often spending time told ‘no’ or ‘you can’t do that’ and be filled with anxiety, but that is where we encourage our campers to embrace “challenge by choice” while they are at camp.” At Flying Horse Farms, you will only hear the word, YES! “It is all about YES, we will figure it out and make it possible together.”
A very special element to camp is the cabin chats. Cabin chats occur for that quiet time in the cabin at the end of the day. They often start with camp staff facilitating the conversation but quickly evolve to the grown-ups on the side line and the campers connecting, sharing, and building deep bonds of trust. They share with a simple rose, bud, thorn of what was the best part of the day, the not so great, and what they are looking forward to the next day.
They share feelings and thoughts that are often sacred and only understood between themselves and a kid just like them living with a similar diagnosis or experience. The same goes for parents and caregivers. There is a mutually understood sense of what a parent is living with day in and day out when they meet a fellow camper family. The demonstration of Flying Horse Farms’ core value With Trust Comes Relief to know their child can make a friend, safe in the dining hall, and they too, can find a night or two of respite and sleep without medication alarms beeping.
The 2020 camp season was required to suspend on-site programming due to COVID-19 and the human resource challenge to have health care providers available; while ensuring safety protocols for immune compromised kids. But just like with all things at camp, they said “Yes, we can figure this out!” The pivot to virtual programming was offered immediately in the spring, all summer, and included diagnosis specific programming as well as shared space for camper reunion calls.
This fall, Flying Horse Farms even provided virtual family camps that included more than 30 hours of programming each of the weekends. “Our campers received the magic of camp right through their computer,” adds Nichole. One parent was quoted as saying, “At first it seemed too bad that we have to be virtual, but after this weekend, I am so happy we GOT to do this. You made camp magic happen!”
Nichole recognizes the importance of work-life balance and enjoys downtime at her home in New Albany, Ohio, with her husband Michael, daughter Abigail, and son Henry. Being a young, active family, they spend quite a bit of time supporting the kids in their sports. Abigail is in the marching band and runs cross country and track and field for her high school.
Henry plays baseball year-round. The family loves to travel and takes annual trips to Hawaii to visit Michael’s family, and Colorado to visit Nichole’s family. They are big fans of both skiing and surfing! Nights at home are filled with long walks with their dog and family game nights and watching movies.
On the entrance to Flying Horse Farms are the words, The only place in the world, whether you are coming or going, that you are always home. With a heart filled with joy, Nichole is helping to make this a reality for all of those that enter the world of Flying Horse Farms.
Buddy Up Tennis
15 years ago, Beth Gibson’s son Will was born with Down syndrome. Not knowing much about Down syndrome or the path they were about to set out on, Beth and her husband knew that they would need to equip Will with every tool necessary for him to succeed.
Like any three-year-old with an older brother, much of Will’s time was spent tagging along to his brother’s activities. Loving when it was tennis lesson day, Will showed a tremendous amount of interest in the sport. His brother’s coach, Doug DiRosario, and associate Stephanie Anderson from Wickertree Tennis & Fitness Club, wanted to feed this enthusiasm and coach Will too. They did some research, only to find that there was not a tennis curriculum that caters specifically to those with Down syndrome.
The coaches worked with Beth to put together a program for Will and other athletes with Down syndrome. They invited the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio (DSACO) to an event where the athletes would learn tennis skills. “There was overwhelming interest in the program,” says Beth, Founder and President, Buddy Up Tennis. “We decided to start a program and the athletes from that first event became our first clinic!” From there, Buddy Up Tennis was born.
Buddy Up Tennis grew quickly in the area. “People were seeing the success we were having with the athletes. The buddy volunteers in the program started talking about it too, as they were impacted just as much as the athletes,” adds Beth. As word spread, individuals began making monetary donations to the program and in 2010, Buddy Up Tennis, Inc. became a formalized non-profit organization.
Beginning with simple activities such as popping bubbles or hitting balloons in order to build hand-eye coordination, they eventually developed a comprehensive curriculum to teach tennis and fitness to individuals with Down syndrome. Tennis is the gateway to the program. An environment was created for athletes to learn, grow and develop. “We provide them with the tools and an opportunity to reach their fullest potential,” adds Beth.
As word spread, in 2010, the Buddy Up Tennis program was invited by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to demonstrate the program at the Western and Southern Open. 20 athletes from Columbus traveled to Cincinnati and they invited some of the kids from the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati to join them on the courts. The group was so impressed with the program that they wanted to bring something like this to Cincinnati. In late 2010, Buddy Up Tennis Cincinnati was born as the first expansion chapter.
Today, Buddy Up Tennis is now nationwide and has grown to 650 athletes, 750 buddies, 100+ coaches, with 25 chapters in 12 states. They are recognized as one of the leading adaptive tennis and fitness programs by the USTA. To this end, in 2018, 18 athletes from the Buddy Up Tennis program went to the US Open for a demonstration on Center Court of the Arthur Ashe Stadium. “Our program was the first adaptive tennis program to be selected for this prestigious opportunity,” says Beth.
Helping athletes on the court has expanded to off the court. “We realized there was a void in skill building programs that promote the early development of life skills and independent living for individuals with Down syndrome,” says Beth. The program, Buddy Up Life Skills, partners with field experts to bring training to the athletes in such areas as cooking, communication, finance, technology, babysitting, and first aid courses. “We provide athletes with independent living skills and create a pathway for them to volunteer or work in the community.” New classes are piloted with a small group in the Columbus area before they are expanded to a larger group of athletes with the goal to offer in other chapters.
As you can imagine, Buddy Up Tennis needed to pivot in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Buddy Up Connections was quickly formed so that athletes were not affected by a lapse in programming and peer to peer connections, which is the foundation of their programs. Athletes and buddies were paired together to do activities for 60 to 90 minutes each week. The organization created weekly themes with fun and engaging activities to be done virtually or in person.
The buddy could select activities from a robust library based on the interests of his/her athlete. “This has provided our program with an opportunity to partner with other organizations and share something new with our athletes,” adds Beth. “Now more than ever, our athletes need meaningful social interactions and relationships. Thus, the consistency of the weekly meetings is key as it fosters the growth of friendships.
In addition to the friendship building program, Beth and her team continued to provide opportunities for their Athletes to stay strong, fit, and confident while at home through virtual exercise classes such as Zumba®, kickboxing, and fitness. “Not only do our coaches keep our athletes moving, they also foster confidence through unique engagement strategies that are new to the virtual space,” Beth shares.
In late November, Buddy Up Tennis hosted their first ever jump-a-thon, Buddy Up Jump! “The jump roping exercise is a great way for athletes and buddies to work together on coordination, core strength, and fun,” adds Beth. “The event is designed to raise awareness and funds for the programs that we offer. It also is a special way for the athletes and their buddies to work together toward a goal, helping them physically and mentally.”
Buddy Up Tennis has always been a learning organization. The more the athletes grow, the more the organization grows. New needs are being met all of the time. “We have always focused on fitness for our athletes, but are excited to add an essential pillar of life skills that support their independence,” says Beth. “We would love to create communities where athletes can live meaningful and productive lives.”
The organization is working with leaders from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, The Ohio State University, and Healthy New Albany to tailor some of their programs to the athletes, such as nutrition, mental health awareness, teen topics, life skills, and more. “We are lucky to have amazing resources in our community that help support our initiatives,” comments Beth.
Buddy Up Tennis is currently working with Nationwide Children’s Hospital to bring their On Our Sleeves® resources to the Buddy Up Connections program participants. It benefits both organizations in that the On Our Sleeves program gains more exposure through the 25 chapters that they currently serve and has tailored the program to meet the needs of the athletes so that discussions on gratitude are had by the athletes, their buddies, and the families.
“Similarly, we are in early stages of working with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Center for Family Safety and Healing to modify programs on teen training topics,” adds Beth. “We will take what The Center for Family Safety and Healing has and modify them to the Down syndrome community, both to our athletes and parents. The goal is for these programs to begin via virtual means to include all of our chapters.
Beth and her husband Rick have been married for 28 years. She credits Rick with encouraging her to grow this organization and live her passion. As a family, they are very connected to the Buddy Up Tennis family. There is a core group that are very close and enjoy weekend dinners together.
Each family member has their own special connection to the organization. “Will is so active in every aspect of it. My husband Rick, an attorney by trade, is responsible for the finances, legal matters and photography of the organization,” says Beth. Her older son Keegan, is currently attending Miami University, makes time to meet with his buddy every week via Zoom. Like most families with an active 15-year-old, they attend all of Will’s sporting events at his high school. He enjoys tennis, football, and basketball.
Beth beams when she shares, “So many resources and people have come together to help grow this organization. It is often just a matter of the connecting the dots when creating new opportunities for our athletes.” Currently, the organization has chapters that offer each of its programs including Buddy Up Tennis, Buddy Up Fitness, Buddy Up Summer Camp, Buddy Up Connections and Buddy Up Life Skills. Beth is excited to share that what started as the Buddy Up Tennis, Inc. has transitioned and will be renamed to Buddy Up for Life, Inc. “Our organization is focused on providing a wholistic experience that equips our Athletes with all of the tools needed to reach their fullest potential,” Beth says.
Beth and her team welcome partnerships with various industry leaders, merging their expertise with the organization’s environment. If you want to share your knowledge and passion with the Athletes, visit buddyuptennis.com to join the journey towards meaningful contributions for all.
Elizabeth Abdur Raheem
After leaving Columbus at only nine weeks old, Elizabeth Abdur Raheem, Executive Director of LSS CHOICES, did not imagine that her journey would lead her back to Columbus.
Elizabeth grew up in Northern New York state. She lived in a community where taking care of each other was top priority. “If you want to move things ahead, you take care of the people and make sure that everyone has enough,” says Elizabeth. That is also how her high school operated and Elizabeth grew up with a sense of compassion for her community.
After her high school graduation, Elizabeth attended Tulane University to study physics. This top-rated university and her academic path were extremely competitive. She wasn’t accustomed to this type of environment and realized that it wasn’t the path for her. Elizabeth decided to take a year off. She moved to New York City and became a nanny.
Little did she know that her year off as a nanny would shape the direction of her future. During that year, she thought a lot about community. What it is. What it needs.
Her next step was attending the University of South Mississippi to study social work. In the late 1990’s, during her time at USM, Elizabeth joined AmeriCorps, Delta Service Corps serving at New Orleans affiliate for Habitat for Humanity as a volunteer coordinator. She loved the idea of communities supporting communities.
The organization built about 12 houses per year. She learned so much about how communities invest in themselves. “I was given the opportunity to travel all over the city. I saw all styles of living and communities coming together,” recalls Elizabeth. This experience really solidified the importance of community for Elizabeth.
At the end of 2000, Elizabeth moved to the metro New York area. She spent five years working for Women in Community Service. She started as a volunteer specialist and later was promoted to regional director.
She worked with kids, ages 16 to 24, that were no longer in school. They were all participants in the Department of Labor’s Job Corps program. This program taught the kids skills for living in the community and life lessons in order to be successful adults.
Job Corps was a residential program where the kids were taken out of the community in order to learn the skills necessary to merge back or be able to move back to their home environment. Once the kids were moved out of the program, they would be linked with volunteers and mentors to continue to reach their goals. “This role gave me an opportunity to see the issues and be a part of the solution,” adds Elizabeth.
Elizabeth returned to school at The New School in New York City where she received her bachelor’s degree in urban studies. This progressive university gave Elizabeth exactly what she was looking for with regard to degrees that focused on being relevant and transformation in today’s world. She continued at The New School in their Milano School for Management and Public Policy where she earned her master’s degree in non-profit management. She later went on to receive an MBA at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
With her resume packed with experience and knowledge, Elizabeth took a position with The Partnership for the Homeless in New York City. In her volunteer coordinator position, she led over 2,000 volunteers from 125+ faith communities that were responsible for homeless shelters and shelters in houses of worship. Staff members were tasked with screening each guest for mental health, drugs, alcohol and other health standards, while the volunteers safely provided dinner and safe shelter for the evening. A tremendous about of work went into training each volunteer, along with careful preparation and set-up for this system to succeed.
With a vision and a passion for communities, Elizabeth stepped into a larger role at the Mount Hope Housing Company. Here she served as director of program operations. “The initiatives for Mount Hope Housing Company focused on workforce programs for the entire community,” explains Elizabeth. The organization served as a low-income housing community supporting housing, youth/child programming, workforce, after-school, summer camp and GED programs.
For ten years, just prior to her return to Columbus, Elizabeth was the program manager for CAMBA. CAMBA is known as an incubator for effective programs in housing stability, education & youth development, family & community support, health, economic development, and legal services. Their offerings have helped hundreds of thousands of people, across the five boroughs of New York City, improve their lives and thrive.
Elizabeth was given the responsibility of being the program director for a large family homeless shelter that could house 800 people. “This homeless shelter was larger than the entire school district I attended as a youth. This facility really brought homelessness home to me,” adds Elizabeth. “In a system that large, you don’t have the flexibility to be fully trauma informed. You do the basic triage work for moving them in and out of the facility.” Elizabeth could see the bigger picture of what the indicators were for homelessness – if a person was in a shelter as a child and domestic violence being the biggest factors.
The organizations didn’t have the resources, time and space to address the issue. They focused on the safety of the community they were serving and making sure families had shelter each night. “Housing is the immediate need, there isn’t time for education, health or addressing the trauma that goes along with being in a shelter and sometimes seeing the violence that can occur in a shelter,” adds Elizabeth.
Elizabeth spent much of her career in addressing the immediate needs of a community. She knew it was time to think about what was next for her and knew she wanted to be in a position where she was able to do the work that went farther and addressed the real issues.
In late 2019, Elizabeth was approached by LSS CHOICES. She learned that LSS CHOICES, as part of the Lutheran Social Services’ Network of Hope, mission is to create a better world by serving people in need. They seek to live out their faith by interrupting the cycle of domestic violence in the community and advocating for social change. Elizabeth explains, “This organization seeks to address the root cause and not just shelter those from the behavior that has been triggered.”
During her interview process, Elizabeth visited the shelter and could see the thought that went into designing the building to meet the objective of the organizations mission. The staff is trained. The hotline and shelter operate 24/7. There is space and time. Residents are not given a deadline, whether they are in the shelter or are receiving services while living in another residence.
This is where Elizabeth found her next home. In January of 2020, she became Executive Director of LSS CHOICES. “Because of the support we receive, we have the means to get things done without red tape,” adds Elizabeth. “CHOICES is a program that walks the talk! Communication is key to making the process work. Our clients come in, share their story, are given support and, most importantly, are given the tools necessary to make their own decision about how to proceed.” The foundation of LSS CHOICES is strong. Elizabeth is grateful to be a part of the team that continues moving the programs forward.
As she approaches her first year at LSS CHOICES, there are some areas of growth that can occur. A community assessment was done in 2019 in concert with the opening of the new shelter. Growth can be made in reaching all cultures in the community. Ensuring all cultural differences are being addressed in the shelter, such as supporting food, language and cultural custom diversity will be important initiatives that LSS CHOICES is working towards. “Smaller things need to be expanded to best serve and let all cultures know they will be supported,” adds Elizabeth.
“We are working toward building our Shelter Resource Center with staff and communication in the areas of employment, education and healthcare. This is not just our services in the shelter, but those clinical counseling services in more parts of the city,” explains Elizabeth. “We are also working with community faith leaders for Safe Haven training, that was held this fall. We want to ensure there is universal communication to support all people.”
After moving her family to Columbus in January of 2020, they had little time to settle in before COVID hit. Elizabeth resides in Columbus with her husband Hanif, their four-year-old daughter Zenobia and her 15-year-old stepdaughter Amira. “We really enjoy living in a house,” laughs Elizabeth. “I realized I was the only one in our family that had ever lived in a house!” The family is enjoying their backyard and a vegetable garden. They also spend time together riding bikes and going to parks.
Elizabeth has great passion for LSS CHOICES. “I never worked for an agency that was so cognizant of taking care of their staff,” says Elizabeth. “They check in and take action to make sure that we have the ability to do the work the way we want to do the work.” This shows Elizabeth that she does have the ability to address the real issues and do the work at LSS CHOICES to make a difference in the lives of those in the community.
From a very young age, Rachel Finney, CEO of Columbus Humane, always felt drawn to helping others.
Rachel grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and is the youngest of six. Pets were always a part of their family life, with the exception of dogs. They had cats, birds, mice, turtles, and fish, but no dogs. Rachel was editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper and loved public speaking.
After graduating from high school, Rachel went on to major in political science and non-profit management at Indiana University (IU). She minored in psychology and sociology of business. During her time at IU, Rachel realized that the university was a leader in non-profit management. She soon realized that non-profit management combined all of her interests and she could help to move the world forward.
Growing up, Rachel’s family had very close friends whose son was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at the age of three months. “Brett was a remarkable human and one of my best friends,” Rachel recalls. During her freshman year at IU, Rachel found out that Brett needed a double lung transplant. “I felt helpless and I wanted to do something.” After lots of research, she realized that there was a lack of awareness and she made a personal commitment to educate people to become donors. “I started an organization at IU called Life Goes On. This organization raised awareness for organ and tissue donation.”
The organization grew quickly. The Children’s Organ Transplant Association found out about Rachel’s efforts and brought her on staff to take her program national to high school and college students. By the time Rachel graduated from IU, she had 10,000 students registered and the program spread to over 15 college campuses. Sadly, Brett passed away at the age of 20. “Brett was a huge inspiration and really led me to do something to fight the feeling of being helpless,” recalls Rachel.
Fortunately for Rachel, IU had a community outreach and service-learning program. The university recognized the power of service learning and wanted students to have hands-on experience. “The non-profits in town were small, but they all had amazing leaders,” adds Rachel. Rachel also worked as a University campaign chair for United Way of Monroe County where she spoke on organ and tissue donation and created literature.
This gave Rachel an opportunity to learn from some of the non-profit leaders in the community. While finishing up her degree at IU, Rachel was hired by the university and placed at the Shalom Community Center. This center served people experiencing homelessness and poverty. They served breakfast and lunch, provided bus passes, diapers, etc. “People came with so many different life experiences, but everyone loved coffee. It was our biggest expense outside of staffing,” says Rachel. “
“All of this experience really shaped my world view,” adds Rachel. “Every person is valuable and everyone has something to give.”
After graduating from college, Rachel was offered the position of interim director at the Shalom Community Center. Here, her passion for helping others continued to grow. She was eager to make a move to Columbus and actively looked for a position that would fulfill her already impressive resume.
In 2001, Rachel was recruited by Junior Achievement of Central Ohio as the vice president of programs. “This was a big change for me, to go from being on the front lines of homelessness to servicing a drop- out prevention program for Columbus Public Schools,” adds Rachel. Rachel’s programming serviced a 28-county area and she was fortunate enough to interact with many of Columbus’ corporate leaders to ensure the success of the program.
Rachel settled in Marysville. Trying to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming a dog owner, Rachel visited a local shelter. She was horrified at the condition of the shelter. “It didn’t even seem open,” recalls Rachel. “There wasn’t any staff available to help, the animals were dirty and sad. It was a really traumatic experience and I left in tears.”
Per Rachel’s usual reaction to feeling helpless, she returned home and did a little research. “I found out that I knew the organization’s board president and voiced my concern,” adds Rachel. Rachel was immediately asked to join the board. Rachel spearheaded a group that set out to find an executive director.
The board asked Rachel if she was interested in taking on that position. Rachel spent the next 5 years as the executive director of the Union County Humane Society. “We cleaned up the shelter, got a veterinarian, created fundraising initiatives, and developed a record keeping system.” During this time, Rachel became certified as a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator.
With a strong background on animal welfare and the management of animal shelters, in 2008, Rachel was recruited by Columbus Humane as their chief operating officer. In this role, she oversaw animal care, client care, cruelty investigations and veterinary services. In 2012, she was promoted to Chief Executive Officer. When she started, the agency had a $1.6 budget with 40 staff members. Currently, it is a $4 million organization with 60 staff members. There is a partnership with The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine where students come and receive hands-on training in the vet clinic.
This non-profit organization is also a law enforcement agency responsible for investigating animal cruelty, abuse and neglect that operates 365 days a year, with no breaks. “There is never a day that I don’t feel connected,” adds Rachel.
Rachel and her staff worked hard to make significant changes to the way animals were admitted to the shelter. They worked to shift the programming to try and help the animals AND the people. Rachel explains, “We try to find a way for the family to keep the animal(s).
We encourage families to keep them until they can be placed or we work to address a behavior or health issue with the animal to keep it with the family.” When a family brings an animal to the shelter, it is immediately evaluated by their veterinarian and the family receives counseling. “We really want to give people the tools and resources they need to do the right thing for their family,” adds Rachel. “We focus on helping people successfully keep their pets wherever possible and accept them into care when it’s not.”
Columbus Humane partners with LSS CHOICES to house animals for victims of domestic violence. They provide vet care, treatments, housing and food to the animals. “Pets are a huge part of the family and nobody wants to leave their pets behind with an abuser,” says Rachel.
Rachel is an avid speaker on the Power of Perspective, Finding the Silver Lining When It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. She has a deep passion for helping moms with young children and also served on the board of Lifeline of Ohio. “I am a mission junkie,” Rachel jokes. “When I see people passionate about helping the community, I get fired up.”
The work of animal welfare is not for everyone. It is making life and death decisions every day. Rachel continues to fight for it because there is so much work yet to be done. “It’s a hard field of work,” adds Rachel. “Compassion fatigue is real. We employ empathetic people. But the daily challenges we face make us kinder, better, wiser people.”
Rachel currently resides in Dublin with her husband, Brian and their children, Sylvia and Jason. Their family includes three dogs (yes, dogs!), a cat and a fish. The family enjoys kayaking, hiking and spending a lot of time in nature. Rachel loves yoga, meditating, reading, sewing, and watching her kids enjoy their sports.
Rachel is very wise to the fact that every single loss or struggle she has ever faced has benefitted her and added to her life experience. And we are privileged that she is able to share that life experience with the Central Ohio community.