Honoring the Gems of Norwood

More than a dozen volunteers and a local restaurant will be recognized for their significant positive contributions to Norwood at the city’s first Gems of The Community Celebration on Thursday, February 24. 

The awards ceremony is organized by Norwood Together, a nonprofit community development organization, and presented by the Ventura Builders Group. The free community celebration begins at 5:30 p.m. and also will give attendees a chance to explore The Ventura, 4557 Montgomery Road, a vacant bank building that the Ventura Group transformed into an events center. 

The Gems of The Community award winners were nominated by fellow Norwood residents. They are business owners and volunteers, pastors and school boosters, designers and scientists. They are people who show up and are an example to others. 

“Norwood is a strong community because it’s full of people and groups working together to get things done,” said Mary C. Miller, president of Norwood Together. “We make things happen. We take care of each other. But we don’t always take time to celebrate that hard work and dedication. 

“That’s what the Gems of The Community awards are,” Miller added. “A chance to honor the people and organizations making a difference in our city.

Gems Legacy Award: Donna Laake
Donna has dedicated time to Norwood through personal volunteering and political service. She has helped lead nonprofits that help plant trees, clean up the city, and revitalize parks. Donna has been involved in various community events and organizations such as her close involvement with the Norwood Historical Society and the Norwood Business and Professional Women’s Club. She helped find funding for the new basketball courts at Waterworks and was a dedicated leader in the court’s art mural. Even in her retirement she has never hesitated to jump in and help the city in any way she can, even helping to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to the community. She has a long standing involvement in the city and knows the city of Norwood inside and out. Susan Daniels says, “She is a no brainer candidate [for the Gem of the Community Awards]”.

Gems Business Award: Indian Mound Cafe
The Indian Mound Cafe owners have invested in the success of Norwood organizations such as the Norwood Police Association, Norwood Fire Association, Norwood Athletics, various golf outings, and Gem of the Highlands 5K. They support all community partners by helping with meals for employees and students. Julie and Sheila encourage the use of their private party room to be a space for fundraisers and community events. They generously contribute lunches to the Vietnam Veteran Society. One of the owners, Sheila, received a service award for her work with the group. Recently after observing a funeral gathering at the restaurant, Stephanie Downs wrote, “What an important space they are providing for people who are grieving… They make people feel safe and loved and comfortable to be themselves.” Overall the Indian Mound Cafe is driven everyday by their owners who demonstrate care and devotion to making your dining experience easy, affordable, and tasty while also doing all they can to support the city. 

Robin Cox
Nominated by Mary C Miller and Megan Carl
Robin is a graphic designer with a clear passion to improve communication across Norwood. She displays a commitment to her city by actively supporting positivity and providing creative, fresh ideas to events such as the Historic Home Tour and Norwood Day. Robin always holds a smile on her face and listens attentively. Robin initiated the “What’s Happening” flyer/webpage, taking it on herself to contact businesses, schools, and community groups, collect information about their events, and share it across the city to better inform Norwood. Norwood Together President Mary C. Miller says, “I’m not sure where we would go for such professional work at no cost. Robin is a true gift to our community and her service is amazing.”

J. Ian Mathews and Lindsey Kemna Mathews
Nominated by Tim Garry Jr.
Lindsey and Ian Mathews, along with their young children, have been deeply engaged in community development, generously contributing their time and talent to several ongoing Norwood Community projects, including the Hudson/Floral micropark, several neighborhood clean-ups, spending weekend hours cutting the honeysuckle out of the Lindner Park and McCullough Estate Nature Preserve, and helping with the Williams Avenue Community Garden. The family makes active volunteering in the community fun for all. Tim Garry Jr. says, “Lindsey and Ian have been modeling community improvement and service to their young children, serving our community as a young family, with boundless energy, enthusiasm, commitment, and humility, over the last few years. They have sunk roots here, making our community a better place to live.”

Jon Moore
Nominated by Alisha Loch
Jon is an active member of the Norwood community and a director of digital media services at Mount St. Joseph University. He has a talent for processing information and a passion for his city, a combination which often leads to collecting and spreading valuable information to the community. Jon is also a landlord and dedicates hours of effort towards making Norwood a better place to live. He organized the development of the Hudson/Floral micropark and supported other community projects, such as connecting Wasson Way. Jon maintains a podcast called Move Norwood Forward and runs a blog by the same name where he discusses how to improve the quality of life in Norwood with enthusiastic ideas about the future of Norwood. Alisha Loch highlighted Jon’s open mind toward new ideas and enthusiasm for change. 

Stella Harrison
Nominated by Alisha Loch
Stella is a 10-year-old with a love for Norwood and a passion for change. She has created a pay-as-you-can newsletter, Norwood News, which she reports, writes, organizes, and distributes with some help from her mom. She has published four issues and garnered more than 60 subscribers with her mission to connect the people of Norwood to what’s happening in our city. Alisha Loch says that, “In one issue she addressed the Little Lending Library being taken over by adult books that didn’t seem to ever be swapped out. Her activism in bringing attention to that got the right people involved and the library box cleaned out and stocked with books for young people.” Stella is an exciting example of entrepreneurship in our city’s youth and is not only enriching her own mind, but helping Norwood grow as well. 

Ian Davis
Nominated by Jill Stoxen and Emily Franzen
Ian is an Eagle Scout, the highest rank possible in a Boy Scouts program, and a senior in high school who has made a name for himself with ambitious ideas for improving Norwood as part of his capstone project and regularly volunteering in the city. Jill Stoxen highlights the work Ian has done for Norwood by saying, “Ian Davis initiated the renovation, clean-out and beautification of the Norwood Community Center as his Eagle Scout project. The casting of vision, organization of volunteers, fundraising efforts, and community engagement set him apart as an outstanding young man in our community.” He is a rising star who has taken his ideas about the potential of Norwood and produced a result that will better his community for generations, on top of being an active volunteer for Baby Bear Free Shop and the Lindner Park Clean-up. 

The Daniel Family
Nominated by Cameron Kelley
Dennis is the parent of a Norwood Marching Indians Alumni who, with the help of his wife, Shaun, daughter, Katie, and son, Denny, has selflessly prepared and served meals to all members of the Norwood Marching Indians and their families at every band competition for more than a decade. They continue to do so long after the children have graduated. They feed more than 50 people at every event and prepare all the food out of their own home. Cameron Kelley notes, “Dennis is always smiling, encouraging our youth, and spending his own time and resources to make this happen.” Dennis also serves on the booster’s committee for planning the annual competition at Shea stadium and coordinating logistics and parking of all the bands and their equipment. He has been a cherished member of the Norwood Marching Indians community for years. 

Lois Schneider
Nominated by Cameron Kelley
Lois Schneider is a staple of the Norwood community and has always been an active volunteer in her city. She and her husband, George, raised their six children here, and Lois gave her time to the Boy Scouts and various sporting activities in which her children were involved. Since then she has coordinated the children’s programming for the Fourth of July fireworks at Shea Stadium, as well as helped make the Holy Trinity festival happen every year. She also has made an impact volunteering as a tutor with our local Whiz Kids site and has given hours of her time at the former Zion food pantry. Lois is a loyal volunteer at Baby Bear and is there every time the doors are open. Now that the Rec Center is open she can be found volunteering there every Tuesday.  She can be seen at every annual Norwood Marching Indians band competition at Shea. Cameron Kelley says, “She’s a true ambassador for Norwood and we’re a much better city due to her countless hours of giving!”

Amy Wolfinbarger
Nominated by Summer King and Amanda Wolfinbarger
Amy is active in the political scene of Norwood and demonstrated her clear care for the people of Norwood through a persistent push for change for years. She has organized events and advocated for others through an initiative she presented twice before it was approved. The city of Norwood showed their appreciation and support for Amy and the ordinance passed. Amy can often be seen picking up trash in Norwood parks and along the streets and helps others access the help they need by providing valuable information and even opening up her home. She is a volunteer and activist in the city, described as a “selfless citizen of Norwood.”

Sonny and Kristen James
Nominated by Chris Kelsch, Sen. Cecil Thomas, and Michele R. Riddle
Bishop Sonny James and Pastor Kristen James are community leaders who promote change in the city. Kristen shows care for the children of Norwood’s future and works to enrich the lives of families across the city with her dedicated volunteering with Toys for Tots, food share programs, and her partnership with Xavier University to give underserved youth the chance for a brighter future. Sonny stepped up and showed a strong commitment to the Norwood community in a time of need. With the devastation of racial injustices and tensions rising across the country, Sonny chose to bring about positivity and encouraged a conversation about race using his platform to create the Hearing Every Perspective events, where city leaders, police, and residents of all backgrounds were invited to have healthy discussion to strengthen our community. Sonny also successfully organized the first Norwood Black History Parade, which gathered crowds to celebrate and have positive engagement with their fellow Norwood residents. Sonny is described as a “bridge-builder, peacemaker, and a collaborator” by Sen. Cecil Thomas. “He speaks his mind out of love for his community and a sincere desire to build a stronger more diverse City of Norwood,” Thomas says.

Dana Boll
Nominated by Susan Daniels
Dana is an environmentalist who dedicates her time to informing Norwood residents about the effects of pollution and the importance of caring for the environment. Dana operates Keep Norwood Cool, an organization that aims to make Norwood more green as we grow as a city. She has worked closely with the school to educate children about climate concerns, planted donated trees along playground and resident housing, and provides Norwood with a passion for our city’s greenery. Dana puts great effort into adding more trees to the landscape of the city, even in areas that seem long forgotten about, while providing information on the importance of what she is doing and hosting informational meetings on how to improve Norwood’s environment and air quality.

Darlene Young
Nominated by Charlene Truss
Darlene is an active member of New Vision Missionary Baptist Church who volunteers regularly at the food pantry. She helps those who are food insecure, especially since the pandemic began and food insecurity seemed more pervasive, while acting with kindness and warmth. Darlene serves as a greeter and has a positive spirit that invites people of the community in. She greets any community member with a smile and has a radiant impact on New Vision as a whole. Charlene Truss says, “Darlene has an inviting spirit that touches the hearts of everyone she sees and greets, and as a greeter, allows the mission of New Vision to continue.”

Jeanne Sickinger
Nominated by Taylor Provins
Jeanne has carried out many projects in Norwood and is known for supporting events in her community, big or small. Jeanne has initiated community events like the Williams Ave Market which later combined with the Off-Pike Market, where she can be seen each spring and summer; helped with landscaping and more along Wasson Way; and was instrumental in the creation of the Williams Avenue Community Garden. Concerned about a vacant lot near her home, Jeanne worked to get permission from the city to make it what is now the community garden. With help from her neighbors, Jeanne maintains the garden, also now home to a Free Little Library, and serves as a gathering space to walk through, read books, or have neighborhood children explore. “When I think Norwood, I think Jeanne,” says Taylor Provins.

John Cappella
Nominated by Amanda Sinclair
John dedicates himself to the Gem of the Highlands 5k and uses his professional background to support the Norwood community and his expertise to improve the Norwood parks through fundraising. He challenges the Gem of the Highlands committee to do things with excellence and brings an attitude of positivity and joy to any environment he enters. Amanda Sinclair describes his dedication to the city by saying, “All the work he does to help this great neighborhood is through volunteering in the midst of being a husband, dad and full-time employee, and he does it with a smile on his face.” John would like to recognize the entire Gem of the 5k board for all of their hard work each year.

Josh Stoxen
Nominated by Chuck Smith
Pastor Josh Stoxen engages with Norwood through his many acts of service in the city. He works closely with businesses and organizations in Norwood to promote positivity and help amplify the voices of those around him. Josh leads the Community Coalition of the city that organizes food ministry and other helpful services to facilitate better access to programs and events that can help those in need. The coalition aims to make community services more accessible and available to those who need them, as well as bringing together these organizations that all aim to help the Norwood community. Chuck Smith says, “Josh is as engaged in benevolent ministry in Norwood more than anybody I know. Norwood is better with him!”

Kate Hand
Nominated by Melanie Mize and Amber Ballard
Kate is the Norwood neighbor who works to help the community in any way she can. Kate has volunteered her time, donated, and organized events to help push for positive change in Norwood. She personally has hosted campaign fundraisers and is active in the Norwood political scene in a positive and open minded manner. Kate pushed to move Norwood farther. She has been involved in projects large such as the Montgomery Road Clean-Up and the Norwood Pride Parade and loves to work with her community members to put on events that advocate for change. Amber Ballard adds that, “[Kate] has recently moved out of Norwood, but we wouldn’t be where we are right now without her efforts.”

Rodney Rogers
Nominated by Susan Daniels
Rodney was president of the Norwood Historical Society for over a decade and contributed much of the research on the history of Norwood that has set up the organization for success today. He is credited with bringing the Historical Society into the new age and dedicated countless time and effort to supporting the current president, Susan Daniels, with any inquiries or historical knowledge she could need from him. Rodney has also worked hard to keep the Linder Park trails clear and shows a clear care for the community. Susan Daniels thanks Rodney in saying, “I truly wouldn’t be able to run the historical society as President if it weren’t for Rodney’s commitment.”

Robert James
Nominated by Tiffani Williams, Javier Reyes, Nathan Lundy, Damon Romero, Leslie Du Pont, Sydney Reeves, Victoria Walker, and Dominick Heverin
Robert has gone out of his way of simply being a business owner in Norwood or a gym trainer. From helping friends in need when they are stranded an hour away, or helping change a tire in the worst of weather, Robert leaves a mark on the lives of those around them. He is known as a friend and a mentor, and loves to lead by example when working with troubled teens in the city. Robert encourages people from all walks of life to join in and live a healthier, fulfilling life through physical fitness but also to achieve a sense of belonging in the community to connect the people of Norwood. Robert demonstrated strong leadership and organizational skills by holding amateur boxing shows that encourage his community to come together and challenge themselves. Tiffany Williams says, “There are many reasons I’m nominating Mr. James for the Community Leadership award, but one of the most important reasons is his commitment to uplifting and building young men and women of the community… With his inspiring and loving guidance, he has changed the lives of many people from all walks of life.”

Diane Prather
Nominated by Lori Chaffin
Diane gives her time, energy and sometimes money to help the people of Norwood. She started Norwood Helping Norwood and has helped so many people and touched many lives! She has lived in Norwood most of her life and works as a health clerk for the Norwood School District. Diane demonstrates a strong commitment to Norwood by volunteering every week at Norwood Grace United Methodist Church serving meals to the community. She shows clear concern for the community and provides creativity in thinking and planning through her Facebook giving program Norwood Helping Norwood. On this page Norwood residents post things that they need and also what they have to give. Diane matches the need with the gift and uses her own resources, with the help of her teenagers, to  pick up and deliver the items to the family in need. Through this process she  also demonstrates the ability and initiative to bring people together to facilitate positive change.