It Takes Time: HEMI Mentor Supports New Possibilities for Mentee

At HEMI, we seek to provide long-term mentoring relationships that help prepare our youth for post-secondary education and training. This mission would be impossible without our amazing mentors. I recently had the chance to interview Claire Wagner about her experience as a mentor.

Clair Wagner is the Director of University News and Communications at Miami University. She lives in Colerain Township and is the mother of two sons. She is the mentor of Darionna Daniels, a senior at Colerain High School. They have been paired together for about a year and a half.

Claire’s husband Chris, Darionna’s sister, Diamond, Darionna, and Clair at Kings Island.

Claire become a mentor after seeing an article about HEMI published in her local newspaper. She had been very involved in her two son’s education and life, and now that they are grown up and out of the house, she realized that she could still be involved in someone else’s life.

She is currently assisting Darionna in her search for college. Darionna is currently involved in a Cosmetology program and is looking to pursue business programs. Claire has been involved by taking Darionna on college visits and helping with FAFSA and other college processes. She is also teaching Darionna to crochet in their spare time.

“All you need is time and stability.”

Claire Wagner, HEMI Mentor

What lessons have you learned as a mentor?

“I always thought I wasn’t a judgy kind of person, but becoming a friend of a foster youth, I really learned not to judge others. I learned a lot about how to listen to and understand other people’s experiences.” Clair’s experiences helped her grow as a professional and an individual by allowing her to become a more compassionate person.

What advice do you have for other mentors?

“The HEMI trainings are very valuable, try not to miss any. The experience of being a mentor is very rewarding and is not that much time. All it is, is a commitment to another human being. All you need is time and stability. It really is an eyeopener, committing to one individual makes a huge difference.”

What is your favorite moment with your mentee?

“Making her laugh.” Clair is also able to work with Darionna on her school work and being able to see “the lightbulb go off when she finally understands” is something that Claire always looks forward to.

Claire and Darionna during Juneteenth 2018.

Next Week’s Success Story will Feature HEMI’s Mentor Retreat!

Support, Support, Support: Denise Hewitt accepts new Role with HEMI as a Community Engagement Specialist

This fall, HEMI re-welcomed Denise Hewitt to the team for a new and exciting role with the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative. She will be developing partnerships, recruiting mentors and more. Recently, one of HEMI’s student workers, Makaylah Moll interviewed Denise about her life and new role. Take a few minutes and learn about her passion and purpose with HEMI.

HEMI Community Engagement Specialist, Denise Hewitt.
  • Please provide a biography that really expresses to our mentors and partners who you are as a person and how you started here at HEMI.

A native Cincinnatian, I was placed in foster care at birth and blessed to be adopted by a beautiful family while still in infancy.  My school years started at St. Simon Elementary in Lincoln Heights, followed by North Avondale Elementary, Walnut Hills High School and Xavier University, undergrad and graduate school.  I spent my career in Cincinnati Public Schools as an elementary teacher, counselor, consulting teacher and Professional Issues Representative with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.  Since retiring, my work has remained focused in education.

  • What does HEMI mean to you?

HEMI has personal meaning to me, having been in foster care myself.  While I was too young to remember the experience, I continue to have empathy for those that desire to know and understand their past and how it influences and shapes their future.

  • What are the responsibilities you possess in this role?

As the HEMI Community Engagement Specialist, I am responsible for developing strategies and marketing to recruit mentors, host community information sessions and facilitate the Mentor Onboarding process and trainings.

  • What do you have the most interest in, or feel is considerably important that you’ve been working on recently?

It has been said that HEMI is one of the best-kept secrets in Cincinnati and beyond.  The opportunity to introduce HEMI and the work we do to the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond is very important right now.  Meeting with various organizations, community and civic groups, public employees, school and career-based staffs and other agencies that work with our students or may work with them as a mentor has been extremely enlightening and rewarding.

  • What would you tweak or change for the environment you’re exposed to and involved in, if you could?

I would like to see more opportunities to meet with all those involved with the youth to better address needs that arise.  I continue to explore ways to support our mentors as they support our youth.  Mentors spend an incredible amount of time and resources and I want to make sure they know how much they are appreciated.

  • What methods have you found are best when communicating with mentors? Youth? & individuals you’ve encountered?

Currently, one would think everyone would be fully engaged in social media, etc.  That is not necessarily the case.  Of course, there are times when mass email is necessary as it reaches all in a short period and is easily accessible.   However, I have found that many of our mentors and youth enjoy face-to face interactions or phone conversations.  This helps clarify any miscommunications or misunderstandings. 

  • What things do you believe are key to forming, as well as maintaining a good relationship & trust between the youth we encounter & the mentors we pair them with?

I think acceptance of and respect for where the youth are, where they have been and what they have experienced is key to forming and maintaining a healthy relationship.  The mentor cannot change any of those experiences, feelings or beliefs yet can be instrumental in helping them process what has happened and make a plan for the future.  The youths’ experiences do not define who they can become.  Youth must respect the fact that mentors do not have those same experiences but can empathize with them, share their own experiences and help them create and navigate a life plan.

  • What do you believe is ideal for these youth in order to be as successful as possible? & instilling resilience despite the obstacles they face?

Opportunities.  If our youth have a significant adult/mentor in their lives and are provided opportunities to heal, overcome, grow and move forward, they will be successful.  The resilience I have seen with our youth has been so overwhelming.  It inspires me to do all I can on their behalf.

  • What can we expect from you in relation to HEMI mentors & the youth in this position?

Support, support, support.  Relationships under normal circumstances can be challenging.  Helping a mentor and mentee navigate those bumps in the road is key to maintaining a successful, productive, long-term relationship.  Our HEMI staff does a phenomenal job managing that.

Do you have a success story for the HEMI Hub? Please contact Kimberly Rhyan.

Next week’s blog will feature one of our HEMI Mentors!

HEMI Welcomes New Interns

UC Students Join the HEMI Team!

Introducing Lauren Brodof and Johnny Weiss:

Lauren Brodof is a first-year social work intern here at HEMI. She was raised in Cincinnati, and got her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Ohio University in 2017. While studying, she discovered her passion for social justice issues. She hopes to work with a variety of populations. Like the LGBT+ community, women, children, and the incarcerated population. Outside of school at UC, she enjoys spending her time with friends, volunteering, and taking care of her red bone coon hound, Tucker.

Johnny Weiss is a graduate student at UC. He received his Bachelors of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Sociology in 2018. He is currently in his first year of pursuing an MSW at UC while interning at HEMI. He hopes to use his education to have a meaningful and fulfilling career helping others. Johnny is also a huge Cincinnati sports fan, and says he supports them despite the heartbreak being a fan may bring. He also works at Kings Island as the supervisor of the Park Ambassador Program. He says his looking forward to the people he’ll meet and experiences he’ll have while interning at HEMI!

If you would like to read about Johnathan Beard, our third HEMI intern, visit his story here!

Zoe Huesman is a student worker at the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI). She is also a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, majoring in social work.

Believe in Zero Limitations and You will Succeed

Congrats Justiynn Stone-Knight on your Graduation from Ohio Media School!

HEMI would like to congratulate Justiynn Stone-Knight on obtaining his Associates Degree in Social Media on September 27, 2019 from the Ohio Media School! HEMI asked Justiynn a few questions regarding his experiences in college and his next steps post-graduation.

What made you choose to attend the Ohio Media School?

“I am really into social media. I love Instagram, and wanted to learn how to build my brand as an artist and business man. After doing some research, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about the programs they had to offer, professors, graduation rate, and career outlook.”

What did you gain from the Ohio Media School?

“I learned more about the business side of social media. The work was dependent on the student; they held us accountable for our own projects. I loved that the lessons were visual and that was helpful for me. I liked how music is in the same category as social media. For instance, if you are a music artist, you still have to promote yourself through social media. I was also able to earn my Limited Liability Company (LLC), a business entity that provides both liability protection for owners and members.”

How do you feel now that you have finally graduated from college?

“I feel like I’ve proved the system wrong. It felt good to retaliate in a noble, positive way. I was aggressive previously and that caused me to handle situations in an inappropriate manner. I proved that I was more than just a statistic, and was able to control my emotions. I felt that not everyone really believe in me, and that gave me motivation to prove people wrong.”

What are your career aspirations?

I want to become a music artist; sing, rap, and write music. Every genre counts. I also want to act for movies, television shows, and commercials. If this doesn’t play out well, then I will work for a radio station for the time being.”

What advice would you give someone who is trying to graduate?

“Let the negative things you hear become your motivation. Don’t let the things that people say get to you. We tend to put certain people on a pedestal, and you cannot let their negative opinions sway you. Don’t let the neighborhood that you come from define you. That may be where you are from, but that’s not who you are. Don’t allow others to put their limitations on you.”

Pictured: HEMI Director, Orville McDonald, Jesse Montgomery (mentor), Justiynn Stone-Knight (mentee) and HEMI Program Specialist, Keith Schomaker.

LaTia Kemp is a senior (Class of 2020) at the University of Cincinnati majoring in Criminal Justice, while also pursing a certificate in Forensic Populations. She is currently an intern for Judge Alan C. Triggs and a HEMI student worker.

This week’s blog was written by LaTia Kemp.

HEMI Hangouts Unite Mentees and Mentors

HEMI mentees inaugurate a new program!

What is HEMI Hangouts?

“HEMI Hangouts” is the newest program formed by their very own mentees. The idea was initially brought up by a team member who had some mentees who wanted new ways to connect through casual and fun events. After many conversations, the concept of “HEMI Hangouts” was created. It is a group ran by mentees, for mentees. each month, HEMI mentees and mentors explore activities that are fun and engaging.

Plant Appreciation Day July

On this day, mentees connected with nature by visiting Crohn’s Conservatory. In their time there, they appreciated both the beauty of plants from all types of ecosystems while also considering their importance to the planet. They also ate a clean, vegetarian lunch before creating succulent terrariums. Everyone had the chance to express themselves creatively while also taking a special keepsake for the day.

Scenic River View ExcursionsAugust

HEMI Hangouts help mentees bond, but to also give them the opportunity to experience new adventures never completed previously. Mentees took a six mile kayaking trip on the Little Miami River. While the trip was beginner-friendly, more experienced mentees acknowledges the difficulty of the river. Everyone challenged themselves and enjoyed the beautiful view of the river.

Baker Hunt Painting ClassSeptember

September’s recent HEMI Hangou was hosted and facilitated by our new partner, Baker-Hunt Art & Cultural Center. Their beautiful campus hosts a variety of art classes for anyone from a beginner artist to a hobbyist. The teacher for the evening, Chad Turner, shared his admirable passion for art and previously worked on amazing projects for companies such as Marvel Comics. He taught mentors and mentees about the technique of “broken colors” and instructed everyone to paint a picture inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The night was an incredibly fun way for everyone to share the synergy of community!

Do you have an idea for a future HEMI Hangout? Or do you want to host a HEMI Hangout? Please email

Next week’s blog will feature

the success of our most recent graduate, Justin K.!

Zoe Huesman is a student worker at the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI). She is also a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, majoring in social work.

Mentors Make HEMI Possible

HEMI Welcomes its Newest Mentors!

Jade Martinez

Jade Martinez started her educational journey at the University of Notre Dame where she obtained her Bachelor’s of Arts in Education. Jade was a first generation college student from Florida.  During college, she has served as a big sister to members of the Balfour Hesburgh Scholar’s Program at the University of Notre Dame. She currently is employed at Xavier University where she is a Communication Specialist. She is interested in becoming a mentor because she “wants to make a difference for students the same way people made a difference for me when I was in high school.”

Jalen Johnson

Jalen Johnson started his educational journey at the University of Kentucky where he obtained his Bachelor’s of Science in Family Science. He is currently employed at Ultimus Fund Solutions as an Associate Fund Administrator. Jalen is also currently working as a Group Facilitator for Fernside, an organization that helps grieving kids that have lost a parent. He is interested in being a mentor because he believes “it’s important to prepare kids for the future while encouraging them.”

Help HEMI Recruit New Mentors

Next Steps:

Individuals who are interested in volunteering to support HEMI should complete our interest form:

If you have any questions, feel free to contact our Community Engagement Specialist, Denise Hewitt, at J

Save the Date: Mentor Retreat

Thursday, November 7, 2019
6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 
Location: TBA

This fall, our HEMI Mentors are exclusively invited to
a special retreat focused on resetting & recharging for 2020.

Next week’s blog will feature

the success of HEMI’S HANGOUTS!

HEMI’s New Leader & Site Director

September 23, 2019

UC & HEMI Welcomes Orville McDonald!

“We are thrilled to announce the promotion of Orville McDonald to HEMI Site Director effective Monday, September 23, 2019! Orville has been a Program Specialist with HEMI for the past four years and has advanced through progressively more responsible roles, and has played a key role over the past several months with the transition of Rayma’s retirement.

Orville brings a wealth of experience to the HEMI department and we are excited about his new role with HEMI!”

Kathie J. Maynard, Ed.D., Associate Dean
Office for Education Innovations & Community Partnerships

Re-Introducing Orville McDonald:

  • Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. 
  • Married (Tiffany) with two sons Chris and Orville
  • Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration
  • 19 years of career experience in the social work field (Hamilton County Job and Family Services, Central Clinic, and Mercy Hospital (Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psych unit)
  • What are you most excited about in this position with HEMI? 

Continuing the great work that has already been established throughout the ten years of this program with the hope to guide HEMI to new heights and accomplishments in the near future.

  • How do you feel about having this leadership role?

Very blessed to be able to lead such an amazing staff of individuals, whose passion for this work keeps me motivated as we work together to train up our mentors to best support our young people.

  • What plans do you have in store for HEMI?

The initial focus is to recruit and train new community volunteers to become HEMI mentors.  Our mentors are a very vital piece of our program and we always need more committed and passionate people to become HEMI mentors.

  • What are your favorite aspects of HEMI?

 I have many but the one I will speak of is the ability for Mentors, with the training and support of our Program Specialist to really build that sense of community and relationship for our HEMI mentees.  As we know our population are foster youth so to be able to establish that solid consistent relationship as we, help guide these youth toward their career path is the true beauty of this program and my overall favorite aspect.

  • What interested you in social work in the first place?

The ability to motivate a person to reach their best self and obtain self-actualization; and just the understanding that your consistent, genuine presence can possibly change the trajectory of an individual’s life over a period of time.

Next week’s “Success Story” will feature our newest HEMI Mentors!

YAB Makes a Difference

September 16, 2019

HEMI Celebrates the Youth Advisory Board!

The Youth Advisory Board for Hamilton County is composed of current and former foster youth and other adult supporters. They discuss various issues within the foster care system and seek ways to support foster youth to advance advocacy and new policies. They have been working hard and having fun all summer to plan and execute several events for our community. 

YAB Moving Forward Ceremony

YAB kicked off the summer with our annual Moving Forward Ceremony celebrating our recent high school and college graduates! We celebrated on the River Queen at BB Riverboats on the Ohio River.  Our graduates received certificates and gifts to celebrate their educational accomplishments.

Recent graduates and YAB participants pose for a group picture on the riverboat. 

Summer Kick-Off at Kings Island

HEMI and YAB came together in June for our annual trip to Kings Island! Students enjoyed a day of thrills and fun to kick off a great summer.

YAB and HEMI program specialists start their fun-packed day at Kings Island. 

YAB Quarterly Meeting & COSI Trip

In July, Hamilton County YAB also attended YAB’s Ohio quarterly meeting and elections in Columbus, Ohio. Afterwards, they headed downtown to COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, for a day of learning and fun.  They also enjoyed lunch and their four-hour commute!

YAB Hamilton County group together outside of COSI, the Center for Science and Industy, in Columbus, OH. 

Philanthropy Project @Parky’s Farm

In July, YAB put on their annual philanthropy event. They wanted to give back to foster homes and group homes by planning a field day at Parky’s Farm! Food, face painting, service dogs, and much more were enjoyed by guests.  

YAB volunteers helped foster youth in Hamilton County.

Back 2 School Bash

YAB and HEMI partnered together for our annual Back 2 School Bash and provided foster youth with a book-bag and school supplies to start the school year off right. There were also several motivational speakers to get our students back in the mindset needed for success this year. 

Speaker Joshua Dennis from Jobs and Family Services speaking to our youth about staying motivated in college.  

YAB started the school year off right with a goal-setting workshop to allow participants to think about their futures and what they would like to accomplish this fall and spring.  

YAB challenges you to get involved! If any mentor and/or mentee would like to become involved with all of the amazing things YAB accomplishes every month, please contact Keith Shoemaker at They meet 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month at Peoples Church.

Isabel Slonneger is a student worker at the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI). She is also a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, double majoring in International Affairs and Environmental Studies. 

Next week’s “Success Story” will feature HEMI’s New Site Director!

HEMI & Mount St. Joseph University

September 9, 2019

HEMI Thanks Meghann Littrell, Steering Committee Member

Since 2014, Meghann Littreell has served as Steering Committee Member for the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative. She joined the MSJ team in 2014, and oversees the Learning Center. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Ohio Association on Higher Education and Disability.

Prior to her role at Mount St. Joseph Meghann worked at the University of Cincinnati in a number of capacities including Disability Services, Supplemental Educational Tutoring Services, a grant administrator for a 21st Century Community Learning Center Federal grant, and a program specialist for the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative. Her continued support of HEMI is a demonstration of her commitment to make a difference in Hamilton County. HEMI thanks Meghann for her service and dedication to helping our foster youth reach their academic goals!

HEMI Welcomes Jonathan Beard, Social Work Intern

This fall, HEMI is fortunate to have a new intern, Jonathan Beard. Jonathan is a Social Work/Sociology Senior at Mount St. Joseph University. He wants to see every HEMI mentee succeed at whatever path they choose.

When asked about his own career path, Jonathan stated, “Education is one of the greatest gifts anyone can receive and I want to see every person succeed! My future aspirations include graduating Mount St. Joseph University as a Licensed Social Worker. I plan on applying to the University of Cincinnati’s Masters of Social Work program and applying for a Social Work License. There are so many options in social work, but every means I can help another person and that is the primary goal of my life.”

Welcome Jonathan! HEMI congratulates you on your upcoming spring commencement! We thank you in advance for your support of HEMI.

Next week’s “Success Story” will feature Hamilton County’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB).

HEMI College Students Lead the Way!

August 30, 2019

HEMI Mentees Pursue their Dreams & Degrees!

Every week, the HEMI HUB will highlight our success stories about our mission, mentors, mentees, staff, partners and more! This week, we are highlighting our foster care youth and alumni who are enrolled in college. These stories are a beautiful reminder that our HEMI mentees are shining brightly and not statistics. They are graduating from high school and succeeding in college. Here are a few of their Back-to-School stories!

LaTia Kemp is a senior (Class of 2020) at the University of Cincinnati majoring in Criminal Justice, while also pursing a certificate in Forensic Populations. She is currently an intern for Judge Alan C. Triggs. Upon graduation next spring, she plans to pursue a career in the court system. She is a mother of two children: a two year old son and a six year old daughter. She has a passion for community corrections, improving the criminal justice system, and enhancing society as a whole.

MeKaisha Jones is a sophomore at Northern Kentucky University (Class of 2022). She is pursuing Special education/Middle school education and a Minor in Spanish. She has maintained Dean’s list status and is a member of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society. She was chosen/hired to be a Peer Mentor in the Norse Advising center and a Student assistant in the Social Work Department.

Isabel Slonneger is a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati. She is working on a double major of International Affairs and Environmental Studies (Class of 2022). She is a member of the Undergraduate Student Government Association and Director of Scholarships. She made the Dean’s list in fall 2018 and spring 2019. This summer, she passed her driver’s license exam and bought her first car! She is also a HEMI student worker and secretary for the College of Arts and Sciences Tribunal.

Goldeci Peterson is a freshman at Southern University (Class of 2023) in Baton Rouge Louisiana. He is majoring in Business Management. Goldeci is pictured in his dorm room as he prepares for band camp for Southern’s legendary marching band, The Human Jukebox.  Often imitated, but never duplicated, this band prides itself in the unique ability to execute precision drills better than any other marching ensemble in the country. The band will be marching in the 131st Rose Parade on January 1, 2020. The HEMI community is so proud of Goldeci as he pursues one of his lifelong goals!

Do you have a HEMI Success story to share?

Send it to

Blog at

Up ↑

Create your website at
Get started