Oxford and Avondale: Disparate worlds merge in new partnership


Miami University's Lori Tanzer helps Johathon Turner with his resume.

Miami University’s Lori Tanzer helps Johathon Turner with his resume.

By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE — Johathon Turner, 19, who spells his first name with two h’s, lives with relatives and within walking distance of the Urban League campus in one of Cincinnati’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods. He has a high school diploma but has never had a job.

He entered the League’s SOAR job-readiness program with little self-confidence. Reserved and quiet, he needed the support of two friends — who also enrolled — to register for the three-week course.

Lori Tanzer has an undergraduate degree in public administration and personnel management from Miami University, a master’s in counseling from the University of Cincinnati and 34 years of work experience.

Yet, on a warm fall afternoon this week at the Urban League, their worlds met. They sat together at the end of a table and focused on the same piece of paper: Turner’s resume.

“What more can you tell me about that?” asked Tanzer, assistant director of Career Services at Miami’s Oxford campus.

“It’s recreation, measuring materials for layout, building recreational family … ”

“Structures?” said Tanzer, who works with students in Miami’s College of Creative Arts, part of a student body that is largely white and upscale.

“Yeah, structures,” Turner said in a voice so muted that Tanzer had to lean in to hear him.

Tanzer and six of her colleagues from Miami’s Career Services office volunteered two days at the Urban League, where they conducted mock interviews and worked with participants of the SOAR class on resume development. During the visit, the Miami team also met with the League’s Workforce Development staff for a professional discussion on how to better prepare students for mock interviews and how to help them write resumes. The exchange is the first of a new partnership that will next move into a staff development outing to the Oxford campus for League trainers and social workers and possible development of an intern/extern program for Miami social work students.

The Greater Cincinnati Urban League offers SOAR programs monthly, and thanks to a Hand Up Initiative grant from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, 11 additional neighborhood courses are ongoing. Urban League SOAR has graduated classes in Corryville, Madisonville, Walnut Hills and Millvale. The next Hand Up class will begin Oct. 26 at the Evanston Recreation Center. Miami Valley Urban League offers the same kind of job-readiness development in its Youth Employment and Training Program (YETP) for 18-24 year olds in Dayton.


Whether the destination is Cincinnati or Dayton, more volunteer visits by Miami staff appear certain. Career Services professionals who couldn’t rearrange schedules to make the first volunteer visit now want their turn to work with participants of SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention) and other League workforce programs.

“It could become a regular thing,” said Kia Nalls, Career Services Program Coordinator who worked with the Urban League to organize this first Miami visit. “When can we do it again?”

Miami President David Hodge encouraged the Miami-Urban League partnership and sees it as a positive experiential learning opportunity for Miami students and staff. Miami, one of the nation’s elite public universities, promotes community service by requiring it in various forms for graduation.

Faculty member Lee Harrington, Co-coordinator of Miami’s Social Justice Studies Program, has served as the primary contact with the Urban League. Harrington and three other Miami professors made an initial visit to the Greater Cincinnati Urban League in July,


The Urban League, serving Cincinnati since 1949, is home to industry-leading job-readiness, youth and business development programs. It is an anchor institution in the city’s black community, which represents 46 percent of the city’s population but suffers from major economic and social disparities compared to its white residents.


The League works with the hardest-to-employ, including many people who are returning to the community after serving prison sentences. The League’s staff works with Hamilton County’s Department of Job & Family Services to manage child support arrearages and reinstate driver’s license’s — both major barriers to employment.

More than 80 percent of workforce development classes graduate and find work. About 75 percent of them then maintain employment for at least 12 months with the help of League wrap-around services. The result is creation of $7 million in taxable income. The League’s other major job-readiness programs are ACE (Accelerated Customer Service Education) and Construction Connections, the latter requiring completion of SOAR.

The mock interview process is a vital piece.

“If our participants have had work, it’s often not the kind of work that required an interview,” said Rob Rodgers, SOAR Program Manager who set up the schedule for students to interview with Miami staff. “So this is new for them. It can be overwhelming. But this (interviewing) is the piece where they are trying to put everything they’ve learned into action.”

Rodgers, SOAR trainer Greg Walker and job developer Vince Palmer met both days with Miami staff. They talked about how to best prepare SOAR participants to discuss “gaps in their resume,” where they might have been incarcerated. They talked about whether to have students write an objective statement or bullet points detailing their skills. Miami provided each SOAR student with a folder of material that included an interviewing guide, a second booklet on job search strategies and tip sheets on writing resumes.

“We’re going to incorporate some of this material into our training ahead of the mock interviews,” Rodgers said.

SOAR participants already impressed.

“Most of them had a real good idea of what they were getting into,” said Miami’s Jennifer McLaughlin, senior assistant director in Career Services who serves as liaison to the university’s College of Education, Health and Society. “Some of our Miami students could take notes (from Urban League students).”

Said SOAR trainer Walker, “We were ready. Our participants know Miami is a world-class school, and they wanted to prove they could measure up with the best.”

Mock interviews often are conducted by volunteers from businesses in and around Cincinnati, and mock interviews have led to SOAR students being hired for jobs, Rodgers said. Miami experts brought a different approach than corporate volunteers.

“They are from academia,” Rodgers said. “They’ve done research on how to do this best. If they see a hiccup in a mock interview, they become teachers. They were about helping the participant learn. It’s not bad, but our corporate volunteers move onto the next one.”

SOAR participants — who graduated Thursday, Miami’s Nalls drove from Oxford to attend the noon-hour ceremony at the League — appreciated the knowledge and manner in which Miami experts worked with them.

“She really knew what she was doing,” Turner said. “I learned a lot.”

Other SOAR participants said the mock interviews prepared them well for the real thing and helped increase their level of self-confidence moving forward.

The Miami group consisted of Tanzer, Nalls, McLaughlin, Angelina LaLima, Janie Robinson, Shamika Karikari and Kelly Thompson.

They left, they said, feeling “reassured” that the population served by the Urban League was already receiving top training and instruction. They also summarized the environment as one filled with — in one word — “hope.”

Another word, Tanzer added, “Inspiring. I am inspired by what goes on here.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities in one of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s workforce development courses, call (513) 281-9955. For information on programs at Miami Valley Urban League in Dayton, call (937) 226-1513.

These Companies are Transformational Supporters of the Urban League’s Corporate Heritage Annual Giving Program.