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Marissa  with Baby .jpgMarissa Woodly, 26, is the kind of person that makes you seriously contemplate what the heck you did with the first 26 years of your life. Woodly earned her B.A. in Communication at the University of Cincinnati and is currently the development manager for SmartMoney Community Services, an agency providing financial services and economic education to underserved individuals in Over-the-Rhine and Greater Cincinnati communities.

But this do-gooder position at SmartMoney isn’t her only one. Since 2005, she’s been globetrotting to Africa with the Cincinnati-based Village Life Outreach Project, (VLOP), a non-profit, non-government organization that sends American volunteers to areas in east Africa to promote ideas of health, humanitarianism, service and social responsibility to the local villagers. Learn more about it at, and learn more about Woodly in this exclusive Cincy Chic Q&A.

Cincy Chic: How did you get involved with VLOP?

Woodly: I became involved with VLOP in 2005, when my friend, Christopher Lewis, MD, recruited me to chair a marketing and development committee for his grassroots non-profit. Given my career background in non-profit fundraising – and general enthusiasm about their important mission – I have been volunteering ever since.

I’ve also and had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Africa on the third annual Tanzania Outreach Brigade in October 2006. I planned several fundraisers and am currently working on the 2007 letter campaign for VLOP. While in Africa, I produced and assisted filming a documentary about the work of each team (water, health and education) that will hopefully spur support and excitement around Village Life’s worthy cause.

The VLOP’s mission is to unite communities to promote life, health and education. The organization’s current focus involves providing health and educational improvement measures to the people of the Tarime District of Tanzania, in east Africa. In these efforts, VLOP aims to not simply provide handouts, but rather to empower poor villagers to address the issues that affect their communities. By illuminating and joining the struggle against poverty in Africa, VLOP hopes to also strengthen the local community by promoting ideas of humanitarianism, service and social responsibility.

How people treat others can be the most accurate sign of how they feel about themselves. Without love for people, love for oneself is incomplete. Village Life Outreach Project was born from a vision to encourage the spread of love. Success hinged on the ability to unite communities and provide service to poor people, to treat disease with knowledge and care and to teach people about themselves and each other. The plan is succeeding because the grace and the power of a concerted effort by a group of people that have worked hard for the benefit of others.

Village Life has successfully visited Tanzania and the three villages of Roche, Nyambogo and Burere three years in a row. During these brigades, VLOP volunteers doctors and nurses saw thousands of patients who have no access to healthcare. The brigades also saw the completion and utilization of home-based water filters made with local materials to help prevent the spread and infection of Malaria-the regions #1 health risk.

Cincy Chic: What has been your greatest accomplishment?

Woodly: Our most recent brigade trip was a huge success for a number of reasons. First, we were able to further cultivate and nurture our relationships with the village leaders of Roche, Nyambogo and Burere, which is key to our overall mission. One of VLOP’s long-term goals is to establish a permanent medical and educational facilities in each village, run and staffed by Tanzanian professionals. Community support and involvement is crucial for success in these endeavors.

Lewis spent countless hours listening and offering insight into the specific needs of each village, while the hard work of the group at large, demonstrated our ongoing commitment to each and every patient, student and villager. Strengthening these relationships will strengthen the services and education we are able to provide in the region.

Secondly, the 2006 Brigade saw our first and monumental success of the Mosquito Net Project! The Mosquito Net Project (MNP) is the most preventative VLOP program to date. The MNP provides mosquito nets to village families to prevent the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases. Jennifer Ernst, MD, a fourth-year pediatric resident, coordinates the project for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and longtime VLOP volunteer. Through sales of the VLOP publication Room to Love, a coffee table book of pictures and journal entries set to Tanzania proverbs, we raised enough funds in 2006 to purchase and distribute Mosquito Nets to nearly 4, 200 Tanzanian Families! Most villagers in the region do not have access to or cannot afford nets for their homes, while the simplicity of mosquito nets provides over 70 percent protection from the regions number one deadly disease: malaria. We hope to continue distributing nets throughout the year through our project coordinator based in Shirati, Tanzania.

Cincy Chic: What would you say to other women out there wondering how they can make a difference?

Woodly: My Lord, you can! If there was one thing that I hold in my heart from my recent experience in Africa, is that I am one person who can make a big difference in the lives of thousands. To think we traveled across the world with a team of only 32 volunteers, and we affected the lives of over 4,000 individuals is awe-inspiring! Could you imagine if we all made an active effort to reach out to our fellow man? You do the math. I will remember some of the friends I made while Africa, but I will never forget or let go of how powerful I felt in my endeavor to “truly” make a difference. From simple acts of charity, to traveling to Africa, it all adds up.

Cincy Chic: How long have you lived in Cincinnati?

Woodly: All my life. I went to the School for Creative and Performing Arts, and then to UC. I just couldn’t get away! And now, I’m content to stay, we have a lot of work to do here in the community. If everyone who cares keeps leaving, who will be left to make a difference?

Cincy Chic: When you’re not out saving the world, where’s your favorite local "free time" spot?

Woodly: I used to love Simones, but alas, it’s gone. Now I find myself at Mr.Pitiful’s down on Main Street. I love the bartenders and the owner, Bob. If you’ve never been, you should definitely check it out!

Cincy Chic: Who is your biggest inspiration?

Woodly: Oprah and Lewis, who is not only the founder of VLOP, but also my close friend. I have known Lewis for close to 10 years and I have yet to meet anyone who can inspire love and humanity in others the way he can. I’ve experienced it countless times, in myself my friends and family. Maybe it’s the mission of VLOP that brings out the best in us, but Lewis never stops. He sees 30+ patients a day, volunteers his time teaching medical students and residents and dreams about how he can make this world a better place for us all – every night. I aspire for his passion, commitment and social responsibility to his fellow man.

And Oprah – come on – she’s Oprah! What more can I say?

Cincy Chic: Any other words of wisdom for local women?

Woodly: Repeat after me: “It’s not that serious.” When you’re running late, remember back to when you went to that cheap restaurant and they served you “tap water.” Seeing as how that restaurant was in America, you didn’t think twice about drinking that water, but it would be a grave risk in many other countries. All over the world, people are impoverished, or dealing with sectarian war (i.e., Iraq) in their front yards. So, really, whatever it is that’s is frustrating you at any moment – It’s not that serious. Count your blessings, and I bet you will feel much better.

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"Welcome back, we missed you!”

Although these sincere words were nice to hear, they brought little comfort to me upon returning to work from bereavement leave two years ago.

I lost my husband, Kenny, in the fall of 2004 due to complications of renal failure. He was a loving husband and devoted father to our then nine-month-old daughter, Kennedy.

I could go on for days about this wonderful man, but I must first preface my story. As a student, from the moment I stepped foot on the campus of Tennessee State University, I knew I wanted a career in communications. I had always excelled in expressing messages to various audiences.

I graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Mass Communications in 1997. After graduating, I returned to my hometown, Lexington, Kentucky to find little if any work in my field.

Kenny was one of my biggest career advocates and suggested that I move to Cincinnati, his hometown, for better employment opportunities. I took an entry-level sales job at a prominent telecommunications company in the hopes of eventually acquiring a position in the corporate communications department.

Although, I excelled in my sales position, I longed for the opportunity to shine in my chosen field. Human Resources emailed employment opportunities to all employees weekly. I would check them regularly for any opening in the communications department, but to no avail. The few times that a position did become available, I would apply only to be declined an interview.

Four years passed, and I had all but given up hope. I really liked the company and my co-workers, and although discouraged, I put forth a 110 percent at work. My diligence garnered better positions in the sales department and more responsibility.

Losing Kenny hit me like a train wreck; I never imagined a life without him before he passed. I quickly came to the realization that I had to go on for Kennedy. Returning to work was one of the first steps to that path. So I did.

Shortly after I returned to work, a communications position was posted to the internal job board. But I had my hesitations. I knew it was perfect for me, but was I really ready to take on a new position? Could I handle the disappointment if I didn’t get an interview?

I struggled with submitting my resume right up until the application deadline. On the last day, I sat looking at my resume in hand and then thought of Kenny. I could feel him urging me to step out on faith and send it in. My supervisor was extremely supportive as well. She assured me that the time was right, and that I would be an asset to any department, just as I had been to her. She even offered interviewing tips and quizzed me on potential questions.

I succeeded in getting an interview, and ultimately, the position. Turns out, all those years of hard work truly paid off. What impressed my supervisor the most was my ability to successfully handle all the various positions I had been given and excel in them. This was the perfect foundation for my current position.

I‘m now responsible for managing our internal company Web site as well as additional communications. I’m finally doing what I love and I’m constantly learning something new. Even better, my work hours are extremely flexible. As a single parent, this is an added bonus for my daughter.

I still keep in touch with friends from my previous department that shoot me e-mails complementing me on an article I’ve posted or a graphic I’ve designed. I’ve also been blessed with a supportive network of new friends in my current department.

Although he didn’t get the chance to see my dream come true, I know Kenny is looking down proudly still cheering me on.