Honoring Cincinnati's Difference Makers

MYCincinnati Youth Orchestra, 2015 Difference Maker, is a free orchestra that helps kids of all backgrounds build self-confidence, focus and social skills.


An annual tradition is being maintained even as a months-long building restoration project at Cincinnati Museum Center’s Union Terminal moves into the final stages. The 10th annual Duke Energy Children’s Museum Difference Maker Awards ceremony will be held in February.

“The Difference Maker Awards were created to honor the efforts of people and organizations in our community who share Cincinnati Museum Center’s commitment to enhancing the lives of children and communities in which they live, grow and play,” says Cody Hefner, manager of media relations.

The first Difference Maker Awards ceremony was held in 2008 and helped to mark the 10th anniversary of the Duke Energy Children’s Museum. “A decade later, we are now celebrating the Difference Makers’ own 10th anniversary,” Hefner points out.

The program has honored over 350 nominees since its inception and continues to grow each year. 2017 award winners included local Difference Makers like Devi Namboodiri (2017), who initiated an after-school music class at the Academy of World Languages, Music Without Limits, a traveling program that teaches music to young students who may not have resources or access to instruments and music lessons. Local nonprofit La Soupe and its founder, Suzy DeYoung, were also honored. The organization tackles food insecurity across the Greater Cincinnati region by taking excess food from local restaurants and groceries and transforming it into thousands of servings of nutritious soup, smoothies and applesauce each month to help feed families in need.

The 2018 Difference Maker Awards will be co-chaired by Donna Zaring, senior strategist, Seed Strategy and Joe Wiles, senior director of sales, Cincinnati Bell. Zaring says the awards are one way to celebrate a core value of Cincinnatians – generosity. “This event acknowledges and recognizes the individuals, local companies and organizations quietly taking a vested interest in our local youth through community service and leadership,” she says. “They are everyday people making a difference for children who will grow to become the leaders of the future and who will continue to make Cincinnati an outstanding place to live and thrive.”

Wiles says the Difference Maker Awards are a natural extension of the mission Duke Energy Children’s Museum puts into action on a daily basis. “It only makes sense that we acknowledge the great work being done for these kids,” he says. “These folks are not asking for recognition, but truly deserve it. They are making a difference to better the future of these kids, day in and day out. The Children’s Museum is no different. We hope by giving children and the community experiences and interactions that are both on the forefront of educational development and rich with history, we are bettering their lives each time they interact with us.”

Wiles says the nomination and judging process are unique to other local philanthropic awards because the nominations come from the local population. “The nominations come from friends, neighbors and peers that recognize the civic work being done,” he explains. “Sometimes the nominations even come from the actual recipients of the volunteer work being done. It is truly a community-nominated process that we exclusively depend on to receive our nominees.”

Zaring says the judging process is similar. “We depend on volunteers to donate their time to read through all the submissions and narrow it down to our nominees,” she says. “These folks are local employees, local residents that have the opportunity to review the incredible submissions we receive. We even have some teenagers that actually judge the nominations of their peers. It is very important to us that we have a flawless, diverse judging process.”

“There are incredible individuals and organizations throughout the community who are taking it upon themselves to build a brighter future for children right here in the Greater Cincinnati region,” says Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO, Cincinnati Museum Center. “Our Duke Energy Children’s Museum is proud to have an impact in the lives of children and we want to acknowledge and connect with others who are making a difference for children and families. We are humbled every year to meet and celebrate those in the community who share our passion for healthy childhood development.” 


The Duke Energy Children’s Museum is a place for kids to climb, crawl, explore and learn more about themselves and the world around them. Nine educational and themed play areas encourage children to learn through play. Construction activity has temporarily closed the museum until spring.

The 2018 Duke Energy Children’s Museum Difference Maker Awards will be held February 24 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Visit cincymuseum.org/difference-makers/nomination-form to nominate a Difference Maker for the 2019 Awards.