Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women

Charlene Ventura, president and CEO of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati

Photo by Brian Ambs

Charlene Ventura, president and CEO of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, has dedicated 42 years of her career to helping the organization, “eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” Over the years, Ventura has worn a number of hats at the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati and witnessed the organization’s power to make a difference.

For 146 years, the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati has served and continues to serve more than 35,000 women and their families through programs in crisis intervention, health and wellness, education and training, youth services and recognition and advocacy.

This year the organization is celebrating 36 years of honoring eight local women at the annual Career Women of Achievement Luncheon. Each year women from Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are honored as Career Women of Achievement honorees for their career success, leadership skills and status as role models for women of all ages.

“The reason we started the Career Women of Achievement Luncheon was because as we looked around there weren’t many role models for young women, which was pretty stunning,” says Ventura. “We decided that we should honor women who have achieved success in their careers.

“When you think back to 1980 there weren’t any women CEOs, astronauts or women in the Supreme Court, for example. I believe women were making 60 cents for every dollar a man made. Starting the luncheon was really a strategic way for us to elevate women, create role models and encourage companies to look internally to promote women.”

Originally the goal of the luncheon was to raise awareness, however i soon became a fundraiser as the event grew each year. Roughly 400 people attended the first year of the event raising $40,000. Last year at the Career Women of Achievement Luncheon 2,100 people gathered at Duke Convention Center and raised $675,000.

This year the Career Women of Achievement Luncheon will take place on Wednesday, May 13, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Duke Energy Convention Center. Academy award winning actress, Geena Davis will be the keynote speaker at the luncheon. This year’s eight honorees will join the Academy of Career Women of Achievement, a group of 282 past honorees.

“The women who have been honored over the years have become an Academy of Career Women, who provide support for each other. Each year at least three honorees are women of color, so it brings diversity together not just in work but in the realm of race, age and careers,” says Ventura.

In conjunction with the luncheon the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati awards two educational scholarships, the Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship and The Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund Scholarship.

The Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship recognizes female African American senior high school students for their academic achievements, leadership skills, extracurricular activities and community service. This scholarship was established in 1993 to provide financial assistance for the recipients’ post-secondary education.

“We select 10 young women – one as the scholarship winner, runners up and honorable mentions. We have a tea for the young ladies to attend and they invite their families,” says Ventura. “Before tea we have the girls participate in a “Girls Who Rock” workshop where they learn skills that will help them as they move on to college.”

The Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund Scholarship was created to “enable, empower and uplift” young women. The scholarship was created in honor of Jacob Schmidlapp’s daughter who was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 19 while touring in France.

As Ventura prepares for the upcoming Career Women of Achievement Luncheon and her retirement, she continues to think about the future success of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati.

“I think we’re in good shape, so it’s a good time for me to retire. We’ll just continue to grow. One of the strengths of the Greater Cincinnati YWCA is that it responds to women’s changing needs,” says Ventura.


YWCA of Greater Cincinnati is located at 898 Walnut Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. You can reach them at 513.241.7090, by email at website@ywcacin.org or visit their website at www.ywca.org.