Mercedes-Benz of West Chester & Cincinnati: Building a Better Community

Building Blocks for Kids

Photo by Jon Keeling

Nick was a quiet baby. No babbling. No cooing. He was evaluated at 9 months, later tested, and at 3, was diagnosed with severe apraxia of speech (CAS), a disorder where a child’s brain has difficulty coordinating the complex oral movements needed to create sounds into syllables, syllables into words and words into phrases. He began attending therapy sessions four to five days a week.

Today, Nick, who is 8, can communicate with his family. He currently receives three speech therapy sessions each week through his school and one private session. Nick recently learned to ride his scooter and loves playing basketball and flag football. Unfortunately, speech therapy insurance has not been available for Nick since he was 4. In order for Nick to continue therapy, he needs $5,280. 

Enter Building Blocks for Kids (BB4K).

Nick is one of about four dozen kids with special needs who are currently awaiting financial assistance via the Building Blocks for Kids’ Meet A Need Program. This program lets donors specify which child they want 100 percent of their donation to be applied.   

Founded in January 2003, BB4K has helped build happier, healthier and more independent lives for more than 650 children facing physical, emotional and developmental needs. Through organizing community benefits and annual fund-raising events, the non-profit organization awards grants to families who have nowhere else to turn for funding for their children’s special needs. 

BB4K grants go to any need, regardless of diagnosis, says Dynette Clark, founder and executive director of the organization

“We discovered, through all our research, that there were few if any organizations to help families with immediate medical needs,” says Clark. “It’s been quite an undertaking.” 

At the heart of BB4K are core programs: Therapy for Kids, Building for Kids (modifications to a child’s home environment), Hearing & Communication for Kids, Medical Equipment for Kids, Mobility for Kids and Caring for Kids.

Building Blocks for Kids is located at 7577 Central Parke Boulevard, Suite 224, Mason, OH 45040. For more information, call 513.770.2900, email or visit 


Stepping Stones

Photo by Catie Viox

Go to any social services gathering in Greater Cincinnati, yell “CAMP STEPPING STONES,” and see how many people yell back, “Yes! I volunteered there! When were you there?” 

Known for its large, dedicated volunteer army for more than five decades, the summer day camp for children and teens with disabilities is still the most recognized program offered by Stepping Stones, a non-profit United Way partner and accredited charity of the Better Business Bureau. 

But Stepping Stones, Inc., is much larger than its albeit huge summer camp. The agency serves people with disabilities from age 5 through 65-plus, providing life-enhancing programs that help more than 1,000 individuals find pathways to independence, enabling them to be more fully engaged members of their communities.

In addition to the summer camp, which serves more than 450 individuals at two locations, Stepping Stones offers:

Step-Up, an alternative education program that helps 21 students with autism from 14 school districts.

Saturday Kids Club and Saturday Young Adults Club, providing extracurricular activities for more than 125 young people during the school year.

Weekend Respites and Summer Overnight Staycations, which are overnight recreation programs for more than 350 teens and adults.

The Sensory Needs Respite and Support Program, serving 16 students with severe sensory needs and challenging behaviors. Children are paired with one-on-one aides to build calming and coping strategies that help them function successfully.

Adult Day Services for 215 adults at three program sites.

Stepping Stones continues to grow to meet increasing needs in the area. Two additional sites have been added to the original 23-acre campus on Given Road in Indian Hill and the 47-acre Camp Allyn in Batavia. In 2014, United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Cincinnati joined the Stepping Stones family, and a large segment of the adult day program moved to the new UCP campus in Norwood. In January 2016, the small BeauVita adult day program in Monfort Heights became part of Stepping Stones, extending services into the west side of Cincinnati for the first time.

Stepping Stones was proud to be one of four winners of the 16th annual Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics presented in October.

Stepping Stones is located at 5650 Given Road, Cincinnati, OH 45243. For more information, call 513.831.4660, email or visit Stepping Stones’ annual “Open Your Heart” fundraiser is February 7 at Eddie Merlot’s in Montgomery.


The First Tee of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky

Photo by Catie Viox

The First Tee doesn’t just build better golfers. The organization grows great kids – tomorrow’s community leaders – instilled with integrity, confidence and perseverance, one putt at a time.

“With its inherent values, rules and etiquette, the game of golf is a terrific platform for teaching kids important life skills and values they can use to help them succeed on and off the golf course throughout their lives,” says Gale Wallmark, executive director of The First Tee of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky.

Since its founding in 1997, The First Tee has widened its swing to become the largest youth development organization in golf – a network of 175 chapters – offering its innovative Life Skills Experience programming at area golf courses. The First Tee has also brought golf and its character education to elementary school gyms and after-school programs to reach children from all walks of life where they spend a lot of time.

The First Tee of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky serves children in Hamilton, Clermont, Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. Classes are offered in spring, summer and fall sessions at six golf course locations. The chapter depends on volunteer power and welcomes assistance in a variety of areas, from volunteers working with the kids to helping with fundraising events and administrative tasks. No golf experience is required, says Wallmark, just enthusiasm for helping children succeed.

The kids think they are just having fun learning golf, but they’re also getting the tools they can use to build good character. Life skills such as self-management, goal-setting and resiliency are interwoven with The First Tee Nine Core Values (honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement).

Another focus is to promote healthy physical, emotional and social habits among participants. Those include healthy eating choices, ongoing participation in energizing play, making the most of one’s unique talents, enjoying shared family activities and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and supportive people while effectively handling challenging situations like bullying and navigating the digital age/social media.

The First Tee of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky is located at 4747 Playfield Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45226. For more information, call 513.321.1433 or visit


Cancerfree Kids

Photo by Catie Viox

It was 5-month-old Shayna Flannery’s first Christmas Eve when her parents, Ellen and Sam, discovered something wrong in one of her eyes.

They immediately took her to a doctor where Shayna was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, the most common malignant cancer of the eye in children. A tumor had consumed her entire eye. Both her eye and the tumor were removed New Year’s Day so the tumor would not work its way back into Shayna’s brain. Doctors began treating her other eye, which they discovered contained six pinpoint-size tumors. 

 “We were very fortunate,” says Ellen. “Retinoblastoma is highly treatable if caught early. She went through six months of chemotherapy, had a recurrence a year later that was treated with radiation and she has been cancer-free since her second birthday. She’s 19 now, and a sophomore at Miami University.”

Throughout their heart-wrenching journey, the Flannerys asked doctors many questions about pediatric cancer, including, “Why is children’s cancer research so severely underfunded?” The more they learned, the angrier they became. More kids in the U.S. die from cancer than any other disease, yet less than 4 percent of cancer research funding from the government goes to studying pediatric cancers. The Flannerys felt this was unacceptable.

 The Flannerys embarked on a mission to help raise money for pediatric cancer research, not just locally but around the country. On Shayna’s first day of kindergarten 14 years ago, the Flannerys founded CancerFree KIDS, a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to eradicate pediatric cancer by funding innovative research for gentler treatments and cures that might otherwise go unfunded. 

CancerFree KIDS raises money through fundraising initiatives the organization hosts as well as benefits hosted by others. It is given away at the end of each year in the form of research grants. In 2016, CancerFree KIDS awarded $575,000 in research grants to projects at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Since its inception, CancerFree KIDS has funded 97 research projects totaling nearly $3 million.

CancerFree KIDS is located at 420 West Loveland Avenue, Loveland, OH 45140. For more information, call 513.575.KIDS (5437), email or visit