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No Monkey Business

Kendra McKeever’s entrepreneurial vision began with a cousin’s desperate need.

The cousin’s daughter was plagued with eczema, a terribly itchy skin condition that results in scarring from the scratching. “When you have a child who scratches himself to the point of bleeding, you have to go to extreme measures to restrain the scratching,” McKeever says. “It’s awful.”

So McKeever and her mother began thinking of how they could help. Only a few manufacturers worldwide sell special clothing to prevent children with extreme cases of eczema, psoriasis, epidermolysis bullosa and chicken pox from incessant scratching. No one in the United States did. Scratch-resistant outfits had to be purchased from a European manufacturer. They were expensive, didn’t hold up well and, worse, emitted a “stinky smell” over time.

So McKeever put her 2005 MBA degree to work and began developing a business plan for the idea that would become Sock Monkeys Clothing, a name inspired by the vintage stuffed toy.

McKeever conducted detailed market research, asking dermatologists and pediatricians nationwide whether there was enough need to support such a business in the United States.

The family has marketed the clothing to children ages 3 months to 3 years but is in the process of expanding to include sizes for children up to 5 years and is considering whether to market to burn victims whose skin itches as it heals. Sock Monkey outfits are made of lightweight, organic cotton sewn together with external stitching to prevent children from using internal seams to scratch themselves. Long-sleeve outfits are sewn shut to create “hand socks” that also prevent scratching. Most outfits are made to order at the family’s Cincinnati plant. The clothing is only available for sale online.

McKeever still considers the business a startup. She says her family hopes to keep it a family business but may consider venture capital to expand in the future.

“We decided we would bootstrap it and take Sock Monkeys as far as we could,” McKeever says. “We’ve gotten some really touching feedback from our customers. The emails we get help us realize that we’re really doing a service. So, we keep plugging away at it.”

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Xavier Magazine

Profile: Jim C. Aranda

Jim C. Aranda
Bachelor of Arts in History, 1968
Partner, Stebelton, Aranda and Snider
Lancaster, Ohio

High School Dropout | As Aranda explains it, he is a high school dropout. Really, he’s as much a seminary dropout. He attended a seminary near Chicago for high school but quit halfway through his senior year. He was still able to get into Loyola University, spending the spring semester there before applying to Xavier. “I was a half-credit short on the science requirement,” he says. “Xavier was nice enough to review my situation and admit me despite that. I wanted to go away to school and was fortunate to get to go to Xavier. I did not graduate from high school. I’m a high school dropout made good.”

Early Career | After law school at the University of Notre Dame, Aranda worked in Chicago and Columbus. The Park Ridge, Ill., native moved in 1976 to his then-wife’s hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, and began establishing his practice. The couple had one adopted child at the time and later adopted a second.

Adoption Law | Aranda’s education and personal interest in adoption created a natural, professional niche. “As a Catholic lawyer in the community with an adopted son, I came to be known as someone who did adoption work and I just kept doing it. I got referrals from a wide variety of people and I had a basic interest in adoptions from my personal experience.”

Best-Known Case | Aranda considers his work in adoption law to be especially rewarding. He is best known for successfully arguing the Ridenour case before the Ohio Supreme Court in 1991. The case established important state and national precedent by holding that adoptions terminate the rights of both biological parents and grandparents. “This case gave adoptive parents the right to raise their adoptive children without interference,” he says. “It’s beautiful because it promised adoptive children a shot at a new life.”

Long-Term Path | Aranda began picking up probate and real estate clients from another Lancaster attorney who eventually sold his practice to Aranda.

Current Practice | Aranda’s practice focuses on “elder law,” a term that describes a wide variety of legal issues affecting senior citizens, such as health care power of attorney and estate planning. He also does Medicaid recovery for the state of Ohio.

Fairfield Legal Clinic | One of Aranda’s favorite ways to give back to the community is through the all-volunteer Fairfield Legal Clinic. He coordinates area attorneys to provide free legal advice on civil matters. “We’re in a rural county without much industry. We have a lot of poor people who would never get their legal needs addressed without the clinic.” In addition, Aranda volunteers for the local Humane Society and is incoming president of the board for the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster.

Greatest Influence | Aranda says his parents and the Jesuits at Xavier have had the most influence on his life. To honor his parents and to help continue the tradition of Jesuit education, Aranda established the “Harold and Bonnie Aranda Scholarship,” which covers tuition at Xavier for one student per year from Park Ridge, Ill., or from Fisher Catholic High School in Lancaster.

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Xavier Magazine

Profile: Jill Perry

JILL PERRY
Bachelor of Education, 1995
Chaplain, Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Athens, Ga.

Spiritual Coach | Jill Perry figured one day she would coach for a living. Indeed, the former Xavier volleyball player and lifelong Southern Baptist never really left the gym. But the brand of coaching she practices isn’t what the average fan might expect. The one-time Musketeer is now a spiritual coach with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for some 300 female athletes and their coaches at the University of Georgia.

What’s Important | “I gave up the idea of being a college coach a long time ago because I realized that biblical truth and information were a lot more important for me to pass along than teaching a girl how to pass a volleyball and win volleyball matches.”

The Good Play Book | Perry is content to work behind the scenes. She spends much of her time in training rooms and at practices on the Bulldog campus but with a Bible in hand, not a clipboard and whistle. “We call it a ministry of presence. At Georgia, we have tutors, a sports psychologist, academic advisers and the added component FCA provides—a spiritual component.”

Under Pressure | That spiritual component is meant to provide emotional support to the athletes and coaches who want it. Athletes often are consumed by self-doubt as they strive to meet the relentless and sometimes fickle expectations of fans. Coaches endure the same kind of pressure, she says.

A Reminder | “In the pressure-filled environment of sport—where the mentality is ‘What have you done for me lately?’—I like being the source of encouragement that lets players and coaches know, or reminds them, that they have access to a heavenly father who loves them unconditionally, regardless of their performance.”

The Message | “The majority of my time is spent leading student team leaders,” adds Perry, explaining the “discipleship” approach she uses to spread the Christian message that God remains ever present in our lives both on and off the court. “I multiply myself, as Christ empowered 11 or 12 men to do the same for him.”

In the Beginning | Perry was introduced to FCA in 1995 as a result of her first job after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education from Xavier. She was a high school health and physical education teacher in North Carolina. The principal asked Perry to serve as the school’s teacher-sponsor for FCA.

The Revelation | “I’m not sure what prompted the principal to ask me if I was interested in the FCA sponsorship. I said, ‘What’s that? Are y’all allowed to have that at a public school?’ He said, ‘Oh, yes. The students initiate it and lead it. They meet in the mornings before school.’ I told the principal that I would love to do that. Little did I know that as the years went on, I would learn more about FCA and eventually work full time for the organization.”

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Xavier Magazine

Heck Yes

Communications professional Jean Palmer Heck is proof that being in the right place at the right time pays off. The place? Japan. The time? 1987.

“I gave a speech at an international women’s conference. I was emcee for the day,” says Heck, a 1974 communication arts alum, who spent her early career as a radio talk show host and TV anchor before working as a corporate spokesperson.

Heck made such a favorable impression that a company at the conference hired her as an international communications strategist. That opened more doors and led to more clients. The communications consulting business Heck started at home in Indianapolis took off during her five years abroad. She made a name for herself coaching Asian executives who needed to express themselves to English-speaking constituents and customers.

“It was my dream, really,” says Heck, a working mother of two who was in Kobe, Japan, because of her husband’s job transfer there. Heck also capitalized on her ability to shoot video, augmenting her communications business as a videographer.

In the years since her return to Indianapolis, Heck hasn’t stopped adding to her résumé. She recently published her first book, Tough Talks in Tough Times: What Bosses Need to Know to Deliver Bad News, Motivate Employees and Stay Sane.

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Xavier Magazine

Breaking Cycles

In an era when Catholic high schools are closing, DePaul Cristo Rey High School is a rarity. When it opens this summer, DePaul Cristo Rey will become the first Catholic high school to open in Cincinnati in 50 years. In an era when lower-income families are virtually shut out of attending Catholic schools because of the high cost of tuition, they’re the only ones allowed in.

“Our goal is to reach families that wouldn’t otherwise attend Catholic high schools,” says Andrew Farfsing, the school’s principal who graduated with a bachelor’s in history in 2000 and a master’s in education in 2004.

DePaul is part of a small but growing, nationwide network of Cristo Rey high schools built around an innovative program that aims, through education, to break the cycle of poverty that besets large American cities. Students in Cristo Rey schools pay for their education—and gain invaluable life experience—by working in entry-level office jobs at large corporations, law firms, small businesses and nonprofits. Rather than getting a paycheck, though, the corporate sponsors contribute the wages toward the student’s tuition.

Being part of that opportunity is what motivates Farfsing, who is following the trail blazed by another Xavier grad, John P. Foley, S.J. The Jesuit priest earned a bachelor’s degree from Xavier in 1958 and eventually helped launch the Cristo Rey network.

Farfsing is joined by other Xavier grads at the Cincinnati school: Norah Mock, DePaul’s director of development, and Keianna Matthews, director of enrollment. And why not? They’ve already been well trained in the Jesuit ideals.

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Xavier Magazine

Tough Love, Soft Heart

Tammy Solomon Gray is tough. She grew up in the tough shadows of the projects. She’s also had to deal with the tough challenges of physical disabilities since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 21. So it’s no wonder she practices tough love when counseling poor-performing students as an assistant principal at Cheviot Elementary in Cincinnati.

“I tell kids, ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses. I grew up in Winton Terrace and have three degrees, two cars and a house with two-and-a-half baths. I know that hard work is the only way to get out of the projects, and you can do it, too, if you use your head for something other than a hat rack,’ ” she says.

“I tell them, ‘We’re going up the escalator to crazy, because it’s crazy not to learn something at school.’ I explain to them what happens every step of the way and remind them that in-house detention is next. I tell them ‘When you’re ready to be a student and not a little terrorist,’ they usually come back.”

Behind the tough exterior, though, is a soft heart that has led her to voluntarily serve on the boards of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati and 4C for Children, both nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping at-risk children and handicapped adults.

“It was always something I wanted to do, but now that my son’s older I can do more,” she says. “There’s a time and a place for everything. It’s time for me to do important work for free. Some people on boards bring money and influence. I bring content and expertise.”

Gray, who earned a Master of Education from Xavier in 2000, credits her parents and grandparents for inspiring her to challenge herself, to improve her life circumstances and then do the same for others.

“These are game-changing organizations,” she says. “4C touches them at the beginning as youngsters and UCP touches them as they become adults. I get them coming to me as young students and leaving me as young adults—that’s the common thread.” And if any of the people start heading down the wrong path, she’ll let them know. “It’s like my mom used to say, ‘It’s not where you live, but how you live.’”

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Xavier Magazine

Rose’s Park

For eight years, Rose Vesper served as state representative for the tiny, riverside village of New Richmond, Ohio, just east of Cincinnati. She gave a lot to the village and its people, and now they’re giving back in the form of a grassy, one-acre park that includes a gazebo, playground, walking trail and park benches.

“The list is endless of different projects where she had a lasting impact on the community,” Ohio State Sen. Tom Niehaus said before a crowd of several hundred at the dedication. Niehaus helped secure state funding for the project, which also included a donation from Vesper’s husband, Dr. Lee Vesper, a retired Cincinnati-area dermatologist.

Vesper, formerly Rose Marie Heiselmann, Class of 1960, is a longtime New Richmond resident. In addition to her time in the Ohio House of Representatives, she also served as the Ohio governor’s regional economic development representative for the Cincinnati region between 2001 and 2003. She’s now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

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Profile: Karen Meyers

KAREN MEYERS

Master of Business Administration, 1977; Master of Education, 1978

Partner, Little, Meyers & Associates

Cincinnati

National Recognition | Meyers recently received the President’s Award from the National Structured Settlements Trade Association—the equivalent of a lifetime achievement honor from the trade group in her legal specialty. Structured settlements are financial awards granted by courts or as part of a negotiated settlement to victims and families of victims of catastrophic or personal injuries.

Major Cases | Meyers is best known in legal circles for the key roles she played in structuring the payout terms for families of victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy and the 2001 race riots in Cincinnati. She also was settlement master—the court-appointed representative who allocates money awarded to victims—in the morgue case in Cincinnati involving the photography of corpses.

The Biggest Win | Meyers considers the morgue case to be her greatest legal accomplishment because the case was highly emotional, complex and involved almost 1,600 victims.

Stuffed Duck | The case also demonstrates the intense personal relationships Meyers often develops with clients. “I have a stuffed duck on my desk that belonged to one of the plaintiffs. The husband gave it to me after his wife died of cancer. It was her therapy duck.” The couple’s adult son was one of the photographed corpses. The mother lived to see the verdict and upon her death, her husband gave Meyers the stuffed animal in appreciation for her work on the case.

Favorite Memory | Meyers represented 74 families in the government’s Sept. 11 victim compensation case. She recalls one of the victim’s wives, a stay-at-home mother of five raising her children in Harlem. At the time, the mother didn’t have a college degree, but Meyers noticed she had an aptitude for math. “We structured the settlement so she could go to school. She’s a CPA now.”

Volunteer Work | Meyers learned the importance of serving those less fortunate from her mother, who still volunteers at Little Sisters for the Poor. “We started volunteering in kindergarten. We used to work at soup kitchens on Thanksgiving.” Today, Meyers serves on the board of Christ Hospital’s Family Centered Care Council, which helps integrate families into patient care programs.

Inspiration | Meyers’ mother and her maternal grandfather inspired her early in life. “My father was killed in a construction accident when I was 2. My mom was pregnant with my brother, so we moved in with our grandparents. My mom and grandfather taught us that we could do anything we wanted.”

Family Affair | Meyers’ 85-year-old mother lives with Meyers and her husband. Meyers also remains close to her attorney brother, with whom she went through law school. “My mom used to pray that sibling rivalry wouldn’t end the family.”

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Lessons Learned

Jayma George was nervous. It was her first week of college, and as she stared at her schedule of classes, there, in big, bold letters, was the one word that sent fear scurrying through her body: Biology. Even though she graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average, the school was small and didn’t offer advanced placement classes. As a result, she felt like she was already behind most of her classmates.

And it showed.

Recognizing her nervousness, her professor suggested she try Supplemental Instruction, or SI, a specialized student-to-student tutoring program that Xavier has in place for four areas: general chemistry, organic chemistry, general biology, and anatomy and physiology. A trained peer tutor attends each class and then conducts study sessions open to all students afterward. While students can still get personalized attention from the professor or graduate assistant, sometimes having a fellow student explain something makes all the difference.

“I was nervous about it enough,” says George, a sophomore natural sciences major from Pandora, Ohio. “I thought, ‘Free help? Great.’ It’s not worth failing first before getting help.”

SI is an internationally recognized academic support model developed at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Xavier began its formal SI program in 2007 for general biology, general and organic chemistry, and then added anatomy and physiology last spring. Math, accounting and modern languages may soon be next. The reason it’s growing so fast? It works.

Before SI, these über-hard classes averaged drop-fail-withdrawal rates as high as 30 percent. Now the average is in the single digits. In organic chemistry, the rate has dropped to zero.

Stephanie Mosier, assistant director of Xavier’s Learning Assistance Center, which oversees the program, also measures the program’s effectiveness individually by dividing students into three groups—students who attend regularly, student who attend at least once and students who do not attend—and then recording their grades. In one course Mosier surveyed, students who attended SI sessions regularly scored an average 3.02 versus 1.6 for those who never attended.

Mosier works with the professors to create the framework for the study sessions, but gives student leaders a lot of latitude in how they get their tutoring lessons across. Some use online videos, memory games, even skits to help get the material across to their less-experienced counterparts. The positives can also translate into more than just As and Bs, though.

“My SI leader is now one of my best friends,” George says. “She’s going to be a senior in the same major. She helped me figure out what classes to take and how to budget my time. She also helped me with a lot of other things. She’s been a really good mentor.”

Student leaders benefit as well. Not only are they paid for their time, tutoring helps reinforce the material for their own sakes and shows well on résumés and grad school applications.

Mosier says the program has been very well received by everyone involved. There’s only one problem: She now has more prospective student leaders than she has positions available. That, of course, is a good problem to have. And, one of the prospective student leaders is George. “I did well enough that I’m going to be an SI leader for an incoming general biology class,” she says.

For Mosier, that’s what makes all of the work worth it. “The biggest compliment for me is to see a student who wants to be a tutor, who says, ‘I want to be as inspiring to future students who take this course.’”

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Art: The Common Language

Erica Weitzel believes in the power of art, that it can give everyone—especially the underprivileged—the opportunity to improve their lives. And she recently put her belief to the test in a small, rural village in India.

“My mission is to use art to educate about social issues, empower the community and give people a creative outlet to express themselves,” says Weitzel, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2007 with a double concentration in painting and photography.

Indians who live in rural areas are fortunate to get a basic education in reading, writing and math. Art education, though, is almost non-existent. That’s why an Indian businessman with family ties to the village of Pusla came up with the idea of creating an arts center that would be free and open to the public. Enter Weitzel, who got involved in the project thanks to a connection with Chicago artist and former Cincinnatian Augustina Droze. Weitzel was helping Droze paint murals in Chicago last summer when the two discovered a shared interest in combining art, philanthropy and international development.

Droze is president of the non-profit group funding the Pusla project. Indian businessman Vivek Bhagwatkar started it while living in Chicago as a way to give back to his homeland and honor his artist mother. Weitzel, who says her experiences on alternative breaks as an undergraduate inspired her to pursue art-based international development, volunteered to help Droze and Bhagwatkar conduct a month-long series of art education workshops in Pusla.

“I packed a bag and moved to India,” she says. Since she doesn’t speak Hindi, the language barrier was a challenge, but one she overcame largely by virtue of her artwork.

“During workshops, I had locals translate for me. But luckily with art, it’s a little easier to teach by example.”

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