Neighbors lead Unity in Our Grandview Community effort

Alan Froman (afroman@thisweeknews.com)
Next-door neighbors Henry Ohlinger (left), 12, and Graham Nelson, 15, have been leading an effort with their families to promote positivity and honor diversity through their cause: Unity in Our Grandview Community. The pair do a fist bump while sitting on the front steps of the Ohlingers' home Oct. 7.

When a march in Grandview Heights was held June 13 to protest the May 25 death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, Rachel Ohlinger and her husband, Jon, took part.

After the event, Ohlinger said, she talked about the experience with her next-door neighbor, Stephanie Nelson.

The Ohlingers and Nelsons have been neighbors and friends for 15 years.

"With the pandemic and protests going on, we wanted to make a difference, but you feel so helpless," she said.

People take different sides and feel strongly about a lot of issues these days, Ohlinger said.

"But we feel that there's more that unites us than divides us, especially in Grandview," Nelson said.

They looked for a way to demonstrate the truth of that philosophy, she said.

So the Glenn Avenue neighbors in August embarked on a grassroots initiative they call "Unity in Our Grandview Community."

Each month, the families choose a central Ohio organization and, through social media, encourage community members to donate items to support the beneficiary.

Residents were asked in August to drop off food items for distribution to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

The response was more than they had expected, Ohlinger said.

"We had two cars full of boxes we took to the food bank, about 25 boxes, each of which had 10 or 12 items in them," she said. "We had just sent out a message on our personal Facebook page and through an email blast (organized by Grandview resident Analisa Trares) most of Grandview knows about. It's a way to sell things, post job openings and just generally inform Grandview about what's going on."

The Ohlingers and Nelsons asked people to leave their donations in boxes they had kept on their front porches, Nelson said.

In some ways, the response was not so surprising, she said.

"That's the kind of community we have in Grandview," Nelson said. "People rally and help out when there's a need."

During September, the call was for book donations to contribute to KIPP Columbus, a charter school in Columbus' Linden neighborhood at which Jon Ohlinger volunteers.

The donated books will help the school establish a library for students, Ohlinger said.

More than 1,500 books were donated, she said.

For October, the families are seeking donations of toiletries, personal-care items and diapers to be distributed to the YMCA Family Center, which provides emergency shelter and services to assist central Ohio families in need, Ohlinger said.

"Each month we're trying to choose a local group to support that benefits young people," she said.

The inspiration for that focus comes from their sons, said Ohlinger, who also has a daughter, Sarah.

Henry Ohlinger, 13 and Graham Nelson, 15, are longtime friends, Nelson said.

"We want to stand up for what's right and be a unifying force in their community," she said.  

Small deeds can have a great impact on a community and the world at large, Ohlinlger said.

"That's what we're hoping our kids see when they come with us to deliver the donated items," she said.

The Ohlingers, who are white, adopted Henry a Black child.

Sometimes that situation can lead to a child being treated differently in a community, Ohlinger said. That has not been the case in Grandview, she said.

"We're not a very diverse community, but no one has ever treated him differently," Ohlinger said. "He's not 'a Black kid.' He's just Henry."

The racial issues resonate even more for her and her family knowing the Ohlingers, Nelson said.

Unity in our Grandview Community is one way the families can help support and spread the goal of improving equality and harmony in the  nation, she said.

More information about Unity in Cur Grandview Community and how to support the effort is available at facebook.com/groups/1140994622963685.

afroman@thisweeknews.com

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