CINCINNATI -- The group working to help lift 10,000 Hamilton County children out of poverty has chosen Karen Bankston as its new leader.
“Karen Bankston is a great choice for the executive director,” Child Poverty Collaborative Executive Director Lynn Marmer said in an email to WCPO. “She has personal experience with living in poverty and has devoted her extensive professional life to service to others. She is well known and respected in the community and will be an inclusive and dynamic leader.”
Donna Jones Baker, the CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio, and Tom Williams, CEO of North American Properties, were the Child Poverty Collaborative co-chairs who led the search for a new executive director after Marmer announced in May that she would be stepping down from the role.
Baker said Bankston spoke during her interview about her life’s journey and her professional journey.
“And how everything that has occurred in her life, her work and educational and personal experiences, all came together to make this position the perfect one for her,” Baker said. “And we all agreed.”
Bankston, 62, currently serves as the associate dean for clinical practice, partnership and community engagement for the University of Cincinnati’s College of Nursing. She told WCPO that she would step down from that position but continue as a part-time faculty member with UC. She will start working full-time as executive director of the Child Poverty Collaborative on Dec. 1.
“Not only did I grow up in poverty myself, despite my own personal and professional success, I have kids that currently live in poverty,” she said. “They always tell me that they’ve made those choices so I guess I have to accept that. But I really do want to see the community be a place where everyone has an opportunity to thrive -- not just survive but thrive -- and recognize there are many things that come into play as they relates to this very complex issues.”
Baker said she’s confident that Bankston is the right person to lead the collaborative’s work.
“She is uniquely positioned to help us to examine the barriers of poverty and to help us put into place strategies to help more people,” she said.
Bankston will keep working part-time at UC so she can continue her work with students at Hughes STEM High School who have expressed interest in health careers and are taking part in a special program that Bankston has spearheaded for the university.
“Because those students and those moms trust me, I don’t feel like I can leave until (the program’s) completion,” she said.
Bankston has been a member of the Child Poverty Collaborative’s steering committee and said she thinks the group has been heading in the right direction.
“We’ve got a lot of resources. It seems baffling to many as to why we’re in the state that we’re in,” she said.
Bankston added that she’s pleased that so many of Cincinnati’s corporate leaders are involved in the effort.
“We’ve got the corporate community’s ear,” she said. “They may not be all the way understanding the notion of poverty and what that means. But they’re at the table, and I think that’s important.”
Marmer, a retired Kroger Co. executive, was the collaborative’s founding executive director. She will continue to advise the organization after she steps down from the executive director role, she said.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.