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Human’s Best Friend

Columbus charity forges community service through low-income pet aid In some cases, it’s just a small bag of kibble. But what people take away from their interaction with Faithful Forgotten Best Friends is much larger—and longer lasting. At its core, FFBF is a simple one-to-one charity concept: food, veterinary care, vaccinations, and microchipping for the [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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Columbus charity forges community service through low-income pet aid

In some cases, it’s just a small bag of kibble.

But what people take away from their interaction with Faithful Forgotten Best Friends is much larger—and longer lasting.

At its core, FFBF is a simple one-to-one charity concept: food, veterinary care, vaccinations, and microchipping for the pets of homeless and low-income citizens in Columbus.

But, just spending time immersed among their myriad dedicated volunteers, you see that FFBF is not only providing a humanitarian service—but one that improves life for all animals in the city and for the humans inspired to aid its cause.

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“I always tell people when they volunteer here that it’s gonna cost you.”

That’s Connie Swackhammer, one of the cofounders of Faithful Forgotten Best Friends, and that’s her constant joke to new team members. What she means: you’ll be so energized and driven by the mission that often, volunteers end up buying goods to contribute to their clients.

That mission started with an organic need noticed by many volunteers out on Meals on Wheels runs. Many elderly clients were sharing their meager food with their pets, which motivated volunteers to start bringing donated pet food along on their runs.

Fast forward several years and several hundred—if not thousands—of lives have changed as a direct result of FFBF. Around 9:30 a.m. every Tuesday, Swackhammer and her tight-knit group of volunteers set up shop behind Holy Family Church in Franklinton, and receive droves of people looking for the things they need for their companion animals. (They also visit the city’s homeless camps on a weekly basis.)

Fourth-year veterinary students from Ohio State University Veterinary College, lead by board certified veterinary doctors, including Dr. Kim West, the president of FFBF, provide basic care to cats and dogs. Food is distributed, along with leashes, harnesses, toys, treats, and anything else their little furry hearts could desire. A brand new partnership with Blue Buffalo brand natural pet food will provide literal tons of food for their clients, freeing up a huge portion of their budget to expand their medical care service. FFBF doesn’t have a stream of income, like rescues and pounds do. A yearly golf outing raises the lion’s share of their funding for the year; it’s all 100-percent volunteer driven, and no one draws a salary, so all funds go directly to service. And that service isn’t just for the homeless—it’s people on fixed incomes; disabled veterans, the elderly. Which is perhaps the most important part of the mission: FFBF turns no one away for a lack of ability to pay for food or care.

Swackhammer is well aware of how quickly the descent into homeless can happen, and she also is keeping close watch on how the rapid redevelopment of the city is applying pressure to an already delicate affordable housing situation. The South End, where she is currently eyeing a new location, is one such example.

“There are homes there now that are half a million dollars on Parsons,” she said. “I’m glad for them, but I’m also wondering about people there who can’t afford the rent. So I’m going to get more clients, and I don’t know how were going to deal with the increase of people who need help … but somehow we always have.”

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Most people that live and work in the city are blind to the plight of low income and homeless families and individuals. The legalities of navigating the city as a homeless person encourages secrecy, and the shame pinned to being poor keeps people from asking for help. Often it’s a quick slide that starts from a job loss or injury. Soon people find themselves on the street with only their faithful best friends to cling to.

While the literal aim of FFBF is to make sure such people and their pets are not “forgotten,” Swackhammer admits that their organization can also offer education that helps shore up that blind spot.

“When you think of homeless [people]—or at least I did—you think of someone who has issues with drugs or drink, or perhaps just attitude issues. What I’ve found is that a lot of them are just flat-out out of a job,” she said. “They lost their job so they can’t make their car payment, so they can’t get to work. Next thing you know, theyre not able to pay their rent. They hit up their family, they hit up their friends. It’s just the perfect spiral. And then they’re on the street, and once you’re on the streets you can’t get a job because your clothes are dirty, your hair is dirty.”

Now that she’s meeting people in such straits on a weekly basis, they and their animals have become her life’s work. They’re now friends and clients.
“It’s virtually impossible for me to take dog food into a camp and not take something for the person,” she said.

Damien and his large bully breed Cain were there on the Tuesday we observed FFBF, waiting on a vet appointment for Cain and food for him and Damien’s three other dogs. His respect has grown over the five years he’s known Swackhammer, who he calls a “fighter.”

“They’re caring,” he said. “Sincerity is what’s important. They’re not doing this for a paycheck. They’re taking time out of their lives to come do this because they care.”

Beyond just caring for the animals and their owners, she wants to enlighten those unfamiliar with the everyday positive impact these pets have for their owners. When you’re still trying to navigate the daily challenges of life without a home, or with a dangerously low income, unconditional love carries an immeasurable value.

“The pet doesn’t care if you have a house. The pet doesn’t care if you have an income. The pet cares about being with you. For a lot of people, I think the pet helps them maintain their sanity. I’ve seen people dig holes to live in, I’ve seen people live in trees. The lucky ones have a sleeping bag and a place to lay their head. Their pets are with them. They are snuggled by their side for warmth and protection. In the homeless population, that animal is their friend, that animal is their protector, and something that brings them joy. Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have some kind of joy brought to your life. It’s bad enough that their life has gone to that point. If they’ve brought an animal with them, or found an animal, I don’t blame them.”

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Keeping people out of homeless shelters may be beyond the reach of an organization like FFBF. They can, however, do their part to keep more animals from being on the streets. Last summer alone they spayed or neutered 350 animals.

“We don’t want any more animals out there that aren’t able to be taken care of. So if they already have a few animals, the first thing we do is figure out whos gonna get fixed, so were not adding to the population of animals that could potentially be homeless or end up in a shelter.”

FFBF also microchips animals with their contact information so they can get their animals back to citizens if they have no address or phone.

FFBF doesn’t just touch the lives of those receiving assistance to care for their four-legged family members. The volunteers from those coming to lend a hand, to the vet students recruited from OSU, all speak to the transformative experience of helping the most helpless among us cultivate the most ancient of human animal relationships.

Grace Hoagland, a volunteer with a non-profit background, feels an even greater call to help FFBF than your average pet charity.

“If you have your own pets at home and they’re healthy and taken care of, you make them dinner each night, and then you see these animals. These owners love their animals just as much. But the way they’re able to provide for them is so much different. I think the feeling of the need to help them is greater. Especially if you are an animal lover or have had family members that have had struggles with their animals. This is one of the only organizations in the United States that provides free veterinary care on a regular basis to low income communities. There is always going to be a continuous need.”

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That need is clearly omnipresent, but there are some that question whether an animal in the possession of a person with challenges taking care of themselves is in the best situation.

Dr. Michael Barrie, a former zoo veterinarian known in the FFBF community as “Dr. Mike,” thinks that’s a gross oversimplification.

“People’s lives are more complicated than that. Certainly these animals bring a lot of joy to people’s lives. If we can help out on this aspect, I think that’s a really good thing. I don’t have any misgivings about these people having pets. And the ones we see are responsible of feeling enough to come here. They use the service and are typically grateful for the service we provide, so its rewarding in that aspect.”

Dr. Mike points out that the community at-large—animal lovers and the animals they love—benefit from FFBF’s service, too.

“If these animals aren’t protected with these vaccinations, their at risk of getting rabies or getting viral diseases dogs and cats get. Having this service, they don’t have to worry about those things. For instance, distemper in dogs is highly contagious. If there was a large population of unvaccinated dogs around, it could spread around the community.”

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What FFBF does spread around the community is hope.

The people at FFBF know the stories and the struggles of those who live their lives on the threadbare edge of the city. And work daily to connect those in need to those willing to provide.

It’s their mission and their service that helps stabilize a constant—one bit of meaningful companionship in daily lives filled with uncertainty. That constant effort nourishes the souls of what sadly, is often Columbus’s forgotten populace.

All it takes is a bit of unconditional love—and little bags of kibble.

Faithful Forgotten Best Friends operates every Tuesday from the back of the Holy Family Church Parish Center at 584 W Broad St. in Franklinton. Food is distributed the first and third Tuesday of the month, and veterinary care is available by appointment after proof of income level is established. To get involved or donate, visit ffbf-columbus.org.

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The local architecture firm who gave beautiful home to family in need

Mike Thomas

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Curt Moody knew he wanted to be an architect before he knew there was a name given to that particular career path. While enrolled in a middle-school industrial arts program, he discovered a love for drawing, but was less than taken with the rendering of machine parts that made up much of the curriculum.

“In the back of one of the books, there were houses,” Moody explains. “I asked my instructor if he’d allow me to draw those instead of what was normal for the class, and he said yes. That was when I knew I wanted to do buildings.”

Thanks to this gracious concession from his seventh-grade teacher, Moody had taken the first steps in what would be an accomplished career. Moody Nolan, the architecture firm that Moody would go on to found in 1982, is today a booming operation with offices throughout the country and an impressive list of awards and accolades to its name.

The successes enjoyed by Moody today are largely a result of opportunities available to him in his youth, and the fact that others may not be as privileged is not lost on him. Like many businesses that have achieved a certain status, Moody Nolan has engaged in the sort of philanthropic work that is expected of leaders in the community. 

In spite of years of time and energy spent giving to various causes and organizations, Moody couldn’t seem to shake the nagging sensation that he and his company could be doing more.

“There were so many golf outings and dinners that we participated in over the years, but if you asked us where did that money go,
we couldn’t tell you,” Moody says of the firm’s past charitable efforts. “We knew we were doing it for a good cause, but how can we do something better, using what we do? We are architects. We design buildings, we design houses—why can’t we use what we do to make something more permanent?”

Inspired to give back to the least advantaged members of society in a more tangible way, Moody and his associates conceived the Legacy Project. Designed to set an example to their peers in business and beyond, the project would begin with a single house, designed by Moody Nolan, to be given away to an underprivileged family at zero cost. 

“There are a whole lot of great programs out there when it comes to affordable housing, but the truth is there are not enough,” Moody explains of the issues central to the project. “There’s a problem that no one seems to know how to address: if you make $22,000 a year, what’s affordable [housing]? There’s nothing that you could purchase that is affordable when every bit of your income is going toward trying to just live.”

Its plan of action decided, Moody Nolan set aside 50% of its annual budget for giving to put toward the Legacy House. Moody reached out for donations from longstanding business partners, who donated time, funding, and building supplies to see the project through to completion. When all was said and done, the modern, fully-furnished 700-square-foot home included everything a family starting from scratch would need, from linens to cabinets fully stocked with food. 

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Thanks to a land donation from The Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, Moody Nolan decided to place the home in Columbus’ Linden neighborhood. Having previously designed a community recreation center in the area, Moody and his associates were already well aware of the challenges faced by this economically disadvantaged community, and knew that it could benefit from the positive exposure.

When it came to finding a family in need to receive the home, Moody looked to YMCA of Central Ohio and Southeast Inc. to help navigate a list of potential candidates. 

“[Curt] really wanted a family that was currently experiencing homelessness. This would be a new start, a new beginning for a family that was in about the most vulnerable state that you could possibly be in as a human—which is without a home,” says Sue Darby, the Senior Vice President of Housing for the downtown Columbus YMCA. 

While the family who was ultimately chosen has asked to remain anonymous, Darby describes them as a very young family experiencing homelessness for the first time after a series of unfortunate life events.    

“I think what compelled us the most through the interview process was their determination, always putting the children first in every decision,” 

Darby says of the family. “With the legacy house, you’re just really hopeful that the poverty cycle for at least this family has now been broken.”

While the Legacy Project has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of one family, the realities of homelessness continue to pose significant challenges to communities in Central Ohio and beyond.

Moody and his partners hope that the greatest impact of the Legacy Project will be found in its example, and encourage others with the means to do so to undertake similar projects.

“I admire Moody Nolan for what they did, and I encourage other companies and individuals to take this same challenge, and to build new or revamp some areas that could be used for individuals who are in this kind of crisis,” says Darby. “Right now at Van Buren [shelter] we have over 80 families every night that come through our doors who are experiencing this tragedy. Affordable housing is the number-one issue. It’s not rocket science—housing ends homelessness.”

Moody Nolan plans to build other homes in the communities it serves. For more inforation, visit moodynolan.com

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The Interview: Wil Haygood

Author / Journalist / Curator Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Author / Journalist / Curator

Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in which the Tigers won championships in basketball and baseball 55 days apart, eclipses them all.

“I would never like to be called an activist,” says Wil Haygood when asked if he might consider himself such. “That’s not my game. I’m here just to find a good story. It’s my calling to be objective. I could never just tell one side of the story.”

Yet, in reading his latest book, Tigerland, and immersing the reader in the strife East High faced in the wake of the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the “feel-good” triumph of two championships takes on a higher purpose. There’s so much more to the story. It’s the tale of a segregated city getting its first African-American principal in Jack Gibbs. Of the white basketball coach Bob Hart, choosing to settle in an East side neighborhood he was warned against. The players, and mothers of players, who persevered in the newly developed housing projects despite overwhelming odds. Haygood may not want the title activist, but Tigerland could easily serve as guide in how to counter civil unrest, especially now, fifty years removed.

That objective journalism is becoming more of a rarity is troubling. Haygood’s storytelling is a resistance, and in Tigerland it’s a redemption story brought “from the shadows” that is uniquely complex and distinctly of Columbus. He insists there are many more stories of Tigerland’s ilk which must be exposed. The uncovering of a zeitgeist forgotten is a theme consistent with Haygood’s recent curation of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. In I, Too, Sing America (also an award-winning art book), he chose to spotlight lesser-known writers and artists of the era that continue to play “an enduring role in moving us forward.” How that dais influenced the cultural rise of African-Americans in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood where the sub-plots in Tigerland play out, is palpable in Haygood’s words.

In talking with Haygood, he’s acutely aware of how Tigerland’s legacy and the continued re-awakening of the Harlem Renaissance add to the social discourse that accumulates to this day. Our interview here is abridged, if only because we spent a taut 45 minutes veering down rabbit holes created by the vivid representation Haygood paints of Columbus, Ohio in 1968. Fortunately, it’s a conversation that has and could last for generations.

In an interview you talked about Tigerland not being the story “you were born to write, but a story that the rest of the world needed to hear.” Why is this now such an important story?

Wil Haygood: When I traveled around the country, to about 25 different cities talking about this book, people constantly asked me if the release of Tigerland was intentional given how timely the story was. It just happened that it was the 50th anniversary of the famous Olympic protests by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Colin Kaepernick narrative was playing out, the President of the United States was attacking black athletes for their social activism—these were the things on the mind of so many people on this tour. Of course, I didn’t time it, but this story is just so topical, it’s so rich with drama, it just calls for very enlightening conversations with the people I met across the country.

I love it for the locality, and learning about a Columbus I never knew existed. So I’m curious to know if the heroes in this book, Bob Hart (East’s white football coach), Jack Gibbs (East’s first black principal), and the Tiger athletes, have always been heroes in your eyes, especially growing up? Did Columbus, en masse, know the history being made on the East side of town? 

WH: The city was so segregated that it was hard to give the East side its proper due. A figure like Jack Gibbs—he’s someone who you can almost make a movie about his life. It took so much perseverance and so much focus for the student body of East High to do what they did in that 1968-69 calendar year that I thank the literary gods for the foresight to return to my hometown and pull this story together. Frankly I kept waiting for this to be written by someone else, given the amount of high school sports stories that are on the shelf. I’m not trying to rate this story against any of the others, but I do think that it’s a book with a sports theme. It’s also a book that’s about far more than sports.

Was this your favorite book to write?

WH: That’s a tough question, but here’s how I’ll answer. As a little boy, I lived in the North side of the city. When I lived there East High was a mythical place and I had never laid eyes on that school. But I knew about it because it seemed to be this spiritual epicenter of the East side. It was where you had a lot of black teachers, an all-black student body. Your uncles, aunts, and cousins would always be talking about East High School. It constantly grew in my little boy mind. I lived within walking distance of the Ohio State Fairgrounds, so I would always beg my mother to let me go watch the team play. You had to be there. It was a lot wrapped up inside of me as I approached this book, because in a real way I was writing about my heroes. I’m sure that my history and emotions played a part in me wanting to do this book.
What memories do you have of Columbus during that time, that reminds you that no place was isolated from the racial and social unrest of the events of that era?

WH: In the summer of 1968, the very summer of after Martin Luther King’s assassination, my mother moved her five children to the Bolivar Arms housing project. Within weeks of moving there, there were riots on Mt. Vernon [Avenue]. I, as a 13 year old boy, saw National Guard tanks right through my screen door. It was a very frightening summer for me to wrapped up in that racial turmoil. I did not know that urban unrest on the North side of town. That street was integrated, our neighbors were white. Then I was thrust into this community on the East side that was feeling pain—the pain of a lack of good housing, a lack of jobs. The whole environment of urban America was set right outside of my front door.

How much do you think Columbus has progressed since the time of Tigerland in accepting inclusion and fostering growth in underprivileged neighborhoods like the East side?

WH: There has been a lot of maturity and growth in this city. I’m very proud of a lot of things that have happened. There is no big city in this country right now that doesn’t have social problems, but I think Columbus has done a much better job than some cities certainly in creating a peaceful dialogue over the years. I think that there have been stories that haven’t been championed as much as they should have. There is a gap in what the young people of Columbus know about the city’s past. Another fact from the book is that during that school year in 1969, East High sent more kids to college than they ever had before. Those are stories people need to know.

As a teacher of many students who come from broken homes and neighborhoods, I’d love to know what advice you give to young people?

WH: Since the release of the book I’ve spoken to Somali students in St. Paul, Minnesota, to white students in rural Maryland, black students in Dayton, Ohio. I tell students that on their darkest day, on that day when they feel like the world is not loving them enough, that they need only to take inspiration from these East High Tiger athletes. Eight of the twelve basketball players’ mothers worked as maids, many of them did not have fathers living in the home, two of them had fathers in jail, and none of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But what pushed them and helped them succeed was a championship attitude before they dribbled a basketball or swung a baseball bat. They knew they wanted to be successful. They can lean into this story and they can rise up. Sports is a very gentle way to open the door to talk about poverty, racism, and sexism. You want to hear about how the winners won and how the losers dealt with losing.

Wil Haygood will be the first featured speaker of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Carnegie Author series on Jan. 27th. Register for free at Eventbrite.com.

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Remembering Chris Bradley

What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven? I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven. When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven?

I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven.

When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. I was new to King Avenue United Methodist Church, and Chris was just a nice guy corralling his young son in the milling area, which was full of other people I didn’t know. He was the dad that everyone wanted, standing with a watchful and proud eye and who was always ready for a hug and kiss. Such a stunning smile, I thought. Almost like a trademark. He was the friend everyone wanted to be with, adding a buoyancy, an accessibility, a welcomeness to the conversation. Sharp ties. This guy’s got some sharp ties. The more I observed, the more I wondered. Somehow, he seemed like someone I knew, or should know. One day, I decided to engage Chris in the only awkward conversation I knew him to have.

“So what do you do?”

“The weather on Channel 10.”

The dots started to connect. My face became warm. I started wearing hats and sunglasses and avoiding Chris for a couple weeks, hoping he’d forget me. But that wasn’t possible with the gregarious Bradley-Krausses, and eventually I grew to know and adore this charming and very musical bunch: Chris (who was an adopted child) his husband Jason, and their two adopted children Spencer and Maria—four people connected not by blood, but by their love for each other. The Bradley-Krausses became activists simply by being a family and living out their love for each other and their community with endearing authenticity, creating bonds that have extended beyond the loss of a family member.

In their dying, some people give the rest of us life because they illuminate what life should be about. Chris Bradley’s death from an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia was one of those moments. We can sometimes strangely forget the worthiness of our own lives—the reality that life is indeed more than existence and schedules and tasks. Chris fought for his life because he knew life was worth living. And we should also fight every day for this rare and precious privilege to be alive: to understand all that we can, say all that we can, and be all that we can for however long we are called to do so. Life itself is a terminal illness, and once in a while we are granted a remission from that affliction in being allowed to witness a soul such as Chris love life so much that we cannot help but fall in love with it again.

Weather is defined as an “act of God” because it is completely out of our control. Death is also out of our control. Both tend to depress people. I imagine the great faith in God Chris maintained throughout his life and illness is why he could confront both these inevitabilities with awe, never letting either of them overwhelm him, make him become bitter, or lessen his spirit.

Weather is what makes our planet alive. Chris is now a part of the rain that will nourish the beloved gardens around his home. He is part of the sunshine that will smile on his husband and children. He’ll be in the iridescence of every rainbow we post on Instagram and part of the joy of every Columbus kid’s snow day. Each time we marvel at the mercurial, if not downright wacky amalgamation of temperature and precipitation that is Columbus weather, we will remember our Chris Bradley.

Welcome to the incredible green screen of heaven Chris. You’ve still got a job, we’re still watching, and I have my derecho plan. Thanks for that.

Donations in the memory of Chris Bradley can be made to The Columbus Foundation. Visit columbusfoundation.org/fund/bradley/3730.

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