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From The Cover: Columbus-based Point app connects people to charity opportunities

Mitch Hooper

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“I want to help, I just don’t know where to start.” These words are spoken all too often by folks in the community looking to get involved. It’s not the lack of time or energy; it’s simply the absence of awareness. And regardless of how the lapse happened, both sides lose—those with ambition are left searching, and nonprofits and charities are left in a pinch.

It’s kind of funny how this conundrum occurred in this age of connectedness. With Facebook alone, getting the word out about a charity or nonprofit in need of volunteers seems like it would be easier than ever. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. While most national nonprofits can supply resources for social media and recruitment, those resources aren’t widely available on a smaller scale. And thanks to social media algorithms, those who are getting the word out are being buried underneath those with the budget to promote posts. In other words, nonprofits and charities could use some help beyond just volunteers at events, and Madison Mikhail Bush’s app, Point, aims to be that assistance.

Started in 2014, Point is an app that connects volunteers with nonprofits and charities in Columbus. But it’s also so much more than that. It features an interactive menu where users flag the issues they care most about, ranging from poverty to the environment. Once users have identified the causes they are invested in, the app shows charities operating in those categories and the times, dates, and what they are in need of.

“No one is ever shocked when they pull up [Point]; no one ever says, ‘This is brilliant!’ The biggest thing they say is, ‘How has this never existed before?’ It just makes sense,” Mikhail Bush said.

Not only is this a simple and effective tool for volunteers to find the organizations, it’s great for the organizations on the back-end. Instead of email chains, text messages, and phone calls, Point provides push notifications to remind volunteers of start times as well as confirming their participation in the event. While Point can’t solve every headache, it can certainly make a handful of them easier.

“Point is community based; it’s a community tool,” Mikhail Bush said. “We want to create a cultural structure within communities. It’s not something we’re going to one organization and saying, ‘Just use this!’ and then we’re done. We need to capture communities to create a difference that we’re looking for. If you have a tool and it’s the central point and it’s the best thing ever, it doesn’t mean anything unless everyone knows about it.”

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The idea is similar to how Uber and other start-ups have gone about business. Instead of setting up a brick-and-mortar location in their areas of operation, these companies have utilized technology like apps to connect already existing people in the community. There has always been a need for improvement in these areas, but between a lack of awareness and a lack of understanding of the issue, it can become difficult to address and assess. The stark difference between Point and those start-ups is the approach. Businesses like Uber and Bird have taken the shock value approach: just show up, let everyone deal with it, and figure out the kinks in the system later. Point, however, wants to make sure the program and systems they build are sustainable, effective, and most importantly, created by and for the community at large.

The app all started as most success stories do: lying in bed, ordering some takeout. Mikhail Bush said she realized it was easier for her to do things such as order ramen or book a hotel from her cell phone than it was to get connected with organizations doing good in her neighborhood. As someone who helped pave her way into college at Capital University via volunteering, she said she quickly saw a problem in the market.

“So I thought, ‘We need to make a costless tool that is that connection so that whenever I want to do something good, I can go to one place and do a lot of good things,’ “ Mikhail Bush recalled. “When we first started we thought it was going to be really hard to get nonprofits on board so we said we’d try to get 100 nonprofits by the end of the year. Turns out we hit over 100 in about a month. People want a connective tool, and we just never had it before.”

And as most tech start-ups go, there were plenty of changes—or pivoting as the professionals call it. Mikhail Bush’s first app attempt in 2010 wasn’t exactly fruitful; she created a giving website with her five friends which was able to raise roughly $20,000 for charities, but it ultimately failed. With programs like GoFundMe and Facebook’s donate feature, perhaps a giving website was just a little ahead of its time. Nonetheless, the lessons learned in that process have helped her get to where Point is now with more than 5,000 users.

“Normally when you tell people, ‘I graduated in 2014 and started fundraising in 2016,’ people go, ‘What have you been doing?’ But it has been hard to build,” Mikhail Bush explained. “When I first started, I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have any connections; it wasn’t my world…. It’s definitely been a long time coming since we just launched last year and I feel like this year now that we have roots and people using it and events are starting to get filled—that’s when I think people are like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s that girl who was screaming off rooftops four years ago.’”

While Mikhail Bush said they are committed to building and scaling Point in the Midwest, the ultimate goal is to spread this app across the country. Whether it be resources that the coast can offer, or newer solutions to problems, Columbus is only the beginning for Point.

“We’re like, ‘This is what people want in their lives and we are just giving you the tools to do it.’ Our generation understands that. We’re not looking for a pat on the back; we just want to go do it. It’s a part of our lives, it’s a part of our lifestyles.”

Point app is available on the Apple Store and Google Play. For more information or to get involved, visit pointapp.org.

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Now Streaming: Columbus entertainers find virtual ways to perform

Mitch Hooper

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As Columbus entertainers prepared for warm weather and folks returning to the bars, COVID-19 came in and put it to a halt. The bars being closed indefinitely not only impacts owners, servers, and bartenders, it impacts the performers who rely on these places as a platform to showcase their talents. When folks can't come support local entertainers, what can they do?

What if they bring their talents to them? That's what many Columbus entertainers are doing during social distancing. While "work from home" wasn't much an option before this, comedians such as Amber Falter and Ian Miller are taking to Instagram Live and other streaming platforms to perform.

The first virtual show the two did was with Alexis Nelson of BarkBox, and admittedly, they were a little nervous about not having an audience for feedback.

"I was actually scared to start," Miller said. "Jokes don’t have what I call 'standalone timing.' You need a give and take with the audience, you build it into your jokes. The thought of telling jokes without immediate feedback was terrifying."

The two said the show went great and it didn't take long for both of them to enjoy streaming their comedy. Falter quickly did another virtual show, A Hamantha and Brisket Comedy Hours, with Samantha Sizemore and Bridjet Mendy themed around dating stories via Zoom. Miller, on the other hand, started a weekly story telling show on his Twitch channel Glass Cannon Comedy.

Falter, co-host of ACLU Stand-Up For Choice, says there's even been some silver linings to streaming her comedy.

"I was joking with one of my friends that is always like, 'Hey, I'm going to make it to the show! Can't wait to see you at the show!' and then they never make it out," Falter laughed. "Now you have no excuse, honey!"

As for the future ACLU Stand-Up For Choice comedy events, Falter said she and others involved, such as co-host Pat Deering, are figuring out how to do so through streaming.

Miller said he has seen many of his shows canceled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. He had six shows slated across 13 days, all of which have been canceled. Additionally, his monthly story telling show as well as Glass Cannon's quarterly-themed shows are suspended.

"It’s been rough. There may not have been of ton of Columbus comics “paying the bills” with comedy, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t felt the impact," Miller said "Times are tough, and it’s really hard to have a side hustle of any kind when you know leaving your house could put yourself and other in danger."

And that's why he believes it's so important to support entertainers in anyway you can. Whether that be through a share or follow on social media, every little bit helps grow their platform.

Falter echoed this sentiment, too.

"I want this to become a source of income and I've been extremely, extremely grateful for the people that have even sent like $2," she said. "Or not even that, if they just followed me on Instagram or told me I had a good set. [By just] saying, "Hey that was really fun, thanks so much," that alone is making me super emotional."

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We Will Do It: Dr. Amy Acton is determined, not afraid

J.R. McMillan

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The announcement was shocking, even to the pool of hardened reporters gathered in anxious anticipation. On March 12, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered the closure of all schools in the state for at least three weeks to hopefully halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Illustration by Sarah Moore

With only a handful of confirmed cases, based largely on statistical models and patterns emerging from cities and countries around the world, Ohio was among the first to signal, almost prophetically, that life as we all knew it was about to change dramatically, perhaps forever.

Then skepticism suddenly turned to stunned silence as Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton stepped forward to reveal the possibility that more than 100,000 Ohioans were already carrying the virus.

But this dire presumption wasn’t delivered with cold calculation by a career bureaucrat who dithers or withers in front of the cameras. Instead, Acton did something remarkable, in real time. In her signature white coat and without a whiff of wonk, she calmly and confidently broke down the math behind the decision and the prediction, at one point comparing the delay in reliable data to the light of a distant star whose brightness we can only see long after the moment has passed.

And with that, Ohioans discovered the light of a different kind of star, and her moment is now.

Even before Acton was a household name, she was already an unlikely hero. A physician since 1994, she honed both her approachable bedside manner and public policy persona at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and as an assistant professor at Ohio State. During her brief tenure at The Columbus Foundation, Acton was instrumental in raising nearly $2.5 million in just six weeks to combat youth homelessness, blowing past every expectation. It was a philanthropic success that was also hauntingly personal.

It isn’t without irony that as Ohio businesses close their doors, many for the last time, that Youngstown’s venerated daily newspaper, The Vindicator, published its final edition this past August with an intimate portrait of Acton. Then, she was still the local homecoming queen who had beaten the odds, gone on to college, ultimately becoming the top public health official in the state.

The “grit and grace” we see today, so noted by Doug Kridler, President and CEO of The Columbus Foundation, was undeniably born of a chaotic, often tragic, childhood. Acton’s parents separated when she was just three, and in the decade that followed before reuniting with her father, she lived in a constant state of uncertainty. This included living in more than a dozen places in as many years across the country, some less desirable than others; she lived once in an unfinished basement, and even spent a winter in a tent. Only after abuse at the hands of one of her mother’s string of boyfriends did life for Acton finally start to turn around. Her father was granted full custody, and she’s never seen her mother again.

But even this backstory only surfaced in retrospect. The newspaper’s website also shut down a day after the final edition hit the streets. No likes, shares, or tweets. Only later were the archives posted online, with that closing interview receiving overdue attention in recent weeks, much like Acton herself.

“Lots of powerful souls walk among us,” noted Todd Franko, former Editor in Chief of The Vindicator. “Last August, she walked in and walked out of our office, and no one knew her. They know her now.”

Yet in darkness, there is still light, with dutiful denizens across the state tuning in daily for afternoon “Wine with DeWine.” But even that fierce following may pale in comparison to the more than 50,000 members of Acton’s entirely unofficial Facebook fan club. The conversation waxes and wanes from harrowing accounts to rays of revelry, from the testimonials of healthcare providers on the frontline of the crisis to heated debate about which actress should portray Acton in some future Hollywood feature. (For those keeping score, Allison Janney, Dana Delany, and Anne Hathaway are currently the top casting contenders.) Local apparel company Homage also honored her with a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Not all heroes wear capes.”

Even Acton herself is not above public levity amid unprecedented circumstances. A photo from a recent morning meeting in the lower level of the statehouse went viral, with staffers seemingly orbiting a laughing Acton from a safe social distance. It was a rare and candid glimpse of the loyalty she fosters among the small army she inspires, no longer
in anonymity.

Her candor coupled with compassion is at the heart of her appeal. The mother of six, one of whom offers her his own daily briefings on her online following from his home in Menlo Park, has been called “Ohio’s Mom” for the tough love that belies every escalating restriction that unfolds aimed at minimizing the worst case scenarios.

It’s the same honesty tempered with hope that won DeWine over barely a year ago. Acton neither sought nor expected to become the governor’s final, perhaps his most crucial, cabinet selection. In discussing the role with him, she offered an unvarnished, apolitical assessment of Ohio’s challenges and opportunities to improve public health, and prepare for unforeseen threats to it.

Thankfully, he hired her anyway.

The hasty cancellation of in-person voting the day before the state’s primary and extension of absentee voting by mail was deemed politically untenable, until it wasn’t. After what was expected to be an uncontested delay erupted into a last-minute legal reversal, Acton’s authority to protect citizens in the midst of a public health emergency found precedent in an obscure provision of the Ohio Revised Code from 1886 in response to an outbreak of tuberculosis. 

Now, Ohio leads the country in its response, with fellow states following suit, though not without criticism. The impact on businesses directly and indirectly is as controversial as it is unavoidable. DeWine is charged with an impossible task, desperately trying to land a plane safely, despite the fact that it’s coming apart in the air. There will be casualties, actual and economic. But reducing the former requires increasing the latter. Acton is not only his copilot, but is additionally charged with assuring passengers that they are doing everything they can just
to survive.

This is why we need Acton right now—she’s a guiding star in what often seems like an endless night. When human nature and history tend to suggest turning on each other, she’s quick to remind us that we’re all in this together. She’s the hero we didn’t know was in our midst, the same powerful soul who walked up to a podium and into our lives barely a month ago practically unknown, but who is now a part of our daily routine. When all of this is behind us, we’re going to look back on how we have changed. And when that day comes, we will surely have Acton to thank for telling us exactly what we needed to hear, when we needed to hear it, just to get through another day. We should all be forever grateful for her words.

“I don’t want you to be afraid. I’m not afraid. I am determined,” Acton famously confessed. “All of us are going to have to sacrifice. And I know someday, we’ll be looking back and wondering what was it we did in
this moment.”

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Columbus Does Good: Westerville designer creates t-shirt to honor Ruby Owens, Dr. Amy Acton

Mitch Hooper

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As Dr. Amy Acton leads Ohio's charge against COVID-19, local makers like Megan Owdom-Weitz are doing their best to say thanks.

Using the words written by Ruby Owens, a nine-year-old who made headlines for the optimistic and thankful letter she sent to Dr. Acton, Owdom-Weitz designed a t-shirt. With approval from Emily, Ruby's mother, Owdom-Weitz added the letter in addition to a sketch illustration of Dr. Acton.

"I'm so happy to have you and have hope," both the shirt and Owen's letter reads.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-XZa4Uo8KK/

While the sales of this shirt are currently on pre-order, a portion of the money received will benefit the Ohio Chapter of the Red Cross. As a local- and family-owned business in Westerville who has been hit hard financially due to the COVID-19 outbreak, these t-shirt sales will also help Megan Lee Designs during these difficult times. The t-shirts will ultimately be completed once the two are able to return to work.

You can find Megan Lee Designs on Instagram or at her website.

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