Woman of the Year 2021


Once or twice a week, Nirvani Head meets a refugee bus on its way to a better place.

They are legal asylum seekers who have been authorized by the US government to travel to places such as Buffalo, New York or Boston to stay with their sponsors.

Many have experienced arduous journeys through jungles and deserts. Some have been traveling for months, others even for years.

They’re hungry, they’re exhausted, and sometimes they just need someone who can understand their needs – and their language.

In many ways, Head can relate to them. She grew up in Jamaica and moved to New York for college. She knows that her path to the American dream has been much easier than that of the refugees.

And that’s part of the reason she wants to help those who are less fortunate than she is. To make things a little easier. A little nicer too.

“This is something Nirvani believes in: providing direct service to vulnerable people in need just because it’s the right thing to do,” wrote Jane Portman when she named her friend for the recognition.

Head’s philosophy is simple: if you care about your community and want to make it better, you have to stand up for it.

“I’m not a shy person,” she said. “I know you have to introduce yourself and say, ‘I’m here. How can I help?’ “

After growing up in Mandeville and Kingston, Jamaica, Head was admitted to Barnard College in New York, where she studied economics and English literature and graduated in 1985. She wanted to return to Jamaica once she graduated. ‘she would have finished, but life had other plans. .

She was smart. Very clever. She landed a job at the Chemical Bank, where she worked on finance for acquisitions, which were quite popular in the 1980s.

Eventually, she met Jeb Head, a native of Cincinnatian. They married in 1988 and, after moving to Chicago and another to New York, they moved to Cincinnati in 1991. They raised three children there, all adults. They all attended Seven Hills School, where Head began what would become a life of volunteer work – although that work eventually became much more important and much needed.

“With the little children, I was just helping in little ways,” she said before paraphrasing one of her husband’s favorite sayings from Mother Teresa: “Never worry about numbers. times and always start with the person closest to you.

Head has volunteered her time with ProKids, the nonprofit organization where her husband sits on the board and helps organize court-appointed special advocates for abused and neglected children.

She also works with the Cincinnati Public Schools Tutoring Program, Indian Hill Church, ArtWorks, Christ Hospital, the Saturday HOOPS program in Over-the-Rhine and Women’s Health Center at UC Health West Chester and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, where she served on a board of directors to increase the diversity of the gambling den and has raised over $ 700,000 to support the shows.

Although Head’s volunteer work touches on a variety of causes, she said one of her main concerns these days is food insecurity – something she witnessed growing up in Jamaica, where her community often has. faced food shortages which led to long queues and, for many, no food at all.

That’s why her work at the Inter Parish Ministry pantry in Newtown, which helps feed approximately 72,000 Ohio families each year, is something she is particularly passionate about.

Head recently joined the Pantry’s Board of Trustees, helping residents of Greater Cincinnati source food, clothing or household items. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she worked with restaurants to help personally source food items that were in short supply, including milk and eggs, often calling on friends and family for help. assist with pickups and deliveries.

“I’ve never seen her seek even a moment of gratitude for everything she does,” Portman said. “Nirvani is tireless in making the Greater Cincinnati community more artistic and vibrant and a safer, kinder and healthier place.”

About Nirvani Head

Place of birth: Kingston, Jamaica

Current residence: Mariemont

Family: Husband, Jeb Head; children Louise, Helen and Henry Head

Education: Baccalaureate from Barnard College, Columbia University

Occupation: Housewife, community volunteer, “my children’s managerial assistant”

What she says

What inspires you to give back? “The blessings of my family and friends, combined with Christianity’s principle of loving and treating each other as you would like them to love and treat you. That’s what inspires me to give back. Too many people in this world must be concerned about food security, housing and personal safety.It is the duty of anyone with the resources and security to give back, and to be kind and forgiving to those who lack the resources. advantages they have. We must always remember that fortune is awarded at random, so treat everyone with dignity and compassion and lend a helping hand. “

What community need would you like to be addressed? “We need to think about our children and the world we hope they will live in, with opportunities for education, food security, a healthy planet and equity (which includes race, gender, gender and life). When we think of a vibrant community, it’s when we bring less fortunate members into the economy and help them succeed that we create growth and prosperity for all. ”

Who influenced you the most or inspired you to care about others? “My husband Jeb has been my biggest inspiration. No matter how busy life is, he always finds time to work for the vulnerable in our community. He has worked tirelessly to help foster children. , improve education and health care in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“My mother, a person who worked hard and spent what little she had to educate her children, is perhaps the most generous person I know. Despite so little, she gave to everyone who came across his way and did it with a loving heart.

“My daughter Helen has been a court-appointed special advocate for a foster child and has volunteered over 700 hours in a year for non-profit organizations. My son Henry, who listens and notices needs of community and treats everyone with deference, kindness and dignity. And my daughter Louise, whose loving heart and warm manners are a comfort and a balm for all in her presence. She shows me how much a smile and a hug can do.

“My close friends who work hard to make our community and our world a better place. Their wisdom, caring and compassion through their words, stories and lives inspire me with every walk and conversation.”

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