Great Living Cincinnatians
Awarded in 2017
Charlene Ventura says she initially took what was considered “the more traditional female journey of the time. Went to college, got married and had babies.”
Then, she was exposed to Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique. “The position I was in at the time and a new realization of the limitations on women catapulted me into becoming politically active and one of the founders and leaders of the women’s movement in Cincinnati,” said Ventura. “This role and awareness eventually led to my employment, in 1973, at the YWCA, which was an organization that mirrored my values - empowerment of women and racial justice. In other words my avocation became my vocation.”
In 1976, Ms. Ventura initiated the first community-wide forum on domestic abuse, which led to the funding and establishment of the YWCA Alice Paul House, the first shelter for survivors of domestic violence in the Greater Cincinnati area and one of the first seven in the nation. In 1980, she founded AMEND, a unique program to counsel male abusers, and instituted transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence and their children.
She directed a fund-raising effort to save Cincinnati’s historic YWCA building, converting part of it into housing for the elderly and disabled. In 1998, Ms. Ventura provided staff leadership for a campaign to purchase the new domestic violence shelter and renovate the historic downtown YWCA headquarters. This new shelter, designed to respect the dignity of all women and children, replaced the YWCA Alice Paul House and tripled its capacity. As a result of this initiative, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the dedication of this new state-of-the-art shelter. Ms. Ventura also established the annual YWCA Salute to Career Women of Achievement in 1980 and the Racial Justice Breakfast in 2000.
Although she was mentored by dozens of women, her biggest influence was her firefighter father. “Without being aware of it, his example taught me to have a strong work ethic, be independent, use common sense, have a good sense of humor and be true to myself.”
Also a mentor, Ms. Ventura advises leaders to, “Manage by walking around and by example. Don’t ask anyone to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself – this has to be genuine. Let your people know how much you appreciate who they are and what they do. Create an environment of excellence and celebration.”
In 2004, Ms. Ventura was celebrated with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from the College of Mount St. Joseph. Other honors include being named one of Ohio's Ten Outstanding Young Women by Redbook Magazine, being named among Cincy Magazine's 100 Most Powerful Leaders, being inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, receiving the Human Relations Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and receiving the Women of Distinction Award from the Great Rivers Girl Scout Council and the national recognition from Women’s E-News as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century as well as the We Celebrate Woman of the Year Award from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
She is currently a member of the University of Cincinnati Safety & Reform Advisory Committee and an Organizing Member of the Beyond Civility Speaking of Race Planning Group.
Ms. Ventura enjoys reading great novels, writing poetry and swimming. “It is great exercise,” said Ventura, “and an excellent form of meditation.” She has two daughters, and a grandson. Her partner of over five years is the Honorable Jack Sherman.