Ming Toy Cardwell ’08 credits Cincinnati Branch for genesis of business plan
Ming Toy Cardwell shared the story of when she and her husband entered a Cincinnati restaurant accompanying 15 boys and young men eager to celebrate a birthday. An employee asked, “Who are you, a basketball team?”
Cardwell simply responded, “We’re family.” Those two words resonated with the young males and go a long way in explaining the human concept of caring and compassion behind her work and passion for improving young lives. She is the CEO and co-founder of Cincinnati’s Changing Lives Youth Services, which maintains two group homes for young males ages 12 through 19.
After they enjoyed dinner, one of the boys came up to her and, with heartfelt emotion, told her, “You said, ‘We’re all family.’ That meant so much to me.”
His response means a lot to Cardwell whose mission is to, in her words, “take kids that are in danger of slipping through the cracks” and help them to one day become productive citizens in the community and lead successful lives.
“These kids want to feel normal and not be labeled,” Cardwell said. “It’s tough enough to be in the system and live in a group home. These kids come with a lot of baggage. They’ve had some awful things happen to them — abuse, neglect, abandonment — and they’ve made some poor choices in their lives. We have a lot of layers to work through, but we’re working to fit those puzzle pieces back together.”
Like many of her Cincinnati Branch contemporaries, Cardwell married and had children (two sons) soon after graduating high school. Possessing an interest in social work, she later attended Northern Kentucky University and Xavier, but life’s responsibilities got in the way and she left school before attaining her bachelor’s degree.
Appreciating the importance of education, Cardwell enrolled in the Cincinnati Branch’s accelerated organizational leadership program in 2005 after WC accepted her previous college credits and mapped out her path to graduation over the subsequent 18 months.
While in school at WC, tragedy visited Cardwell’s family when her foster son was murdered.
“We had this young man move into our home and he was shot and killed — it’s still hard to tell this story,” she said. “After that happened, I knew I wanted to do something that would help prevent a tragedy like this.”
Her husband, Leroy, CLYS’s co-founder that is now in law enforcement, had experience working at a group home, so he had insight into the positives and negatives the group home model has upon disadvantaged youth.
“I wanted to know how they went from a group home to trouble or prison,” she said. “We knew that, kids in group homes, was not like having family support, so I took that into consideration and started my own program.”
That’s where Wilmington College came into the picture. In addition to the support she received from those at WC upon her foster son’s death, she wanted her senior, capstone group project to address the interest she had in establishing an agency to deal with the problem.
“The other students were excited to work on it too,” she said. “It started as just an idea, but I use that capstone project to this day as my business plan. I’m grateful for Wilmington’s help in shaping what I’m doing today. I thoroughly enjoyed my professors and taking classes at Wilmington College.”
Changing Lives Youth Services has been up and running for five years. Ten teenagers reside at the main location with five more at a second home.