$25K grant from Starbucks split between two Middletown groups

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$25K grant from Starbucks split between two Middletown groups

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Ami Vitori, center, presents a $12,500 check to Phillip Harrison, left, board present of Downtown Middletown Inc., and Jeff Payne, DMI executive director. She won a $25,000 grant from Starbucks and split the grant between DMI and Community Building Institute. RICK McCRABB/STAFF

Ami Vitori didn’t look far when she decided where to donate the $25,000 Upstander grant she received from the Starbucks Foundation.

The Middletown woman split the grant equally between the Downtown Middletown Inc., and the Community Building Institute, where she’s a board member.

Vitori presented large checks to the organization leaders recently during a ceremony at the Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center. Before the presentation, a five-minute film featuring Vitori, entitled “Saving Middletown,” was shown.

The film features the story of Vitori, founder of Torchlight Pass, and covers how she gave up a successful big-city career and tapped her retirement fund to rebuild her struggling Rust Belt hometown, according to Starbucks. The film also includes a number of Middletonians such as J.D. Vance, Ken Cohen, Wilbur Cohen, Heather Gibson and Richard Isroff.

When Vitori was approached by Starbucks, she wanted to spotlight her hometown, not herself, she said. She called her success story “one piece” of downtown’s revitalization.

“It’s about Middletown and these great organizations,” Vitori told those at the check presentation.

Jeff Payne, DMI executive director, said the grant money will be used to promote downtown and its diverse activities and to assist entrepreneurs, like Vitori, who are reusing vacant buildings. The goal, Payne said, is to make it easier for potential business owners to “see the opportunities that are available” downtown.

Phillip Harrison, president of the DMI board, hopes to continue to “bring excitement downtown” and create economic revitalization. He was “very grateful” to Vitori, he said.

Karin Maney, executive director of CBI, said the grant will start an innovative program at Amanda Elementary and continue a lifeskills program at Midd State at Cincinnati State Middletown.

For years, Maney has wanted to create a STEM program at Amanda, and through Vitori’s donation and matching money from the Middletown City Schools District, that’s possible, she said.

Students in the STEM program can be innovators problem solvers while learning to collaborate, said Middletown Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr., who added an A for the arts to make it the “STEAM” program.

When Styles was hired this year as superintendent, he was introduced to Vitori. He was “inspired from the start with her spirit” for the city, he said.

Funding for the program at Midd State was ending, but it will continue thanks to the grant, Maney said. In the program, students learn how to write resumes, the keys to successful interviews and how to set and reach goals, she said.

“Achieve greatness in life,” Maney said.

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