What if adults activated in themselves and children the character strengths that research has shown to be critical to wellbeing.

Photo of Strong Cincinnati
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Hudson was a 5 year old in a classroom that integrated character strengths. His mother described him as a “very anxious and fearful child”. After a year in a classroom that helped children understand that they possessed 24 character strengths and that each of these strengths could be grown and deployed, Hudson was transformed. His teachers focused not on "what's wrong" but rather on "what's strong." He became confident and willing to try new things. He was ready to flourish.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Ohio

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Ohio

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Cincinnati, communities in Northern Kentucky

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We are addressing the problem of the deformation of human personality away from its positive capacities that lead to wellbeing. Character strengths, recently illuminated, are psychological capacities that science has shown to be important pathways to thriving. Social cultures have over-emphasized a “what’s wrong” perspective of fixing problems, and remediating deficits, at the expense of "what's strong."

The solution is to create more ubiquitous experiences for children that promote wellbeing through the pathways of the 24 character strengths. Strong Cincinnati is a constellation of individuals and organizations in Cincinnati focused on infusing character strengths into the community for the benefits of all. We are fortunate to have a constellation of strong organizations to focus this work specifically on the well-being of children. These include:

  • VIA Institute on Character – the world’s leading non-profit organization advancing the science and practice of character strengths – founded by Dr. Neal Mayerson in collaboration with Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, the “father of positive psychology”. It offers the scientifically validated VIA Survey and associated results. It’s Education Director – Dr. Ryan Niemiec is the leading world expert on character science and the blending of mindfulness and character strengths.
  • Mayerson Academy – a non-profit agency with 25 years of experience doing professional development for urban and suburban school districts. It has developed a best-in-class blended learning program for teachers, students, and parents that brings character science to life to create thriving learning communities. It has recently finished a year of offering Thriving Learning Communities in 42 urban middle schools with independent research results due by the end of the summer.
  • Children Inc. – A 37 year old agency employing more than 200 people providing high quality early childhood education to more than 2,000 children daily. Running Parent Cafes, teacher trainings, learning circles, etc. Also developing a local HD Digital radio station featuring children’s songs from Growing Sound that has produced over 200 researched-based songs on social and emotional development, particularly character strengths. It will also feature expert panels, parent café sessions and other parenting resources.
  • Beech Acres – A renowned 165 year old agency specializing in “Inspiring and equipping today’s parents, families, and communities to raise capable, caring, contributing children.”
  • The Mayerson Family Foundation – Cincinnati-based family foundation known for catalyzing innovation, including the VIA Institute on Character. Providing catalytic support for Strong Cincinnati.
  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center – Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children is a leading child advocacy center addressing child abuse and neglect and child well-being. Its Joining Forces for Children initiative seeks to build community awareness of ACEs and toxic stress and to identify strength-based solutions.         
  •   Northern Kentucky University – local university with 15,000 students that is initiating a multi-year effort to integrate character strengths university-wide and to support Strong Cincinnati.

Strong Cincinnati uses the thread of character science to weave a tapestry of professional development in multiple service sectors; and public awareness and will to identify and deploy character strengths in service of child wellbeing.


  • Training dozens of middle school teachers to employ a program of character strength development
  • Training and coaching early childhood educators in character strengths
  • Training Family Medicine residents to identify and use their own character strengths in their practice
  • Training faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students of a major university to know and use their core strengths in whatever disciplines they work


  • Parent cafes to encourage peer-to-peer learning to identify and use character strengths in parenting and to spot emerging character strengths in children
  • Public messaging about the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress; and building strength-bases protective factors
  • County administrators and business leaders learn about and use character strengths
  • HD Digital public radio station with programs of research-based children's songs on character strengths and programs of parenting tips on strengths


Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Professionals are introduced to the concept of character strengths and the underlying research. They are urged to take the free online VIA Survey (taken by millions around the world) to establish their strength profile and identify core strengths. They can then engage in learning experiences, curriculum and tools created by learning experts that develop educators’ and parents’ capacity to apply and integrate this knowledge into their daily lives. The purpose is to transform the way the way individuals understand themselves, one another, and the tremendous possibilities for their lives and their community.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

A rigorous and comprehensive independent evaluation of the Thriving Learning Communities program is well underway and results should be available September, 2016. VIA character strengths have been well evaluated in education (e.g., Eighth grade students participating in an intervention program involving five, 1-hour character strengths classroom activities had significant benefits to well-being compared to those in a comparison group, Oppenheimer et al., 2014; workplace (e.g. Character strengths use at work is connected with not only job satisfaction but also productivity and organizational citizenship behavior, Lavy & Littman-Ovadia, in press); and other key service sectors. We will create a broad community culture in which formal and informal supports are focused on the deployment of character strengths in the interest of child wellbeing.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The Mayerson Foundation has supported a number of start-up programs associated with Strong Cincinnati. And Strong Cincinnati affiliates have secured their own funding for character strength programs. Schools will adopt proven interventions. A number of the Strong Cincinnati components are developing social enterprises to generate commercial products that can be marketed nationally as a means of sustaining innovations.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

While character science has generated clusters of research and practice around the world, there has never been an intentional effort to engage an entire community, both formal and informal support systems, to create a common lens and language of character strengths as a way of understanding and promoting child wellbeing. We all use our core strengths every day with little conscious awareness. Strong Cincinnati will give parents, teachers and service providers the tools to make the invisible visible and the visible intentional to nurture the emerging character strengths of children.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Child wellbeing is a relatively new concept. Not too many generations ago childhood was seen as something you survived and at best endured. And even as a nascent concept, it was largely defined by physical health and safety and access to resources. Even recent attempts to expand the concept viewed it through the lens of adult potential. Now we need to enrich the concept to include developmentally appropriate social and emotional wellbeing and well-doing. Character science is a very promising tool to achieve that dream.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

Children grow strong in strong communities. SC is unique in its holistic approach. It it takes a critical mass of sustained personal experiences to promote well-being in individuals, and efforts that are sporadic for an individual do not reach a threshold necessary to create wellbeing. SC impacts wellbeing by weaving a common thread of character strength awareness and use through children and the adults who nurture them. We apply character science to many domains (health, education, early childhood, arts, families, churches) creating a culture that nurtures wellbeing for children and adults.

Community Leadership

We engage local leaders in organizations and neighborhoods to build the capacity to understand and use character science tools productively as opposed to prescribing set ways. We use a responsive design approach that respects the uniqueness of each partner and the unique clusters of strengths they bring to the endeavor. We work at the macro level engaging community leaders; and at the micro level co-designing customized plans for each partner.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

We impact one neighborhood at a time; creating a density of personal influences in each neighborhood. From teacher training in schools to teaching parents to be strengths-based, to “strong song” concerts, we build a critical mass of strength awareness and use. On a national and international level, the VIA Institute on Character, a key partner in SC is the world repository for character science, a pivotal resource in project dissemination.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Children thrive when they use the tools they possess to become best versions of themselves. These character strengths tools build resilience, and help a child to aspire towards personal goals, and to bring out the best in others. We help the adults in a child's life create a “milieu of well-being”. When adults know and use their own strengths, they can better know and grow children's strengths.

Leadership Story

I spent about 15 years of my professional life as a clinical psychologist and the past 25 years as a social entrepreneur and philanthropist. These experiences have provided me insights into individual, organizational, and community development. As Founder of the VIA Institute on Character I know of research and applications that demonstrate the power of character science for bringing about large scale positive change. And, the emergence of social media, along with successful demonstrations of scaled social change, now enable scalable social change beyond what was possible 10 years ago.

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

13 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 69.2%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 15.4%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 7.7%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 7.7%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 75%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 16.7%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 8.3%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 46.2%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 23.1%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 23.1%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 7.7%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 61.5%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 30.8%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 7.7%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 28.6%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 28.6%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 42.9%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Mary Kay Connolly

The study and applications for Character Science in human development are vital to creating an environement in which a child's strengths are nurtured and allowed to emerge and build upon each other. Cincinnati Strong is using a responsive and positive approach to child being and cultural evolution.

Photo of Alex Johnson

Hello, I want to say that it's really great initiative that children take part in their well being. More in such a way the community spirit will also grow up. I read a lot of research based on it at this source.

Photo of Merlijn Van De Langenberg

Thanks i fixed it

Photo of zindara

thank you so much this is helpful for me and other people. i will sharing with for more friend.

Photo of Andre Wicks

Your idea is so well developed, kudos.  I know first hand the story behind quality development...HARD, NEVER ENDING WORK!  I've solicited very, very few requests for review of my project; but I'd be delighted to have you read the idea of THEZONE Project.  I'd love to have the opportunity to learn from you.  Best wishes,

Andre Wicks 

Photo of Christina Singleton Jenkins

What a great project.  Bringing the community together to promote children's strengths can only lead to a better more positive child and future!

Photo of Lynn Ochs

What an amazing opportunity to provide a systemic solution that will impact children and families through multiple avenues.  With a grounding in work that has already been proven successful, this project is sure to have impact on children's lives.

Photo of Kelly Aluise

The impact that this project can have on children, as well as the parents and teachers, is astounding! Listening to the children in the video quickly and easily describe their top strengths is so powerful. This project will take the high level science behind character strengths and deliver real-world applications that will help children learn, understand and appreciate their best qualities. This will set them up for success in so many ways!

Photo of Jeff Seibert

This project has the potential to serve as a signpost of a much needed re-balancing of scientific, social service and philanthropic response to society's current status quo, i.e. the headlines.  The needed re-balancing is from a problem-oriented, deficit model and toward an opportunity-driven, character strengths model that recognizes the injustice that occurs when we turn our backs on the best of what lies within each and every one of us.  By providing additional training to teachers at the critical stage of development for students identified in the proposal, we will literally "flip the script" for so many of us who have been "messaged" to focus on perceived inadequacies to the exclusion of the character strengths that truly make us great. 

Photo of Jillian Darwish

So excited about the potential for this work.  It has the key ingredients to deliver deep and lasting impact, including a strong research base, multiple well studied pilots and and engaged group of designers, researchers, practitioners and funders who have a shared vision for success!

Photo of Charlotte Stites

This looks like a wonderful project! I love the collaboration between many who care about children's well-being! I am close by in Louisville, KY. We are working to open a Family Wellness Center: combining medical care for children with healthy lifestyle support for the family in a community-based setting. Please look for us in the projects. I'd love to connect with you about your work and learn more! Thanks, Charlotte

Photo of Sonia Milrod

Wonderful collaboration among great community partners. 

Photo of Mary Henkel

The established organizations collaborating on this proposal have it just right.  Almost everyone wants to help kids develop and succeed, but a lot of well-meant energy is misdirected.  Teaching the teachers (which includes parents) about the central, foundational importance of building character is right on target.  This proposal has the potential to have a multiplier effect that touches many, many children.

Photo of Gary Strassel

As a board member of one of the organizations collaborating on the Strong Cincinnati submission, I am proud of the impact that the application of Character Strength building is having in our community and nationally.  We are making a difference in child wellbeing!

Photo of Meriden Peters

The organizations involved in this submission are taking impressive strides both locally and nationally to change child wellbeing, and there is no doubt this group would be an asset to the process.