By Joy W. Kraft

Jobs were the No. 1 goal when the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired opened 100 years ago in 1911. And though its services list for the 11-county area has grown to include counseling, comprehensive rehabilitation and vision aids, jobs are still at the top of the list. Even for its volunteers.

Volunteer broadcasting for CABVI turned into the dream job that Ron Ott, now 63, of Evendale always sought. The Ohio University radio/TV major, saw himself behind a microphone broadcasting sports before being sidetracked by "life" and a stint in Viet Nam, ending up in sales at Cincinnati Bell Telephone from which he retired in 2002. At a 1978 meeting, a Bell co-worker was troubled by a request to put together a broadcast for the blind.

"I said I'd help because of my major, and we set up a primitive studio "¢ using reclaimed equipment from radio stations that were upgrading. Our control board was something others were throwing away," he says, and the makeshift booths were padded with carpet squares for stopgap soundproofing.

But it worked, and what is now known as Radio Reading Services continues today, but with better equipment. Clients are given a special radio receiver, and shows are broadcast on a sub-carrier of WGUC by volunteers reading The Enquirer, the New York Times, USA Today, the Cincinnati Herald, other publications, interviews and special interest shows.

Ott does his own sports show using material from Sports Illustrated, Sporting News and the Internet.

He also started a one-of-a-kind reading line in 1995, Personalized Talking Print, accessible by touch-tone phone, thanks to his Cincinnati Bell connections. Callers search available programs or put in specific requests and the information is placed in their voice mail via a system built from castoff components and repair parts for business voice messaging systems.

"Of course you need volunteers to read the information and you have to set it up so the visually-impaired can dial into the system," he says, "but it gives them control of the information they want, when they want it. For example, if someone wants the directions read to them from a Betty Crocker brownie mix, or children's dosage of Tylenol or TV Guide listings, someone will get it and call the person back, usually within 24 hours."

"There's no other place in the world people can get this."

Meanwhile, Ott is fine-tuning the system to keep up with technology. "A voice-recognition system would allow access for those who are visually-impaired and can't use a touch-tone because of some other problem. Voice recognition is a whole other universe."

By Joy W. Kraft

When personal trainer Cris Smith left a big-box fitness chain to start his own business he started in a bedroom with his mattress pushed up against the wall, some free weights and four clients. It was 120 square feet "” max.

Today, FitNext, at 803 Sycamore St., is more than 10 times larger, and he counts dozens of downtown office workers, executives and the pastor of St. Xavier Church as clients.

And as word spreads through P&G, he's making his way through their divisions.

Everything is individually focused. "I wanted to provide the personal training you'd pay $80-$100 an hour for if you were in L.A. or the East Coast. To keep the cost down, we do very small group training."

His $25 hour sessions include one trainer and up to four clients, each working on their own regimen using free weights and tools that include everything from suspension bands to trampolines. No massive weight machines here. No crowds. No waiting.

"He offers a creative approach to personal training," says the Rev. Eric Knapp, pastor of St. Xavier Church. There can be four other people in the room doing different workouts, but each one is created by Smith specifically for them, he explains.

Clients can schedule their workouts online, and FitNext also offers regular group classes.

Information at www.cincyfitnext.com, (513) 721-0055.

 By Joy W. Kraft

When 6-year-old Paige Alessandro died in May 2010, she may not have lived a long life, but she did make an impact.

It's obvious in the outpouring of love and generosity coming from all corners of Greater Cincinnati for the inaugural "Princess 5K Walk/Run and Carnival." The event is being organized in her honor to raise money for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, where she was so fond of her therapists.

What started as a seed of an idea from Paige's mother, Heather, and teachers at Wyandot Elementary in Liberty Township expanded into a full-blown committee of family and friends that has grown to more than 200 people volunteering or donating items. Dozens of the area's biggest companies are helping out.

"When Paige died, it was unexpected, and a lot people said she had touched their lives, so it seemed a good way to continue to touch people," Heather says of her daughter, who died of acute liver failure after battling a spinal vascular disease her entire life.

The support has been overwhelming.

It includes churches and government, schools and businesses.

Lakota Hills Baptist has been instrumental and Liberty Township approved the plan. The Lakota School system, which had a half-dozen students die in 2010, was looking to come together and do something positive after a hard year. Dozens of the who's who of area companies have jumped in. Chemed Corporation and BabySwede each donated $1,000 and Yelton Fine Jewelers will donate a percent of sales on Paige's birthday to the cause. Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, MillerCoors and Kings Island are among companies donating tickets and items for the carnival/silent auction.

"We're obviously very honored," Heather says on behalf of her husband, Steve, and other two young daughters. "It has everything to do with Paige. Generally, if someone finds their way to the (event) website it seems like I always get a "¢yes.' "

The event is 9 a.m. "” 2 p.m. May 21 at Wyandot. The carnival will feature inflatables, raffles, princess face painting, games, animals through Cool Critters Outreach and carnival-themed food and drink. Participants are encouraged to dress in princess attire, just as Paige enjoyed doing.

"She was very girly," says Heather.

Heather expects 800-1,000 people and hopes to raise $10,000 for Children's Physical/Occupational Therapy department.

Visit www.paigesprincessrun.com for more information.

By Joy W. Kraft

A concentration of Tristate customers has led to the opening of a regional office of Interstates in West Chester.

A regional office here was a natural, says Steve Jones, business development manager for the Sioux Center, Iowa, engineering firm that designs and installs electrical systems for industrial processing plants and commercial buildings.

"We've had clients in this area for 12 to 15 years," including a large consumer products company, "and we actually look at it from the prospect of the regional area "” Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana "” and go down as far as Tennessee," he says.

"The ability to service our clients, be more responsive to them and expose us to additional marketplaces was a big draw," he says. The local office focuses on Interstates' control systems and industrial automation in the manufacturing process.

"It could be a variety of things from pet foods to food and beverage work and agricultural automation that includes flour or grain milling, refining and oil extraction for soybeans and work from a processing standpoint with bio-fuels and ethanol," he says.

"We were in the area on a regular basis . . . but we decided there's enough activity here that we need a permanent location." The West Chester office will eventually accommodate up to eight engineers plus support people.

"There's quite a bit of activity here in terms of potential projects that are forthcoming, and that's optimistic," says Jones. "We think the timing is good to position ourselves here for the economic rebound that we feel is in position."

The company's areas of concentration in other locations include electrical engineering, construction and instrumentation.