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Forging New Paths

How three inspiring women in our community are making a difference.

Article by Nina Weierman

Photography by Christina Littleton Photography

Originally published in Centerville Lifestyle

Each of the women profiled in our annual Ladies issue has uniquely inspiring stories. They were chosen because of the positive ripple effect they have within the community and beyond.

Within her role at Dayton Children’s, Career Specialist Program Manager, Casey Hookfin developed a work-study program to provide nursing opportunities to underrepresented populations. Liz Fultz, director of the Washington-Centerville Library is one step ahead of the technological changes faced by libraries today and is committed to making sure the library serves the needs of our community. Jenell Ross, president of Bob Ross Auto Group leads one of only 285 African American-owned automobile dealerships in the country.

Casey Hookfin
Career Specialist Program Manager, Dayton Children's

Casey began her nursing career 10 years ago as a floor nurse with Dayton Children’s hospital, but her inner drive and irrefutable leadership skills soon led her to her current role. Casey went from floor and travel nurse to unit nurse educator. Soon after she took on the new responsibility of unit nurse educator, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and presented a new challenge for Casey. 

“It was such a critical time for our country and it became a crucial pivot in my career,” shares Casey. She was asked to build and manage the COVID-19 screening process for all Dayton Children’s campuses. Her success with managing this daunting task led her to be promoted to her current position, as career specialist program manager. 

Casey recognized that people of color are underrepresented within the field of nursing and went on to create a work-study program, called rise, to provide nursing opportunities to Asian, Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Latino and Persons of Color. The rise career advancement program helps nursing students fulfill their professional and educational goals. Financial assistance is awarded to selected students who show scholastic achievement, promise for professional advancement, and the ability to contribute to the nursing profession and the community. 

In its first year, the rise program had seven applicants and now in its third year, Casey is expecting more than 30 applicants. “My favorite part is notifying the candidates of their acceptance into the program. It often leads to tears on both ends. Seeing these participants write their own chapter is so rewarding,” explains Casey. 

Many program participants have said that they would not have been able to achieve their dream of becoming a nurse without rise. Casey is invested in the participants. “I give each candidate a tassel when they start the program to visually motivate them. I’m excited to see them get pinned as a nurse,” shares Casey.

Outside of the amazing work that she is doing with rise, Casey participates in mentoring programs, has spoken to children at local schools and with the Girl Scouts of America and Young Ladies' Aspiring Greatness. She serves as a Dayton Children’s brand ambassador and on several Dayton Children’s task forces. Unyielding in her goal to elevate young professionals, especially people of color, Casey is truly a trailblazer.

Liz Fultz
Director, Washington-Centerville Public Library

In her nearly 30-year career with the Washington-Centerville Library, Liz has witnessed firsthand the ways that libraries have had to adapt to the rapid advancement of technology and changes in the way people access information. It’s hard to put a finger on an organization that has had to adapt to the changing needs of their patrons quite as quickly as the library has and that was true before the COVID-19 pandemic happened. 

“How people use our spaces is evolving and innovation is necessary to adapt our services for new technologies,” shares Liz. 

Liz’s commitment to meeting the needs of the community is exhibited in her leadership in the renovation and expansion of the Woodbourne Library and the development of the maker space, Creativity Commons, at the RecPlex. From sewing and embroidery machines to 3D printers and more, Creativity Commons invites library cardholders to learn new skills and turn their ideas into a reality. “One of the most overlooked but concrete ways libraries change lives, is by helping people develop new skills,” states Liz.

Outside of the library, Liz loves giving back through her participation with the Centerville Noon Optimist Club. She most enjoys participating in the Will Cale Scholarship Program. In addition to providing scholarship money, members serve as mentors to students who have personal struggles or other circumstances that put them at risk of not attending or completing college. 

“Connecting with the students at such a pivotal time in their life and helping them navigate their college experience feels very meaningful,” shares Liz. 

When asked what advice she would share with others, she says, “ Visit the library!” While in jest, her advice has a ring of truth to it and she adds, “No matter your position or circumstances, it is so important to be a lifelong learner. Reading, attending classes, trying new experiences, and connecting with others are key in continuing to grow and develop, and are central to what the library offers.”

Jenell Ross
President, Bob Ross Auto Group

“I couldn’t have asked for two better parents for role models,” shares Jenell Ross, president of the Bob Ross Auto Group. Jenell’s parents were able to overcome many challenges and with only a high school education, her father Robert P. Ross Sr. became the first African American Mercedes-Benz dealer in the country in 1979. 

“My parents defied many odds to succeed in their professions and they always reminded me that you can do anything you set your mind to,” imparts Jenell. 

This is a sentiment that Jenell has truly embodied. Named president upon the passing of her mother in 2010 from breast cancer, Jenell leads one of only 285 African American-owned automobile dealerships in the country out of nearly 18,000. Within those 285 dealers, there are only four African American women. Beyond that, Jenell is also the sole second-generation African American female automobile dealer in the country. 

Honoring her parents is something that Jenell has taken to heart. If you have ever driven down Loop Road in October, you have likely noticed how Bob Ross Auto Group turns pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Norma J Ross Memorial Foundation was founded in honor of Jenell’s mother and her battle with breast cancer. The focus of the foundation is prevention and assisting those who are underinsured or uninsured with receiving their mammogram screenings.

“It's very important to maintain an annual mammogram schedule and sometimes people don’t have the resources to do so. This is one of the ways The Norma J Ross Memorial Foundation can assist,” shares Jenell. In partnership with this foundation, Jenell ranked in the top 20 teams nationally for the funds raised for the American Breast Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. 

Jenell was recently named Chairwoman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association and under her leadership, the Bob Ross Auto Group has received several recognitions. If she had one piece of advice to impart to others, Janell wants people to, “Understand that there are always going to be those who don’t want you to succeed. Don’t let them deter you from accomplishing your goals or achieving your dream.”

 “My favorite part of the program is notifying the candidates of their acceptance into the program. It often leads to tears on both ends. Seeing these participants write their own chapter is so rewarding.”

“One of the most overlooked but concrete ways libraries change lives, is by helping people develop new skills.”