Catherine Willis

Urban Strings, Community Volunteer, Educator
Barnett Ambassadors

Catherine WillisA dedicated community activist for many years.  Catherine has supported education, the arts and family advocacy. She has been involved in the United Negro College Fund, and a founding member of Friends of Art for Community Enrichment Inc., The Ohio Wesleyan University Upward Bound program.  She was a member of the SOUL committee, which helped promote art from the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and is an alumna of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Twin Rivers Chapter of Links.

A former Columbus City Schools teacher, her focus on education led her to become an active volunteer, supporter and Board member of I Know I Can, a program that guarantees every Columbus City School student an opportunity to attend college.  She initiated the Chess in the (Neighbor) Hood program at the Martin Luther King Library and was asked to extend the program to other sites. 

Catherine is a former member of the Columbus Medical Association Foundation.  As a long time trustee and current President of the Columbus Youth Foundation, Catherine worked with other board members to seek out innovative afterschool and summer camp educational and enrichment programs for young people from urban communities.

She continues to be a passionate champion of Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi. She has enabled local students to attend this remarkable school founded in 1909 to offer African American students a head, heart and hands education.

Her most recent endeavor was to create and participation in an urban strings youth orchestra growing from 5 youth in 2007 to 16 youth string musicians ages 11 to 16.  Awards and accolades include: YWCA Women of Achievement Award 1992; Julian Sinclair Celebration of Learning Award from The Columbus Metropolitan Library 2000; Champion of Children Award 2002, as a child advocate and mentor; and Honoring Your Elders Award 2006, along with other outstanding community elders, presented by Senator Ray Miller.  In 2012, Catherine was selected a Capital Women of Distinction, one of 18 women in Columbus who is a leader in philanthropy and volunteerism and has shaped the future of the community and made it a better place to live.  The United Way, The Columbus Metropolitan Club, The Women’s Fund, and The YWCA sponsor this award.