September 2020 – Shelly Denmark

The Ever-Expanding Crave Universe”

Stephanie Preston Hughes: “Is the Crave Universe an intentional description?”

Me: “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Michele Van Son Neill, our Founder.”

SPH: “Because it’s a perfect analogy to the ever-expanding universe we live in. The Crave family keeps getting bigger as we help people make more and more meaningful connections with each other.”

Intentional or not, the Crave Universe truly captures what happens with each new class of leaders, and each new group of coaches, Board and Advisory Council members. While this happens a lot lately through phone calls, texts, emails, and Zoom meetings, we had the privilege of witnessing new connections being made in person at our Crave 4 Kickoff dinner earlier this month. As many of you can relate, safely gathering in-person means so much more after having been quarantined for so long!

I was more involved in recruiting this year, after having a year of Crave under my belt. So I’ve had the privilege of getting to know our Class 4 Leaders since March, and I couldn’t wait for them to meet each other and for the coaches, Board and Council members to meet them as well. Let me tell you why, as I share a little about each of them.

I met Simon Adams at a Dunkin’ Donuts right before quarantine began in March. The moment he said hello, I knew there was something special about him. His smile and countenance lights up a room. He is a sponge and a self-described lifelong learner, and we instantly bonded over that shared quality. His Crave project is centered around developing an online service to promote financial literacy with a niche reach into impoverished communities. The goals of his social enterprise work are to teach the youth and young adults in these communities how to make, keep and multiply money, while also building a sense of community through arts and activism, simultaneously.

Then I met Shannon Hutchison in May. It was my first Zoom recruitment call because of the pandemic, and Shannon made it so easy. Shannon exudes strength, perseverance, and intelligence, and we instantly connected over similar vocations in teaching as well as motherhood. Her Crave project is setting up a non profit that walks alongside rape survivors of all genders, races, and religions from beginning to end, to try and curb the number of PTSD cases and suicides that happen from the trauma of rape and sexual assault. S.O.A.R. will offer education, resources, counseling, and services.

Dylan McCain Allen, a Crave Class II Alumnus, introduced me to Joshua Footman in June. Joshua is full of passion and determination, and I wish I could bottle up his energy and imagination! We immediately connected over our heart for making affordable housing a reality in Central Florida, where it is desperately needed. He excitedly shared with me the innovative interlocking block system that he had discovered and was in the process of acquiring the equipment to manufacture. He has been sharing developments with me of his journey ever since. Not only will his Crave project provide affordable housing for low-income communities, but he also dreams of building a community center in the midst of these new homes to offer additional services and opportunities for the families who live there.

I met Kelsey Evans-Amalu in July, and I was immediately impressed with her combination of empathy, desire for equity, and knowledge. Another educator, it was fun to be able to speak a similar language, especially when I showed her the “scope and sequence” of the Crave program and she didn’t think me too nerdy as I excitedly shared it with her. Her Crave project will create a mobile meditation studio that is membership-based, offering continuous, daily guided meditation practices for those exploring mediation or those who want more accountability and community with their practice. Ultimately, she hopes her studio will create a more mindful community and combat rising psychological distress by offering mindfulness-based intervention skills to the Orlando area. It will cater to high needs and marginalized populations.

Finally, I met Shanay Pugh in August. Shanay is like a breath of fresh air, and her presence balances and calms whomever she is with. It turns out that she is in a Bible study with Marquis McKenzie’s (Crave III Alumnus) mom! I knew from that initial meeting, and it was confirmed during our Orientation, that Shanay was going to be a leader among our leaders. She was the first one to text the group the morning after, to express her gratitude in a unique way to each of the leaders. She is a true soul at peace! She has two Crave projects: one will offer coaching services to men and women in prison in order to better prepare them for life upon their release. The other is a women’s Bible study that teaches women how to take moments of rest from the busyness of life and follow biblical principles. They discuss issues pertaining to self care, self love, parenting, drawing boundaries, effective money management, and taking time each day to grow in relationship with God.

By now, you can see why I love being the Orlando Director of Crave! I get to work with inspiring young leaders, whose hearts are full of love for their communities, so much so that they want to do everything they can to make a difference, particularly for the marginalized among them. I encourage you to read their bios on our website, and more so, follow and support them in their work!

Shelly Denmark, Orlando Crave Director


May 2020 – Shequila Roberts

Mothering During A Pandemic

Cooking. Cleaning. Homework. Laundry. Children fighting. Children eating. Homeschooling … all while being an essential worker. This is truly enough to make me want to pull out my hair. And as a single mother, let me just say, these last few weeks have been very challenging, to say the least. However, when people believe in you and your light, it makes it much easier.

In addition to being a single mother, I am the founder of the non-profit Determine Now, which aims to help families create positive impacts intergenerationally. At Determine Now, we believe a strong community support system is vital for families to succeed. The community support I received from Kelsey Kerce and Hanah Murphy led me to Crave. People like my mentor Tonya Tolson, alums Dylan McCain Allen and Chantel Aquart, and board member Tom Harris, administrator Karen Roby and director Shelly Denmark — the whole Crave family! — provide for me this vitally important support system. It feels really good when people believe in you and your mission, and that’s what I receive from Crave. There’s no competition (unless we are gaming).

Wearing multiple hats has its highs and lows. The most challenging things for me have been balancing three things – making quality time for my son (aka my Prince), being an essential worker during this pandemic, as well as being a servant leader.

I am exhausted. I am working five days a week – waking at 5 to pray and meditate, cook breakfast, shower, make sure my son is logged online for school, and head to work. I have been picking up food and delivering to those in need after work, and then, sitting outside in the sun for at least an hour to rid myself of any germs before I put on my mommy/daughter cape and walk back in the door. Evenings include laundry, games with my son, cooking dinner, more prayer and meditation, and then, off to bed. Wake up, and repeat.

During the first few weeks of our quarantine, my son had a hard time adjusting to what we are calling the “new norm.” In the mornings, when I was about to leave for work, he would shake. “Mommy, don’t leave me,” he’d say. I’d tell him, “Take a few deep breaths and trust God to watch over us.” He was worried that other children were losing their mothers. “I just cannot lose you,” he’d say. I tried to assure him he wouldn’t lose me, but that if something did happen to me, I would always be in his heart. Thankfully, he has now adjusted to new norm, and the shaking has subsided, but I hope I will always be in his heart.

Being a mother has its challenges, but it is also fulfilling and rewarding to be able to nurture, inspire and uplift our children. I’ve learned from my experience at Crave how to zoom in while also keeping my eyes on the prize. Parents, even though we have so many hats to wear right now, it is important to maintain consistency! As a mother myself, I would like to tell all the children, “Thank you!” Thank you for coming into our lives and teaching us unconditional love. Thank you for putting our faith to the true test. Thank you for loving us and appreciating us. Thank you for believing in us even when we don’t always believe in ourselves.

Mostly, what this pandemic has reinforced for me is that being a mother is a lifetime commitment. It has taught me that even though I am an essential worker, all lives are essential. It has taught me to live for today, because tomorrow is not promised. It has taught me to enjoy every moment. It has taught me to value who I am wholeheartedly. And, it has taught me that God has trusted me with very special cargo, my Prince.

We celebrate Mother’s Day this month, and I would like to wish all mothers a very happy celebration. I am thankful my mother is alive, and is able to enjoy this time with us. I am thankful she has had the opportunity to see me mother her grandchild. I also want to send love and light to all the mothers who have lost their mothers, or who have lost their children. This Mother’s Day, we celebrate all mothers and all the children who made us mothers.

Mothering during this pandemic has made us all realize that we must be in this together.

Shequila Roberts

Founder of Determine Now, offering “Read, Learn, and Grow Storytime with Ms. Q” 10 am every Monday, and “The Teen Meditation Hub” every Wednesday at 6:30 pm on IGTV.


October 2018 – Dylan McCain Allen

Our home is vibrant as it is complex, which is why collaboration is necessary to get our neighborhoods ready for just about anything. The Pulse Nightclub Shooting and 2017 Hurricanes brought communities together like never before, but disjointed funding efforts and duplicated services made it hard to effectively align community needs with assets. A Gift For Teaching moved past its “business as usual” to elevate how the educationally-disadvantaged are supported and joined a growing coalition of socially-driven organizations and businesses, service-providing not-for-profits, and government agencies to coordinate grassroots-informed, regionally-strategized action plans that will quickly activate disaster restoration, convene philanthropic cooperation, and get our region back up to speed in any situation.

Following the ideas of Collective Impact, purposeful collaboration can transform the way human services tackle some of the other extremely complex challenges in our region. Rapidly growing homelessness tied to low wages and an affordable housing crisis, health disparities tied to economic inequities and racial biases, and devastatingly-high rates of human trafficking underscore that Central Florida’s greatest problems are far worse than traffic on I-4. Collective impact provides hope to communities that have been swamped with philanthropic dollars yet seen little change or neighborhoods that have accepted outside support and received emigration-forcing gentrification. If the social sector can move towards organizational alignment (rather than programmatic partnerships) and focus on ultimate outcomes (for example: end food-insecurity rather than hunger), then our everyday lives will be dramatically transformed for the better. However, this requires immense change by the leaders.

One unique thing about Crave is that it’s already full of inspired and activated individuals. The need isn’t to show its participants the possibilities to find their Ikigai because they already have the idea—they see the light at the end of the tunnel. The challenge is navigating the labyrinth. The other unique part about Crave is that is transcends leadership and skill development to also incorporate the person and their spiritual motivations as the driving powers of the operation. Unveiling the internal, hidden, and powerful forces that guide our raison d’être sets us free to see our missions in a more universal truth that is grounded by what makes us who we are. Leveraging my strengths in connecting seemingly-disparate people and ideas, learning everything I can about the world, ideating new ways to solve complex challenges, arranging processes into a better flow, and an admiration for mental exercises and intellectual pursuits will augment my ability to bring a community together and target its assets towards greater impact. Let’s work together, Central Florida—strategically, meaningfully, and sustainably.

A special thanks to the Central Florida Foundation, Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, and the Donors Forum of Central Florida for being the catalyst of coordinated disaster response. Also a special thanks to the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park and the Crave team for this opportunity not just given to me, but to Central Florida.

Dylan McCain Allen
A Gift for Teaching, Orlando YNPN