October 2020 – Dylan McCain Allen

Central Florida knows how to come together. So why can’t we work together?

Our community is so good at building a network and making connections to ideas and people that matter. When we can, we love to collaborate. But, we don’t cooperate well at all. 

To me it feels like trying to sweep a floor with a pile of straw. Sure, you could grab a handful and go to town, but wouldn’t it be so much more effective (and easier) if you string together the straw into a broom?

Even worse, at times it feels like the straw got upset there wasn’t a string in the first place and instead of weaving into string it just hops out of the house for someone else to deal with.

It might sound loony, but it’s no more loony than how many collaborative efforts have disintegrated before they could do more than the bare minimum. 

My project both during my time as a Crave Leader and now as a member of its Advisory Council is to develop community beyond a network of like-minded souls. I seek to galvanize the collective passions and possibilities of our region to model change-making for the people and places that are called to something greater.

Groups reinforcing disaster resiliency and offering coordinated intervention services have come and gone seemingly with each passing disastrous event, making it nearly impossible to plan for, prevent, and mitigate effects of future incidents. Some exist today, but at times their coordinative strategy is at best questionable and their longevity is far from assured.

There are no cooperative agreements or regional strategies to develop children and neighborhoods mindfully. There are countless who are passionate about our local ecological resources, yet few avenues to align with various government-created sustainability initiatives.

We even had a gathering of social sector leadership called The Collective for a short while before it collapsed almost as soon as it began. Some previous attendees told me they felt it was good about networking, but they always left not knowing what they would do differently the next day.

And that missing next step—and the capacity to actualize it—appears to be the common denominator.

How are we so Hell-bent about getting into a room, but become skittish to say and do the generative things that would make demonstrable differences in people’s lives? 

Is it fear of the consequences, the unknown, or perhaps the commitment to “something more”? Is it some sort of existential crisis between wanting change and concern over what that change really means?

Is it that we’ve been traumatized by having good ideas shot down? Might we be concerned that we aren’t the “right person” to be in the room? 

Are we so burdened by the deep-rooted inequities—which we in the social sector combat everyday—that our courage numbs at the realization of such complexity?

Has our passion and purpose been brought to its knees in the face of competition for resources?

Or, might the issue be of a functional nature? Could it be that these agents of change don’t really know how to make change? Are we all proverbial salmon just swimming upstream unknowingly into a bear’s mouth? Did we all really expect the broom to tie itself?

Beyond the complexity of social change, we’ve also entrenched ourselves in a tough system of everyday operation. We toxify our missions by treating people as helpless hand-out seekers rather than working with—or even for—them. When it’s time to gather resources and strategy for the mission, the people we seek to empower are often the last of whom we ask for insight from. 

We should explore community-centric fundraising to make sure our financial engine is built in equity and not by the very powerhouses that might actually perpetuate the problems we seek to solve. We each hold our biggest dreams close lest they be illuminated by others, and that withdrawal from shared visions leads the social sector to a scarcity mindset. 

Rather, an abundance mindset would remind us that with more than 11,000 nonprofits in Orange County alone: we have the resources to do just about anything; we just don’t know how to position them carefully.

The first steps would be for both institutional leaders as well as everyday townsfolk to learn about critical concepts like the dangers of toxic charity, the efficacy of Asset-Based Community Development, and the cooperative possibilities unleashed by Collective Impact.

Furthermore, we need to have a conversation about the place of the social change agent in our society. What are the baseline mindsets one should have entering this work? To what extent should every agent for change understand human-centered design innovation as well as inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA)? 

And most vitally: do we value these vigils of liberty, egalitarianism, and community enough to recruit them effectively and compensate them competitively for the mountain-moving effort they beat into the ground every day?

I admit I add yet another layer of complication to what already seemed impossible to overcome. That’s what I signed up for, though. I’ll take on any challenge to make sure Central Florida’s children grow up in a community that cares for their future, one that wellness and opportunity is only a neighbor away, and one in which the human and natural ecosystems intertwine to sustain a plethora of options for creative and meaningful self-actualization.

Crave seeks those who share some fire for something more, then hands the Crave Leader a map on which to draw their own path.

Crave is the breeding ground of connection and cooperation. We are sharing the tools for change and the skills for responsible and generative impact. Our community is redefining what “community” means. 

We are delivering that “something more”.

Dylan McCain Allen

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

August 2020 – Blu Bailey

2020 has definitely been a year.

It’s all anyone can talk about. It’s the conversation starter of the century. Plans cancelled. Covid-19 and associated conspiracy theories. I forgot my face mask. The Black Lives Matter Movement and the countless social injustices happening across the nation, which leads to conversations about reparations, white privilege and intentional systematic barriers. I also think I heard something about killer hornets?!

But let’s focus on where we are with our processes. A lot of people have said that the pandemic has given them more time with their families, time to catch up on work or start a new skill. How are we doing with that? For me, I was super excited to start something new to show off when the world got back to normal. I WASN’T prepared to deal with myself in the process. When I say deal with myself, I mean to learn and push myself. For so long I just went with the flow of things. Did what was necessary and a little extra but nothing really outside of my box. It’s comfy there. But anything outside of your box will most definitely take you outside of your box. I wasn’t prepared, and nobody told me. Lol.

I had a list of things I was gonna do during the pandemic, like play guitar, and learn another language, and start 5k training, and yada yada ya. But as soon as I started to feel uncomfortable and stretched, I retreated back to my comfy box. I wondered why though. I came to the conclusion that in my comfort zone I don’t stretch myself out too-too much. The tasks I do are super easy (either because I have done them a million times, or because I am really lazy).  But now here I come applying the pressure and upsetting the balance. Who do I think I am?

That’s when the real lesson hit me. I was taking the attitude from my comfort zone and applying it to my need to be more … and I expected it to happen overnight. I wasn’t applying grace, or any level of self-forgiveness, which means as soon as I failed I punished myself with doubt or I gave up.

I have learned two things. Everything has a process, and every process requires grace. The person you want to be, or goal you want to achieve, will take months — if not years — to achieve, and a major requirement of this achievement is allowing yourself space to have the journey and make mistakes, to learn and stop for ice cream along the way.

These two lessons have helped decrease my anxiety and increase the awareness of my own self-efficacy and self image! When ever things get hard, I look at what I’ve done and how far I have come. I offer myself grace and decide my next move. This process has taught me a third lesson: I’m able to lead by example and teach others how to treat me (so that’s really four.)

Stay safe and well friends. I’m excited to see the updated versions of ourselves when the world opens back up. I’m even more excited to hear about your process.

Blu Bailey, Crave III Leader and Alumni Representative to the Advisory Council

July 2020 – Brian Vann

Endings and Beginnings

With the third year of Crave coming to an end, we celebrate the two Crave Leader graduating cohortsone from Orlando and one from Sanford. The Crave program runs from August to June so this year’s classes completed the Crave curriculum during a most unprecedented time in our country’s history. As all non-profits do, these leaders had to overcome the challenges COVID-19 employed. They did so with integrity, character, perseverance, and determination. As they grew, so did all the individuals who make up the Crave Universe. With the third year in the books, we are excited to begin year four!  

The fourth year brings excitement, but also sadness. The third year marked the end of the tenure for some of our board members. We are saddened to see these friends and colleagues roll off the board. Even though they are no longer on the board, their legacy will be felt for a long time to come. Some of these individuals helped start Crave while others shaped it into what Crave is today. We pray for their present and continued support while staying within the Crave Universe.   

Thank you to outgoing Orlando council members Tom Harris, Adam Hartnett, Jon Tschanz, Rick Jones, Kelsey Kerce, Sarah Skidmore, Tonya Tolson, and Karen Weatherford. Thank you to outgoing Sanford council members Pasha Baker, Nancy Groves, Jolene Lovemore, Erin O’Donnell, and Tom Royal.

The fourth year marks a critical time in the growth of the Crave organization. The organization is no longer a start-up as it begins its growth stage. The growth we are experiencing afforded us the opportunity to expand our leadership. We now operate with an Advisory Council of Orlando and a Board of Directors. We are thankful to welcome many new members of both the Advisory Council and the Board of Directors. These individuals are some of the most influential in our community. We are working on some amazing projects such as creating a certificate program for the Crave curriculum. We are blessed to welcome a new group of social change makers to our fourth year Crave Leader cohort. These individuals are dynamic, intelligence, and inspirational. 

Welcome new board members Faith Buhler, Gina Dole, Woody Rodriguez, and Jarvis Wheeler; and council members Chantel Aquart, Blu Bailey, Katie Brown, Terri Hartman, Stephanie Preston-Hughes, and Katrina Jackson,

I am excited to kickoff a new Crave year!

Brian Vann, Chair of the Crave Board of Directors

June 2020 – Michele Van Son Neill

Year 3: Concluding Blog

We are always living history.  Yet, there are moments – like this one – that will become a major Chapter Title of our Nation’s Story. Have you noticed that triumphs of the human spirit are always tucked in a tapestry of death and destruction? Women secured the right to vote on the heels of a bloody World War I. The Civil Rights Act became law against the backdrop of the 20-year Vietnam War. Today, the long-awaited public acknowledgement and conviction of systemic racism has a voice and willing audience against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Tucked into a larger tapestry of life’s greatest struggles are always the triumphs of human dignity and the human spirit.

Crave claims that at the intersection of triumph and tragedy is a story of Divine Hope.  A Hope that is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Crave was founded on the crazy Christian idea that Hope was in our world from the beginning…and this Divine Hope continues to show up in real time: not just in a stable under a star at Christmas, but also in lonely hospital rooms, empty classrooms, unemployment lines, unjust jail cells, marches, riots…and yes, even and especially at funerals when too often a black or brown life is senselessly taken.  No matter the tragedy, (racism, poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc.) Divine Hope always stands her ground and has the last word.

As a Christian, I used to believe in Divine Hope only because of my faith in Jesus.  But in the last three years, I have also met 27 Crave Leaders who embody –they actually incarnate – Divine Hope.  Yes, of course they are launching, nurturing, and growing non-profits as a response to our tragedies, but the Divine Hope needed today requires more than investors, a Board of Directors, and legal status.  Divine Hope takes guts, sacrifice, street knowledge, accountability, charisma, and an unshakable vision that defines your purpose.  Crave Leaders are bursting with Divine Hope.

This month, we graduate our third class of Crave Leaders, and Reverend Shelly Denmark replaces me as Director.  The only thing as exciting as what God is doing through Crave, is who God has chosen to lead it into the future.  Karen Roby Winterkamp and Shelly Denmark, our staff, bring as much skill and ability as they do commitment to and passion for developing divinely inspired leaders of social change. This next year, I am honored to serve on the Board of Directors with a Rockstar line-up, as well as support the tireless and talented Advisory Council who manages the operations of our soulful learning community. This company of volunteers, our community partners, and especially our new financial supporters (thank you, Donors!) have collectively cultivated a “Crave Family” of courageous vulnerability, authentic self-mastery, and divine discovery in diversity.And what I want the whole world to know – the Good News I want to share with you – is that their Divine Hope is contagious. When you meet Crave Leaders, learn about their projects, the people they serve and why – you have an ally, a light-bearer to show you ways to illuminate the darkest parts of our broken tapestry. You can volunteer with them, you can build relationships with and through them, and you can make a positive divine impact in our community right now. They will show you how. Apply to Crave here.  Donate here. Volunteer here. Learn more about Crave and our Leaders here.

Being a part of the Crave Community remains one of the greatest blessings of my life. God is indeed doing a new thing, and we hope you’ll join us.