January 2021 – Katie Brown

Oh, So Very Grateful

Last January, my husband and I took what we know now was our last trip for a long time. We went with one of our favorite couples for a long weekend in the Keys, one of our favorite places. I had been traveling in North Carolina on business the week prior, so I flew solo from New Bern to Key West to meet my group. On the flight down, I decided that I was going to do something I’d wanted to do for years.  This was it. This was the time.

I was going to get a tattoo, y’all.  

I’d wanted one since my dad passed away, unexpectedly, about eight years ago. During this time of intense grief, I kept joking that I needed a figurative tattoo to remind me to be grateful, because there didn’t seem to be room in my heart for gratitude. But, I didn’t want to make a rash decision in the midst of so much emotional turmoil, and so I never got one.  

But within two hours of getting off that plane in Key West, I found myself proudly sitting in a tattoo parlor on Duval Street, talking to the owner about savings plans for kids college funds (Hi, I’m Katie, and I’m an oversharer…) while getting the word “grateful” tattooed on my right wrist. And then my friends and I celebrated afterwards in classic Key West fashion. Which means I don’t remember how we celebrated, but I woke up in my hotel room the next day with this glorious tattoo.  

Hardly a month later, COVID came into our worlds and turned everything upside down. I work in education and I own an education software company that is dependent on students physically being in a classroom. My husband is the executive director of a local theater. Both of our careers were hit particularly hard.  

And everywhere I went, I had this stupid tattoo on my wrist reminding me to be “grateful.” Which seemed like a colossal joke. Our company, our family, was hanging on by a thread. We could barely leave our homes. Our jobs were continually in jeopardy or were changing so fast that it was hard to keep up while maintaining any kind of calm or normalcy.  

It was the least grateful time in my life and I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been much more appropriate to get a tattoo that said “trainwreck” or “WTF” instead. 

Winter came and went and spring showed her pretty face, too. But it wasn’t really until the summer months that I felt like my family started to get a good handle on this new lifestyle. I think we played more Rummikub and Sequence than I ever had in my life, but sitting around our kitchen table with my husband and my kids almost every night for board games became one of my favorite things.  

Bike rides in the late afternoon. Family dog walks. Lazy Sundays with puzzles. School in our pajamas. Zoom calls for work with dress shirts on top and basketball shorts on the bottom. Home repairs. Late night movies because what was a bedtime? Little by little, as the world fell apart around us, I found myself rubbing my “gratitude” tattoo and offering up small prayers of thanks for sweet mercies and blessings like these. 

One of the greatest blessings for me in 2020 was Crave. Seeing a community of young entrepreneurs persevere, grow, and find new ways to thrive during this year of mayhem was inspiring to me. I found myself sitting in our advisory council meetings, tapping my unlikely tattoo with my fingers, and offering up prayers of praise and appreciation for this group of people who had the faith and heart to continue blooming like wildflowers coming up in sidewalk cracks.  

As 2021 has come in like a proverbial and political wrecking ball, I have strangely found myself grounded and centered amid the chaos, and I can’t help but think it has something to do with walking through the fires of 2020 and seeing the human spirit glowing brightly in my family, my community, and my Crave peers. Turns out, I made it through 2020 inspired, fulfilled, stronger, maybe a little wiser, and, oh, so very grateful.  

Katie Brown
Professional Development Chair

December 2020 – Stephanie Preston-Hughes

Permission to Be Human

One of the characteristics that makes a strong Crave leader is holy discontent. Knowing that something is just not right, and it necessitates a response. This strikes a chord in me because of my profession as a mental health counselor. People pay to see me because something isn’t quite right in their own lives, and they want to figure out what to do about it.

Counselors create a sacred space where clients can be really honest with themselves as they sort out hard things. Struggling relationships, toxic workplaces, substance use problems, depression, family rejection. You get the picture. The tough stuff. 

While I am consistently in awe of my client’s bravery, I am saddened by how harshly they judge themselves. I often hear things like: What’s wrong with me? Why am I getting so upset? I thought I dealt with this already? Why does it seem like nobody else is struggling with the same thing? I see them get frustrated with themselves for just being normal people.

In all truthfulness, I possess the same tendency to harshly self-criticize that my clients do. In my head it just sounds a little different : How could I have overlooked that thing she said in session two months ago? I should know how to help them with _____________ because I’m a licensed mental health professional. Why am I crying again? 

Newsflash!! None of us is immune from mistakes, uncertainty, and emotions. We are human beings having human experiences and our feelings are a vital part of that humanity, not something that we need to make go away. In the era of COVID and political turmoil, we MUST give ourselves permission to experience “normal” responses to the extraordinary stressors in our world.

If you are part of the Crave Universe and reading this, then you are part of this humanity. too. Whether you are a teacher, pastor, parent, cashier, student, construction worker, artist, or wandering soul. I ask you to acknowledge your own humanness. 

Celebrate the fact that Spirit has chosen you to nudge. Congratulate yourself for wanting to do something about the holy discontent you feel, even if you’re still figuring out what that is. Encourage yourself to keep asking hard questions, even when it makes others uncomfortable. Pat yourself on the back for your willingness to be vulnerable with those in the Crave community who are here to support you. Remember that you paradoxically end up more anxious when you ignore what is going on inside of yourself. Laugh at your imperfection. Practice showing up to your responsibilities in all the ways that you need to, and invite your feelings to come along for the ride, even if you don’t like them. Take a break sometimes and be okay with not having all the answers. They will come in their own time. 

Crave is the sacred space where social innovators work with mentors and a spiritual support system to grow their visions for a better community. We fundamentally understand that life itself is a messy journey, and at the same time such a beautiful one worth taking.  If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t need each other. This is reflected in my favorite part of our community statement. “We honor each person’s journey because conversation is more valuable than conviction.” Just for today, give yourself permission to be all of the flawed but amazing person you are, and know that you always have a home with Crave. Engaging in deep dialogue as we offer ourselves in service to one another is the essence of who we are. Let us hold each other, and ourselves, in the light of tenderness.

Stephanie Preston-Hughes
Coaching Chair, Crave Advisory Council
coaching@cravefla.org


November 2020 – Adam Hartnett

Turning “Something More” into Something Real

Two and a half years after graduating from the inaugural Crave class, I am living out the vision that Crave helped me set for myself.  At 27 years old, I joined Crave as a starry-eyed social worker with a dream of a world where everyone had what they needed: enough friends, meaning and money to live a truly happy life. Now, at 30 years old, I can say I’m making that dream into something real.

Along with some incredibly gifted people, we launched Poverty Solutions Group (PSG) this year, 2020. From the outside, it may seem like bad timing. We are facing some great losses and challenges this year: the coronavirus pandemic; the loss of some very great advocates for equality like Freedom Rider and Congressperson John Lewis, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Actor Chadwick Boseman; and the nation-wide grappling with the deep-seated racism that plagues our society. I’ve personally been grappling with some of my own losses, the greatest of these is the death of my sister, Adel, who died of an overdose a year ago at the young age of 31.

This year has been challenging, to say the least. But the way I see it, there has never been a better time to imbibe our community with a new hope. Our work at PSH is to bring people together from all backgrounds to build communities of support with folks in poverty, to learn from their lived experiences, and to work together toward systemic changes for those at the proverbial bottom of the economic ladder. In my small, sure, way I am staring the trauma of this year directly in the face, grieving and crying unashamedly for the losses we are experiencing, and turning our grief into something greater. My colleagues and I are transforming trauma into healing; grief into passion; poverty into wholeness.

Through PSG I now serve as the Regional Coach to Circles Central Florida. Circles is a proven, national model for reducing poverty by building community. I spend my days working with ordinary and dedicated people working together to help individuals and families with low-wealth build trust, set goals and overcome poverty for good. After spending 6 years perfecting the model in Winter Garden, FL, Circles is now working with Family Promise of Greater Orlando and a handful of other community partners to launch Circles Orlando! Our dream is to create Circles Communities across Seminole, Orange and Osceola Counties so everyone in Central Florida has easy access to the magic that is Circles.

If you share my passion to create a Central Florida community that works for everyone, please visit our new PSG website to learn more about how you can donate or get involved in other ways: www.povertysolutionsgroup.org . I’d love to partner with you to end poverty in our community and become an example for the rest of the country of what’s possible when we work together.

Adam Hartnett
Crave I Leader

 

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
Crave II Leader

 

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
shelly@cravefla.org