Crave Is My Church

My parents raised me in church.

Potluck Wednesday suppers where mayonnaise was the primary ingredient of every dish.  Ladies with big hats who smelled of rose water and hugged too tightly. Fearlessly exhausted Sunday school volunteers who tried to make ancient, strange stories relevant. Playground time, butter cookies in tin cans, and parents who talked too long in the parking lot.

Church was a gift. It was intimate, safe, and above all it was loving.

Thirty years later, I long for these gifts, but our fast-paced, YouTube soundbite, UberEats life enhancements are hard to enjoy served up with mass shootings, genocide (still), and a painfully polarized nation.

I don’t want to “go to” church anymore. I want to be church. I want my home to be church where we feel intimate, safe, and loved. I want our family to be a light to others — whether it is our neighbor, a teacher, an employee, a refugee from Venezuela, or a youth in Naivasha, Kenya.

Here’s the hard truth I try not to think about: I can’t give my kids the intimacy, safety and love of a faith community the way my parents did. I have to do it another way, because the very thing that grounded my being doesn’t seem to anchor us anymore.

Here’s what I do know we need:

Divine Wisdom and Experiences

Especially the miraculous life-giving and faith-developing stories of God and God’s people, contained in (especially for me) the Bible. Also, in equal measure and power, the Koran, the Torah, Harry Potter, Star Wars, This Is Us, Instagram posts from The Rock, and other inspired God-breathed art. Sunsets, walks in the woods, hope in the face of everything lost, puppies, babies, and really old people in love.

Real Community

The kind of community where people struggle with faith. People who lead incredible life changing projects and admit to having no idea what they’re doing. People who sometimes cuss at their kids and sometimes channel the Holy Spirit in perfect measure. People who are further down the road in work, marriage, citizenry, parenting, and caring for elderly parents. People who still struggle after all these years to really understand forgiveness. People who can patiently and vulnerably explain something I don’t understand. People who are willing to do the gut-wrenching work to mourn together when life royally inexplicably sucks and party together until the sun comes up when life is miraculously and inexplicably is amazing.

A Bridge

Without effort, I will live my life with people just like me and miss Heaven completely. I need to know others who make me nervous or scared or mad. Not just serve them, read about them, and pray for them, but have a relationship with them. This will allow me see and experience and believe that I am them and they are me and God is alive and working in all of us. Socio-economic differences, political differences, racial differences, generational differences, religious differences — there is a lot that may seem to separate us. But the whole world, not only who or what is in my immediate circle, is God’s creation and I need the courage and encouragement and introductions to be in and love all of it. I desperately want to learn that, do that, and most importantly model it for my children.

Attending church without these three things (wisdom, community, bridges) becomes poor stewardship and a waste of time. If our church isn’t doing these three things, then I don’t need to “go to” church. But, for the sake of my soul and the sake of the world, I do need to be church.

Crave is where this happens because these Leaders who join in share divine wisdom, engage in real community, and embody bridge work. They are connected to their source, to one another, and to their purpose. I am so grateful to be pastored by these young Leaders who have dedicated their lives to changing the world. By simply being in their company, God is changing me.

If any of this resonates with you, your life, or your faith journey, then let’s grab a cup of coffee and consider what’s next. God is obviously up to something good.

Michele Van Son Neill
Founder
Crave, Inc.


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


Crave II Orlando Kickoff

Crave II Orlando has begun!

As strangers, Orlando-based social innovators gathered for an overnight retreat to begin the work of vulnerably sharing our stories, hearts, and dreams with one another. Desire for belonging and safety produced regular laughter, connection, and collective contagious creative hopefulness. The new Crave Leaders’ courage and passion made that Something More (God, Vibration, Source) so undeniably palpable in our shared experience and space.

After learning our strengths, identifying our values and expectations of belonging, and selecting our learning opportunities for the year ahead, the Crave Advisory Board began to arrive for our shared feast.

Among the 17 of us (Crave I & II Orlando and the Advisory Board) the room oscillated between raucous laughter and intense conversation about the new projects for the common good which are at the heart of Crave.

Education, LGBTQ+ advocacy and support, life skills, and community impact are the primary mission areas of focus for our Leaders this year. There is so much to discover and develop together. We hope you will journey with us throughout the coming year by reading our blogs, following us on social media @CraveFLA, and getting directly involved by reaching out to me michele@cravefla.org.

Light always and ultimately overcomes the darkness. Crave exists to nourish and spread that Light.

Michele Van Son Neill
Founder
Crave, Inc.


Class of 2018 Leaders Graduation

With the graduation of these remarkable leaders, Crave has begun! The celebration was a lovely gathering of open-hearted and supportive friends, family, and new supporters. Time, money, and décor was donated by the Board Members. One Board Member even flew from Vermont to attend! Each Crave Leader added to our merriment with the addition of parents, employers, roommates, co-workers, and friends. These folks filled the room with joy and excitement as they heard the Crave Leaders each share their growing projects and how their year together has grounded, formed, and bonded them.

Ashley Vann, Founder of the Victory Cup Initiative and President of Vann Strategies, was our keynote speaker. She inspired the Leaders to focus on their integrity, vision, and outreach financiances. The radically inclusive love expressed along with the critical values of leadership, faith, and the celebration of active citizenship were palpable throughout the evening.

As the Crave Leaders were taking photos and excitedly planning our first Alumni Retreat to the beach in July, one of their fathers pulled me aside. It was obvious he had something important to share. He cleared his throat and stared at the ground in silence, hands on hips bracing himself for unprecedented vulnerability with me, a stranger. He finally looked right at me, tears tipping over his eyelids. “Before…” looking at the ground again, wiping his tears. “Before this,” he motioned with his chin toward his daughter among the laughing Crave Leaders. “She was really lost. Not okay, you know?” I didn’t know. His daughter is remarkable, wise, and now actively uses pain from her past to change people’s lives for the better. He started again. “From an old Presbyterian like me, I want you to know I’m real glad the church is paying for you to do this. I guess what I’m saying is… please keep going.” His daughter will not return to his church. She’s learned and embraced that she is building church right where she is among the folks she’s healing with her loving touch, deep well of wisdom, and clarity of purpose. She is not someone I’d describe as lost. In fact, she is quite “found.” And that is the Amazing Grace at work through Crave.

The Holy Spirit, the Great Mystery, Love (with a capital L), the Power of Nature, the Juice, that Something More emerged when we were together. We named it, tapped into it, and are now deploying it in our relationships and work. It has propelled us all to the next step of our projects for the Common Good. And amazingly, it has united us so strongly that we’re ready to share it with the next group of Crave Leaders in Orlando. We invite you to be a part of that next group by applying here by July 1st. Crave has begun. Please join us.

Michele Van Son Neill
Founder
Crave, Inc.


May 2018 – Katy Cuthill Steinberg

“I’m a part of this cohort of creative entrepreneurs doing spiritual formation in unique containers.” There’s nothing official about that statement, but it’s how I’ve been describing Crave over the last year. Generally that statement is followed by an explanation of the surf school owner, yoga guru, skatepark developer, and all the others who are doing this impassioned, unique work with an understanding of “something else” going on here. That “something else” has become a buzzword for us as we’ve tried to describe, but not box in, the sense of something bigger, more meaningful, something connective of all people and all of creation… some might say God… at work in these unique endeavors.

Personally, I have been encouraged in my own work of developing a unique, nomadic spiritual community with Missing Peace by the fresh and exciting work of this talented group of people. They see the possibilities, instead of just the obstacles, to developing truly unique opportunities for people to engage in what’s most meaningful in themselves and most meaningful in the world. They see possibilities in my blind spots and nudge me toward resources and ideas I never thought of on my own. Add to that the gifted leaders that make the CRAVE machine run, and one might begin to feel unstoppable.

Catherine Matthias was my assigned liaison from the leadership team. She brought her well developed and exceptional gifts for strategic goal setting to Missing Peace. We flourished under her guidance developing our own leadership team and the concrete goals we hoped to accomplish together. This was a huge step for our group, and has given us a pattern we can continue to use as we equip leaders and do innovative work. Thank you is not nearly adequate.

If you’ve been following along, you no doubt know that the CRAVE journey is nearing its end for this cohort. Though like the best things in life, there’s no real end. Each of us will go on to do the meaningful, inspiring, “something else” work we’ve nourished in our CRAVE experience, and a new cohort of creatives will come through and be nurtured into their next phase. It’s more of a cycle than a clear beginning and end. And CRAVE is helping to turn the crank in this beautiful machine of hope, and goodness, and light being launched into the world. This is not a product or a business or purely a leadership training. This is a movement being nurtured into existence, partnered with “something else,” and set for powerfully changing our world for the better.

So while “thank you” is inadequate to express the deep gratitude and appreciation I feel for CRAVE and its founder, Michele Van Son, it will have to do. But more than the thanks of this program’s direct beneficiaries, I hope you will bask in the glow of the movement you’re creating, empowering gifted and good people, and giving hope through all the things they create at your encouragement. It is truly a gift.

Katy Cuthill Steinberg
Missing Peace


April 2018 – Kelsey Kerce

Crave is a leadership program founded by Michele Van Son about a year ago. In my experience, I’ve found that Crave has two hemispheres: One is the external community — our connections to community partners, the learning that happens with experts and mentors in the community. The other is the internal Crave community, which quickly grew to feel like family. While there are two sides to Crave, I found these sides to be deeply connected.

Take, for example, my relationship with my mentor, Chev. Chevalier Lovett is the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Organize Florida. He sits on the board of Crave and was appointed as my “Learning Partner.” With this title, Chev quickly began to feed me his favorite kind of knowledge: books. Wonderful books that I now assign to my eager-to-grow friends and to my employees. While reading these books, I began practicing their messages at every opportunity — at bachelorette parties, at networking events, with my friends — which brought me to the clear realization that it’s important that these books impact my personal development as well as my career development. This also made me realize that these two life arenas are crucially connected.

I began doing a monthly executive coaching session with Chev, wherein he gave me direction for my work with Playground City, advice for being a better leader, and guidance on how to plan strategically. Chev is not the type of guy who’s afraid to tell you when you need to fix things, but he’s also one who doesn’t hold back praise for growth. When I realized that, I felt like a better leader within my organization. I also realized that I felt better at home. Like I said, the hemispheres are connected.

Perhaps what I love most about my job as Executive Director of Playground City are the relationships I get to build with other leaders in the community. For this reason, I love our community partner meetings. Crave leveraged opportunities for these community partners to meet with some of the most successful and influential people in Orlando, each of whom was eager to share his/her expertise with us.

At the same time I was participating in these meetings, I was working through a “Why?” and “How?” book alongside Michele and the leaders within the community. During this time, I’ve seen more vulnerability and bravery among strong leaders than I’ve ever seen in my life — and man, I can’t explain what an eye-opener that was. To admire these people so much, and to see that they’re feeling and thinking the same things that I do, gives me tremendous reassurance that I’m on the right track.

When I first enrolled in Crave, I didn’t understand that I was searching for something; but as the year passed, the pieces started coming together. As I conclude my term with Crave, I see a clear path ahead of me, a guide for all the learning I want to accomplish, and a mirror showing me the gifts I have to share with my community along the way.

Kelsey Kerce
Executive Director
Playground City


March 2018 – Alejandro Musa

The last year of my life has been quite the journey in both my personal and professional life, lots of changes, lots of challenges, and lots of learning. I was a bit on the fence about applying for Crave because I had my hands in a variety of projects already and I really didn’t want to be shared on yet another calendar of responsibilities. But, after talking to Michele, Crave’s founder, and learning that most of it was not mandatory and that we would be the first group to experience it, I felt better about getting involved.

After all, Crave came in at the perfect time. It subconsciously became part of my support system. Every time we would meet, my relationship with the rest of the members grew and my appreciation for the hustle we were all going through stayed alive. The space that Michele created promotes a sense of inclusiveness that is welcoming and leaves you with no option but to listen and be heard. It’s awesome.

One thing that brought relief about Crave is that they didn’t enforce any type of religious beliefs upon us. We did have certain events at churches and the casual prayer, which I’m cool with, being that I grew up in a catholic household. Considering that as an adult, I don’t regularly attend church or label myself under any specific religious group, Crave triggered a sense of curiosity that sparked an interest in digging deeper into my spiritual beliefs, which I had been seeking for some time now.

I developed a great relationship with my mentor Ben Collins, which I am very grateful for. The project I originally presented in my Crave application went through some changes that required me to make some big decisions, which led to a significant shift in the project’s trajectory. Ben helped me through that. He was super easy to talk to, down to earth, and very willing to share his knowledge. He helped me strategize and shared some contacts with me that helped me find answers to come challenging questions. Ben is great and I hope we can continue to develop a friendship beyond Crave.

Some of the workshops and community partner meetings were a huge help for me and the development of my project. In particular, the workshop we did at Rollins College labeled “INNOVATION: Rollins Advanced Center for Entrepreneurship with Cari Coats Central Florida Social Enterprise Accelerator” was a tremendous help!  We got to pitch our projects to some of the most innovative leaders in town and get their feedback. It was great!

It’s been a phenomenal experience being able to see my project evolve alongside the rest of the group. Every one of the Crave members has been an inspiration for me and I am very proud of everyone’s achievements. I hope that the Crave organization was able to learn from us as much as we were able to learn from them. I look forward to seeing everyone succeed and making lasting contributions in our communities. Thanks!

Alejandro Musa
Getaboard Foundation
Orlando Skateboarding


February 2018 – Caitlin White

As the youngest person on the Crave advisory board, I look a lot more like a Crave Leader than your traditional “board member.” Good news: this is no traditional board! The team of advisors and mentors that help to guide the vision of Crave is as alive with innovation, spiritual curiosity, and entrepreneurship as any I’ve experienced, so it was a natural choice to include many young leaders on the team that would shape this incubator for other Millenials.

Crave is rooted in the knowledge that age never defines wisdom, just like religious affiliation never defines true spiritual connection. From founder Michele Van Son to our advisors, from Crave’s current Leaders to community partners, everyone at Crave is on a journey of self-development, listening, and spiritual awakening.

As a young, female pastor who likes to stay on the leading edge of spiritual innovation, I got involved with Crave because it breaks the old mold and the established rules. Conventionally, churches and religious groups “support the local community” by offering a service they can control or by giving resources to efforts they can approve of (and eventually colonize). Often this results in a bait and switch: the church gives to the community in hopes of connecting with new people, evangelizing them, and teaching them about spirituality. Crave does the opposite. We believe that something good, life-giving, and inherently spiritual is already at work when people do meaningful work, meet needs in their community, and gather people around common purpose. So we say, “Look at that inspiring thing you are doing. Please come evangelize us to your way of thinking. Teach us something new. Help us to meet the needs of the people around us like you do.”

For people who are used to the old paradigm, this takes a huge leap of faith and a ton of courage. I learned one of my most important lessons in business and leadership when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail: the difference between scary and dangerous.

Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams Brewery, gives the example that rappelling of a cliff is incredibly scary but totally safe. Whereas, skiing across a melting snow field on a sunny day in May is not scary but incredibly dangerous – that’s a recipe for an avalanche, fellow Floridians!

Many of the great entrepreneurs of our time have a background in outdoor recreation and endurance athletics. These pursuits teach lessons that are particularly useful to innovators. I suspect this is because social and business entrepreneurship, just like outdoor recreation, is about risk management, not risk elimination. You can’t control everything. If you did, you’d never be inspired.

The success of innovators, whether in business, community organizing, community building or religion, will hinge on our ability to discern the difference between scary and dangerous — and to guide others through that discernment. Crave puts people in relationships where we explore that line together. Molli Miller, whom I mentor, also mentors me right back. She keeps me connected to fierce bravery by stepping out of her teaching career to start a surf school, to inspiring others through therapeutic athletic experiences and experiential learning, and to transformative vision as she builds a business that is more about giving back to people’s lives than realizing profit.

We need all need community where we can have courageous conversations and relationships with co-conspirators for the journey, and that is the exchange at the heart of Crave.

Caitlin White
Advisory Board Member, Mentor
Crave, Inc.


January 2018 – Jennifer McKinney

Crave found me in a very spiritual and curious manner. When I was approached by Michele (our trusty leader) about Crave I was feeling kind of stuck and craving real connections with like-minded people. Due to some personal struggles I had spent the previous six months rebuilding my life and bring a focus to my foundation, the values and actions in which I was going to build a business and a life that I love. I had been praying, wishing, hoping, journaling and meditating on “finding my people.” While I did have a solid group of friends and family, and a fabulous book of clients, I was hoping to find people looking to create change in their communities by exploring meaningful concepts, all with a willingness to get deep and to discuss our similarities and differences in a safe and loving space. I found these people and that space in the Little Red House.

As a solopreneur, life can become a bit isolated. Add in the fact that I am more introvert than extrovert and engaging in purposeful conversations with new people can be a challenge. After the Crave mini retreat I knew that I had found “my people.” Learning about each other’s hopes and dreams revealed not only a common love of travel and dreams of learning new languages, but also possibilities in which we might be able to collaborate to make some of those dreams come true.

As our relationships have grown deeper, each Crave Leader has brought me a great deal of inspiration. I am still in the foundational level of building my business, Mint Condition Mind and Body, but have hopes of expanding to help as many people as possible become their happiest, healthiest selves. I have had lots of ideas of how I can make this happen, but it wasn’t until I saw how my fellow leaders were using their skills to empower their communities that the fire inside of me was lit. Watching others do this work has inspired me to keep my mind open to ways in which my gifts and skills can be used to build happy and healthy individuals, families, and communities. This list is ever growing.

In addition to my fellow Leaders, Crave has also connected me to multiple community leaders, leaders that I now have access to while on my journey. One such leader is my mentor Debra Hendrickson. My time with Debra has been wonderful. Not only do we regularly enjoy a cup of coffee and chit-chat about fashion, life and spirituality, we also carve out time to discuss my projects and goals. It is amazing what this focused attention can bring. She has introduced me to people, helping this introvert to ease into networking. She routinely asks me about the online programs that I am working hard to build, listening to my progress and giving me a fresh take on the ideas that get stuck spinning around in my head all week. She has been an extremely valuable part of my Crave experience.

Overall, this group of soul searching Millennials has brought me so much hope. Using self exploration and working hard to uncover the root of issues instead of simply applying a bandaid, this group is making big a big impact. From helping to strengthen communities and lessening the burden of poverty to changing the way people come together to worship, Crave leaders are building strong healthy connections. By educating and inspiring kids and young adults to become curious about their passions and learning more about the earth in which we live, Crave leaders are encouraging others to get creative and share their aspirations in a safe and loving space.

I am beyond excited to watch this group of talented, beautiful people create long-term positive change. I am beyond honored to walk alongside them, paving a path for future Crave Leaders. Together we walk that path, the path that leads to our Little Red House.

Jennifer McKinney
Owner
Mint Condition Mind and Body


December 2017 – Debra Hendrickson

Throughout my life my goal has been to surround myself with friends and family for the enjoyment of good times and support in the bad ones, have a fulfilling career and make enough money to support myself in a comfortable lifestyle. Church was always part of my life until the past few years when I found myself somewhat uninterested in what the pastor had to say on Sunday morning. My mind wandered around the sanctuary, thinking about all the trivial things I needed to do in the remainder of the day. In time I stopped going. The Sunday New York Times was more appealing to stimulate my intellect and curiosity.

Life took an unexpected turn one year ago when I decided to leave the job I had enjoyed for 14 years. I put my future in God’s hands which led me quickly to Michele Van Son who is the inspiration behind Crave. She started sharing with me her story about Crave, about the research done at Harvard Divinity School, specifically about Millennials who are leading spiritually and socially innovative communities beyond the local church. Although I am far from the age defining a Millennial I felt drawn to the concept. I could relate. I had holy discontent but had worked for many years in the non-profit community, serving to make it a better place. I was committed to Crave, leading the newly formed advisory board and mentoring one of the Millennial Crave Leaders, Jennifer McKinney.

A friend recently shared a new word with me  “Mentern” and I thought that my experience with Jennifer fit her definition. You won’t find it in the dictionary. But as she explained it is when the mentor and the mentee learn from each other. If you read the October 2017 blog of Crave Leader Molli Miller you learned about the book One Word That Will Change Your Life that was introduced to them at the program’s opening retreat. Jennifer’s word is “Foundation”. As a personal trainer and yoga teacher helping others live a fulfilled life I thought her word appropriate. Jennifer’s company, Mint Condition, helps the foundation of body and mind. I grew up in a loving environment and felt that I had a strong spiritual foundation, however, due to a series of unexpected and sad life events occurring this year I have felt discouraged. Jennifer helped me realize that life has unexpected unpleasantness but we are all on the same path together. God is there for me and has brought Jennifer to help motivate me forward. I recently participated in a mediation class even though I had always referred to meditation as “just not my cup of tea”. There is a calm quality about Jennifer that I admire. Meditation is helping me find that inner peace that I need for this unstable voyage. My mentee, Jennifer, has become my mentor and together, along with other Crave Leaders; we are navigating our spiritual journey.

Debra Hendrickson
Advisory Board Chair
Crave, Inc.