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


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.


Introducing Shelly Denmark

 

I knew the Crave community was something special the moment I entered the second floor of the East End Market. There was a sense of closeness and connection and common purpose among everyone present. It was evident from the way Michele, the Crave leaders, the Board members, the Mentors, and other support partners interacted with one another; they were deeply invested in each other’s lives as part of a spiritual, meaningful community. I have tried to capture what Crave is and what Crave does when sharing about it with other people, and yet, there’s a magical element of needing to experience the Crave community in some way for oneself in order to grasp how the Spirit is moving. I am beyond thrilled to join Crave as the Director for Crave Orlando III, and I am confident that this transformational, hope-inspired community will continue to thrive and expand to new cities in the future.

To understand why Crave had such an impact on me in that particular moment, you’d need to know a bit about my recent history. Last fall, I decided that I would take a break from serving as a pastor in a local church, starting this summer. There were many reasons for my decision, but mainly I had a hard time seeking balance in a system that oftentimes is set up for the contrary.

Underneath it all, however, I felt a holy discontent. There was something about the way we have “done church” all these years that felt like it wasn’t working anymore, nor able to carry us into a new, creative future. Some say that mainline churches in the United States are in a “Reformation” moment. Many churches are in decline with many things needing to change, but a lot of leaders aren’t sure what those necessary changes looks like. To borrow from Tod Bolsinger in Canoeing the Mountains, we are in a “Lewis & Clark” moment. We have to adapt and innovate. Enter Michele Van Son Neill and Crave.

Around the same time that I was feeling this urge to do something different for awhile and have more time to devote to my family and overall sense of wellbeing, Michele and I had a two-hour mutually-beneficial conversation. We felt a similar need to find balance as spiritual leaders and mothers, we both sensed that ways of “doing church” in the future looked radically different from the models we have now, and we were set on encouraging one another to take brave steps in order to address both of those issues. A few months later, we had another conversation, and Michele invited me to the Crave II graduation to get a better sense of an alternative way for churches to connect with people who are already transforming the world. I was hooked, especially after applause in the Crave community meant a standing ovation! And I am even more excited, having read the stories and projects of our Crave Orlando III applicants who are engaged in meaning-making work here in Orlando. I can’t wait to learn from them, support them, and journey alongside them this year!

Shelly Denmark
Director, Crave Orlando                                                                                                shelly@craveorlando.org  


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