Feeding Hope for Grassroots Visionaries
Yesterday my son and I spent several hours packing food in boxes at Second Harvest Food Bank. If you’ve never been, I strongly recommend it: 1. clear mission, 2. well oiled machine, 3. high volume impact. Their slogan is Feeding Hope which is a clever reference to how their mercy work (feeding the hungry) is required before Maslow’s higher hierarchy of needs (hope) is possible.
When considering where to give our time, talents, resources, witness, and presence we have an opportunity to consider both mercy work and justice work. Mercy work is putting food in boxes and delivering it to hungry people to consume for one meal. Justice work eliminates the reasons people are hungry (lack of a living wage, unaffordable housing, poor education, unsafe neighborhoods, etc.). Justice work is expensive and complex, but it is the only way to make deep, lasting change.
Crave does justice work for grassroots visionaries in Central Florida by removing barriers and providing access to resources (relational, educational, financial, etc.). This was super evident at our Class VI Welcome Dinner earlier this month. Crave visionaries lead mercy efforts with impact that can ultimately change the course of generational poverty.
Please take a peek at our Class VI leader bios and dreams here. Crave coaches have been oriented; professional development sessions (strategic planning, consumer profiles, fundraising, etc.) are being finalized; and Class VI Soul-Tending sessions have begun in the way they always do: the Holy Spirit shows up tenderly, specifically, and powerfully bonds a group of former strangers who believe the world can be better…and are committing their lives to doing just that!
Keep an eye out for future Crave updates about Class VI. Class V had a miraculous nucleus around mental health. Class VI is focused on children: in foster care, educationally under-resourced, housing insecure, living in unsafe neighborhoods, and those with developmental disabilities.
Crave does justice work by breaking through cultural/systemic barriers and increasing access to resources and opportunities by connecting different people with similar missions. If any of the Crave VI mercy work for families and children is speaking to you, or you have experience to share, or a desire to learn more, please let us know here!
Thank you for being a critical part of Central Florida’s grassroots visionary impact!
Michele Van Son Neill Founder and Executive Director Crave of Florida, Inc.
Confessions of a Founder: This is so about you
My mom would have turned 78 later this month. She was a kind soul and she died too young. I miss so much about her, but especially her simple direct wisdom. “Life is daily” was a good one. Another favorite: “Men. Women. What was God thinking?” As a teen I’d whine to her about how my brothers were treating me and she’d turn to me and say, “It’s hell living with people.” I repeated that back to her 20 years later when I lived with two 3-year-olds and a 2-year-old. We laughed until tears ran down our cheeks.
Michele’s mother Rev. Robbi Walker on her birthday, November 26
My favorite line of hers she once used as a sermon title she preached on God’s grace, “This Is So Not About You.” Isn’t that the truth? Don’t we need to be reminded of that? We can get trapped so easily into thinking it’s all my fault, my responsibility, my job alone. Nine out of ten times, no matter the situation, it really isn’t about you. It’s really about something or someone else. Rarely though, we find ourselves in circumstances where it is about you. For example, there is only one Founder – and it is me.
Five years after the founding of Crave (can you believe it?!?), we are taking intentional time to reflect, respond, and recalibrate. Crave has grown from a small group of spiritually curious social entrepreneurs to a wildly diverse, deeply connected, powerfully impactful collection of people only the Holy Spirit could gather for times such as these. I attended a prestigious university, I attend a powerful church, I live in a heavily resourced influential neighborhood, but never have I EVER been part of such a rich, dynamic, blessed, passionate, and brilliant group of people as Crave.
Preparing to Start cohort five was the time for the leveled-up 2.0 God-size dream for Crave. What will we become? What’s next for us? How will we get there? As I prayed over and over these questions while walking our dog and in the carpool line, I kept coming up blank. Worse than blank, I felt overwhelmed, tired, and tangled up in too many and too few good ways forward. As Founder, considering what the next five years should/could/would be, I was in over my head. I needed to learn my mother’s lesson again, “this is so not about you.”
In the middle of a recent “overwhelmed/tired/tangled” week, Crave IV graduate Simon Adams and I met for coffee. He excitedly shared with me a THREE PAGE DOCUMENT of his vision for the future of Crave. As I listened to his explanation of his experience with his project, with Crave, and how Crave will become a launching community for spiritually grounded, experienced change-makers in central Florida, I remembered my mother’s lesson. The 2.0 God-sized dream of Crave will emerge from our Alumni Leaders! They have lived the pain they now work to help heal. They have the trauma of injustice and scars of racism but now stand strong and open-hearted to restore our city and the people in it. Crave attracts people who have the lived experience and then invite the rest of us to join in their God-sized dream of a loving, flourishing central Florida. Their story is our story is my story is your story:
Inevitable life trauma/scars meets…
loving community that is spirit/grace centered +
expanded network of helpers to show us the way =
the good life (aka: kingdom of God/heaven)
You’ve lived this story. I’ve lived this story. This is Crave’s story. This is God’s story.
This is a time when God’s grace and abundance IS all about YOU. Many of Crave’s leaders started life way behind my starting line. Many of their trauma and scars were setbacks and barriers I will never experience and understand. What I do experience and understand is abundance and I want to help them bring about a loving, flourishing community in Central Florida and beyond. That’s why I and many others financially support Crave Leaders’ spiritual grounding/education/project development. This time it is so about me. And, this is so about you.
Keep an eye out for lots of opportunities to contribute to Central Florida’s God-sized dreams through Crave during the giving season. Finally, over the holidays please share the good news with your friends and family about the amazing people of Crave who bring hope to the world!
Happy Thanksgiving (and Happy Birthday, Mom!) Michele Van Son Neill Crave Founder
Join Central Florida’s revolutionary change-makers by volunteering your gifts of time, skills, relationships, and seed funding.
Dreams for Our Future
One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”.
Four years ago I was approached by Michele Van Son Neill to assist her in the creation of her dream…a new spiritual leadership program she called “CRAVE”. She wanted to have a dialogue about spirituality with a younger generation. This generation of dreamers was eager to learn from us “seasoned leaders” as much as we were willing to discover new ideas from them.
As I began this journey with Michele the unexpected came along. I thought that I had reached that age when my dreams had been fulfilled and I was satisfied with the lessons of life that I had learned. But with my exposure to the CRAVE family, I began to realize that there was so much more to discover about myself and my relationships with others.
Debra with Michele Van Son Neill at Victory Cup
My first “ah-ha” moment came in my early connection with a CRAVE leader. My role was to mentor a young CRAVE leader, meet regularly over coffee, ask questions about her project and listen, offer guidance; introduce her to other leaders who could assist in her journey; be her spiritual counselor; mentor her towards success. Ultimately what happened was that I became the “mentee”. Together we were on a self-discovery path. And it continued with each young CRAVE leader that I was able to mentor as I continued my CRAVE involvement.
Debra with Crave II Leader Chantel Aquart
My second awakening came from my experience with fellow board members. Their life experience was so very different than my own. We heavily debated the track for moving our young organization forward, each with our views based on these life experiences. But with each challenge to my way of thinking came a new understanding and the promise of future accomplishments of our young non-profit organization.
Debra with Michele Van Son Neill and Adam Hartnett, Crave I Leader and former Board member
For the past 4 years I have served as founding chair and board member of CRAVE. At our recent CRAVE graduation, as I listened to our graduates share their stories about their transformation by participating in CRAVE I, too, felt that my spiritual growth had exceeded my expectations. Although I may be stepping down from my leadership role with CRAVE, I will be in the background, cheering you on as you fulfill your dreams.
Debra Hendrickson, Founding Chair of CRAVE Board of Directors
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!
Orlando Crave Director
Endings and Beginnings
With the third year of Crave coming to an end, we celebrate the two Crave Leader graduating cohorts—one 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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Light always and ultimately overcomes the darkness. Crave exists to nourish and spread that Light.
Michele Van Son Neill