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.
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.
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!
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.
We are always living history. Yet, there are moments – like this one – that
will become a major Chapter Title of our Nation’s Story. Have you noticed that
triumphs of the human spirit are always tucked in a tapestry of death and destruction?
Women secured the right to vote on the heels of a bloody World War I. The Civil
Rights Act became law against the backdrop of the 20-year Vietnam War. Today,
the long-awaited public acknowledgement and conviction of systemic racism has a
voice and willing audience against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Tucked
into a larger tapestry of life’s greatest struggles are always the triumphs of
human dignity and the human spirit.
Crave claims that at the intersection
of triumph and tragedy is a story of Divine Hope. A Hope that is omnipresent, omniscient, and
omnipotent. Crave was founded on the crazy Christian idea that Hope was in our
world from the beginning…and this Divine Hope continues to show up in real
time: not just in a stable under a star at Christmas, but also in lonely
hospital rooms, empty classrooms, unemployment lines, unjust jail cells,
marches, riots…and yes, even and especially at funerals when too often a black
or brown life is senselessly taken. No
matter the tragedy, (racism, poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc.) Divine Hope
always stands her ground and has the last word.
As a Christian, I used to believe in
Divine Hope only because of my faith in Jesus.
But in the last three years, I have also met 27 Crave Leaders who embody
–they actually incarnate – Divine Hope.
Yes, of course they are launching, nurturing, and growing non-profits as
a response to our tragedies, but the Divine Hope needed today requires more
than investors, a Board of Directors, and legal status. Divine Hope takes guts, sacrifice, street
knowledge, accountability, charisma, and an unshakable vision that defines your
purpose. Crave Leaders are bursting with Divine Hope.
This month, we graduate our third class of Crave Leaders, and Reverend Shelly Denmark replaces me as Director. The only thing as exciting as what God is doing through Crave, is who God has chosen to lead it into the future. Karen Roby Winterkamp and Shelly Denmark, our staff, bring as much skill and ability as they do commitment to and passion for developing divinely inspired leaders of social change. This next year, I am honored to serve on the Board of Directors with a Rockstar line-up, as well as support the tireless and talented Advisory Council who manages the operations of our soulful learning community. This company of volunteers, our community partners, and especially our new financial supporters (thank you, Donors!) have collectively cultivated a “Crave Family” of courageous vulnerability, authentic self-mastery, and divine discovery in diversity.And what I want the whole world to know – the Good News I want to share with you – is that their Divine Hope is contagious. When you meet Crave Leaders, learn about their projects, the people they serve and why – you have an ally, a light-bearer to show you ways to illuminate the darkest parts of our broken tapestry. You can volunteer with them, you can build relationships with and through them, and you can make a positive divine impact in our community right now. They will show you how. Apply to Crave here. Donate here. Volunteer here. Learn more about Crave and our Leaders here.
Being a part of the Crave Community
remains one of the greatest blessings of my life. God is indeed doing a new
thing, and we hope you’ll join us.
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.
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!