Category: Road Trip

Greetings from Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center

On the corner of Walnut Avenue and Chestnut Street in downtown Santa Cruz, California, there stands an old blue Victorian house. Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center has called that house at 303 Walnut Avenue home since 1944. Many of the families participating in Walnut Avenue’s programs are from under-served populations due to poverty, early pregnancy, homelessness, and/or domestic violence.  

Here at Walnut Avenue, the Family Support Services (FSS) program provides support to their participants by managing their Food Bank. The goal of FSS is to ensure that everyone who enters their doors feels welcomed, respected, and cared for.  

One of Walnut Avenue’s participants shares, “My children and I have benefited from the supplemental food program greatly, allowing us to have healthy meals at home together.” Another states, “The food donations help me to save a little extra money for prescription co-payments and other things that I couldn’t normally afford, like movie tickets or a professional haircut.” The food Walnut Avenue provides to their participants has alleviated financial stress for them and their families. One notes that, “It is so helpful. I’m able to put the money I save towards my PG&E bill.” 

Rachel Willis, one of their many dedicated volunteers, arrives at Walnut Avenue bright and early every Thursday morning to make 25-30 supplemental food bags, which are passed out on Fridays.

Their Food Bank will soon include a fridge for fresh produce, made possible by Newman’s Own Foundation. The fresh produce is vital for the health of the families they serve, especially as the cost of living keeps rising.  

Feeding Fairfield County

For the next stop on our Road Trip, we’re close to home at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission (BRM) in Bridgeport, Connecticut. When we arrive, we head straight to the dining room, where lunch is being served to the homeless and hungry of Fairfield County. We sit down at a table with a few guests to hear more about what’s brought them in today.

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Mobile Kitchens bring delicious and nutritious meals to neighbors in need

Our new friends who we are seated with, let us know that they are thankful for the opportunity to visit BRM every day. These on-site meals are served three times a day all year round, so guests are sure to get a hot meal even when it’s cold or snowing outside.

In fact, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission serves over 550,000 meals each year to men, women, and children in coastal Fairfield County. We learn that in addition to the on-site meals, BRM has a few other ways of getting food to those in need.

Mobile Kitchen: The Mobile Kitchen brings delicious fresh-cooked meals to families living in the Bridgeport or Norwalk low-income neighborhoods.

Food Pantry: Open on weekdays, the Pantry is the largest in the region. It offers groceries, fresh produce, meat, and bread to food-insecure families.

Great ThanksGiving Project: The annual Great ThanksGiving Project provides frozen turkeys, other Thanksgiving favorites, and winter coats to 3,200 families in need.

BRM also helps facilitate programs like Norwalk Summer Lunch, when donors come together to make meals for children at Norwalk Learning Centers. We’re impressed by all the creative ways BRM makes sure the residents of coastal Fairfield County don’t go hungry.

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Retail partners help bring fresh produce to families in need

It’s been a great visit to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, and we’re happy to help support them as they bring delicious and nutritious meals to our neighbors in need.

Experiencing Summer Camp in the Poconos

Driving through the Poconos in Pennsylvania, just 120 miles west of New York City, we pull through the gates of Camp Equinunk and the campus unfolds before us. We arrive just as the sun begins to set on a busy and active day of fun, and the energy we feel makes it apparent that this isn’t your average summer camp.

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Camp Equinunk is part of Experience Camps, and it’s a place where grieving children come together to have fun, form bonds, learn coping skills, and know they’re not alone. The secret ingredient to this magical place is the depth and inclusiveness of the relationships that are formed.

Waterfront dance party

Experience Camps has four locations around the country with more than 600 campers, 300 volunteers, 25 licensed clinicians, and countless others whose lives have been affected by loss.

Banana boating

On this final night of camp, the campers gather one last time for their closing campfire. We watch as each child is invited up to light a candle for their person or people who died and to share a few words about camp, grief, or friendship. It’s a remarkably moving experience—one that leaves us emotionally drained, but also charged with hope for each of these resilient kids. The road through grief can be a long one for a child. Thanks to Experience Camps, that journey is shared with understanding friends and a newfound community of support.

ABRI Homes for the Brave

For our next stop, we leave the Newman’s Own Foundation headquarters, hop on the highway, and get off after a few exits when we arrive in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In just 15 minutes, we pull up to the headquarters of  Homes for the Brave (HFTB) and make our way into the three-story brick building.

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HFTB provides housing and support to homeless men and women who have served our country. Today, we’re meeting with Executive Director Vincent Santilli to learn more about the organization. Vincent explains that the transitional home for men,  which holds 42 beds, opened in 2002.  The women’s program, which has 15 beds, opened in 2011 and is the only type of its kind in the TriState area.

Residents range from individuals in their 20s all the way into their 90s, each struggling with physical or mental health issues; drug, alcohol, and substance abuse; former incarceration; limited education and training; or financial hardships. The goal of HFTB is to help the residents overcome these barriers in a safe environment. We learn that each participant of the program works with a team of professionals to find safe, affordable housing and return to a meaningful and productive life. Residents have the opportunity to attend computer classes, pre-employment workshops, and life skills sessions. During our tour of the building, we see the fully-stocked kitchen, laundry room, computer lab, and several social gathering areas. Vincent tells us that each resident helps out with daily chores to keep the home clean and comfortable.

We’re impressed by all the great things happening at HFTB and all the progress these men and women are making with the support of the program.

The Gateway to Learning

St. Louis is most famous for the Gateway Arch, but for local children who have learning differences, Miriam School and Miriam Academy are landmarks of even greater significance. Today, we’re lucky to have the chance to tour Miriam with someone who knows the school very well—current student Devlin Riney.

Devlin and momDevlin and his mother, Heather, greet us at the front doors of Miriam Academy, which serves students in grades 9-12. Right away, we’re blown away by their enthusiasm and appreciation for the school. We can tell this is a place where Devlin feels happy and comfortable.

As we walk down the hallways to Devlin’s classroom, we learn that over the years Devlin has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and anxiety. Heather tells us that growing up, Devlin had few friends and struggled to keep up in the traditional classroom setting. He became more and more isolated, and it was clear something had to change. A friend recommended Miriam, and Heather knew right away that it was exactly where Devlin belonged.

She was right. Devlin found his home at Miriam. “When I drop Devlin off, I sometimes find myself tearing up because I am so thankful for Miriam. The staff not only understand him, they embrace him. Devlin thinks outside of the box, and the teachers know how to encourage him…His experience at Miriam has given me confidence that Devlin has a chance at a really great life, with friends and love. Miriam is the difference between surviving and thriving,” Heather shares.Devlin reading

We’re grateful to have met Devlin and Heather and to have stopped by this amazing school that is making a difference in Devlin’s life and the lives of nearly 1000 other students with learning differences in St. Louis.

Woodworking with Veterans in Indiana

Today we’re joined by Work Vessels for Vets, a nonprofit that sends equipment to injured veterans who are starting a business. We’re all excited to be heading to Bloomington, Indiana, to spend the day with Justin Morseth.

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Justin and his dog are waiting to welcome us into his home, and we sit down to learn more about his story. Justin is an army infantry captain who served in Iraq in 2003, but he returned home with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that made it hard to readjust to daily life. “Like many veterans, specifically veterans with service-connected disabilities, I just wanted to get on with my life after leaving the military. I had an initial dream of starting a large contracting business, but found my TBI, seizures, and back injuries were too severe to allow such an endeavor,” Justin tells us.

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But thanks to Work Vessels for Vets, Justin was able to pursue his dream of owning his own business. Work Vessels for Vets explains to us how they arranged to purchase a specialized computerized laser router for intricate woodworking projects at a discounted rate. They then used matching funds from donors and a grant from Newman’s Own Foundation to purchase the laser for Justin.

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We can’t wait to see some of Justin’s projects, so we head down the hall to his workshop, where he runs Willing and Able Contractors. Justin shows us a variety of wooden objects he’s made, including an American flag, football, and carved tree. He then brings us over to his equipment table with a smile on his face. “I never could have afforded the one critical tool I needed to get started. Work Vessels for Vets gave me this amazing laser router, adapted for my injuries, and now I am able to create unique and in-demand products.”

Justin is one of more than 1,800 veterans who have received equipment for their start-up businesses. We’re happy to have seen Justin’s success story firsthand, and we can’t wait to hear how his small business continues to grow.

Go Propeller

Nestled in a city known for its rich culture, delicious food, lively jazz scene, and Mardi Gras is Propeller, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs tackle social and environmental inequities in water, food, health, and education. We make our way to the heart of New Orleans, where we find the Propeller Incubator, a 10,000 square foot coworking space where the Propeller community comes together.

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Propeller’s coworking space is home to over 50+ organizations and 100+ individuals.

We’re greeted by Executive Director Andrea Chen who takes us on a tour of the building with its unique pops of color, floor to ceiling windows, and plenty of desks, offices, and conference rooms. We settle in the lounge area to learn more about what Propeller does.

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Propeller operates is programs for entrepreneurs out of its 10,000 square foot coworking space.

Andrea shares that Propeller connects businesses and nonprofits to mentors in financial planning, HR, marketing, and design to increase their financial sustainability and impact. In addition to supporting local food businesses through their programs, the organization is also working on initiatives that increase access to healthy foods for all New Orleanians.

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Propeller graduate entrepreneur VEGGI Farmers Cooperative supports Vietnamese farmers in New Orleans East.

We are particularly interested to hear more about the Healthy Corner Store Collaborative, a program Propeller runs in partnership with the City of New Orleans and two local nonprofits, Top Box Foods and Liberty’s Kitchen. The program offers business sustainability for local corner store owners while also bringing in more fresh, healthy food for customers.

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Former Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu at the grand opening of Danny Food Store, a participant in the Propeller-run Healthy Corner Store Collaborative

As we wrap up our day at the Propeller Incubator, we learn that since 2011, Propeller has worked with 200 entrepreneurs, who have created jobs for 460 New Orleanians. We look forward to seeing these numbers continue to grow.