Destination: American Mural Project

As we drive along Connecticut Route 8, it’s evident why the American Mural Project (AMP) chose Winsted—one of the first mill towns in Connecticut—to showcase the largest indoor collaborative artwork in the world. Measuring 120 feet long, 48 feet high, and up to 10 feet deep when it is completed, the mural will be a visual history of America over the last half century through its workers.

The first sounds we hear as we walk into the newly renovated mill building are children’s voices and metal grinding. Founder and artist Ellen Griesedieck is busy assembling pieces of the mural and preparing them to be affixed to the giant armature while elementary students in AMP’s after-school enrichment program create story drums about the work they aspire to do.

As a hub for community and regional programs and events and as a national tourist destination, AMP will play a major role in the economic and social revitalization of the region.

Griesedieck radiates excitement as she describes the future of AMP: “We’ve worked with people across the country to help create pieces of the mural, to honor those who work on our behalf and go unnoticed, and in the process have helped give them—particularly young people—incentive about what work they will choose to do. That’s why I always say that AMP is a tribute and a challenge.” Griesedieck tells us that more than 15,000 children and adults have helped create pieces of the mural, and an additional 30,000 from all 50 states are expected to help finish the project.

Through in-school residencies, after-school and summer arts programs, and a robust internship program, AMP’s art-based learning opportunities focus on collaboration, problem-solving, and creative innovation.

It’s this intersection of art and work that Newman’s Own Foundation has helped support for the last several years. With many programs already underway, AMP will also be hosting open tour days and special events later this year, with opportunities to see the mural installation progress. The mural will become a destination for educational programs, summer enrichment activities, lectures, and workshops. In addition, a multi-subject curriculum based on the mural is now in pilot programs in local schools, and an online version is in development.

For other destinations we’ve visited on our Road Trip, click here or the map below.

Happiness Is Camping

A Camp for Kids with Cancer since 1982

As we pull into the driveway of Happiness Is Camping, we’re greeted by the fun and chaos seen in summer camps across the country. Children are splashing in the pool, and sounds of laughter and play break the quiet of the peaceful country setting. But at this camp, the chance for these children to enjoy typical playful activities is extra magical.

Happiness Is Camping provides free summer camp to children with cancer and their siblings. Many of the campers are on active cancer treatment and are too sick to attend other camps. But Happiness Is Camping makes sure to treat these children just like other kids.

Each day begins with the raising of the flag at 8 a.m., and campers spend the day riding the zip line, climbing the climbing wall, shooting archery, and more. For many children, these events are the first physical activity they’ve done since their cancer diagnosis. Throughout the day, campers can receive chemotherapy and pain management therapy in the health center, rest, and then rejoin their friends at camp activities.

Children at Happiness Is Camping leave the hospital and have fun at a camp where no one is judged for a bald head or a prosthetic limb. Camp helps these children develop friendships and focus on their personal development. Most importantly, it brings smiles back to the faces of children with cancer. Simply put, Happiness Is Camping allows children to live again. 

Last summer marked Happiness Is Camping’s 37th year of providing free camp to these most special of campers, and Newman’s Own Foundation has provided funding to their camp program from the very beginning. 

Check out other stops on our road trip here or by clicking on the map below.

A Veteran’s Story of Perseverance – Sentinels of Freedom

We’ve been looking forward to heading to California to meet with Jhonnatan “Johnny” Chinchilla for a while, and now that we’re finally here, we can’t wait to learn more about his journey and Sentinels of Freedom (SOF), the nonprofit that’s supported him along the way. 

Johnny greets us with a huge smile and invites us into his home. Originally from Guatemala, Johnny came to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. Following high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, before being honorably discharged due to severe back injuries sustained in active duty. 

Johnny tells us that after returning home, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. As a single father, it was a scary time for him and his daughter, but he won the battle. With the help of SOF, he decided his next step would be to pursue a higher education degree.

Johnny proudly shows us his University of San Diego diploma, and he lets us know that he was honored with multiple academic awards, including a special award created just for him, The Jhonnatan Chinchilla Perseverance Award.

Diversity Leadership Award with his Children

We can see the pride in Johnny’s face, and we’re overwhelmed by all that he’s accomplished. As we get ready to leave, Johnny tells us, “The support I have received from Sentinels of Freedom has been magnificent. I credit a lot of my success and confidence to SOF. My family and I are forever grateful for the amazing contribution and support.”

Thanks to a Newman’s Own Foundation grant, SOF was able to provide living subsidies and mentoring to help this first-generation college graduate achieve his dream.

Join us on other stops on our road trip here or by clicking on the map below.

Overcoming Obstacles in Stowe, VT

We drive north on Route 100, passing a cider mill, a health food store, maple product stands, and rolling green hills. We are traveling to the idyllic ski town of Stowe, Vermont, to witness a Positive Tracks Challenge. As we approach the playing field, we see objects scattered about the grass including tires, ropes, and a 7-foot-tall wooden wall. Positive Tracks is a national nonprofit that empowers youth to be a part of the change they want to see in the world. They are able to make a difference for causes that are meaningful to them. Positive Tracks supports these changemakers through mentorship, leadership development, and the power of athletics. Today in Stowe, Positive Tracks is helping Cam Beecy honor his friend Kacy, who he lost to suicide when the two were just 13 years old.

Ava Pavlik & Cam Beecy

We meet with Cam who explains to us the purpose of today’s Fight for Life event, which he organized with Kacy’s sister, Ava. He says that the challenge is an outdoor obstacle course designed to create conversation and awareness around teen suicide and to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Cam wants others to understand the importance of communicating with someone contemplating suicide—to ease their burden and to help them choose life—so he has challenged the participants to carry a tire through the obstacle course to represent a friend whose life they were saving by helping them carry their burden.

We watch as 88 youth participants make their way through the obstacle course—crawling under nets, sprinting around cones, climbing up and over a wall—all without ever letting go of the tire. Never Losing contact. By the end of the race, everyone has made sure that the “friends” they carried made it to the finish line.

With Cam leading the charge, the event helped 88 young individuals be better prepared when they notice peers struggling with mental illness. And all of this was made possible with support from Positive Tracks.

As we pack up to head down the road to our next Road Trip destination, we are left with Cam’s final words: “The world belongs to the next generation. The time to create change is now.”

For all our Road Trip Blogs, click here!

A Hunger Free Vermont

Today we are visiting Bennington Early Childhood Center in beautiful Bennington, Vermont, where Hunger Free Vermont staff member Katy Davis has come to present a Tiny Tastes activity to a group of 2- and 3-year-olds. To encourage them to ultimately try a lemon garlic noodles dish, Katy begins by offering the children plain noodles.  We then listen as she sings a song about going to the market and shows the children what she bought: a lemon, parsley, and a head of garlic. Explaining to the children where each item comes from, she offers them a piece to taste. Finally, she offers the children noodles with the ingredients they’ve already tasted mixed in. To everyone’s surprise, all of the children try each of the separate ingredients as well as the finished noodles dish, and they were full of smiles and curiosity the entire time.

Dishing out the finished product

Finding ways to help very young children learn to enjoy a variety of healthy foods is important. Katy explains that when children between birth and age 5—the most critical years of physical and emotional development—don’t get the right nutrients, their brains fail to develop properly. That’s where Hunger Free Vermont comes in. As Vermont’s anti-hunger advocacy and education organization, their goal is to make sure Vermonters have access to the nutrition education they need to make healthy food choices. Their staff works with childcare providers, schools, and communities all over the state to help teach children and their parents about the connection between nutrition and development.

As we prepare to return to the road, Katy shares some exciting news with us. The Newman’s Own Foundation funding that Hunger Free Vermont received this year is helping them create a new online Resource Hub that will house all their nutrition education resources, including the Tiny Tastes curriculum. Once the Hub is created, childcare providers all over Vermont and beyond will be able to download the curriculum to use in a variety of formats and settings. Hunger Free Vermont and Newman’s Own Foundation are excited that the Resource Hub will bring nutrition education to a greater number of children and families.

Check out our other Road Trip Blogs here!

Visiting CT Schoolyards

Today we’ve been invited to Brennan Rogers School in New Haven, Connecticut, to participate in their Outdoor Day, which is organized and run by the CT Schoolyards Program at Common Ground.

When we arrive, we are greeted by several eager third and fourth graders as well as Schoolyards Program Manager Suzannah Holsenbeck and Schoolyards Program Coordinator Kendra Dawsey. They’re all ready to begin their day of fun and learning outside, and we’re excited to be joining them.

Suzannah and Kendra lead us to the school’s garden beds, where several students and teachers have already begun working. We spend the morning gardening before taking a break for lunch, which is a kale salad that the third and fourth graders have helped harvest and prepare.

As we enjoy the fresh food, Suzannah and Kendra tell us more about the CT Schoolyards Program. They work with 19 New Haven schools to plant garden beds and educate students about the importance of healthy living. Recently, they taught three special needs classes how to plant vegetables in handicap accessible garden beds at East Rock School. They also just finished installing three new garden beds and a huge insect hotel with all the kindergarten through eighth graders at Bishop Woods School.

As we wrap up a productive day at Brennan Rogers School, Suzannah and Kendra are already thinking about their next Outdoor Day, and we know the next group of students will have just as much fun as we did.

An Edible Schoolyard Grows in Brooklyn

Our next journey begins with the sights of tall rows of corn, beans, and squash which lead the way to seemingly endless raised beds of mixed greens, vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs like molokhia and basil. We hear the clucking and chattering of chickens in a coop. You might think you are in America’s Great Plains, or on a small rural farm in an unpopulated area, but you’d be surprised to know we are making our way through Gravesend, Brooklyn near Coney Island to Public School 216.

The flourishing garden we find ourselves in used to be a cement parking lot until Edible Schoolyard NYC transformed the area into a half-acre organic garden. Students learn to grow and harvest around 160 different types of fruits, grains, herbs, and vegetables.

We’re met by Edible Schoolyard NYC’s Executive Director Kate Brashares, and she shows us around the garden, greenhouse, and the outdoor classroom. It’s the perfect setup for students to get a hands-on gardening and cooking education.

Kate tells us that Gravesend was a natural choice for establishing Edible Schoolyard NYC’s inaugural Demonstration School because the neighborhood has the third lowest percentage of open green space in Brooklyn. Today, P.S. 216 has become a model for edible education and serves as Edible Schoolyard NYC’s hub for developing new curriculum and sharing best practices with other educators.

Through support from Newman’s Own Foundation, Edible Schoolyard NYC continues to expand and refine their Demonstration Schools model to benefit all of its programs, and by extension, students, families, and communities throughout NYC. We’re proud to work with an organization that’s making a difference for tens of thousands of students.