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.

Road Trip to Jones Valley Teaching Farm

One sight you don’t expect to see in the middle of a city is a farm, but that’s exactly where we found ourselves when we made our next stop at Jones Valley Teaching Farm in Birmingham, Alabama.

This 3-acre urban teaching farm is surrounded by the Birmingham skyline, a neighborhood park, the YMCA Youth Center, an active railway that historically transported steel, mixed-income apartments, and an overpass where two of the city’s busiest highways connect.

Jones Valley Teaching Farm was originally created to provide access to fresh produce in an urban setting. We met with staff and learned about how the program has grown over the years and were impressed that through a partnership with Birmingham City Schools they now have six additional farms on school campuses where teachers, students, and parents can experience hands-on learning.

our_sitesThe knowledgeable instructors and farm staff offer classes tied to math, science, social studies, and English, as well as oversee after-school programs like student-run farmers markets and culinary clubs. We even met seven high school juniors and seniors working on the farm for course credit through a paid internship program. One of our favorite parts about this program is that it benefits pre-K through 12th graders, so students can get involved early and stick with it their entire school career.

To pick up where our journey left off, visit www.jvtf.org or watch films about their work at https://vimeo.com/jvtf.

Launching from Bunker Labs

When we arrive at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, it takes us a few minutes to find Bunker Labs. Not just because “the Mart” is one of the largest commercial buildings in the world, but because Bunker Labs’s headquarters is located at one of the nation’s largest startup incubation hubs, 1871.

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When we reach their coworking space, we find a challenge coin wall in the shape of George Washington’s face and a “coffee mess” made up of Bunker Labs mugs signed by veteran entrepreneurs. We meet Executive Director Justin Walker, a Naval Special Forces veteran who helped train more than 15,000 Navy SEALs before becoming an entrepreneur and joining the Bunker Labs team.

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We’re excited to watch as Justin is about to broadcast live online to more than 340 military veterans, active duty service members, and military spouses who are participating in Launch Lab Online (LLO). LLO is a 20-week program that helps members of the military community explore entrepreneurship and go “from idea to invoice”.

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Afterward Justin introduces us to Joe Himpelman, a LLO graduate and local veteran entrepreneur who comes by to use the coworking space and to chat with the Bunker team about his company, which makes accessories promoting pride of service to military veterans and their supports. Joe tells us that the LLO program “has been an incredible driver” and that they’ve gained 2,000 website views a month and generated $2,000 in sales in the last 45 days.

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Joe’s story is not unique, and as we leave Bunker Labs, we cannot wait to hear more success stories from veteran entrepreneurs completing the Launch Lab Online program around the U.S.

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Visit another grantee on our Road Trip!

Greetings from City Green

Our GPS tells us we are only one mile from the City Green Farm Eco-Center, yet we are wondering if it is mistaken, as we are on a highway, buzzing past dense suburbs, strip malls, and industrial districts. Sure enough, though, we pull off the exit from the Garden State Parkway and just a quarter mile up the road is a five-acre urban farm with organic vegetable production, a permaculture food forest, a “Learning Farm” educational area with chickens and a small herd of goats, and loads of native perennials buzzing with bees and butterflies.

City Green is a non-profit urban farming and gardening organization dedicated to growing food and nourishing community across New Jersey through agricultural and educational programming, creating access to farm fresh food for low-income families, and empowering residents to be active stewards of their natural environment.

We are met by the farm manager, Henry, and the food access coordinator, Lisa, who are loading the Veggie Mobile with early spring crops including spinach, beets, carrots, broccoli, and kale, as well as eggs and fruit purchased from another New Jersey farm, and City Green’s own honey. City Green’s Veggie Mobile is a refrigerated box truck equipped with market shelving and an awning for setting up mobile farm stands in crowded urban centers, which has been supported by Newman’s Own Foundation since 2015.  The Veggie Mobile allows City Green to make multiple market stops in a variety of “food desert” neighborhoods each day, while keeping the produce fresh, even on the hottest of summer days. We are excited to ride along to today’s stop at Passaic City Hall.

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We pass through the compact urban center, arriving to a crowd of young moms with strollers, who have walked to the location and are patiently waiting for the market to open. When we arrive, we chat with Felicita, a mother of three children. She emigrated to New Jersey from Mexico five years ago with her husband, and fondly remembers shopping for produce in open-air markets. Felicita currently lives in Passaic where she has had a very difficult time finding the kind of fresh vegetables she was used to in her native country. Each Friday during market season, Felicita and her sister, along with dozens of other women, wait in line — rain or shine — before the City Green truck even pulls up. She buys bags and bags of produce that she says tastes 100% better than anything she tasted since she moved to this city!

She shares with us her recipe for a traditional squash dish she cooks with City Green squash each summer, as she tells us how much it means to have this mobile farm market. City Green accepts and doubles her federal food assistance benefits, stretching her limited dollars in feeding her family the fresh, healthy food they crave. With this incentive in place, City Green nearly sells out of the day’s produce to Felicita and the other eager moms gathered at City Hall. A win-win for local farmers and families.

Read about our other stops on the Road Trip Blog or scroll through the map to see where we have been.


Greetings from CECP: The CEO Force for Good!

For the next stop on our Road Trip, we head to bustling New York City to join 52 of the world’s leading CEOs at CECP’s 13th annual Board of Boards. CECP is a CEO-led coalition that works to create a better world through business, and this visit is particularly special to us because CECP was founded by Paul Newman in 1999.

As we walk into the conference room and marvel at the city’s skyscrapers through the windows, we can immediately feel the excitement and energy as some of the most active leaders in the business world convene for a series of board meeting-style conversations to exchange ideas and share best practices. We watch as these CEOs collaborate to carry on Paul Newman’s belief that corporations can be a force for good in society.

During our visit, attendees discuss a number of issues that affect just about all companies: recognizing diversity in the workforce, managing skills and resources, and planning long-term strategy and growth. The dialog is engaging, and we can see that there’s real value emerging from the exchange of ideas and insights.

As the day wraps up, the men and women shake hands, say their goodbyes, and disperse to travel back to their respective companies to share what they learned.

With the help of Newman’s Own Foundation, these CEOs gather year after year, which helps empower corporations to be a force for good, and we’re happy to have experienced this year’s annual Board of Boards as a stop on our Road Trip.

Read about our other stops on the Road Trip Blog or scroll through the map to see where we have been.