Seed Fund

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Raphael Academy

March 14, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

For its second academic year of operation, Raphael Academy a Camphill-inspired private school initiative serving students in grades six through twelve and young adults 18+ with intellectual and developmental disabilities, received a RSF Seed Fund grant of $1,000 to support and expand its vocational class offerings.

photo 1Raphael Academy’s mission is to meet its students with reverence and compassion for who they are and what they endure; and to educate them wholly, awakening their full potential as unique individuals, actively involved in life and engaged in community.

Specialty classes such as music, woodwork, handwork (weaving, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery), movement, gardening, ceramics, and painting cultivate a student’s motor skills in addition to enhancing sensory and visual perception skills. These classes complement Raphael Academy’s academic schedule, where students are immersed in an area of study, such as math, literature and science, for several weeks at a time, a method found to bring greater understanding of the material and to form a deeper relationship to the subject.

Raphael Academy promotes the practice of life skills as essential in order for their students to live the most independent life possible. Its vocational exercises focus on developing meaningful abilities to enable students to become proficient at completing everyday tasks and to develop employable skills, so that they may work towards a greater degree of self-reliance.  An article by USA Today published in 2012 claims that one in three autistic young adults have no paid job experience, college, or technical school nearly seven years after high school graduation, a problem that Raphael Academy is working to remedy within its New Orleans community.

In addition to working with students daily throughout the school year, Raphael Academy strives to serve as a resource for parents and organizations in search of alternative and continuing education for youth and young adults with special needs. Their Young Adult Program, for students aged 18+, is designed to build social skills while teaching artistic vocational skills and independent and small group living skills. Topics include how to keep a budget and shop for food and other necessities, how to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle with weekly exercises and meal plans, and how to use public transportation and basic business skills critical to running Raphael Academy’s community café.

Jacqueline Case of Raphael Academy kindly provided an update on what the RSF Seed Fund grant made possible:

photo 2“So far we have put the money to good use by purchasing a mixer for the Young Adult Program, thread for our loom [which they used to produce 2 rugs!], and clay and glazes for student ceramic projects.  Our Young Adults bake muffins weekly and then host a coffee and muffin sale on Friday mornings to both Raphael and the Waldorf School of New Orleans’ greater school community.  So far the café has raised over $600 this school year.  The YAP café also made a small donation to the Boulder, Colorado Kindergarten that was flooded this past September as New Orleans is no stranger to catastrophe!”

Thank you for your donations to the RSF Seed Fund, which make supporting organizations like Raphael Academy possible. To learn more about the Seed Fund, or to donate, please visit our website.

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Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Sustainable Economies Law Center

February 25, 2014

by Alex Haber

Building the next economy will take work in many sectors. RSF focuses on work with investors, donors, and entrepreneurs to build the direct, transparent relationships necessary to make economic renewal a reality. But as all these groups move their money and conduct their business with deep values, ossified legal structures will have to adapt and become more flexible to meet the needs of new economic relationships.

Sustainable Economies Law Center 1RSF Seed Fund grantee, Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), works precisely at this intersection. SELC provides essential legal tools – education, research, advice, and advocacy – to support a transition to local, resilient economies. It focuses in many areas, including cooperatives, community-owned enterprises, co-housing, urban agriculture, barter, and local currencies.

Last year, SELC received a grant from the Seed Fund to support a new project that helps farmers interested in sustaining and growing their businesses through community-based or crowd-sourced financing methods. These methods allow local, small-scale investors to become financial stakeholders in an enterprise, and allow enterprises to seek capital from friends, family, and community members instead of high net-worth individuals or banks. With RSF’s funding, SELC was able to run an outreach campaign and application process for this new service to assess interest among farmers, and the response was very strong.

South Central Farmers 1One of the most promising candidates was the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative (SCF), a worker-owned farm in California’s Central Valley. The coop grew around South Central Farm, a former fourteen-acre urban farm in South Central Los Angeles. After ten years of cultivating the land and building the community around it, the farmers were evicted in 2004 when the plot was slated for development. This eviction led to significant protests and civil disobedience, as well as an Academy Award nominated documentary, The Garden.

Since then, the South Central Farmers have been cultivating land in the Central Valley, and are currently looking to expand and help start other worker-owned farms. In order to do this, and to avoid the threat of eviction, SCF is looking to form a non-profit organization that could purchase land it could lease to worker-owned agricultural cooperatives, and to finance these land purchases through a public offering, so small investors, potentially from all over the state, could invest in these farms.

South Central Farmers 3

SELC and SCF hope to continue working together on this project as it evolves, and SELC is looking for funding to continue the work and develop a how-to guide for other farms interested in community-based and crowd-sourced funding.

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with the Seed Fund to support great organizations like Sustainable Economies Law Center.

Alex Haber is Program Manager of Philanthropic Services

More than Murals

February 10, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

by Megan Mendenhall

A decade and a half ago, four graduate students from the University of Texas started with a small idea: to use the arts to support youth development. From this inspiration, they created the Theater Action Project, an interactive violence prevention program that offered drama-based activities to help youth deal with social issues. In 2003, with the addition of now-Executive Director Karen LaShelle, a new team developed dozens of additional programs that incorporated more art forms and creative means—puppetry, parades, filmmaking, drumming, mural arts—and the organization was eventually reborn as Creative Action. Today, Creative Action is Central Texas’ largest provider of afterschool programming, arts enrichment, and character education, serving 18,500 youth annually.

Since its founding, Creative Action has ignited and supported the academic, social, and emotional development of over 100,000 young people in Central Texas. By providing youth with hands-on programs that utilize art making, team building, and creative problem solving, Creative Action offers a fun and engaging way to equip children and teens with important life skills.

“In the wake of rising incidents of school violence and bullying in the late 1990’s, Creative Action was formed to help give young people opportunities to develop stronger social and emotional skills,” says LaShelle. “In order to succeed and thrive, students need an opportunity to develop what I call twenty-first century skills: empathy, creativity, appreciation of diversity, critical thinking, leadership, and job training.”

These skills help define what Creative Action calls “4C” students: creative artists, courageous allies, critical thinkers, and confident leaders. These transformative qualities are what drive the development of the organization’s programming as Creative Action continuously seeks ways to fully engage young people. Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director at Creative Action, explains, “For us, art is a pathway for personal development, and our mission to empower young people to become 4C students is what informs Color Squad’s impact on both individuals and communities.”

Creative Action sets itself apart by creating programs with a dual mission: to inspire youth to become 4C students while also transforming the world around them. This past summer, the organization initiated Color Squad, a project that provides aspiring young artists with opportunities to work with professional artists to install murals that renew public spaces. Youth, ages 14-20, deeply engage with the city and its history, and build important social and emotional skills as they remake neglected spaces into places of beauty, reflection, and inspiration.

“Color Squad is unique because of the way it uses the arts as a tool for both youth development and civic engagement,” notes Torres. “Not only does the program transform participants into 4C students, but it also transforms neighborhoods and communities. It shows how art can impact people and place.”

Creative Action’s teaching artists guide and mentor a team of 25 teens over the course of a semester to install murals that elevate and illuminate historically underserved neighborhoods. At the beginning of the project, teens conduct extensive research to identify neglected spaces that could benefit from beautification and place-making. Through interviews with key players in the community, as well as library and online research, the team investigates the space with an emphasis on history, community aspirations, and current challenges.

“For Color Squad, painting a mural isn’t just about creating a picture; it’s about community engagement, creating a shared space, discovering oneself and one’s city,” Torres explains. “We see in-depth research and connecting with the community as vital to the artistic process.”

Once the team has fully explored and understood the community, they design and construct a mural and a related public arts project. The project culminates with a public reception to celebrate the artwork, artists, and local community.

In May 2013, RSF Social Finance (RSF) gave a Seed Fund grant to Color Squad to provide 25 youth stipends for its first full year in operation. The intention of the Seed Fund is to support new initiatives with small, but catalytic grants. RSF received 160 applications for the 2013 cycle and Creative Action was one of eight organizations chosen to receive grant funding.

“Creative Action’s Color Squad stood out amongst other Education & the Arts applicants because of the community involvement component,” explains Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate of Philanthropic Services at RSF.  “This project includes co-creation and celebration with the local neighborhood, which showed a high level of dedication and willingness to dig deeper into the true needs of their community.”

This past summer, Color Squad implemented their pilot program: creating signage for an East Austin food truck, Tony’s Jamaican Food. The Color Squad team partnered with neon artist and professional sign-maker Todd Sanders of Austin’s Roadhouse Relics. Sanders shared his professional expertise and taught the teens how to design and create their own signs. “The highly visible work has already been grabbing attention in the community,” says Torres, “and other business owners have been asking about our services.”

After the success of the pilot, Color Squad plans to implement two projects a year, engaging 30 youth each semester and providing guest lectures with 15 local artists, designers, and architects throughout the year. In the fall of 2013, they revitalized and restored the beloved “Greetings From Austin” postcard mural, an iconic landmark of South Austin. Color Squad again teamed up with Sanders, as well as the Bouldin Creek Community, to help return the mural to its original splendor.

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic 'Greetings From Austin' mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic ‘Greetings From Austin’ mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Next summer, Creative Action will get to work close to home. The non-profit will be relocating their headquarters to the Chestnut neighborhood of East Austin where an innovative redevelopment project is revitalizing this underserved region. This project is a collaborative partnership between a variety of organizations from both the for-profit and non-profit sector that have united to create a place rich with opportunities and resources.

To kick off their work in the neighborhood, Color Squad will be installing a community mural on Creative Action’s new building once complete. The mural will face the Metro rail so that it can be seen and enjoyed by commuters and visitors to the Chestnut neighborhood each day. Creative Action hopes to become a solid foundation for the community’s growth as a cohesive, innovative entity that welcomes and unites people of all ages and from all walks of life.

It’s clear that Creative Action’s Color Squad is making a mark on Austin’s art culture and local community. Their strategy of using the arts as a means for youth development and community engagement and revitalization offers a unique and innovative model for others.

“What is exciting about Color Squad is how the projects allow youth to create truly impactful art that actually changes public spaces,” voices Torres. “Through this process, we hope participating youth will be empowered as they discover how visual art can be bigger than just themselves, that their ideas and their work speaks to the whole community, and that they develop a greater sense of connection and purpose in their city.”

Megan Mendenhall is Communications Assistant at RSF Social Finance

Cultivating a Local Food System for Kansas City

January 17, 2014

by Meredith Storton

Kansas City, Kansas, like many urban areas in the United States, has its share of food deserts – low-income neighborhoods devoid of fresh, healthy foods; it also has its share of vacant land. Cultivate Kansas City, a local non-profit, is changing the landscape and engaging the entire community with a healthy, environmentally-sustainable venture: urban farming.

Founded in 2005, Cultivate Kansas City promotes urban farming as a way to build a healthy local food system. Along the way they have become advocates, educators, and activists supporting the production of organic, nutritious produce on the ground and in the policy space. One population that Cultivate is introducing to urban farming is the Kansas City refugee community. Responding to a demand for more community garden space for low-income refugee families, Cultivate partnered with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and three refugee organizations to begin the Juniper Gardens Training Farm and the New Roots for Refugees program. Since the program began in 2010, two gardens have been established: the Bhutanese Community Garden and the Somali Bantu Foundation garden. A third will be established in 2014.

cornFor each of these gardens, Cultivate provides the gardeners with training, basic seeds, and supplies. The gardeners receive their training at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm, an eight-acre plot of land adjacent to a public housing site where many of the refugee families live, making the location both accessible and convenient. Once these gardens are fully developed, they will help up to 600 individuals living in poverty grow food for themselves and for sale at farmer’s markets. Further, these gardens allow refugees from Bhutan, Somalia, Burma, and elsewhere to grow vegetables from their home countries, like blue Burmese pumpkins, African corn, bitter melon, Hmong red cucumber, and more.

RSF was able to provide Cultivate Kansas City with a $3,000 grant through the Seed Fund to support their work establishing the second of these gardens for the Somali Bantu community. The Somali Bantu live in northeastern Kansas City where one grocery store serves a six-mile radius and one-third of the families earn less than $10,000 annually (ISED Solutions, Apr. 2010). In Somalia, the main occupation for Bantu people is farming, so urban farming seems to be an ideal way to help them assimilate into their new home while providing them with access to fresh, healthy produce.

The nearly one-acre plot of land that will be used for this garden was donated by the Somali Bantu Foundation of Kansas, an organization dedicated to the resettlement and integration of Somali Bantu refugees. Upon first glance, the land did not appear ideal for farming; it was heavily sloped and filled with weeds and construction debris. Urban farmers make do with what’s available, though, and Cultivate Kansas City and Somali Bantu Foundation volunteers cleared the land, formed terraces, composted the soil, and planted cover crops. As a result of their efforts, a little over a half-acre is now ready for planting.

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Before the growing season begins, Cultivate Kansas City will help install two cisterns for the garden which will help them plan for water costs ahead of time (instead of connecting to the city water system directly). The plan is to plant the first vegetables in the spring, and the first harvest will be ready for enjoyment and sale at local farmers markets in the summer. To get their new gardeners ready, Cultivate Kansas City will offer workshops covering basic gardening, soil management, and planting for the region and season. They will also work with the gardeners to order seeds and supplies. The garden’s benefits will reach beyond the gardeners to their neighbors and families who will have access to fresh, healthy, culturally-appropriate, and affordable produce.

Cultivate Kansas City is doing some ground-breaking work –they’ve helped start more than 40 farms and have provided thousands of hours of technical assistance to hundreds each year. But there’s still more to be done. As their Executive Director Katherine Kelly said, “there is food to be grown and money to be made and empty lots to be turned into assets rather than blight!” Cultivate Kansas City wants to grow a movement of people who know that they can reclaim the food system and their communities, and who know there is joy and power in the process. It seems they are off to a great start.

We’re now accepting applications for 2014 Seed Fund grantees! Learn more here

Meredith Storton is Client Development Associate at RSF Social Finance

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Calypso Farm & Ecology Center

December 5, 2013

CuteSheepby Ellie Lanphier

Congratulations to 2013 Seed Fund grantee Calypso Farm and Ecology Center on a successful first Farmer Training Program!

Seven participants spent May through September at the non-profit, educational farm in Ester, Alaska. They came from all over the globe to experience a full-farm, immersive training, that included field work, business planning, mapping, mechanics, animal husbandry, and fiber arts. Support from the RSF Seed Fund helped to offset living costs for the program’s aspiring young farmers.

You can meet the 2013 Farmer Training Program Participants here. Explore the blog further to get an idea of their experience at Calypso Farm and to learn more about how to apply for the 2014 Farmer Training Program. Best of luck to all the young farmers!

Farmers_jumping

Solving Local Hunger Together: Manna Food Center & Farm to Freezer

October 3, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

Today, 1 in 6 Americans go hungry while 6 billion pounds of produce goes unharvested or unsold every year. In Gaithersburg, MD, a local non-profit has teamed up with a new for-profit social enterprise to solve this problem together.  RSF proudly supported this partnership through a 2013 Seed Fund grant.

Manna Food Center collects and distributes 3 million pounds of food annually to food-insecure clients in the Washington D.C. area. In 2012, Manna joined forces with Farm to Freezer to prevent food waste, nourish the hungry, support local farmers, and provide job training. Manna receives a generous donation of unsold surplus fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets during the growing season. Farm to Freezer prepares and freezes a portion of surplus produce to supplement the shelf stable items provided to the center’s clients during the winter months. So far this year, Manna and Farm to Freezer have rescued 36,849 pounds of produce from the compost heap. This “rescued food” is still fresh, but is nearing peak ripeness. Often, produce goes unharvested due to cosmetic imperfections alone.

Carrots_Onions_PotatoesIn 2013, Manna Food Center received a Seed Fund grant from RSF to further develop their innovative partnership with Farm to Freezer. Traditionally, food banks measure their success by “food in food out”, but Manna has begun the transition to placing an equal amount of importance on food quality and nutrition. The Seed Fund grant was made to help fund the development of an educational component to Manna’s Farm to Food Bank program so that clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate frozen local produce into healthier meals.  Beyond tackling food waste and hunger, Manna sets itself to transform how their community views its role in reducing hunger and poverty by connecting multiple agencies, partners, and community members, to identify a common goal and solve problems together.

Farm to Freezer cofounder Cheryl Kollin says, “by tapping the synergy of collaboration within our local food system, we provide more local, nutritious food to Manna Food Center’s clients in need, provide vocational training in kitchen skills to vulnerable populations, and support farmers by purchasing their surplus produce and thereby strengthening our local food economy. I believe in the power of business to do good in the community. I believe that we can make a difference without competing for scarce public and philanthropic funding.” Hear more of what Cheryl has to say in this video from TedXManhattan on the creation and work of Farm to Freezer.

“We believe that we are setting a great example of involving all levels of the community in solving local hunger,” says Mark Foraker, Director of Development at Manna Food Center. “We are working to better educate donors (individuals as well as businesses) on what foods are most in need and why.  Our Farm to Food Bank initiative is a good example of connecting food produced by local farmers to those experiencing hunger. There is a lot of talk about suburban poverty, food rescue and hunger alleviation.  It is our hope that the conversations will remain collaborative as this is a community-wide issue requiring community-wide solutions.”

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Find out more about Manna Food Center’s work on their website. If you happen to be reading this from the Gaithersburg area, check out how you can be a part of the hunger solution through volunteer opportunities with Manna and Farm to Freezer.

Announcing the 2013 RSF Seed Fund Grantees!

May 31, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

Every spring, RSF provides small gifts to seed new initiatives that offer innovative solutions in the field of social finance, or address issues in one of our three focus areas. Thank you to all of our individual investors, donors and staff members who make the RSF Seed Fund possible!

Introducing the 2013 RSF Seed Fund Grantees:

Rising Sun 1Rising Sun Energy Center is a leading green workforce development and retrofit services organization located in Berkeley, CA. The Seed Fund grant will support Rising Sun Energy Services, a project that provides highly subsidized energy efficiency audits and retrofits to moderate income home owners in Richmond and Berkeley. Rising Sun Energy Services employs graduates from the non-profit’s Green Energy Training Services program. A successful pilot program was completed in the summer of 2012, which employed 17 graduates and retrofitted over 120 homes.

 

Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), iSustainable Economies Law Center 1n Oakland, CA, was founded by two attorneys, Janelle Orsi and Jenny Kassan, to provide the essential legal tools to support a transition to localized, resilient economies. SELC seeks to educate communities about the possibilities and limits of creative economic solutions such as cooperatives, community-owned enterprises, cohousing, urban agriculture, barter and local currencies. They also advocate for laws that clear the way for more sustainable and equitable economic development. The Seed Fund grant will support new pathways to financing for small farms through Direct Public Offerings (DPOs). SELC believes that DPOs could be an effective financing strategy for beginning farmers, as DPOs enable farmers to publicize opportunities to make micro-loans or equity investments in their farms. To test their theory, SELC will manage all legal compliance paperwork for a beginning farmer with the hopes of creating tools to enable others to replicate their work.

Calypso Farm 1Calypso Farm & Ecology Center is an educational, working farm near Fairbanks, Alaska whose mission is to promote local agriculture and environmental awareness through hands-on education in farming ecosystems. The Seed Fund grant will support their Farmer Training program, a residential, experiential program focused on providing the skills and confidence necessary to embark on starting a small farm. Participants learn how to become self-reliant farmers by working alongside practiced farmers through the entire growing season and gain first-hand experience in marketing their produce through operating a CSA, running a farm stand, and selling to local restaurants.

Cultivate Kansas City (Kansas), the city’s center for urban agriculture, grows organic vegetables on two farms, trains farmers, Cultivate Kansas City 1supports local food projects and helps build communities that support small scale city farms. To date, they have helped start more than 40 farms and have provided thousands of hours of technical assistance. The Seed Fund grant will support installation of an irrigation system at the Somali Bantu Community Center Community Garden. Funds will support the design and installation of an efficient watering system, the excavation, permit and the purchasing of equipment and materials.

Creative Action 1Creative Action, in Austin, is central Texas’ largest provider of afterschool programming, arts enrichment and character education. The Seed Fund grant was awarded to support Color Squad, a teen program that will teach youth how to design and construct public murals. Color Squad will work under the guidance of a Creative Action teaching artist to identify how a historically underserved neighborhood could benefit from beautification and placemaking. Through extensive interviews of key players in the neighborhood and the city beyond, as well as internet and library research, the team will investigate the space with a focus on history, community aspirations, and current challenges. Using the information gathered, the Color Squad will design a mural and related public art projects that elevate, illuminate, and beautify the space with the ultimate goal of supporting and uplifting local residents. They will build and paint their project, and end with a community celebration of the artwork with neighborhood residents.

Raphael Academy, is a Camphill-inspired private school initiative for students in grades six through twelve and young adults ages 21+ with Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other learning disabilities. Located in New Orleans, Raphael Academy’s mission is to meet its students with reverence and compassion and to educate them wholly, awakening their full potential as unique individuals, actively involved in life and engaged in the community. They are currently enrolling students for the school’s 2nd year. The Seed Fund grant will support specialty, vocational skills classes such as gardening, ceramics, cooking, and weaving.

Raphael Academy 1

Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg, MD, collects and distributes three million pounds of food annually to food-insecure clients in the Washington DC area. The Seed Fund grant will Manna Food Center 1support their partnership with Farm to Freezer. Manna receives a generous donation of unsold surplus fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets during the growing season. Farm to Freezer prepares and freezes surplus produce in season to supplement the shelf stable items provided to the center’s clients in the winter months. The grant will specifically fund the development of an educational component to the program so that clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate the produce into healthier meals.  A Farm to Freezer kitchen manager/educator will work with Manna’s dietician to teach hands-on cooking skills and nutrition classes to Manna’s clients as well as partner organizations such as Family Services, serving psychiatric rehab clients, and Montgomery County Pre-Release program, serving incarcerated residents in their transition back into society.

Catskill Mountainkeeper, of Youngsville, NY, was founded as a community-based environmental advocacy organization dedicated to creating a flourishing sustainable economy in upstate New York. The Seed Fund grant will support their Capital Access program to facilitate farmer-friendly loans and business planning services. The program specifically looks to provide capital to farmers who want to innovate, diversify, grow or otherwise strengthen their business to establish the Catskill Mountains as a prominent foodshed for the New York Metropolitan market, as well as a consistent and reliable producer for the local economy. Catskill Mountainkeeper will include a business planning component as a requirement for participants of the Capital Access Program to help ensure a high success rate.

Catskill Mountain Keeper 1

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services.

Art as Therapy: Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area

May 3, 2013

Grand-Traverse-Womens-Resource-Center_logoby Ellie Lanphier

RSF helps fund education and arts projects that are holistic and therapeutic, especially those that foster spiritual awareness or increase access to learning and the arts.

With this focus in mind, the RSF provided a Seed Fund grant to the Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area (WRC). WRC requested support for their new art therapy program, Art for Empowerment, led by Art Therapist Dr. Barbara Macintyre and WRC advocate Susan Britton.

Through community collaboration, the WRC provides education, support, counseling, housing and advocacy to end domestic and sexual violence and promote an equitable, safe environment for all. The WRC serves five counties in northwest Lower Michigan.

The Art for Empowerment teaches domestic violence shelter clients sewing skills while working with an art therapist skilled in addressing victimization and anger management through creativity.

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living,  or those who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.”

From January 7th through February 25th 2013, a total of 38 women participated in Art for Empowerment. The goals for clients were to:

  • Learn sewing skills using sewing machines and hand stitching
  • Design and sew basic functional art items such as journals, tote bags and small handbags
  • Learn basic business and entrepreneurship skills to market and sell items
  • Work with an art therapist to address their life situations
  • Develop a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency

Participants spent the first two sessions creating reflection journals with hand-stitched bindings. Every other page of the journal had an empowerment statement followed by space for the participant to write a reflection. Dr. Macintyre worked with each woman, one on one, to discuss their written responses. The reflection journals were re-visited during the last session and many women found their initial answers had evolved significantly due to an improved outlook on life provided by their experience in Arts for Empowerment.

The women spent the rest remainder of the program creating small purses and tote bags. Discussion followed regarding “cutting, weaving and piecing together” a new life for themselves. The last session involved a discussion on the “value” of each bag, both symbolically and on a retail level.

Exit interviews revealed that all participants found the project “extremely worthwhile,” learned a new useful skill, and would repeat a similar program if offered.

To learn more about the important work of Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area, visit their website. To read about other RSF Seed Fund grantees, visit our past blog posts and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2013 grantees later this month.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.


Growing Economic Viability with Kitchen Table Advisors

March 12, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

“Sustainable food is about farmers being good to the land, making sure that the land is useful and rich for future generations,” says Anthony Chang, founder and Executive Director of Kitchen Table Advisors in Mountain View, CA. However, the chances of survival for small, sustainable farms in the U.S. can look pretty bleak. According to USDA research, 50% of small farms fail in the first 5 years and only 25% will survive for 15 years. Kitchen Table Advisors,  a 2012 RSF Seed Fund grantee, is working to improve those percentages, helping sustainable farms become sustainable businesses by providing them with in-depth financial management support and the tools needed to stay viable for the long term.

Catching up with Chang on their progress since receiving the Seed Fund grant, he reported that Kitchen Table Advisors officially launched their pilot project last month, featuring a small group of sustainable farmers in Northern California who are working to create a better food system. Chang will sit down at the kitchen table with these farmers, one-on-one, to discuss business planning, record keeping and strategies for using business and financial data to achieve long term goals and objectives on their farms.

Among the pilot group are Caleb Barron and Jonathan [Johnny] Wilson of Fogline Farm, an integrated organic farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Chang says “After going through UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Food Systems program, Johnny started Fogline Farm in his late 20s as a way to make the world a better place through growing good food and taking care of the land with regular crop rotations, animals roaming in the orchards, minimal inputs and waste.” Fogline Farms strives to grow the highest quality fruits, vegetables and meats for their community. Kitchen Table Advisors seeks to empower Johnny and Caleb, and all the farmers in their pilot project, with the business tools, resources and knowledge they need to ensure their long term economic viability.

You can join Kitchen Table Advisors in their effort to build a healthier regional food system by becoming an advocate, volunteering or making a financial contribution.  Follow Kitchen Table Advisors on Facebook or LinkedIn for the latest news and opportunities to support the economic viability of sustainable small farms. Email info@kitchentableadvisors.org if you’re interested in volunteer opportunities related to marketing & communications, business development, events or fundraising. Or donate here to Kitchen Table Advisors through their fiscal sponsor, the Trust for Conservation Innovation.

Click here for more information about the Seed Fund and how you can provide support.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Rose Rock School, Seed Fund Grantee

January 23, 2013

In the photo above, a student of Rose Rock School waters the plants that surround her school in the Norman, Oklahoma sunshine. Her school believes that a child’s development is enhanced by taking part in daily tasks and caring for his or her learning space.

The photo captures the spirit of Rose Rock, a school serving 2-6 year olds that strives to offer innovative education in a nurturing environment. A quick glance at the wonderful photos found on Norman resident Sarah Warmker’s photography page provides a glimpse into the caring, safe and creative setting founder Shanah Admadi and her team has created for their young learning community.

“Our long-term goal is to help lead children toward conscious adulthood, in which they respect diversity, interact harmoniously with all people, nurture and protect the natural world, and give joyfully to the communities in which they live.” – Rose Rock School website

Rose Rock School is a Life Ways North America Representative Site. LifeWays Child Care proposes that childcare programs can closely resemble the warm, relaxed atmosphere of a home, and that children can benefit from forming strong bonds with consistent caregivers. An emphasis on creative play rather than structured lessons is a hallmark of the LifeWays school of thought. Every day at Rose Rock the children care for the garden, play outside, and participate in the preparation and clean-up of home cooked organic meals enjoyed family style around a small table or outside on a picnic blanket.

In May 2012, The Rose Rock School Foundation received a grant from the RSF Seed Fund to establish a biodynamic garden and apiary on the school’s new site, a historic home in central Norman. Shanah provided an update on the progress they had made on this project:

“Since Rose Rock School received the grant last May, we have utilized the money to help in us tending our new 4-acre plot of land (in the center of town) with biodynamic field sprays.We have had many Rose Rock community work days, spent trimming trees, removing trash and brush, and envisioning our future at this site. Until the rezoning and construction is finished, the bees we purchased will continue to live at an off-site location outside of town.  We chose to keep them at a quieter location, while they organized themselves and recovered from their journey through the mail.  Since their arrival, they have established a healthy hive, foraged on local wildflowers, and endured their first Oklahoma summer.  We look forward to bringing them to their new home when it is ready.”

Shanah and team plan to build fencing to surround the apiary, for the protection of the children and the bees, while planting a variety of plants on the school grounds to serve as a nectar source. The school will benefit from the produce grown and honey harvested while also facilitating critical learning about the importance and value of sustainable agriculture. Remaining honey will be sold locally, to provide a revenue stream to help support the school.

For more information about the RSF Seed Fund, please visit our website.  To make a donation, please visit our donations page.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assisstant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Seed Fund

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