“Discover Your Power”: Once Homeless, Caterer Stephanie Terry Now Creates Living-Wage Jobs for the Disenfranchised

Stephanie Terry once saw herself as a failure – divorced, homeless, separated by trying circumstances from her extended family.

But whatever was missing from her life, she wasn’t lacking in talent, faith and determination. Now, as owner of a catering company that provides living-wage jobs for people who ordinarily can’t find employment at all, Terry is a successful social entrepreneur who helps others achieve the kind of success that, to her, once seemed so elusive.

Terry, co-owner of Sweeties Southern and Vegan Catering in Durham, N.C., grew up in a family that loved soul food but also knew its drawbacks. Her great-grandmother, nicknamed Sweetie, developed recipes that captured the flavorful essence of soul food without all the salt, pork and fat. “The women in my family were very conscious of the need for healthy food,” Terry writes on her company’s website. “I just could not let go of the vision of honoring our food traditions while integrating healthy, vegan and vegetarian alternatives. I started Sweeties to do just that, taking my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother’s commitment and awareness to the next level.”

Still, success in the foodservice business didn’t come easily. She had worked as a baker and chef in a number of foodservice operations in Tampa, including the famous Wrights Bakery. But in 2001, after her divorce from her first husband, Terry and her four kids found themselves in a poorly run homeless shelter in Tampa.

“I know what it feels like to feel like a failure, just being a failure,” Terry said in a video interview with the Alla Faccia blog. (Note that her maiden name is Perry, but she has remarried since this video was created.) “My divorce felt like a failure … and I could not take care of my kids financially, and I became homeless. It was really hard.”

Fortunately, cooking wasn’t her only talent – she also had a knack for sales and impressive people skills. She was still living in the shelter when she landed a job as a sales coordinator for Marriott Hotels. She was so good at it that, after a bleak year of homelessness, she scraped up enough in savings to rent her own small place and eventually was able to bring her family back to her home state of North Carolina.

There, she became a volunteer for Justice United, which advocates for living wages for hotel workers, and was soon hired as a paid organizer. In 2009, she moved on to Organizing Against Racism (OAR), where she helped coordinate workshops for activists, students and scholars. As an activist herself, she even met with then-president George W. Bush and Florida Governor Jeb Bush to call attention to the often abysmal conditions in homeless shelters.

But things really took off when a caterer backed out of an OAR workshop at the last minute. Terry stepped in and did the job herself, and her food – not to mention her organizational skills – were such a hit that her services were soon in demand around the area.

Before long, Terry had launched Sweeties, serving up delicious soul-food dishes that include both meat and vegan options. As an L3C company, Sweeties makes a profit while also fulfilling a social mission, providing jobs for people with disabilities or criminal records. And it has earned extensive media coverage for its menu that includes everything from red beans and rice and mac and cheese to vegan fried chicken and vegan barbecue ribs.

“Everywhere I go, I tell people this: Vegan is the hottest trend in soul food,” she told IndyWeekly in an interview about her company.

She also makes sure to tell people that no dream is impossible – even when you feel like an utter failure.

“If I was talking to a child right now … I’ve achieved my dream, my visions, my goals, [so] I always say the one thing you must discover is your power,” Terry told Alla Faccia. “Along the way, with lots of help from wonderful people, I learned what power really is and how to be powerful. Believing in what you’re thinking, putting faith into whatever it is you’re dreaming about, and then acting from that place [of faith] will create whatever experience, anything you want.”

Campbellsville University Honors Ashli Watts with 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

By Ian McAninch

Ashli Watts, the senior vice president of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, wasn’t just the guest speaker for the commencement ceremony at Campbellsville University (CU) this May. She was also the recipient of the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

CU president Dr. Michael V. Carter, along with Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Lee and Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, presented the award to Watts.

Watts joined the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in November of 2012.  She had previously worked at the Kentucky Bar Association and the Legislative Research Commission.

Watts graduated from CU with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History in 2004 and holds a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from the University of Louisville.

“During her time at Campbellsville University, Ashli was very active in campus life, served as Student Government Association president, was an academic honors graduate, and participated in a number of student activities and organizations,” Dr. Carter said.

“Ashli is very active in a number of organizations and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, a statewide nonprofit organization through which she works with others in raising awareness on issues related to preventing child abuse and neglect. Ashli and her family are active members of First United Methodist Church in Frankfort. She currently resides in Frankfort with her husband Ryan and their two children, Emma and Carter, who join us today for the ceremony, along with other family and friends.”

CU has presented the Sullivan Award since 2002, Carter noted. “Mr. Sullivan was a lawyer, devout Christian, mediator, powerful and appealing orator, a courageous citizen during perilous times, a noted philanthropist and a devoted family man. In the words of a friend, Sullivan ‘reached out both hands in constant helpfulness to others.’”

Campbellsville University is a widely-acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 13,000 students offering over 90 programs of study including Ph.D., master, baccalaureate, associate, pre-professional and certification programs. The university has off-campus centers in Kentucky cities Louisville, Harrodsburg, Somerset, Hodgenville, and Liberty, with instructional sites in Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Summersville, all in Kentucky, and one in Costa Mesa, Calif., and a full complement of online programs. The website for complete information is campbellsville.edu.


Jaden Smith Dispatches Food Truck to Serve Vegan Meals to L.A.’s Homeless

After creating a social enterprise called Just Water with his famous dad, actor/rapper Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, made a splash this week on the streets of L.A. with a pop-up restaurant that fed the homeless.

The food truck, called the I Love You Restaurant, served vegan meals in ready-made packages. The Hollywood Reporter said the packages contained bowls of carrots and kale. Smith said in an Instagram post that the truck’s appearance “is the first of many.”

“The @ILoveYouRestaurant Is A Movement That Is All About Giving People What They Deserve, Healthy, Vegan Food For Free,” Smith posted on his Instagram account.

According to USA Today, homelessness has increased by 16 percent in Los Angeles over the past year.


The food truck isn’t Smith’s first good deed for underserved communities. Just Water, the eco-conscious bottled-water company he founded with Will Smith, uses packaging created from almost entirely renewable resources, including sugar cane-derived “plastic.” Smith’s passion for environmentalism was sparked when he was 10 years old and found himself surfing in ocean water littered with plastic bottles, the Chicago Tribune has reported. When he later learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, he was determined to do something about it.

To help with the clean-water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Just Water collaborated with First Trinity Baptist Church to provide a mobile water filtration system earlier this year. Called the Water Box, the system filters out lead and other contaminants in water. It can produce up to 10 gallons of drinking water per minute. Residents were able to fill containers of their choice with the clean water, which was available at the church.

Elon Buddies Program Receives Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service

The Elon Buddies program, a partnership between Elon University and Alamance Community College (ACC), recently received the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.

Elon Buddies gives undergraduate students the opportunity to pair with special-needs students enrolled in ACC’s Career College program twice a month. Career College is a two-year integrative certificate program for adults with intellectual or developmental and physical disabilities. It provides a foundation for transitioning into a career. Along with on-hands practicum experience, the students learn to develop their math, reading and computer skills.

About 50 Elon and ACC students participate in Elon Buddies, which will celebrate its eighth year this fall.

Read the full version of this article on the Elon University website.


Social Venture Fund Invests in Second Location of Popular Deaf-Owned Pizzeria

The deaf couple behind Mozzeria, a celebrated San Francisco pizza restaurant that employs only people who are deaf, will open a second operation next year in Washington, D.C. with help from a venture fund that supports startups addressing social needs.

The new Mozzeria location will sit just seven blocks from the first deaf-run Starbucks signing store, which also provides jobs for the deaf and hard of hearing. Also nearby is Gallaudet University, a renowned school for the deaf and hard of hearing, where Mozzeria owners Melody and Russ Stein met.

The Steins opened the first Mozzeria in December 2011. The San Francisco location also operates two food trucks. When it came time to expand to a new market, the Steins secured an investment of “several million dollars” from the Communication Service for the Deaf Social Venture Fund (CSDSVF). The CSDSVF, according to its website, was created “to invest in deaf-owned businesses that will in turn reap more than financial profit.” Social enterprise businesses that receive the venture fund’s support make money while creating positive social change and providing employment for underserved populations like the deaf.

In April Mozzeria hosted a group of children from the California School for the Deaf/Fremont.

“It’s been a longtime dream to see a deaf-owned restaurant in Washington, D.C.,” Russ Stein signed in a joint interview with the Washington Post recently.

Diners at Mozzeria place their orders in sign language or by pointing or writing with pen and paper. Both of the Steins are accomplished pizzaioli. For Melody Stein in particular, success as a restaurateur feels especially sweet because she was rejected years ago when she applied to the California Culinary Academy. “[The Academy] called my mom and said we can’t accept her application because she’s deaf,” Stein, 45, signed to The Washington Post. “What if they were in the kitchen trying to yell, ‘Out of the way!’ with hot soup? They viewed me as a liability.”

People with impaired hearing often encounter such obstacles. As the Post reports, there are roughly 30 million Americans with severe hearing loss in both ears. Only 48 percent of deaf people have jobs, compared to 72 percent of the hearing population, at least in part because many employers subscribe to inaccurate stereotypes about deaf people.

“That’s why Mozzeria is so important,” Christopher Soukup, CEO of CSDSVF, told the Post. “The more we can put those success stories out there, brick by brick we can combat that perception.”

The Meatball Pizza at Mozzeria

Davidson College Alumnus Runs Tech Nonprofit Helping Families Apply for SNAP Benefits

By Danielle Strickland

Genevieve Nielsen graduated from Sullivan Foundation partner school Davidson College just five years ago and already has made a difference in the lives of more than 425,000 families—and counting.

Nielsen co-founded mRelief, a non-profit tech company that helps families find out if they qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Families can answer 10 quick questions online instead of spending hours on the phone or in a waiting room.

“Our goal was to put something into the world that would be useful, and that turned out to be a tech nonprofit,” said Nielsen. “We want to make it so anybody can access a social safety net, and that’s where we’re headed.”

To date, mRelief has unlocked more than $91 million in SNAP benefits. There are currently nine million people in the United States who are eligible for but not receiving the benefit, simply because they don’t know they can.

“About three million of the nine million live in California, so we’ve been doing a lot of work out there,” explained Nielsen. “We focus on where we can make the most impact and where there are the most people to serve.”


mRelief began while Nielsen attended a coding bootcamp the summer after graduating from Davidson, and she was inspired by a presentation about the inefficiencies related to social services in Chicago. Chicago is also Nielsen’s home, where she and her family moved after leaving New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She learned that, every year, 10,000 people apply for assistance in paying their rent but only 400-600 qualify, resulting in a huge waste of time for applicants and staff.

Nielsen’s work focuses on SNAP benefits, but she sees real potential for expanding to other programs.

“We had some luck,” Nielsen said. “By the end of that first summer, the city wanted case workers to use our program. That gave us the wind at our backs to keep going.”

It costs approximately $13 to enroll a family and, on average, the family receives $1,000 in benefits within the first six months.

Creating something new has always been of interest to Nielsen, but it was at Davidson where she learned about her strengths and the areas where she needed more work.

“There is only so much you can learn by reading or getting advice; there’s nothing like trying something and feeling it for yourself,” she said. “During college, a friend and I tried to make a website that would benefit student organizations on campus. The main problem was that neither of us knew how to code. That really set me on the path I’m on now. Even though our project didn’t work out, there’s a lot to be said for giving it a shot, especially in college when you have the security to do it.”

Nielsen’s involvement with the Chidsey Leadership Program, as well as relationships with a few key professors, helped give her the confidence that she could learn new things and take on new challenges.

“I was always introverted, so I never saw myself as a leader,” she said. “The Chidsey program helped me see that anybody can be a leader. It’s not just one type of personality. It’s really about mobilizing people to effect positive change – and any personality can do that.”

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Davidson College website.

Student Developing Sensors for Spider Robots at Randolph-Macon College

A student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Randolph-Macon College is helping robots develop “spidey sense”—well, sort of.

Max Spivey, a computer science and cybersecurity major, is conducting robotics research at R-MC’s Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, working under the guidance of computer science professor John McManus.

Spivey’s research involves developing different gaits (the way/order the legs move) and postures (looking scared, looking aggressive) for six-legged robotic spiders. In a lab in the Copley Science Center, Spivey is developing a set of sensors that allow the spiders to perceive the environment and a set of stimulus-response behaviors for the spiders to respond to what they sense.

“In other words, I am making three large, six-legged robots that will respond to the world like real spiders do,” Spivey says. “For example, I want to program the robots to communicate about what obstacles to avoid—say, an object that is one meter away. I’m also working toward programming the spiders to react with specific behavior (such as twitching) in order to appear aggressive if they perceive a threat. If aggressive, the robots may walk faster and/or puff up to look bigger.”

Part of Max Spivey’s research involves programming robots to communicate with each other about which obstacles to avoid in their environment.

Sensors, Coding, Behavior 
The spiders are made of acrylic plastic, with micro-controller boards for the “brain,” servos (an automatic device that uses error-sensing negative feedback to correct the performance of a mechanism), and ultrasonic sensors to detect movement. Each spider, connected to a central server called a blackboard, will relay information to the blackboard, determine what to do with it, and allow the other robots to pull the information if needed. This information will most likely be about the surrounding environment and what behaviors (aggression, passivity, curiosity) the spiders will display as they respond to their environment.

Each day, Spivey adds sensors to the robots, alters code, or creates new code for the robots to use. His research goals change day by day and follow a longer-range plan that he developed for his project. He works towards those goals in the morning, and he tests the hardware and software in the afternoon and evening.

Great Ideas + Alumni Connections 
The idea behind Spivey’s research came about when McManus met with Scot Tanner, founder and producer of Stormcatcher Films in Petersburg, Virginia. Tanner was interested in finding students with robotics experience to design and program a robot spider that can move and interact with its surroundings.

“One of the big benefits of working at R-MC is that we have highly engaged alumni and staff who help faculty make connections to support our current students,” says McManus, who later met with R-MC alum Pat Filoteo, architect & principal project manager for Microsoft, Inc. – Windows Azure. “Pat and I talked about opportunities for him to engage with our students, and he generously offered to fund Max’s SURF project.”  Thanks to Filoteo, Spivey is known as the 2019 Filoteo Fellow.

Spivey’s spider robots are being programmed to learn certain behaviors, including aggression, passivity and curiosity.

“The equipment we are using in Max’s research—including the three robot spiders, sensors, and specialized batteries, isn’t something we can cover,” says McManus. “Thanks to Pat, we were able to purchase the items Max needed to get his research underway. Alumni-student connections are part of what makes R-MC unique.”

This article was adapted from the original story appearing on the Randolph-Macon College website.


It’s Official: Coker College Changes Its Name to Coker University

It’s official: Sullivan Foundation partner school Coker College began operating as Coker University on July 1, reflecting the institution’s recent growth and increased diversity of degree offerings.

Coker currently has five online master’s degree programs and grants bachelor’s degrees in over 40 subject areas, including four undergraduate degrees that can be earned entirely online. As Coker University, the value of a Coker degree is more clearly indicated to both international and domestic audiences, and the breadth of opportunities available to Coker students is now implied in the institutional name, the university stated.

“In my 10 years as president of Coker, I’ve seen this institution respond with passion and purpose to the changing needs of our students and higher education in general,” says Dr. Robert Wyatt, president of Coker University. “Transitioning to Coker University is a natural next step as we continue to implement innovative ways of helping our students achieve their personal best.”

Coker University’s newly shifted academic structure includes Coker College of Humanities and Sciences with Dr. Andrea Coldwell as dean; the School of Business with Dr. Andrew Burkemper as dean; the School of Visual and Performing Arts with Professor Angela Gallo as dean; and the Wiggins School of Education, which was founded in 2012, with Dr. Karen Carpenter continuing as dean.

The school also announced that graduates can get their diplomas reprinted with the name “Coker University” instead of “Coker College.”

In 1894, Major James Lide Coker and the Welsh Neck Baptist Association opened Welsh Neck High School, a coeducational boarding school, on what would become Coker’s campus. The grounds transitioned in 1908 to become Coker College for Women. It officially became a coeducational institution in 1969 and dropped “for Women” from its title.

In the fall of 2018, the Coker College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change the institution’s name to Coker University, effective July 1, 2019. Following that decision, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education reclassified Coker from its “Baccalaureate Colleges, Diverse Fields” category to the category of “Masters Universities, Smaller Programs.”

The crux of a Coker education still centers around personalized, discussion-based learning and the values of the university’s student covenant: integrity, respect, scholarship, sustainability, service, and contribution.

Coker’s May 2019 commencement ceremony was the last for Coker College. December 2019 graduates will be the first to receive degrees from Coker University.

This article was adapted slightly from the original story on the Coker College website.


Campbell University Divinity School Introduces New Degree Program

Campbell University’s Divinity School will introduce a new degree program for those who are looking to integrate their faith into secular careers. The program will equip students to think deeply, live faithfully and lead with purpose.

The Master of Arts in Faith and Leadership Formation is designed to help recent college graduates entering the workforce and those with established careers discover a meaningful mission in their work. Graduates of the program will leave with practical knowledge of what a life of deep faith and service-oriented leadership looks like in their fields.

The first cohort of the MA in Faith and Leadership Formation will begin in January 2020. Cameron H. J. Jorgenson, associate professor of Christian Theology & Ethics, will serve as the program’s director.

“Leadership is not just about doing. It is about becoming a person worthy of following,” Jorgenson said. “Our work is to support students in this transformation, helping them to gain the skills, knowledge and character required to love God and neighbor through their work in the world.”

The 18-month degree program is taught with both online and face-to-face instruction and designed to be accessible to students with careers or other commitments without sacrificing the valuable community that comes from learning together in a classroom.

“The Master of Arts in Faith and Leadership Formation is a dream that’s been in the making for several years,” Jorgenson explained. “But we couldn’t just repackage one of our clergy-oriented degrees and give it to folks and hope that it equips them for a life of service out in the world. We needed to build a new program from the ground up to meet the specific needs of those serving in non-ministerial careers.”

Requirements for the MA in Faith and Leadership Formation include a four-year bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale and an interview with the Divinity School. The application is now available, and the deadline to apply is Nov. 15, 2019. A new cohort will be selected each January to take on the challenge of earning a meaningful master’s degree, clarifying their future and focusing their lives and careers around their faith.

“We find ourselves in a time of rapid change, both for society and the church,” said Andy Wakefield, dean of Campbell Divinity School. “In response, we’ve seen Christians who are called and gifted by God to be lawyers, teachers, doctors, business leaders, engineers and more, eager to dig more deeply into the Bible, to pursue depth in their character and to practice their faith with substance. This new degree will equip them to do just that — to live purposeful and intentional lives of faith and Christian service in the context of any and every vocation to which God has called them.”

This article is adapted slightly from the original version on the Campbell University website.

Costa Rica Moves Closer to Plastic-Free and Carbon-Free Goals

It’s only about the size of West Virginia, but Costa Rica has become a big player in efforts to protect the global environment. The Central American country—known for its lush rainforests, cloud forests and tropical dry forests—is already a worldwide leader in renewable resources. Its next big goal: to be the first plastic-free and carbon-free nation by 2021.

Since 2014, Costa Rica has been deriving its energy from 99 percent renewable sources and has run on 100 percent renewable energy for over two months twice in the last two years, according to Intelligent Living. In June 2017, the nation of less than 5 million people set the goal of eradicating single-use plastic by 2021 and in the summer of 2018, it announced plans to become completely carbon-neutral by 2021.

Carlos Alvarado, Costa Rica’s president, announced the goals in April of this year. Outdoor Journal reports that Costa Rica has “one of the lowest ratios of greenhouse gas emissions to electrical consumption on the planet,” but adds, “The biggest challenge in the way of fully decarbonizing by 2021 is to eliminate fossil fuels from the transportation sector,” which “remains largely petrol-dependent.”

Although many consider Alvarado’s plan too ambitious, Costa Rica has made huge strides in other environmental efforts, such as doubling its forest density from 26 percent in 1984 to 52 percent in 2019. That could make going carbon-free a little easier, the Outdoor Journal says. “One goal of carbon neutrality aims to offset the use of coal, oil and gasoline combustion by a corresponding reduction of greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, such as reforestation.”

Photo by Nick Dietrich

But Alvarado and Costa Rica’s political leaders will also have to “dramatically initiate policies to promote the use of renewables in transportation, both in public and private sectors, such as offering tax incentives for its private corporations and citizens to purchase electric vehicles.”

Going plastic-free will be another big challenge. As of 2018, Costa Rica was Central America’s largest plastic importer, and much of it ends up polluting the country’s rivers, lakes and beaches. “Transforming Costa Rica into a plastic-free zone is a national strategy that will rely on voluntary action across national industries as well as at the community level,” the Outdoor Journal points out. While public institutions and agencies can be required to stop buying single-use plastic, individual consumers will have to do so voluntarily.

“The country will also need alternative biodegradable products, incentives to comply with policies, and punishments for bad actors,” the publication adds.

Costa Rica isn’t alone in its determination to get rid of single-use plastic. Ten single-use plastic items will be banned in Ireland by 2021. These include plastic straws, plates and cutlery, cotton buds, balloon sticks and cigarette filters, according to the Irish Mirror. “There is a growing sense of urgency in European society to do whatever it takes to stop plastic pollution in our oceans,” said First Vice President Frans Timmermans of the European Parliament. “The new rules … will help us to protect the health of our people and safeguard our natural environment while promoting more sustainable production and consumption.”

A joint statement from several Costa Rican officials in 2017 showed equal resolve. “Single-use plastics are a problem not only for Costa Rica but also for the whole world,” read the statement from Environment and Energy Minister Edgar Gutierrez, Health Minister Maria Esther Anchia and UNDP Costa Rica Resident Representative Alice Shackelford. “It is estimated that if the current consumption pattern continues, by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish—measured by weight. For this reason, we began our journey to turn Costa Rica into a single-use plastic-free zone. It’s a win-win for all: Costa Rica, the people and the planet.”