Field Trip Spotlight: This Pay-What-You-Can Cafe Makes Everyone Feel Welcome, Regardless of Income

There’s room for everyone at A Place at the Table, a pay-what-you-can cafe in Raleigh, North Carolina, that provides delicious, fresh and healthy meals and coffee drinks to customers regardless of their income.

Opened in January 2018, A Place at the Table is one of many social enterprises featured in the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Fall 2019 Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh. The field trip, which takes place Sept. 13-15, will take changemakers in the Sullivan network to a range of nonprofit and for-profit enterprises in the Raleigh-Durham region.

The deadline to register for the field trip is Friday, Sept. 6.

Maggie Kane, the café’s executive director, hit upon the idea for A Place at the Table several years ago after learning about pay-what-you-can concepts through the nonprofit One World Everybody Eats, according to She spent many hours at a similar operation, F.A.R.M. Café in Boone, N.C., to learn its ins and outs and consulted with successful restaurateurs in Raleigh for more guidance, all while rounding up financial support from local churches, faith-based organizations and businesses.

this photo shows the clientele at A Place at the Table

Customers can enjoy good conversation over a Cardamon Rose Latte at A Place at the Table.

“It took three years to spread the word, to tell people who we were, to have people support us,” Kane told Indyweek. “We then had to find a location. A lot of landlords turned us away. People turned us down because we weren’t a sexy restaurant they wanted to put in their space.”

But “sexy” isn’t really what A Place at the Table is about. “Wholesome” is a better word. It’s a café that specializes in delicious, healthy meals—breakfast and lunch—prepared with an artisanal touch. Menu items range from avocado toast, quiche and eggs, and yogurt and granola bowls to sandwiches like the Smokey Chipotle Pimento Cheese, the Caprese Panini and the Turkey Gouda Melt. Customers can also opt for soups and salads featuring local seasonal ingredients.

this photo shows how tasty the sandwiches look at A Place at the Table

The Ham and Cheddar Melt is one of many sandwiches, paninis and melts on the menu.

As for the prices on the menu, they’re perfectly reasonable—and merely suggestions. Customers can pay the full price or at least half of it, and if they can’t afford either, they can volunteer with the café. In that case, they’ll be assigned jobs that fit their abilities—from pulling kitchen duty to wiping tables or washing windows.

Customers who can afford to pay more than the suggested price are encouraged to do so, with the extra money going back into A Place at the Table’s overall operations. “Other (pay-what-you-can) cafes’ operations show that 80 percent of people need to be paying the suggested donation or paying more for their meal,” the café’s website states.

Customers can also purchase $10 tokens and give them out to others in need. After all, A Place at the Table is as much about bringing people together as it is about food. “We are a welcoming and inviting space that provides an opportunity for all people to come and experience conversation and community while enjoying an excellent, fresh and healthy meal,” the website states. “People long for a community, a place to fit in, a place to feel welcome, and a place to be a part of something bigger than just themselves.”

this photo illustrates how many people have been helped by A Place at the Table
A Place at the Table’s staff includes an executive chef, three sous-chefs and two baristas, among others. Kane grew up volunteering in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and after dining in soup kitchens herself to get the full experience, she realized something was missing. “I hated not getting to choose what I wanted to eat, having a plate of food I didn’t like, and being rushed,” she told Indyweek. “You had to stand in line and then eat in five minutes. There was no community in that moment.”

Dining should be a communal experience, Kane believes, and a meal should never feel like a handout. That was her goal for A Place at the Table. As she told, “I think there is a dignity in getting to choose what you want versus being handed a plate, in being served, having someone bring it to you, filling your water glass for you, and getting to sit down and savor it.”

Meet the Ignite Retreat Coaches: Ajax Jackson Teaches Yoga as a Technology for Life Transformation

The internet abounds with apps and tools for yoga practitioners, but Ajax Jackson, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio in New Orleans and a coach at the upcoming Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, knows yoga itself is a technology—one that has been delivering results for more than 5,000 years.

Although viewed by most as a spiritual practice, yoga, Jackson says, is also “an ancient technology still relevant for our modern-day ills. It’s a technology focused on the mind and body. Think about it: Humans have been using tools for a long time. In fact, we have progressed so much because of tools. Yoga should be used and viewed in the same way. Life is considered a process, and yoga prepares us for this process called life.”

Related: Learn more about the Fall Ignite Retreat, Oct. 18-20, in Asheville, N.C.

Many in the medical field agree. “Along with offering direct health benefits, the various yoga tools—including the physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation—are part of a systematic technology for life transformation, a step-by-step method for changing bad habits,” notes Dr. Timothy McCall, a physician and the medical editor of Yoga Journal.

this photo captures both the spirit of New Orleans and Ajax Jackson's colorful personality

Ajax Jackson, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio in New Orleans, said she will serve as a “living, breathing case-study coach” at the Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat.

Jackson founded New Orleans’ first black-owned yoga studio because she wanted to teach others to make this proven technology work for them. With a background in socio-cultural anthropology, education and the nonprofit sector, she said, “I have been in the business of understanding, educating and caring for people most of my adult life.”

She opened Magnolia Yoga after receiving her own “life tune-up” through yoga. “I decided to study the technology formally with a world-renowned yoga teacher, training to open a studio to make a living doing what I love while supporting people’s healing and development of self. With this plan, I knew I could help transform the world!”

Magnolia Yoga offers private instruction for individuals as well as group classes and corporate yoga for businesses looking to improve workplace morale, increase productivity and encourage teamwork. Offering classes seven days a week, the studio is only closed on Christmas Day, Jackson said.

Related: View a pictorial of the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat

“We have become a beacon of light for New Orleans residents, locals, natives, transplants and all of her international visitors,” Jackson said. “The city at large and our surrounding area have never seen a business like ours before, and because of that and the positive impact and influence of the work, we are considered a gem!”

this photo depicts the healing nature of one of Ajax Jackson's yoga classes

For individuals taking Ajax Jackson’s classes, yoga is both a spiritual practice and a technology that promotes healing and self-improvement.

For Jackson, every new challenge is an opportunity to learn and improve herself, and the upcoming Ignite Retreat will be no different. “Participating in the Ignite Retreat allows me to focus on several areas of my own education and professionalism that need development while I share and cultivate with others,” she said. “I want to serve and learn from our younger generations as well as teach them the value of self-care and radical self-development through yoga and meditation.”

Jackson said she will serve as “a living, breathing case-study coach” for students at the Ignite Retreat and share her own experiences as an entrepreneur with a strong focus on helping others. She will also lead a yoga class for interested participants.

“I think having coaches accessible in this format is brilliant and a great model for other organizations to consider using,” she said. “With hope and inspiration, I plan on weaving in themes and teachings that correlate with and complement the Ignite Retreat’s mission.”

The Fall Ignite Retreat will be held Oct. 18-20 in Asheville, N.C., and features workshops and seminars led by dynamic facilitators, speakers and social entrepreneurs from around the U.S. Click here for more information or to register to attend.

this photo demonstrates a yoga pose taught in Ajax Jackson's class

“We are in a hard-fought moment right now where much of our hard work on all fronts is paying off,” Jackson said. “I’m very proud of this moment because I just put my head down and worked for it. I just happened to look up and realized we actually made it out of the swamp!”

University Students Learn Social Entrepreneurship Skills at Sullivan Foundation’s Upcoming Ignite Retreat

Students from throughout the southeastern United States will meet in Asheville, N.C., October 18-20, to attend the Sullivan Foundation’s social entrepreneurship-focused Ignite Retreat.

Sullivan retreats are designed to immerse students in a series of targeted workshops that help them “ignite” ideas for making positive change in their communities or develop a social business enterprise or event that might solve or alleviate a problem.

this photo conveys the energy of the Ignite Retreat attendees

Ignite Retreat attendees learned how to build social enterprise businesses and made new connections and friends at the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat.

“The Sullivan Foundation recognizes students and community leaders who have led lives with integrity characterized by service above self and service to their communities. We’ve presented awards each year since 1890 to outstanding students primarily. And since 1934, we have provided scholarships to deserving students,” said Steve McDavid, the Foundation’s president. “In 2008, we added focused programming, including the Ignite events, to foster social enterprise activities.”

Related: View a photo gallery of the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat

Students interested in the Ignite Retreat may attend a series of workshops and activities and connect with many socially conscious, like-minded individuals from throughout the southeast and beyond. They may also choose from three educational programming tracks for the weekend based on whether they are just beginning their social entrepreneurial journey, have a set of social challenges they would like to learn how to address now, or have a specific social venture they would like to bring to life.

this photo depicts a self-empowered yoga instructor who will facilitate workshops at the Sullivan Foundation's Ignite Retreat

Ajax Jackson, founder of Magnolia Yoga in New Orleans, says that once you can get your body into an open and flexible, you can do the same with your mind.

Students can also pitch their projects to experienced social entrepreneurs, gain access to and get feedback from Sullivan Award alumni, and receive access to Sullivan scholarship funding.

Spud Marshall, founder of the and innovation director at 3 Dots, will lead the Fall Ignite Retreat, along with Harrison Wood, program coordinator for the Teach For America Graduate Fellows Program. The event also will feature an impressive roster of dynamic, experienced facilitators, coaches, innovators and social entrepreneurs, including:

Holley Murchison, founder and CEO of Oratory Glory and founding partner of HOLI. Brands

Crystal Dreisbach, founder of GreenToGo and executive director of Don’t Waste Durham

Ajax Jackson, founder of Magnolia Yoga

Abhinav Khanal, co-founder of Bean Voyage

Reagan Pugh, founding partner of Assemble

Tessa Zimmerman, founder of ASSET Education

Chad Littlefield, founder of WE!

Interested students may purchase tickets for the Ignite Retreat until October 2. General admission is $425. However, a select group of students from the 70-plus Sullivan Network Schools may be eligible to receive a sponsored ticket. Meals and housing are included with admission.

this photo shows that Crystal Dreisbach is a social innovator with a unique product

Crystal Dreisbach, founder of GreenToGo in Durham, North Carolina, is also leading a campaign to reduce single-use plastic in the city.

For further information go to or call 662-236-6335. To register go to  You may also e-mail questions regarding the events to

Related: Ignite Retreat speaker leads charge to reduce plastic waste in Durham, N.C.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation was founded in 1934, but its roots date back 60 years earlier when U.S. President Grover Cleveland and a group of other influential persons created the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to honor those that inspire a life of integrity and service. Sullivan Awards have been presented to people whose lives of service have changed the world with little fanfare as well as those who have become household names – recipients include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, to name a few.

this photo shows the fun energy that Chad Littlefield brings to his Ignite Retreat presentations

Team-building expert Chad Littlefield of We! helps groups of people engage in conversations that matter. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

Grade-Schoolers’ Social Enterprise Turns a Profit in 10 Weeks

A group of pint-sized social entrepreneurs in Brainerd, Minnesota, launched a sporting-goods business that turned a profit in just 10 weeks, with a local nonprofit reaping the benefit.

The kids, age 9-12, participated in a Junior Achievement program at the Brainerd Family YMCA. The 10-week program was modified to focus on social entrepreneurship, letting the kids launch a business that would fill a need or solve a problem in their community.

The result was Sports 4 Life, which rounded up new or gently used sporting equipment that had been outgrown by local kids and resold the items, reports the Brainerd Dispatch.

According to Shane Riffle, CEO of the YMCA, the kids decided to use any profit from the business to support a new sports-related community nonprofit called Instant Replay. “Their goal is to get sporting equipment into the hands of kids who can’t afford it, particularly kids just starting out in the sport,” Riffle told the Dispatch.

this photo shows excitement of the Sports 4 Life kids

Two members of the Sports 4 Life social entrepreneurship team show off the company’s first earned dollar.

To launch the social venture, the young entrepreneurs took out a loan from the Brainerd Economic Development Corp. Sports 4 Life was open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays, in front of the YMCA. “They set up a tent and tables every day, so they had to figure out the logistics of actually taking the donations, storing them and setting up a storefront. They also did a lot of hands-on marketing out on the (street) corners and radio ads and a couple of newspaper ads as well,” Riffle said in the Dispatch interview.

As word spread, a local PBS station even ran a story on the company. “We wanted it to be just like a real business – there’s always the potential that it could fail, but we wanted them to experience the whole range of what it would go through,” Riffle told Lakeland PBS.

By the end of the 10-week period, the children had cleared a whopping $873.53 after paying off the startup loan and other expenses. “That’s more than a lot of our high school companies make, so you guys really did a fantastic job,” Amy Gray, a Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest manager, told the kids.

“To the best of my knowledge, nobody else in the country is doing this program with this age group of kids, so it’s been really fun, and it’s been a great partnership with the YMCA,” Gray told Lakeland PBS.


Green Is the New Black at Rollins College

By Audrey St. Clair, Rollins College

From renewable energy to alternative transportation to campus-wide recycling programs, a focus on sustainability is woven into the culture at Sullivan Foundation partner school Rollins College. Initiatives like the Sustainability Program, a campus-wide effort focused on infrastructure, and EcoRollins, a student-focused, event-based organization, form the backbone of Rollins’ commitment to preserving the campus community and beyond.

“Thousands of plastic bottles, straws and containers have been prevented from entering landfills because of our combined efforts here on campus,” says Ellie Rushing, a double major in environmental studies and communication studies and co-leader of the Sustainability Program with environmental studies major Gabbie Buendia. “Students are more conscious about what they eat and throw into garbage and recycling bins, and they will take that information and those habits with them when they leave Rollins and teach others.”

The Princeton Review selected Rollins for its annual Green Guide based on academic offerings, campus policies, initiatives, activities, and career preparation for students. Here’s a closer look at why the experts agree that Rollins continues to serve as a model for environmental stewardship.

  1. Rollins has its own EcoHouse on campus. This spot on the back side of Elizabeth Hall—complete with five single rooms, one double, a common room, and bathroom—overlooks Lake Virginia and houses Sustainability Program coordinators and members of EcoRollins who care for the space. They participate in gardening, road and lake cleanups, planned events such as Earth Day and America Recycles Day, and environmental and sustainable education on campus.
  2. You can ditch four wheels for two. Rollins’ bike-share program is in its ninth year of providing bicycles for rent to students, faculty and staff. Currently, there are 44 bikes in the fleet with a mix of cruiser and road bikes, many of which were abandoned and then restored by members of the Sustainability Program. Bikes can be checked out at the Olin Library for three-day rentals.
  3. The recycling program goes beyond bottles and cans. Students in the Sustainability Program—which is overseen by program coordinator Ann Francis—continually collaborate with Rollins’ Facilities department to monitor recycling bins and signage in residence halls, administration buildings and classrooms. In 2017, Rollins removed all plastic bags as a result of a student-driven no-plastic campaign and has subsequently eradicated Styrofoam from campus. The Habitat for Humanity Book Drive promotes reusing and recycling by collecting old books from students during exam week.
  4. Rollins’ environmental studies department was one of the first in the country. Environmental studies professor Barry Allen founded Rollins’ environmental studies department in 1982. For 20-plus years, he has been leading students like Angelo Villagomez, a senior officer with PEW Charitable Trusts, and Tyler Kartzinel, a conservation biology professor at Brown, on field studies to Costa Rica, giving them an up-close, hands-on look at one of the world leaders in conservation and national parks.
  5. No more straws means solving big problems.Turns out those little tubes of convenience aren’t biodegradable, so Rollins has taken steps to eliminate all plastic straws. Environmentally friendly options like pasta straws and paper straws are now available at the different dining locations around campus.

    Photo by Curtis Shaffer

  6. Rollins is a Fair Trade campus.In fact, Rollins became Florida’s first designated Fair Trade campus in 2013. From the Rice Family Bookstore and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum to Dining Services and even Athletics (think Fair Trade balls at soccer practice), Rollins is committed to purchasing environmentally sustainable products that don’t come from sweatshops or child labor and actively educates students about the sustainability issues involved in global commerce.
  7. Farm-to-table has never been so close.Rollins’ on-campus student-run organic farm started as an independent study project aimed at educating students about health and larger issues of how food is produced, transported, sold, and cooked. Andrew Lesmes—along with the help of academic advisors and volunteers—turned a 968-square-foot patch of earth behind Elizabeth Hall into a self-sustaining microfarm that provides homegrown grub to Sodexo, operators of the College’s dining hall.
  8. You can minor in sustainable development. Connecting environmental studies to business, this unique program examines how development and conservation can be intrinsically linked to ensure the protection of Earth’s vital natural systems. Pair the minor with a major in international business or economics or social entrepreneurship for a powerhouse combo.
  9. The Bush Science Center is both high-tech and energy-efficient. This state-of-the-art facility features multiple heat-recovery wheels that allow the school to save up to 70 percent of the energy associated with heating, cooling and dehumidification.
  10. Reusable dining containers make it easy to do your part.The Sustainability Program partnered with Dining Services to implement the OZZI system, which is designed to reduce disposable waste through the use of sustainable, reusable containers at dining locations across campus. Dining Services also gives a reusable cup discount and extends its sustainability commitment to using Green Seal-certified cleaning products, cage-free eggs and certified sustainable seafood.
  11. Hydration stations can be found at every turn. These conveniently placed water stations have saved almost 2,500,000 plastic water bottles since 2012. Dining Services’ latest initiative is to remove all plastic water bottles from campus by the end of 2019.

    Photo by Scott Cook

  12. Going green takes many forms. Students like Morgan Laner can start their own program like EcoReps. This campus initiative, currently managed by Lauren Oxendine and Gabbie Buendia, is devoted to training and recruiting student leaders focused on sustainability. Students can also join the Committee on Environmental and Sustainable Issues (CESI), which advises college leadership on concerns related to sustainable development, environmental impact, biodiversity and environmental justice. Or they can take a community engagement course like Strategies for Changemakers and discover how to improve the environment right in their backyard.
  13. Year-round events and activities keep environmental engagement turned up to an 11. From lake cleanups and e-waste drives to clothing swaps and food-waste audits, there’s always an opportunity to take a small step toward big change. Since fall 2017, for example, Rollins has stopped 4,881 pounds of electronic waste from entering landfills and polluting the environment.

An Eye for Beauty

As a photographer, Amber Merklinger has an eye for beauty. And like any artist, she often sees it in places others would miss.

So when she learned about creative placemaking—using local arts and culture to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood or town—during the Sullivan Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Chattanooga in March 2019, she quickly recognized its power to transform a struggling community. Now Merklinger—who earned her degree this spring in Health Communications and Public Relations at Campbell University (CU)—and a group of fellow CU students and recent graduates are working on a creative placemaking project of their own: Campbell CREATE, aimed at helping communities in the CU area discover and celebrate their own cultural advantages and heritage.

Campbell Create members Michelle Vazquez and Jonathan Molai (photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

CREATE stands for Community Relationships, Encouragement, Art, Tradition and Empowerment. In addition to Merklinger, team members include Jonathan Molai, Cassie Burgett, Jaden Grimes, Adrian Dailey, Carolina Rosado, Michelle Vazquez, Danielle Holquist, and Dylan Andrews. Campbell CREATE’s mission: “To engage and involve the community members surrounding Campbell University in order to strengthen social capital and community involvement while also enhancing the culture found there. We hope to do this by involving the community in beautifying the campus and the surrounding towns to bring in more business and to bring more people out of their homes and into the community.”

The initiative—and the excitement the students bring to it—illustrate how Sullivan Foundation events empower college students to channel their youthful energy, ambitions and ideas into positive action. “Students always walk away with an expanded view of what’s possible for their future career paths,” said Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement and Field Trip and Ignite Retreat leader. “These trips give students a sense of the multiple ways in which they may package their passions into concrete careers past college.”

Amber Merklinger and fellow students from Campbell University founded Campbell Create after the Sullivan Foundation’s field trip to Chattanooga last spring. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

Changemaking in Chattanooga
This spring’s Field Trip took dozens of students to 10 social enterprises and nonprofits tackling a wide variety of issues around Chattanooga. Among many stops, Field Trip participants visited Mad Priest Coffee Company, which works with displaced individuals and employs refugees while educating the community about social injustice and humanitarian crises; the Chattanooga Mobile Market, a mobile grocery store that brings fresh, healthy food and produce to underserved neighborhoods; the Glass House Collective, an organization focused on revitalizing Chattanooga’s historic Glass Street area; and Co.Starters, which helps communities build vibrant entrepreneurial and cultural ecosystems.

The Spring Field Trip included a tour of Chattanooga social enterprise Mad Priest Coffee. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

The CU students’ experiences at Glass House Collective and Co.Starters in particular opened their eyes to the possibilities of creative placemaking, according to Merklinger and Molai.

“I had never heard of that term until I went on this field trip,” Merklinger said, “but it inspired us to start the process of emulating this concept on our own campus and in our surrounding communities. They took an issue they saw in the community and found a solution that impacted everyone in the city, bringing life to a culture not easily seen. That’s the kind of thinking I wish to apply to my future endeavors as a social entrepreneur.”

Artwork in Chattanooga’s Glass Street district inspired the creative placemaking efforts of the Campbell CREATE team. (Photo by Michelle Vazquez)

Molai, who graduated from CU this spring with a Biology Pre-Med degree, was equally inspired. “I am always seeking experiences which add value to my life and further my goals of effecting meaningful social change,” he said. “On this trip, I was able to commingle with students from other majors and schools, all with an interest in community development and social entrepreneurship … It truly was inspiring to see other successful social entrepreneurs making positive changes for the community.”

Uniting Communities Through Culture
After the Field Trip, the CU students hatched the idea for Campbell CREATE, based on the Co.Starters Canvas model, on their ride home from Chattanooga, Molai said. Back at CU, the young changemakers quickly went to work. “As inspired by the visions of Glass House Collective, we have been marshaling our unique strengths as leaders on our campus to stimulate community engagement and economic growth,” Molai said. “In the time between the Field Trip and the Spring Ignite Retreat, we had self-organized, successfully pitched at two innovation challenge-type pitch contests hosted by the Lundy Fetterman School of Business, and begun to build a critical mass of campus and community support after launching our first prototype.”

The team also made its first presentation to the mayor and board of aldermen of Coats, N.C., on May 9, who approved their request to work with the Coats Beautification Committee in a creative placemaking initiative.

Field Trip students take a break after visiting social entrepreneurs in Chattanooga. (Photo by Diamonique Anderson)

Campbell CREATE will use creative placemaking to help small communities spur economic growth through local arts and culture. They plan to recruit artists and craftspersons to create murals and statues as well as decorative benches, swings, tables and chairs in public areas, showcasing local talent and building a sense of hometown pride. “We all agree we want to capture the expressionism, dreams and culture that so deeply enrich the communities surrounding Campbell University,” Merklinger says.

Each community has its own problems to solve, but that’s not the focus of Campbell Create, Merklinger points out. “Like the Glass House Collective, we don’t feel it is our place to fix these issues, but instead to amplify the cultures found there in order to bring the community together.”

Flipping the Script
Prior to the Spring 2019 Field Trip, Merklinger had attended the Fall 2018 Ignite Retreat in Black Mountain, N.C. She learned about the Sullivan Foundation when Marshall spoke about social entrepreneurship to CU’s School of Nursing. That first encounter, she said, “had such a huge impact on me that I wanted to become more involved with the organization. I was also attracted to the Field Trip because I was enrolled in a class centered on discovering underserved communities, and I felt it would correlate well with my class. I was informed that the businesses we would be visiting were run by social entrepreneurs who had made a positive difference in their community, despite the difficulties they faced. I wanted to get a closer look at how their entrepreneurs did this and how I could learn from their example.”

After experiencing the Spring Field Trip to Chattanooga, Jonathan Molai and his teammates fine-tuned their concept for Campbell CREATE at the Spring Ignite Retreat. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

Merklinger, Molai and other Campbell CREATE team members went on to attend the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat, where they worked with facilitators to further develop their concept. “Being able to directly build on this initiative in the project track at the Ignite Retreat proved incredibly useful for myself and our team in our sharpened consideration of priorities and learning points,” Molai noted.

Merklinger said she would recommend the Field Trip, Ignite Retreat and other Sullivan events to any college student looking to help others without trying to solve their problems for them.

“When you walk into a city or town and see issues such as poverty, low incomes, lack of healthcare, violence, and a variety of other problems, what is your natural instinct?” she said. “Do you want to run away and forget you’ve ever been there? Or do you want to fix their issues and completely flip the script? If you would choose the latter, this field trip is for you. But instead of ‘fixing their issues,’ how would you like to take a creative approach in learning how to walk alongside the community members and create positive change?”

“Sometimes we go through life and become so engrossed in our passions or ideas—or blinded by the negativity we see—that we miss the beauty of the communities right in front of us,” Merklinger added. “The Sullivan Field Trip gives students new and fresh perspectives on how you can implement change in different areas that you’ve come across in life. Some of the approaches these businesses take would be solutions you may never have thought would solve the issues the communities are facing and, thus, engage your creative and critical thinking skills. This trip will ignite in you the desire to think outside the box in order to go beyond the superficial and to dig deep into the heart of the community in order to help those around you. So, do I think this trip is worth going on? I do 100 percent.”

Field Trip attendees learned how Mobile Market, a mobile grocery store in Chattanooga, caters to underserved communities. (Photo by Jonathan Molai)

Born to Heal

Working in a hospice isn’t for the faint-hearted, but for Bradley Firchow, the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner at Oglethorpe University, it was an opportunity not to ruminate on the vagaries of fate, but to celebrate the remarkable lives of the patients under his care.

Firchow, who graduated this spring with a degree in biopsychology, volunteered at the Crossroads Hospice in Atlanta for four years. The Russellville, Kentucky, native spent hours at a time with chronically ill and elderly people nearing the ends of their earthly tenure. And he found beauty and significance in every moment.

“This work has been particularly meaningful to me as I have been able to spend quality time with folks who may not have family nearby or, in some case, no family at all,” Firchow said. “It has allowed me to share my loves of visual art, music and literature with my patients, which can be very therapeutic for them as they grapple with mortality.”

It was also a chance to collect and record the stories they have to tell for future generations. “My favorite was working on the Life Journal Project, which documents significant events, places, stories and people in a person’s life and preserves them for their family in the form of a hardbound book,” Firchow said. “Spending hours with patients learning their life stories can be transformative for them as they reflect on a lifetime. I value my time with my patients as their stories often offer bits of wisdom for me that I can incorporate into my life and my approach to living.”

A History of Service
After his freshman year, Firchow and a group of fellow students spent nine days in the mountains of Nicaragua, serving 1,000-plus patients in rural communities in a clinical praxis for Global Brigades, a nonprofit focused on sustainable health and economic development.

“As volunteers, we filled prescriptions under the supervision of a pharmacist, assisted the medical professionals, took patient histories, did triage, provided childcare during doctor’s appointments, and worked with community organizers to strengthen public health infrastructure in the communities we served,” Firchow said. “We also constructed eco-latrines, concrete flooring in houses and a water pipeline in La Corneta so people have access to indoor plumbing, can prevent exposure to soil parasites in their homes, and have access to potable water.”

Firchow led two Alternative Spring Break excursions—one to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to perform invasive species maintenance, environmental cleanup and trail-blazing for the Florida National Scenic Trail system, and one to Charlotte, N.C., to work with LGBTQ+ youth organizations after the state passed HB2, a law many see as discriminatory against gay and transgender individuals.

And because he apparently still didn’t have enough to do, Firchow volunteered at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) through the Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity. “My fraternity facilitates art projects with the kids,” Firchow said. “We also annually host an Anatomy Fashion Show as a benefit for CHOA. We find models on campus who wear spandex and have an organ system painted on their bodies by art students. Then they walk down a runway, modeling their organ system, as a member of my fraternity reads a narrative about the system and, sometimes, a child at CHOA who has a disease relevant to that system.”

A Passion for Rural Health
Looking at his record of service, Firchow clearly has a career in medicine in mind.
“My passion is rural health,” he said. Growing up in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and West Virginia “exposed me to the difficulties of accessing quality healthcare in the U.S. Geographic and socioeconomic factors determine what level of healthcare a person will receive and, despite the incredible advances in modern medicine and public health, many people have poor access to care—and even when they have access, the care available in their community is limited.”

After graduation, Firchow went to work for Atlanta’s Childspring International, which provides life-saving surgeries for children from developing communities. He plans to attend medical school in Fall 2021 and practice medicine in a rural community. “After medical school, I’m interested in CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service program so I can gain boots-on-the-ground sensibilities and approach medicine from a public health perspective early on in my career,” he said. “I think it’s imperative that physicians incorporate public health philosophy into their practice of medicine, and I want to set the tone for my career in medicine early on. Later in life, I would be interested in running for political office or perhaps working for a public health agency or NGO.”

Firchow said he was floored to receive the Sullivan Award. “At Oglethorpe, it’s one of the highest awards a student can receive, so when our provost announced my name, my jaw must have been somewhere beneath my feet. I was honored to be recognized for doing work that I try not to make a big fuss about—and that, honestly, I didn’t even know other people knew that I do. Receiving the award reinforces my passion to tackle issues I care about that affect people I care about.”

The Right Track

Growing up in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Joey Jennings dealt with racism and poverty every day throughout his youth. Now the recent Winthrop University graduate, winner of the school’s prestigious 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is on his way to earning his Ph.D., thanks to a highly coveted Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Jennings was one of only three sociology undergraduates nationwide to receive the fellowship, which provides him with a full ride at the University of Maryland-College Park. But the scholar-athlete, who holds two Winthrop records as a track star, had to clear major hurdles to get to where he is today.

“Why Do They Hate Me?”
Playing on a Little League football team introduced Jennings to the harsh reality of racism when he was only nine years old. He didn’t see himself as different from any of his teammates—until someone referred to him with a racial slur.

“I vividly remember asking my dad, ‘Why do they hate me?’” he said. “He stood up for me and put a stop to the name calling, but it did not ease my heart. I was able to grasp that the reason I was treated differently was related to my skin tone. As a result, I was not proud of my color for a long time.”

Joey Jennings set new records for the indoor and outdoor pole vault at Winthrop University and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

Jennings “fully experienced rock bottom” in Jefferson City. In addition to the heavy racial tension, his family struggled with poverty, sometimes not having enough food on the table or going days without electricity. “Then, everything got more difficult when I witnessed my mother being taken to jail numerous times because of her losing battles with cocaine addiction,” he said. “We struggled, it was tough, but my family is strong. My dad raised my siblings and I to fight, and that made me the man I am today.”

“It is because I have witnessed numerous types of adversity and injustice, or a lack of proper justice, firsthand that I want to further my academic career in sociology and engage in social research with the hopes that I can uncover social injustice,” he added.

Jennings wanted to understand the questions from his past and felt that the sociology program’s criminology concentration would help him do just that; specifically, it would sate his appetite for research. He also signed on to compete in track and field at the Division I level.

Studying Police Brutality
For one of his research projects, Jennings examined police brutality over a 23-year period through a public opinion survey. The survey asked participants for responses to racial relations after the Rodney King incident (1991) and the Freddie Gray incident (2015). He then reached out to Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts after reading Pitts’ series on what people can do to help and studied online newspaper comments referencing the Baltimore riots.

“The analysis showed that, during the 23-year period between the observed riots, public opinions on prejudice were related to systematic discrimination practices that led to marginalization of inner-city minority communities,” Jennings explained. “In turn, these communities find in riots an opportunity to bring public awareness to their constant criminalization, invisibility in the criminal justice system and marginalization.”

While simultaneously taking 14 credit hours, practicing track 20 hours a week and competing almost every weekend, he presented his research at the Southern Sociological Society Conference and Winthrop’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors. He also spent the summer of 2018 at the NSF research program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, researching Charlotte’s homicide hotspots with a group and presenting at UNC-C’s symposium and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association.

The Best at Both
Along the way, Jennings set new records for Winthrop’s indoor and outdoor pole vault and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.  “It takes a lot of dedication to my crafts,” Jennings said. “School and track are equally important to me, but early on, I learned that to be great in both I had to treat them as separate entities. When I was at class, what happened at the track, good or bad, had to be out of my mind and vice versa. I spent hours studying for class and for track. I wanted to be the best in both, so I gave all I had each day to everything. That is how I was raised.”

After graduating from Winthrop this past May, Jennings now looks to the future. “I know I want to make a difference; I want to enact change,” he said. “The Ph.D. is a start for me to work as an activist, to create change, and to shine an academic light on social issues that have been dark for some time now. I love learning, and I want to use my strengths to help marginalized people and answer the questions I faced as a youth.”

This story was adapted from an article by Nicole Chisari, communications coordinator at Winthrop University.


Letter From the President – Sullivan Campuses, Study Abroad Edinburgh and More

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Sullivan Foundation network, and I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a glimpse into what the future holds for our organization and partner colleges and universities. I’m especially pleased to announce that we have officially designated two partner schools – Mary Baldwin University and Campbell University – as the first Sullivan Campuses. This new designation is awarded to those schools with a strong track record of community service and engagement. We look forward to welcoming more partners into this program as it grows and evolves.

We’re also excited to announce the launch of our new Study Abroad Edinburgh Program next June in Scotland’s historic capital city, which hosted the 2018 Social Enterprise World Forum. Participating students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Edinburgh’s thriving social-venture sector, develop their entrepreneurial and leadership skills, and earn six hours of credit in this unique four-week program.

Speaking of social entrepreneurship, our partner schools can now take advantage of the new Sullivan Speakers Bureau, a “dream team” of social-innovation facilitators, speakers and entrepreneurs who are ready and eager to help ignite change on campuses across the Sullivan network. Partner schools can use approved Sullivan Foundation funds to bring these experienced changemakers to their campuses to talk about topics ranging from economic and community development and entrepreneurship to environmental sustainability, media and technology, and social justice.

Finally, we’re also proud to unveil the Sullivan Foundation’s List of Awesome, an online resource space designed to help aspiring social innovators and entrepreneurs set out on their journey to build a better world. Visit to explore a wide-ranging list of changemaking events, funding opportunities, social innovation hubs, tools and guides, and more.

As you can see, the 2019-20 school year will be an eventful one for the Foundation. To learn more about how to get involved in the above-mentioned programs, please email us at Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy this new issue of Engage and share your own stories with us for possible coverage in future editions. We look forward to hearing from you.