Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Love Girls Magazine Founder Jasmine Babers Shines Spotlight on “Everyday Girls”

It’s not easy to launch a magazine from scratch, and it’s certainly not cheap. Even most seasoned professional journalists would shy away from the challenge without backing from an investor with deep pockets and plenty of patience. But Jasmine Babers did it anyway and made it work—and she was just 15 at the time.

Babers, a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Ignite Retreat for college students, started Love Girls magazine when she was still attending Rock Island High School in Rock Island, Ill. Available in both print and digital formats, Love Girls is a nonprofit publication with a mission to “build self-esteem by providing young women leadership opportunities and a safe place to tell their stories.”

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Jarren Small teaches ELA skills through hip-hop

Babers, who graduated from the University of Chicago at Illinois in December 2018, will lead a workshop and inspire fellow changemakers at the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat, taking place March 27-29, in Wake Forest, N.C.  Held twice a year, the Ignite Retreat brings together a team of facilitators, coaches and conspirators who lead college students on a journey to discover how they can change the world in a positive way, whether through social entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector or public policy leadership, among many possibilities. The deadline to register for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat is Wednesday, March 11. Click here to learn more about the Ignite Retreat and to register.

Love Girls magazine tells the stories of “everyday girls,” shining a spotlight on social issues—from depression to bullying—as well as covering makeup and fashion, relationships, celebrity news and other topics that appeal to young women. The magazine’s staff consists entirely of girls and young women, usually between the ages of 13 and 22, and provides hands-on experience in journalism, photography, graphic design, marketing and business management.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: How Josh Nadzam outran poverty and now uses art to change kids lives

this is a cover designed by Jasmine Babers for Love Girls magazine

At just 15 years old, Jasmine Babers founded Love Girls magazine in response to rampant cyberbullying at her high school.

“The magazine was born from the desire to create space for girls to talk openly about problems, passions and successes,” Babers recalled. “It was important that this space was created by girls for girls. Cyber-bullying in my high school had reached an all-time high, and girls needed support and a platform to stand up against injustices and uplift one another.”

Determined to make a difference, Babers recruited other female students to help create a magazine that would serve as that platform. “I gathered some girls from school at our local public library and told them my thoughts, and everyone was excited to write and interview and take photos!” she said. “It honestly was a community project from the moment it began, and that’s also a huge reason why it’s been so successful. I could have never dreamt of all this on my own!”

Starting out with a digital-only publication would have been more affordable, but Babers realized there’s still something special about print, even in the age of iPhones and tablets. “We found out quickly that girls love being able to hold their work in their hands and to show family and friends,” she said. “It’s what makes the project so special!”

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Reagan Pugh builds connections through storytelling

“So from the beginning we had to fundraise,” Babers continued. “I was really adamant that the magazine needed to look and feel high-quality—from color down to the paper. We sold ads to local businesses at super-discounted rates, and we got grants from amazing non-profits who trusted us. It’s actually kinda remarkable, looking back at how much trust and faith people had in our project from the beginning. I’m so grateful for those supporters!”

Babers also knew from the start that she wanted to spotlight all types of girls, not just homecoming queens and cheerleaders. “One of my favorite things that we pride ourselves on is that anyone can be a cover girl,” she said. “Representation is so necessary and, in that same regard, the understanding that if you’re being the best person you can be and working really, really hard, people will see that and want to celebrate that—regardless of how you look.”

Like any editor or publisher, Babers makes sure to treat her cover subjects like stars. “Shooting the cover is a production and a really special experience for our cover girls,” she said. “We use top-of-the-line photographers, make-up artists and stylists—almost always women—and conduct our shoots like any other editorial magazine. I’m all about the glam and the experience and taking extra care of our cover girls because they deserve it.”

One of Babers’ favorite cover subjects was Carlie Newton, who received a liver transplant at just three months old and still bears a prominent scar from the surgery. Newton works to raise awareness of the lifesaving potential of organ and tissue donation.

this photo shows a classic cover of Love Girls magazine, published by Jasmine Babers

Love Girls magazine founder Jasmine Babers believes in representing all types of girls and women on the publication’s covers.

“Not only does she have an amazing story, but the clouds that day were crazy beautiful in the background and she was showing her scar to the camera,” Babers said. “But she looked so badass that, when I saw the photo for the first time, I knew the heading had to say something about her being a ‘wonder woman’!”

Love Girls also sponsors the annual Love Awards, honoring the contributions of girls and young women in eight categories, and Babers co-hosts Love Girls: the Podcast with the publication’s VP, Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw. Babers considers storytelling and graphic design to be her “superpowers” and also has a passion for politics and urban planning. “Finding a hybrid dream job around those things would be amazing,” she says.

Related: Empowerment Plan employs homeless to make coats for the homeless

Jasmine Babers will be making her second appearance at the Ignite Retreat in March 2020.  “The Ignite Retreat is one of my favorite events of the year!” she said. “It’s so unique in its design around young people who want to make a difference. I always leave inspired, curious and ready to help. I actually remember keynoting at the retreat a few years ago, and that was truly the first time I told my story in its entirety. I talked about the magazine but also growing up in foster care and struggling through my high-functioning anxiety. Afterwards, so many participants came up to me, and we laughed and cried, and they even swag-surfed around me. It was just one of the best experiences of my career so far. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it!”

“This is actually my first time leading a track,” Babers added, “and I’m so excited to be a thought-partner and see how I can help projects develop! I’m going into this experience putting the young people first and being open to listening and learning. I’m super-grounded in the understanding that I have just as much to learn as the participants do. Plus, I recently graduated college so the young people joining us are my peers, so I’m also excited to make some new friends!”



Saint Leo University Poll Finds Majority Favor Teaching Climate Change in Schools

A majority of the people responding to a survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute believe climate change should be taught as an accepted scientific theory in the public schools.

The survey was conducted both nationally and within Florida. In both cases, more than six in 10 respondents agreed strongly or agreed somewhat that climate change is a topic that should be taught in public primary and secondary schools.

The survey was conducted online from February 16 through February 25, 2019. The national sample consisted of 1,000 respondents, and the resulting margin of error for the responses is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The same questions were asked of 500 respondents in Florida, which is home to both Saint Leo University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, and its nonpartisan Saint Leo University Polling Institute. With the Florida results, the margin of error for respondents is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Questions on public education and climate change were added this year to a battery of questions that the Saint Leo University Polling Institute has been posing each year since 2015.

Photo by Markus Spiske

The new questions were a logical outgrowth of evidence that the general public is wondering about the implications of climate change. Since 2015, every year more than 70 percent of respondents in the national poll have indicated they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about global climate change. In Florida, responses of those very concerned and somewhat concerned have been at least 67 percent since 2015.

Even when results vary by a few percentage points from one year to the next on a question like this, the long-term pattern tells the tale, said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist who teaches at the university. In 2019, 35.8 percent of U.S. respondents said they were “very concerned” about climate change, and another 35.5 percent said they are “somewhat concerned,” accounting for the sum of 71.3 percent nationally who are concerned about the issue. By contrast, a sum of 25.9 percent nationally said they are either “somewhat unconcerned” (11.6 percent) or “not at all concerned” (14.3 percent).

In Florida, 39.6 percent of the 2019 survey respondents said they are “very concerned” and another 29 percent said they are “somewhat concerned,” amounting to 68.6 percent. Those who said they are “somewhat unconcerned” were 13 percent of those answering, and those who said they are “not at all concerned” accounted for 16 percent of the answers, so those with less or no concern amounted to 29 percent.

As concern has been documented over a period of time, the polling institute decided this year to ask the public whether or not it favors certain actions being tried in various areas in response to climate change. Education of the next generation was one topic.

“Concern about global climate change remains high, so it is logical that a majority of Americans want global climate change to be taught in primary and secondary schools,’’ observed Dr. Leo Ondrovic, a member of the Saint Leo University science faculty. “A strong majority of our respondents support this idea.’’

Nationally, 64.4 percent agree somewhat or agree strongly that climate change should be taught as accepted theory in public primary and secondary schools. In Florida, a combined 65.2 percent agreed strongly or somewhat. Those who disagree somewhat or who disagree strongly accounted for 25.5 percent of the national respondents and 25.4 percent of Florida respondents.

People were asked to consider whether local regions might equip themselves to mitigate climate change. Some areas—such as Tampa Bay, South Florida, Boston, Virginia, and communities in the West—have publicly announced and launched coalitions or other entities to serve their own areas.

“Since little has been done on the national level, and with various communities taking the initiative to address the issue at a local level, we wanted to see if this idea is seen as a priority among the public,” Ondrovic said. In the national survey, nearly 58 percent said a local initiative seems a worthy idea and in peninsular Florida more than 65 percent thought so. People were not necessarily aware whether their local areas have a department or some kind of joint plan to address climate problems.

The survey also found in both the national and Florida samples that one-quarter of respondents say that individuals are capable of preventing causes of global warming through personal choices and actions. Follow-up questions revealed the most common choice (from a long list) made to help prevent carbon pollution was the purchase of higher efficiency appliances.

Press releases with more detail are available at Findings for each survey question on the topic have been compiled and posted under Poll Reports on the same page. Additional information includes Americans’ views on banning plastic straws and single-use plastic shopping bags.

This story originally appeared on the Saint Leo University website.


Warren Wilson College’s Free Tuition Plan Results in Record Freshman Enrollment

College enrollment numbers have dwindled nationally since 2011, but one small college in North Carolina’s mountains has found a way to reverse that trend in a big way.

Warren Wilson College’s new North Carolina Free Tuition Plan guarantees a tuition-free college education to every eligible incoming North Carolina undergraduate student. The plan helped bring in not only the largest incoming freshman class in the college’s history, but also the largest number of new North Carolina first-year students the college has had for at least 20 years.

The fall 2018 group of new students broke multiple records for Warren Wilson, a partner school in the Sullivan Foundation network of colleges and universities. The college welcomed 302 new students this year, and 250 of those were first-time students, the largest freshman class in the college’s history and a 71 percent increase over last year’s freshman class. Of the new freshmen, 104 were from North Carolina, a 246 percent increase over last year’s first-year North Carolina freshman numbers. Official census numbers are determined on the tenth day of class.

Given that national enrollment numbers for colleges and universities have decreased steadily every year since 2011, according to the National Student Clearinghouse and The Chronicle of Higher Education, this record-breaking incoming freshman class size for Warren Wilson is particularly surprising.

Community engagement is a requirement for graduation at Warren Wilson College. Here, a student works at a community garden as part of the school’s Service Day observance on August 23, 2018.

“College enrollments are largely flat or down across the country, so Warren Wilson College’s results are extraordinary given the current environment,” said Kevin Crockett, Senior Executive at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a higher education consulting firm where Warren Wilson College is currently a client. Crockett has over 20 years of experience developing enrollment and retention strategies.

“I am thrilled to see our enrollment numbers this year confirm that the Warren Wilson College North Carolina Free Tuition initiative has done exactly what we intended it to do – expand access to college education for students in this state, particularly access to the innovative integrated experience that Warren Wilson offers,” said Warren Wilson College President Lynn Morton. “Since its founding in 1894, this college has stood for educational access in this region. With NC Free, we are remaining true to our roots.”

“NC Free has definitely made me more interested in staying closer to home for college,” said freshman Hazel Freeman from Brevard, NC. “With NC Free, I am able to enjoy my college experience without having to worry about a tremendous amount of student debt.”

Concerns about student loan debt have recently made national headlines. Student borrowers in the United States currently average loans totaling $22,000 by graduation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Orientation Day, 2018, at Warren Wilson College

“I visited Warren Wilson three times and really wanted to go here. I was so excited to learn about the NC Free program because I never would have been able to come here otherwise,” said freshman Sierra Davis from Kernersville, North Carolina. “I am so excited to be here and am planning to major in environmental education. I’m already on a work crew at Verner Center for Early Learning – I love it!”

As Davis’s work at the preschool center shows, Warren Wilson College’s experiential education model fully integrates its liberal arts curriculum with work experiences and the Community Engagement Commitment, a graduation requirement that involves sustained community service work.

“We know that the NC Free Tuition plan has not only enabled more North Carolina students to attend Warren Wilson College, but it will also allow local students to invest the knowledge and skills that they gain here right back into our community and our state,” said Morton.

“When I received full tuition, it felt like everything was falling into place,” said freshman Clairissa Hitcho from Fayetteville, North Carolina. “It has made it possible for me to be able to achieve my dreams, be close to my family and get to stay in the beautiful state of North Carolina.”

This article was originally published on the Warren Wilson College website.

Mary Baldwin University’s Alternative Spring Break Yields Food for Thought

Ensuring access to healthy food starts from the ground up. That’s what students at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mary Baldwin University (MBU) learned on this year’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Athens, Georgia.

The trip, which took place March 2-6, was sponsored by the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement. MBU students were happy to get their hands dirty, helping out at organizations like Ugarden, the University of Georgia’s (UGA) student community farm, where they built raised plant beds and learned crop-protection techniques, and Grow It Know It, a trailblazing program connecting Athens’ middle schools to farms, where they harvested and cleared kale plants, turned compost, fed goats, and helped children make bread, all located right at the local school.

“I definitely saw our students process how gardening and growing food fits into the big picture of addressing climate change, food insecurity and sustainability,” said Robert Clemmer, MBU admissions counselor, who has a passion for food sustainability and helped organize the trip with the Spencer Center. “Students saw some of the most fortunate areas of Athens, but through the organizations we worked with, they were able to see how groups in the area are addressing issues in less fortunate communities.

Photo courtesy of Mary Baldwin University

They also visited UGA’s Botanical Garden, a living laboratory for learning about plants and nature, and the Athens Community Council on Aging, which maintains a garden behind their facility for growing and sharing produce with their community.

But the best part?

“I enjoyed eating fresh greens from straight from the ground, and the relief in knowing that fresh food can still be grown without harmful chemicals to keep the pests away,” said Jessica Hall, a Class of ’20 student who went on the trip.

This article originally was published on the Mary Baldwin University website.

Alice Lloyd College Professor Leads Program to Help Food-Insecure Children in Knott County, Kentucky

Hailing from a working-class family in the southern Appalachians, Denise Jacobs says she probably never would have gotten a college education without an academic scholarship at Sullivan Foundation partner school Alice Lloyd College (ALC). Now an assistant professor of business at ALC, Jacobs hasn’t forgotten what the school did for her, and she’s paying it forward to others in the area who are struggling to make ends meet.

Jacobs founded Power Up for Nutrition, an ALC community outreach program for food-insecure children, in 2014. She was troubled to learn that some students at Jones Fork Elementary School in Knott County, Kentucky, weren’t eating all of their lunch food—instead, they were taking some of it home to their hungry brothers and sisters. In response, Jacobs worked with ALC’s Phi Beta Lambda organization, a group of students in an economics class, and several other campus groups to form Power Up.

Denise Jacobs (far left) with her children, Brynnan, Colton and Connor and husband Byron.

“I tend to be very left-brained, and I think that can be a good thing when it comes to organizing efforts to give back what has been given to us,” Jacobs said. “Some of the kids at Jones Fork Elementary … are food-insecure. They were saving snacks from lunchtime at school to take home and share with their younger siblings because they don’t always have food at home. We noticed some kids at church were doing the same thing during youth group events as well, and I knew something could be done.”

Jacobs and her colleagues in the Joe Craft School of Business currently give out 30-plus bags of food to food-insecure elementary students every weekend. They provide food that won’t spoil quickly, such as crackers, fruit and pudding cups, and other snacks with a long shelf life.

It’s all part of Jacobs’ commitment to service at a school where service is taught as a lifelong mission. “I don’t think my siblings and I would have been able to attend school were it not for Alice Lloyd,” she said. “We were able to get academic scholarships and made it through with no debt, which was at one time unheard of for working-class families in Appalachia. The opportunities here are very limited.”

After getting her degree in Business Administration, Jacobs earned her MBA at Morehead State before returning to ALC to continue the school’s tradition of serving the surrounding mountain communities.

“ALC was willing to help me out if I was willing to work hard and improve myself in the process,” she said. “Those lessons really stuck with me. I’ve always found a work ethic to be a very noble and honorable trait. It gives one the confidence and dignity needed for success.”

This story is adapted from two articles appearing on the ALC website.


Rollins College Recognized as National Leader in Engaging Students in Democracy

For the third straight year, Rollins College, one of the Sullivan Foundation’s partner schools, has been named a voter-friendly campus by a pair of national nonpartisan organizations. Rollins was one of just 124 universities in the nation to receive the designation for 2019–2020.

The Voter Friendly Campus initiative, led by Campus Vote Project and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), holds participating institutions accountable for planning and implementing practices that encourage students to register and vote. Its mission is to bolster efforts that help students overcome barriers to participating in the political process.

Rollins was evaluated based on a campus action plan to engage student voters in 2018 and how the College facilitated democratic engagement efforts on campus. The Rollins College Democracy Project, a student-led civic engagement initiative, created a strategic road map to engage students in the electoral process.

Photos courtesy of Rollins College

“A big piece of this year’s action plan involved targeting specific majors that didn’t turn out to vote in as high of numbers in the 2016 elections,” said Bailey Clark, associate director of the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement. “We catered our programming to attract students who were less likely to be engaged.”

The Democracy Project partnered with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections and League of Women Voters to organize 20 voter registration drives on campus and collaborated with the College’s Office of Residential Life & Explorations to register students and stage voting simulations in first-year residence halls. More than 250 Rollins students either registered for the first time or changed their voting address to the College.

The Democracy Project’s plan also created spaces for political discourse. It hosted a pair of meet-and-greet events with U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and Mike Miller, the Republican challenger for Murphy’s U.S. House District 7 seat, and held three Politics on Tap events, which allowed nearly 100 students to discuss current events and policy issues under the guidance of a Rollins professor.

“Receiving this designation for a third consecutive year is singular proof of Rollins’ commitment to civic engagement and offering an education of and for global citizens and responsible leaders,” says Rollins President Grant Cornwell. “The meaningful work of the Democracy Project is a prime example of our students’ capacity to inspire action in our democracy and cultivate positive social change.”


Campbell University Student Discovers Power of Creative Placemaking During Field Trip to Chattanooga

All photos courtesy of Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

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—the process of using local arts and culture to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood or town—during the Sullivan Foundation’s recent Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Chattanooga, she quickly recognized its power to transform a struggling community. Now Merklinger—a senior majoring in Health Communications and Public Relations at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C.—and a group of fellow Campbell students are working on a creative placemaking project of their own: Campbell Create, aimed at helping communities in their area discover and celebrate their own cultural advantages and heritage.

Spark social change in just 3 days! Learn more about the upcoming Sullivan Ignite Retreat and register today!

Merklinger’s project—and the excitement she brings 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 leader. “These trips give students a sense of the multiple ways in which they may package their passions into concrete careers past college.”

When she wasn’t learning about different approaches to social entrepreneurship on the Spring 2019 Field Trip to Chattanooga, Campbell University senior Amber Merklinger (above) was chronicling the event with dozens of beautifully composed photos.

This year’s Field Trip took dozens of students to 10 social enterprises and nonprofits tackling a wide variety of issues around Chattanooga, from community development and environmental sustainability to refugee aid and 3D printing. It was a visit to Glass House Collective (GHC), an organization focused on revitalizing the city’s historic Glass Street area, that opened Merklinger’s eyes to the possibilities of creative placemaking.

Get involved with Sullivan programming and events – click here to learn more!

“I had never heard of that term until I went on this field trip,” Merklinger said, “but it inspired a group of Campbell students and myself 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.”

Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s Director of Student Engagement, leads a Field Trip excursion in Chattanooga. Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

Campbell Create is still in the planning stage, but Merklinger’s group wants to use creative placemaking to help small communities in their own area spur economic growth through local arts and culture. “My team and I 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, but that’s not the focus of Campbell Create. “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,” she adds.

Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

In addition to Glass House Collective, Field Trip participants also visited and met the owners of social enterprises like Mad Priest Coffee Company,which works with displaced individuals and employs refugees while educating the community about social injustice and humanitarian crises; Branch Technology, a pioneer in 3D-printed homes that has brought innovation to the housing industry; the Chattanooga Mobile Market, a mobile grocery store that brings fresh, healthy food and produce to underserved neighborhoods; and the Lookout Mountain Conservancy, which protects Lookout Mountain’s scenic, historic and ecological resources while providing environmental education and leadership training to middle school and high school students.

Other stops on this year’s Field Trip excursion included the Edney Innovation Center, CPR Wrap, Co.Starters and Treetop Hideaways.

Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

As the Field Trip crew shuttled around by car between the various locations, new friendships were born and powerful bonds were forged. “As much as I love getting to visit each of the sites and social enterprises, one of the aspects I find most rewarding is the car rides between visits,” Marshall said. “This year we had 10 cars caravanning across the city throughout the day, and the conversations that take place in the car are always the most meaningful. That’s where new connections are formed, discoveries are processed, and possibilities are explored for how students may take what they’ve learned back with them to their home communities.”

Prior to the latest Field Trip, Merklinger attended the Fall 2018 Ignite Retreat in Black Mountain, N.C. She first learned about the Sullivan Foundation when Marshall spoke about social entrepreneurship to the Campbell University 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 trip because I’m currently enrolled in a class centered on discovering underserved communities, and I felt (the Spring 2019 Field Trip) 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.”

Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography

Merklinger said she would recommend the Field Trip 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—we miss the beauty of the communities right in front of us. This trip will give future 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 were facing and thus, engage your creative and critical thinking skills. This trip will ignite in you the desire to think outside of the box in order to go beyond the superficial, 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.”

Danielle Holquist, a Campbell University student, poses for a photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography.

New Artist-Run Hotel Aims to Revitalize Struggling Mississippi Delta Town

A newly opened hotel in downtown Clarksdale, Miss. aims to serve as a hub for the arts and help revitalize the small Delta town – which bills itself as the birthplace of the blues – and surrounding Coahoma County, where more than 36 percent of the residents live in poverty.

The 20-room Travelers Hotel is an artist-run cooperative business owned by Coahoma Collective, a nonprofit organization that supports the arts and community development, according to Mississippi Today. Rooms can be booked for as little as $115, and revenue from the hotel will be used to fund Coahoma Collective’s arts programming.

A long list of blues music legends have called Clarksdale home, including Son House, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Junior Parker, and others. Legend holds that blues great Robert Johnson himself (pictured above) sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his prodigious talent just outside the town. Clarksdale and the surrounding area have long been a magnet for rock musicians ranging from Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin to Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. The city is also home to actor Morgan Freeman’s famous Ground Zero Blues Club, the Delta Blues Museum and the annual Juke Joint Festival.

The Travelers Hotel in Clarksdale, Miss. is operated by an artist-run collective that hopes to boost tourism in the blues-steeped Delta town. The hotel’s lobby is pictured above.

The Travelers Hotel will provide high-end lodging for tourists interested in Clarksdale’s blues-steeped culture. Artists can display their work in the hotel, create exhibitions and become part owners in the hotel, while helping attract tourists and growing the local economy. The facility will host community gatherings and entertainment nights as well.

Coahoma Collective also operates the Collective Seed and Supply Co., a general store in Clarksdale. Its co-op members work two to three days a week at the store and the hotel, and artists receive a stipend and free room and board in a living space above the store. A plan is under development to let traveling artists stay in the hotel for free in exchange for donated artwork.

Charles Coleman, one of the co-op member/artists and community engagement director of Coahoma Collective, told Mississippi Today that the hotel will give visitors a chance “to experience the true Clarksdale culture (and) vibes.” The hotel features hand-built furniture and an interior reminiscent of the 1920s, when the building that houses the hotel was built.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame have been known to visit Clarksdale and the surrounding Delta area to explore the local blues culture.

“We know it’s a boutique-ish-style hotel, so we’ll be able to see taxpayer dollars boost the economy,” Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy told Mississippi Today. “It’s just a perfect amenity that couples all (the) downtown activities from blues (to) tourism” as well as the newly opened Third Street Bistro restaurant located next door and other soon-to-open eateries.

Jon Levingston, executive director of the Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce, said the facility has “contributed to the development of downtown. The hotel possesses a truly cool and hip vibe, creatively and comfortably decorated. I welcome them as a great addition to our community and appreciate how much they will contribute to our local economy.”

This Teenage Social Entrepreneur Is Philadelphia’s Queen of the Clutch Handbag

When Anna Welsh isn’t hitting the books at school, she’s making bags—including eye-catching, fashionable clutches and mini-clutches—and selling them to buy books for kids who need them most.

Her social enterprise, Little Bags, Big Impact, launched in early 2017 and has thus far donated more than 1,250 books and helped 5,000-plus children acquire literacy skills while also rescuing 2,000 pounds of fabric from landfills, according to the company’s website.

And did we mention that Anna is only 14 years old?

Anna Welsh started Little Bags, Big Impact when she was just 12 years old.

A resident of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, who has been sewing since the age of 6, she started her business when she was 12 after attending a summer hand-craft camp. “I had completed all of the assigned projects, so my sewing teacher gave me a scrap of fabric and a piece of paper,” she recalls on her website. “By the end of the day, I had designed and sewn three clutch bags. This is what I call ‘the start of it all.’”

And what a start it was. After making several clutches for her mom, she began getting requests for the bags from total strangers who saw and admired them. Before long, she was selected for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and began developing her business plan. When she presented it to a “Shark Tank”-style panel of investors, they named her the overall winner and gave her nearly double the amount of money she asked for, according to Main Line Today.

Anna donates 15 percent of each sale to Philadelphia’s Tree House Books, which distributes books to disadvantaged children in the area. Emphasizing sustainability in her business practices, she uses recycled textiles and fabrics that would otherwise be thrown out to design patterns that are both elegant and a little funky, with distinctive textures that lend multisensory appeal.

“The whole process of developing my business has been overwhelming but fascinating,” she writes on her website. “I learn something new every day—how to establish a business bank account or “Can a 12-year-old really own a business?’ At the heart of it all, I always knew that, even though I’m little, I have visions of my business growing big. I am so fortunate to have a supportive team of people around me to help me turn my dream into a reality.”

Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Jasmine Babers, a Publishing Prodigy at 15

Jasmine Babers, a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming 2019 Spring Ignite Retreat and a proponent of women empowerment, believes every girl has a story to tell. But as a magazine publisher since the age of 15, Babers’ own story deserves a little attention, too.

Babers was still in high school when she launched Love Girls magazine. “Being a girl—being a teenager when I started the magazine and being surrounded by teenagers … I really was just immersed (in) what it’s like to go through the struggles that girls face every single day with bullying (and) with body image,” Babers says.

According to the Love Girls website, she created her own magazine to help a close friend who was being bullied at school—and others like her. “Like so many who face bullying and harassment, she struggled, wondering if the things being said to her were true,” Babers writes. “She lacked role models and mentors to help her (recognize) the amazing, intelligent and wonderful person she was.”

The cover model from Love Girls magazine’s fall 2018 issue

“I decided that I could sit back and watch this happen or I could do something about it, and that is how Love Girls Magazine was born,” she added. “I wanted to show my friend that she was beautiful enough, inside and out, to be in a magazine. I wanted to create a set of everyday role models for all the young girls who did not see themselves reflected in the media.”

The magazine, which is published both in print and digital formats, started out at just 10 pages and grew into a 40-pager. It focuses on self-esteem and women empowerment and provides girls with opportunities in writing, photography, event planning, and leadership. Today Love Girls has impacted over 25,000 girls across the nation.

Babers is now a senior at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she’s double-majoring in Gender and Women’s Studies and Political Science. She is the treasurer and social chair of SISTERS, a member of Woman 2 Woman, and a founding member of the UIC philanthropy group. She also sits on the Student Advisory Board for the Dean of L.A.S. and the advisory board for the Provost and chairs the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women.

Off-campus, Babers takes on roles through Fellowships. She is a Peace First Fellow, where she advocates for young people to make peacemaking a part of their lives. She also recently won the prestigious Soros Justice Youth Activist Fellowship.

Babers has received numerous awards, including the USA Characters Unite Award; the Prudential Spirit of Community Award; The Peace First Prize; The Women’s Connection Award; the Royal Neighbors of America Award; and the Young Women of Achievement Award.

Being a product of the foster care system, she says she is thrilled to be spending the next several months working on her project, Fostering Incarceration, where she is doing research and writing a book on the Foster Care to Incarceration pipeline.

Babers accepts a check from Characters Unite in support of her magazine.

“Today I am a college student,” Babers writes on her website. “My journey has led me to tell my story and to tell the story of others. I have had many challenges, although I let none of them define me. When I was first getting started, it was reiterated time and time again that I had two strikes against me: I was a woman, and I was black. I decide to add a third one: I was young. And the list could go on and on because I’ve faced many obstacles. I am a product of the foster care system. I am dyslexic. I’m short. But none of these barriers were so big that they couldn’t be broken. I found many people and organizations also believed in my mission. Royal Neighbors of America, Peace First, School Seed, Iowa Women’s Foundation, and USA Network provided funding and support along with many others.”

And Babers was glad to accept the support. “It’s OK to ask for help,” she notes. “It’s also OK not to know how to do everything. I really have learned to play to my strengths and not focus so much on what I’m not good at and keep working at things I excel at.”