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Jonathan Molai: “My Life Was Forever Changed” by Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreats

By Jonathan Molai

Sullivan alumnus Jonathan Molai, a May 2019 graduate of Campbell University, writes about his life-changing experiences with the Ignite Retreat, a twice-yearly event for college students with a passion for creating social change. The next Ignite Retreat takes place March 27-29, 2020, in Wake Forest, N.C. Deadline to register is Wednesday, March 11. Click here to learn more about the next Ignite Retreat and to sign up to attend.

The 2019 Spring Ignite Retreat was an entirely wholesome experience that caused me to deeply appreciate the fruits which can be cultivated if young people who genuinely care collectively focus on emotional intelligence and personal development. Taking place in an environment where social discourse could safely occur amidst strangers, the Ignite Retreat allowed for a unique type of transparency to manifest among the group, where vulnerabilities could be shed, and a purely personal focus on growth could emerge from every interaction.

It was evident that the facilitators functioned as a seamless team, even in moments that may have been completely improvised. The facilitators were exceptional in weaving the network of narratives and motifs, which served to enhance both the individual and group experience.

Meet the Ignite Retreat facilitators: Jarren Small of Reading With a Rapper teaches ELA skills through hip-hop lyrics

Furthermore, the engagement tools, cards, and teambuilding materials were highly effective for promoting discussion about ideas and topics that students cared about. The changemaking field guide proved to be useful in allowing me to document my experience in a way that preserved the original framework of the message and to remember the important points even after the retreat.

Jonathan Molai at the Sullivan Foundation's Ignite Retreat

Jonathan Molai (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

The exercises and techniques employed at the Ignite Retreat were very well thought out while fostering excitement and reflection simultaneously. Perhaps it was sheer awe at how such activities were successfully executed among such a large group, but it was clear to many who attended the retreat that these workshops and exercises served a purpose far greater than to stimulate the creative pathways of problem-solving and innovation. The Ignite Retreat demonstrated unapologetic and honest empowerment of the youth by unlocking the passions and curiosities of both extroverts and introverts alike. It was truly amazing to see how much each individual had grown by the end of the retreat, whether it was the satisfaction of having clear goals, the appreciation of collaborating with like-minded individuals, or the increased comfort with one’s own sense of self. These activities and interactions, balanced with time for reflection and recreation, brought both students and facilitators together in a way that felt like family.

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

Choosing My Own Path
It was crucial that I had the ability to choose my own path throughout my adventure in social entrepreneurship and the freedom to change my track to best reach my goals. The ability to engage autonomously in a learning experience and create what I wanted from it allowed me to appreciate the inherent freedoms and responsibilities that come with changemaking. In this way, there were several memorable concepts that resonated with me, especially the “Connection Before Content” exercise that occurred Saturday morning before the workshops began. This exercise, following the message on the importance of “being present,” allowed me to fully interact with someone I had never met in a way that yielded some of the most valuable personal feedback on first impressions and relationship building that I’ve ever received. It really helped set the tone for the workshops, as it left me and other students excited to follow our curiosity.

Jonathan Molai takes part in a Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat activity

Jonathan Molai became a Sullivan Foundation Student Ambassador after attending multiple Ignite Retreats and social entrepreneurship field trips. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

I personally chose to engage with the Project track and then switch to the Personal track later in the day. The Project track helped me clearly define and classify parameters of a social initiative I have been working with through the creation of a vision board that will serve to guide my team in addressing the project’s strengths and needs. The Personal track allowed me to embark on an immensely valuable part of my adventure at the Ignite Retreat via the Deep Listening exercise. I have always wanted to become a better listener, but I had constantly struggled in futility until I found this workshop at the Ignite Retreat. After the exercise in deep listening, my life was forever changed regarding the approaches I took towards allowing comfortable silences to function and manifest in my conversations. It not only allowed me to become a better listener but also showed me the unique perspectives I had previously missed out on by carving out and steering conversations with interjections. In effect, the exercise significantly helped me communicate with others so that they could be heard and feel more connected to what I had to say.

Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Love Girls magazine founder Jasmine Babers shines spotlight on “everyday girls”

In its ability to develop both hard and soft skills pertaining to social entrepreneurship, the Ignite Retreat kindled my passion and curiosity for both the subjects at hand and myself even more than I had ever anticipated. I deeply appreciate the students, exercises, and facilitators of the 2019 Spring Ignite Retreat, as they laid the foundation and helped reconstruct the framework for lifelong personal growth in such a short period of time. Such an immensely valuable experience is rare, and I credit the Sullivan Foundation for their contribution to my most valuable possession: my manifestation.

Jonathan Molai received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Sullivan Foundation partner school Campbell University (CU) in May 2019. He attended multiple Ignite Retreats while attending CU and served as a Sullivan Ambassador. He plans to attend medical school and become an Osteopathic Primary Care Physician with the goal of effecting both individual and policy-level population change within the healthcare delivery systems of rural America.

Jonathan Molai and Michelle Vazquez at a Sullivan Ignite Retreat event

Jonathan Molai and fellow Ignite Retreat attendee Michelle Vazquez (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

 

Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Reagan Pugh Builds Connections Through Storytelling

As co-founder of Assemble, Reagan Pugh, a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat, delivers workshops and keynote speeches on personal effectiveness and leadership development around the country. Prior to the launch of Assemble, Pugh was Chief Storyteller for the innovation consulting firm, Kalypso, and guided initiatives on storytelling, culture and leadership development at companies like Nike, Pepsico and Kimberly Clark. He has designed leadership courses for Texas State University, Trinity University and Angelo State University.

Pugh is making a return appearance as a facilitator for the next Ignite Retreat, which takes place March 27-29 in Wake Forest, N.C. The weekend-long changemaking event features workshops, speakers and activities for college students with a strong interest in creating positive social impact and solving problems through social entrepreneurship. The deadline to register for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat is March 11. Click here to sign up or learn more about the Ignite Retreat.

a headshot of Ignite Retreat facilitator Reagan Pugh

Reagan Pugh

In his responses to our emailed questions, Pugh proved why he’s renowned as a master storyteller, communicator and motivator. So we decided to let him tell his story in his own words in the following Q&A: 

Q: Reagan, can you explain Assemble’s mission and how you accomplish it?

Reagan Pugh: Assemble designs workshops to help teams collaborate better together. This could look like strategy meetings, yearly reviews, weekend retreats or brainstorming sessions. We operate under the belief that the answers to an organization’s greatest challenges are locked inside their people. We help them work together differently so those answers can bubble to the surface.

Q: I know you’ve said in the past that more intensity isn’t necessarily what we need to accomplish our goals. We need more clarity. What do you mean by that?

Pugh: When facing challenges or working toward our goals, it’s easy to believe we’ll make the most progress by upping the intensity (working longer, working faster and adding more to our plate). The reality is, intensity is for amateurs. Clarity is what allows us to understand what matters most, take consequential actions, and make the meaningful contribution we were meant to make.

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

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put in long hours and give 100%. It means when we do our work, we don’t believe the outcome of our work will determine our worth or happiness.

When we default to intensity, it’s normally because we’re afraid of what happens when we slow down and listen to what we’re really meant to do. It’s countercultural to instead pursue clarity in order to move slowly and with intention, but those who do are more equipped to deliver a gift through their venture or idea.

In an age of endless choices, it’s fun to try and keep up, but it’s those who can put on the blinders and identify the most important things in front of them who actually ship things into the world without getting burned out.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your work as a storytelling consultant? And what kind of storytelling do you do?

Pugh: When an individual or organization asks for help telling their story, what we’re really talking about is understanding their audience. Every marketer these days will tell you about the importance of stories, but most completely miss the mark.

Simply having a story that you tell during a speech, a pitch or on your website doesn’t translate to more engagement or sales. The best leaders and organizations know stories aren’t about entertainment or even engagement—they are about connection. And in order for us to connect, we come back again to the necessity of clarity.

Whether I’m coaching someone on a keynote speech they are giving or guiding an organization on how to tell their story, we always go back to the same place: their desired audience. When we do the work of understanding the desires and fears of the people we wish to serve, we can then use stories as a powerful tool to catch their attention, assure them they’re not alone and invite them on a journey with us toward their desired future.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Love Girls magazine founder Jasmine Babers shines a spotlight on “everyday girls”

Q: Why is storytelling so important in the nonprofit and/or entrepreneurial cultures today?

Pugh: Storytelling is about connection. Robert McKee has a good line about the power of story: “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”

They are the currency of human contact. Stories are how we trade value and express needs. Stories are how we reveal what matters to us and what we want.

Consumers want to feel like organizations and brands are speaking directly to them. The entrepreneur who takes the time to deeply understand a specific audience and create stories for them will be able to build a venture that serves them and hopefully makes some cash.

photo of Reagan Pugh at the Three Circle Summit

Reagan Pugh, co-founder of Assemble, has guided initiatives on storytelling, culture and leadership development at companies like Nike, Pepsico and Kimberly Clark.

Q: So tell us about the role you’ll be playing in the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat?

Pugh: I’ll be leading the Problem Track series of workshops designed for those who know they want to build something but need a bit more clarity around the “what” behind their entrepreneurial pursuit.

The first session is “Unlocking Creativity,” where we’ll take a look at the problem students want to solve and help them ideate ways they might solve it. Could it be a hair salon or a drone business or a YouTube show? Who knows? Sometimes it’s hard to see things differently if you’ve been thinking about a problem the same way for a while. The “Unlocking Creativity” session will help students better articulate the problem they want to solve and generate innovative ideas on how they might solve it.

The second session is “Grow Your Team,” and it’s about enlisting people in your cause. The problem we want to solve will only turn into a viable venture if we create something others can say “yes” to. We’ll explore who is currently part of the students’ network, who should be, what roles they need to fill, and help them craft messaging to excite others about taking part in bringing their vision to life.

Q: In the end, what are you hoping our Ignite attendees will learn from you?

Pugh: They have what it takes to live a life of meaning and to make a valuable contribution to this world.

Learn more about Reagan Pugh and his work at reaganpugh.com.

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!”

 

 

A Life-Changing Summer in Prague

Steeped in history and brimming with bohemian allure, Prague has a famously romantic past, but for Sullivan Scholar Lori Kaitlyn Babb, it also offers a glimpse of a dazzling future in which innovative young thinkers like herself take the lead in building a better world.

A senior biology major at Campbell University who also serves as a Sullivan Ambassador, Babb spent the month of July 2019 in the Czech Republic’s capital city in a Sullivan-sponsored study-abroad experience. The program included two courses, Social Entrepreneurship + Global Change and Philosophies of Leadership, plus an excursion to Vienna, where Babb and her fellow students visited one of the four United Nations headquarters, and a weekend getaway to Budapest, Hungary.

The scenery in Prague is nothing short of spectacular—towering Gothic cathedrals, magnificent castles plucked from the pages of fairy tales, an ancient astronomical clock with moving figures of the 12 apostles. But the coursework was equally eye-opening, Babb said, thanks to the tutelage of Sullivan Foundation President Steve McDavid; Dr. Jody Holland, an assistant professor in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Public Policy Leadership; and Heather McDougall, founder and executive director of Leadership exCHANGE.

this photo shows the subject's excitement to visit the John Lennon Wall in Prague

Lori Babb, a Sullivan Ambassador and Sullivan Scholar, poses at the John Lennon Wall during a Sullivan study-abroad experience in Prague.

“On the academic side, I found the two courses to be incredibly formative in my thought-theory approaches to the ‘soft sciences,’” Babb said. “As a science major, a majority of my schoolwork is in the ‘hard sciences,’ but I loved exploring the social sciences, where methodologies have great variety and there isn’t always a concrete ‘right’ way to do something.”

Expecting the Unexpected

While social enterprise and leadership were the key subjects of study, the focus “expanded outside of just the classroom and syllabus,” Babb noted. The program included presentations by active social entrepreneurs who had gone through the study-abroad program in years past. “To be able to see and meet those who experienced the same program and who took those strides to ignite change and create social enterprises was incredibly inspiring,” she said. “It also emphasizes how life-changing this summer abroad can be if you utilize and maximize the skills and resources the program provides.”

Babb learned to expect the unexpected, too—and to embrace challenges to her viewpoint. “The greatest surprise (of the experience) would probably be learning that sometimes you don’t always get quite the answers you expect from the questions you ask,” Babb reflected. “Meaning you have to be expectant of the curveballs that not only business or academia throws at you, but, truly, life as a whole. I thrive in structure and long-term planning, but, realistically, no one can plan for everything.

this photo shows the beauty of Viennese architecture

As part of the Sullivan study-abroad program in Prague, Lori Babb and fellow students made a trip to Vienna, Austria.

“This is a life lesson that I didn’t foresee learning in a traditional classroom setting, but the classrooms were innovative on all fronts. Oftentimes, as we delved into project development or topic brainstorming, Dr. Holland would challenge our ideas with nonconventional ideals or devil’s-advocate perspectives. It helped shift my thought process to anticipate hardships and adapt when those inevitable problems arise.”

Building a Sustainable World

Throughout her study-abroad experience, Babb gained inspiration from many Europeans’ commitment to protecting the environment, practicing sustainability and reducing single-use plastic. “Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about sustainability,” she said. “I loved seeing the strides Eastern European countries were making towards a more sustainable community. For example, when grocery shopping, most people either bring a reusable tote/bag or carry their groceries out in-hand because plastic bags must be purchased. They cost just a couple of crowns, the equivalent of about a nickel. But that small price promotes bringing your own means of transport, which lessens the need for single-use plastic.”

Many restaurant customers also do their part for the environment by supplying their reusable own takeout or to-go containers rather than pay an extra fee. They can even order smaller portions to cut back on leftovers. “Not only does this limit plastic usage, but it also helps lessen food waste,” Babb noted. “In similar efforts, within Prague, plastic straws are not readily available or distributed or, in many cases, the straws are eco-friendly. These changes are slight, yet the sum of each person’s efforts will make a difference. I would love to see American entrepreneurs and governmental policy move towards sustainability in a similar manner.”

Babb enjoys a visit to Prague’s famous astronomical clock.

As a biology major, Babb has a particular interest in bioethics as well as social entrepreneurship. She plans to pursue graduate-level studies in bioethics with a focus on science policy. “I would like to steer towards the creation of a venture that can facilitate social change through the intersection of science, art and entrepreneurship,” she said. “During our tour of the United Nations of Vienna, I was overtaken with inspiration from the interdisciplinary work facilitated at an international level within those four walls where I was standing.”

Fired Up at the Ignite Retreat

Prior to her summer in Prague, Babb had attended the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat. That event, coupled with her study-abroad experience, got her fired up to represent the Sullivan Foundation as a Sullivan Ambassador on the Campbell University campus. “I recognized the greatness of what the Sullivan Foundation has to offer through its programming and events, and it feels almost selfish to keep it to myself,” she said. “I truly think these experiences shifted the big-picture trajectory of my life.”

“I learned how to widen my scope when approaching not only academics or business but in all aspects,” Babb continued. “This mindset of igniting change and working towards a common good shifts your perspective on everything. During my year as a Sullivan Ambassador, I hope I’m able to be that pivotal link for other students who yearn to leave a mark on this world and the Sullivan Foundation, which can help teach them the skills to do so.”

So, all in all, what did she take away from her month-long adventure in Prague? “Never underestimate the greatness you hold within you,” Babb concluded. “Hone your skill sets, continually learn from the world around you and harness your internal power. You can change the world.”

Cecilia Trotter: Saying “Yes” to Risks

Risk-taking doesn’t come easily to most of us, but University of Mississippi student Cecilia Trotter believes we can’t live full, rich lives without braving the unknown now and then. Her recent experience with the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, held Oct. 18-20 in Black Mountain, N.C., drove that lesson home for Trotter in a significant way.

“You never really know where life will take you, and this retreat helped me want to say yes to more things in my life and take more risks,” said Trotter, a senior majoring in Public Policy Leadership and minoring in business, journalism and entrepreneurship at Ole Miss, a Sullivan Foundation partner school. “Risks are big for me, too—sometimes I really like to play it safe.”

Related: College students can get hands-on experience with social innovation in Selma, Alabama

Trotter, who hails from Greenville, Miss., was voted Miss Ole Miss by her fellow students this year, so she knows a thing or two about putting herself out there. She designed her campaign platform, called Rebel Heart, “to empower students and create a culture of positivity” while promoting mental health and wellness. Among her many activities on campus, Trotter serves on the Associated Student Body Cabinet and is a past co-director of the ASB’s First Year Experience program. She has also been an Ole Miss orientation leader and a team leader for the Ole Miss Big Event, the largest community service project in the university’s history.

Trotter has attended two Ignite Retreats and traveled to Prague this past summer for a Sullivan-sponsored study-abroad program that focused on leadership and social entrepreneurship. She will also serve as a Sullivan intern at the foundation’s Summer 2020 program, Leading for Social Innovation: Study Abroad in Scotland, which takes place June 4-July 4 in Edinburgh.

The Scotland program, developed in partnership with Arcadia University, features two courses—Leadership by Design and Social Change in Action. The first course emphasizes the practice and tools of leadership, while the second one introduces students to the emerging field of social entrepreneurship and innovation, empowering them to develop their own capacities for solving social problems while learning effective communications and storytelling skills. Students will take part in field trips across Scotland, meeting with social entrepreneurs and helping develop new initiatives to strengthen their ventures.

Related: Sullivan Ambassador Lori Babb aims to use social entrepreneurship and bioethics to change the world

Trotter, who loves to travel, said she “thoroughly enjoyed” her study-abroad adventure in Prague. “I was really excited to travel there as I had never seen any part of Eastern Europe,” she recalled. “I found Prague to be a sweet, little hidden gem. It had its own sense of charm that I have never experienced anywhere else, and I just found myself wanting to explore more every day.”

this photo shows Cecilia Trotter at Ole Miss prior to the Study Abroad in Scotland program

Cecilia Trotter is the current Miss Ole Miss and an intern for the Sullivan Foundation’s Study Abroad in Scotland program.

“The history of the Czech Republic and the old architecture and buildings made it feel as if you were living in the midst of so many different periods of time while still living your own experience,” Trotter added. “It felt really surreal as I began to see and consider all the different perspectives of both my fellow travelers and the natives around the city.”

Always ready for another overseas adventure, Trotter looks forward to working with the Sullivan study-abroad cohort in Edinburgh next summer. “The great thing about the courses offered through the Sullivan Foundation is that any student can benefit from them,” she noted. “We will all be called or challenged at some point in our lives to be a leader and have opportunities to serve or stand up as a leader. That is why I think it is important to take the [study-abroad] leadership course—so you may have the opportunity to dive deeper into learning about yourself and how you may lead others.”

Related: Sullivan Field Trip students discover the power of creative placemaking to help communities spur economic growth

The Scotland program’s course in social entrepreneurship is also important, she said, “because it focuses on innovative thinking. I found, in my own experience, that the ability to think creatively and innovatively fits any interest. Whether a student is interested in politics, medicine, art, or engineering, this course allows them to take the things they are passionate about and form ideas on how to move their interest forward. I really enjoyed the entrepreneurship course [in Prague] as it has given me insight on how to create and dream in systems, and I already feel like I have a strong system in place. Some students are already really great at that, but being able to challenge yourself while also seeking [innovative ideas] through a new lens abroad is something I find invaluable to education.”

Trotter is still mulling over her career options, but she will most likely earn her law degree next. Over the long term, in true Sullivan changemaker fashion, she hopes to live a life of service to others. “I really do see myself starting in a career with a law degree,” she said, “but also working in projects that will focus more through an entrepreneurial lens that targets the well-being of others and the education of young people.”

Experienced changemakers at the Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat included (from left): Crystal Dreisbach of Don’t Waste Durham and GreenToGo; Alexis Taylor of 3 Day Startup; Ajax Jackson of Magnolia Yoga Studio; Tessa Zimmerman of ASSET Education; and Abhinav Khanal of Bean Voyage.

In that regard, Trotter took some inspiration from facilitators and guest speakers at the Fall Ignite Retreat. Many of them are successful social entrepreneurs who use the principles of business to improve their communities. Crystal Dreisbach, for example, founded both a nonprofit, Don’t Waste Durham, and a social enterprise, GreenToGo, that focus on sustainability and reducing waste in Durham, N.C. Dreisbach related her changemaking experiences in an Ignite Retreat session attended by Trotter. “It was probably one of the best stories I have heard in my life,” Trotter said. “All of the women who spoke had the most amazing stories.”

Related: Crystal Dreisbach’s GreenToGo makes it easier for restaurants to kick the styrofoam habit

But Trotter was just as inspired by the student changemakers she encountered at the Sullivan event. “We have some really passionate, dedicated and extremely creative and intelligent young adults who, I believe, will do some really great things for our world in the future,” she said. “It is super-empowering to put all of these college students in one small place together for a weekend. People are exchanging ideas and working together to help one another, and it is so genuine … I think that students who are seeking to better themselves and make new and future connections would greatly enjoy this retreat. Even trying it won’t hurt or be a waste of time because I think you will leave with a piece of something that will better you.”

After all, trying is what changemaking is all about, as facilitators like Spud Marshall and Chad Littlefield made clear in their Ignite Retreat sessions. “Spud and Chad really have a way of making the risk seem like a small bump in the road,” Trotter said. “Quite honestly, it probably is, but when you are a young college student with no money and have a lot of ideas in your head with little direction, it seems huge. I think that my experience with the Sullivan Foundation has really helped me stop glorifying the risk and start glorifying the action of moving forward, knowing I could really, really fail in some aspect of life, big or small. I have also gotten to meet some really positive and intelligent people along the way whom I look up to. Sometimes, I feel like college students hear things like, ‘Do not join the real world—it’s a trap.’ But I’m excited to move forward, and meeting people through the Sullivan Foundation has solidified that for me.”

 

Kayla Harris Wins Business Pitch Competition With Computer Game for Personal Finances

Few things in life are more important than keeping track of your finances—and few things are more boring to restless young minds. Kayla Harris, a sophomore at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mary Baldwin University, has an idea for teaching personal finance skills through a computer game that will engage students’ creativity and imagination. Her idea and pitching skills won the grand prize of $300 in a business pitch competition at the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat in Asheville, N.C. last month.

Harris, a native of North Chesterfield, Virginia, majors in business management and double-minors in human resources management and economics at MBU. She said she sees a need to “reconstruct the way personal finance and economics are taught in middle school, high schools and colleges.”

Related: Elon University students learn how to “make a mark in the world” at Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat

“Many courses and classes that teach finances are very informative,” Harris says. “However, it’s a big challenge for students to remember what they’re learning because it’s not being applied to reality.” After all, most kids don’t have any money to manage yet. “As we mature, we face financial challenges that we don’t necessarily know how to solve due to the fact that that connection was never made in personal finance and economic classes,” Harris adds.

this photo shows an Ignite Retreat facilitator prepping students for a business pitch competition

Ignite Retreat facilitator Reagan Pugh walks students through the elements of a successful pitch.

To solve the problem, Harris plans to work with her high school’s STEM class to develop a prototype for a computer game “that allows students to play out these financial challenges in real-world situations and learn from it. Think something like ‘The Sims’ meets credit scores, taxes and budgeting.”

About a dozen student presenters participated in the business pitch competition, with the other Ignite Retreat student attendees casting votes to choose the winner. Students who judged the contest walked from booth to booth and listened to the pitches. “The goal was to encourage the presenters to go out of their way to recruit people to their project rather than expect everyone to passively listen to their short pitch,” said Ignite Retreat organizer Spud Marshall. “Part of the goal, in addition to pitching, is to get them to think about creative community building.”

Related: Sullivan Foundation offers study-abroad program in Scotland for Summer 2020

“We asked [the student judges] to prioritize projects that were going to make the best use of ‘prototype funds,’ meaning they could produce something tangible with just a few hundred dollars rather than requiring thousands,” Marshall added.

Winning the business pitch competition was just part of an important learning experience for Harris. “I absolutely loved the Ignite Retreat,” she said. “I came in very blind about what the event was about but was open-minded. Starting off, I knew there was an issue [with her business idea] that I wanted to fix, and I knew how I wanted to fix it but just didn’t know how to get started. The retreat definitely gave me the tools necessary to turn my thought into a reality. I was asked questions that I never thought to ask myself about my project. I was showed different angles on how to view the situation I wanted to solve and really was just welcomed and supported at a level I had never felt before.”

Above all, Harris says, she learned to “never give up” on a good idea. “There are thousands of people in the world who want to make an impact on the issue you want to change but feel like they don’t have the ability to. I’m so grateful that the Sullivan Foundation, through the Ignite Retreat, gave me the means necessary [to move forward with the project]. So, I have a lot of people counting on me and rooting for me.”

“My other takeaway,” she added, “was that change is going to be a challenge, but challenge is good. The retreat really helped me understand how to face these challenges and how to create the perfect team to overcome the challenges.”

Related: Selma Community Innovation Immersion Program gives students a chance to work with the poor in Selma, Alabama

Elon University Students Learn How to “Make a Mark in the World” at Ignite Retreat

By Chloe Kennedy

Four students from Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University learned how to “make a mark in the world” using social entrepreneurship at the foundation’s Fall 2020 Ignite Retreat.

Christopher Raville, Imani Vincent, Mikayla Ford and Angy Aguilar took part in the twice-yearly event, held Oct. 18-20 in Asheville, N.C. They attended workshops, activities and events focused on changemaking, honing leadership skills and the principles of social enterprise. The retreat workshops were hands-on and experimental and allowed each participant time to work on a project of their choice, gain clarity on potential career paths and dig deeper into a set of problems, all while focusing on connecting skills and interests in a way to create positive community change.

Related: Sullivan Foundation offers Study Abroad opportunity in Scotland for Summer 2020

“An activity that particularly stood out to me was about empathic listening,” said Aguilar, a computer science and entrepreneurship double major. “Students formed groups, and one person in the group shared a problem in their life that they had. We were encouraged to ask ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions rather than ‘why’ questions to really understand the problem. I found this activity very valuable as most of the time we listen to respond rather than listen to understand and empathize.”

The Elon group was among more than 100 students and young professionals in attendance who are passionate about social entrepreneurship. “Students came from all over with different problems, passions and curiosities, with the goal to make a mark in the world,” said Ford, a communication design major.

“After this weekend I know I have a community of people who understand my motivation,” added Vincent, who majors in public health. “What amazed me about the Ignite Retreat was being able to be in a space with so many people with different perspectives who all want in some way to make social change.”

Related: Ole Miss changemaker Cecilia Trotter says “yes” to risks and new life experiences

Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Elena Kennedy, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, accompanied the students and met with faculty and staff from a variety of schools in the Sullivan Foundation network to learn best practices related to teaching social entrepreneurship and innovation.

“The Ignite Retreat provided a space for those of us who are deeply passionate about creating social change to interact and network with like-minded social entrepreneurs,” said Raville, a finance and entrepreneurship double major. “Workshopping my own initiative provided fresh insights on how to deliver an impactful prototype. Pitching my own initiative provided a space to practice delivering my message to a large, diverse group and left me with feedback as to how better communicate my vision.”

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the Elon University website.

Ole Miss Changemaker Cecilia Trotter Says “Yes” to Risks and New Life Experiences

Risk-taking doesn’t come easily to most of us, but University of Mississippi student Cecilia Trotter believes we can’t live full, rich lives without braving the unknown now and then. Her recent experience with the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, held Oct. 18-20 in Black Mountain, N.C., drove that lesson home for Trotter in a significant way.

“You never really know where life will take you, and this retreat helped me want to say yes to more things in my life and take more risks,” said Trotter, a senior majoring in Public Policy Leadership and minoring in business, journalism and entrepreneurship at Ole Miss, a Sullivan Foundation partner school. “Risks are big for me, too—sometimes I really like to play it safe.”

Related: College students can get hands-on experience with social innovation in Selma, Alabama

Trotter, who hails from Greenville, Miss., was voted Miss Ole Miss by her fellow students this year, so she knows a thing or two about putting herself out there. She designed her campaign platform, called Rebel Heart, “to empower students and create a culture of positivity” while promoting mental health and wellness. Among her many activities on campus, Trotter serves on the Associated Student Body Cabinet and is a past co-director of the ASB’s First Year Experience program. She has also been an Ole Miss orientation leader and a team leader for the Ole Miss Big Event, the largest community service project in the university’s history.

Trotter has attended two Ignite Retreats and traveled to Prague this past summer for a Sullivan-sponsored study-abroad program that focused on leadership and social entrepreneurship. She will also serve as a Sullivan intern at the foundation’s Summer 2020 program, Leading for Social Innovation: Study Abroad in Scotland, which takes place June 4-July 4 in Edinburgh.

The Scotland program, developed in partnership with Arcadia University, features two courses—Leadership by Design and Social Change in Action. The first course emphasizes the practice and tools of leadership, while the second one introduces students to the emerging field of social entrepreneurship and innovation, empowering them to develop their own capacities for solving social problems while learning effective communications and storytelling skills. Students will take part in field trips across Scotland, meeting with social entrepreneurs and helping develop new initiatives to strengthen their ventures.

Related: Sullivan Ambassador Lori Babb aims to use social entrepreneurship and bioethics to change the world

Trotter, who loves to travel, said she “thoroughly enjoyed” her study-abroad adventure in Prague. “I was really excited to travel there as I had never seen any part of Eastern Europe,” she recalled. “I found Prague to be a sweet, little hidden gem. It had its own sense of charm that I have never experienced anywhere else, and I just found myself wanting to explore more every day.”

this photo shows Cecilia Trotter at Ole Miss prior to the Study Abroad in Scotland program

Cecilia Trotter is the current Miss Ole Miss and an intern for the Sullivan Foundation’s Study Abroad in Scotland program.

“The history of the Czech Republic and the old architecture and buildings made it feel as if you were living in the midst of so many different periods of time while still living your own experience,” Trotter added. “It felt really surreal as I began to see and consider all the different perspectives of both my fellow travelers and the natives around the city.”

Always ready for another overseas adventure, Trotter looks forward to working with the Sullivan study-abroad cohort in Edinburgh next summer. “The great thing about the courses offered through the Sullivan Foundation is that any student can benefit from them,” she noted. “We will all be called or challenged at some point in our lives to be a leader and have opportunities to serve or stand up as a leader. That is why I think it is important to take the [study-abroad] leadership course—so you may have the opportunity to dive deeper into learning about yourself and how you may lead others.”

Related: Sullivan Field Trip students discover the power of creative placemaking to help communities spur economic growth

The Scotland program’s course in social entrepreneurship is also important, she said, “because it focuses on innovative thinking. I found, in my own experience, that the ability to think creatively and innovatively fits any interest. Whether a student is interested in politics, medicine, art, or engineering, this course allows them to take the things they are passionate about and form ideas on how to move their interest forward. I really enjoyed the entrepreneurship course [in Prague] as it has given me insight on how to create and dream in systems, and I already feel like I have a strong system in place. Some students are already really great at that, but being able to challenge yourself while also seeking [innovative ideas] through a new lens abroad is something I find invaluable to education.”

Trotter is still mulling over her career options, but she will most likely earn her law degree next. Over the long term, in true Sullivan changemaker fashion, she hopes to live a life of service to others. “I really do see myself starting in a career with a law degree,” she said, “but also working in projects that will focus more through an entrepreneurial lens that targets the well-being of others and the education of young people.”

Experienced changemakers at the Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat included (from left): Crystal Dreisbach of Don’t Waste Durham and GreenToGo; Alexis Taylor of 3 Day Startup; Ajax Jackson of Magnolia Yoga Studio; Tessa Zimmerman of ASSET Education; and Abhinav Khanal of Bean Voyage.

In that regard, Trotter took some inspiration from facilitators and guest speakers at the Fall Ignite Retreat. Many of them are successful social entrepreneurs who use the principles of business to improve their communities. Crystal Dreisbach, for example, founded both a nonprofit, Don’t Waste Durham, and a social enterprise, GreenToGo, that focus on sustainability and reducing waste in Durham, N.C. Dreisbach related her changemaking experiences in an Ignite Retreat session attended by Trotter. “It was probably one of the best stories I have heard in my life,” Trotter said. “All of the women who spoke had the most amazing stories.”

Related: Crystal Dreisbach’s GreenToGo makes it easier for restaurants to kick the styrofoam habit

But Trotter was just as inspired by the student changemakers she encountered at the Sullivan event. “We have some really passionate, dedicated and extremely creative and intelligent young adults who, I believe, will do some really great things for our world in the future,” she said. “It is super-empowering to put all of these college students in one small place together for a weekend. People are exchanging ideas and working together to help one another, and it is so genuine … I think that students who are seeking to better themselves and make new and future connections would greatly enjoy this retreat. Even trying it won’t hurt or be a waste of time because I think you will leave with a piece of something that will better you.”

After all, trying is what changemaking is all about, as facilitators like Spud Marshall and Chad Littlefield made clear in their Ignite Retreat sessions. “Spud and Chad really have a way of making the risk seem like a small bump in the road,” Trotter said. “Quite honestly, it probably is, but when you are a young college student with no money and have a lot of ideas in your head with little direction, it seems huge. I think that my experience with the Sullivan Foundation has really helped me stop glorifying the risk and start glorifying the action of moving forward, knowing I could really, really fail in some aspect of life, big or small. I have also gotten to meet some really positive and intelligent people along the way whom I look up to. Sometimes, I feel like college students hear things like, ‘Do not join the real world—it’s a trap.’ But I’m excited to move forward, and meeting people through the Sullivan Foundation has solidified that for me.”

 

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 co.space 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 www.sullivanfdn.org/events or call 662-236-6335. To register go to www.sullivanfdn.org/ignite/#tickets.  You may also e-mail questions regarding the events to admin@sullivanfdn.org.

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)