Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat: Inspiring a New Generation of Changemakers

A hip-hop educator who teaches language arts through rap lyrics. A publishing prodigy who launched a successful girl-power magazine at 15. A master storyteller who has taught leadership development at companies like Nike and PepsiCo. The Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat has some heavy hitters in the lineup, and they’ve got a plan to inspire a new generation of college-student changemakers at the weekend-long event, taking place March 27-29 in Wake Forest, N.C.

The deadline to register for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat is Wednesday, March 11. Click here to learn more and to sign up.

Designed for college students with a passion for social change, the twice-yearly Ignite Retreats features exciting workshops, activities and opportunities to connect with a tribe of like-minded individuals who want to make a real difference in their communities, their country and their world. Over three days, a team of facilitators, coaches and conspirators lead the students on a journey to discover how they can change the world in a positive way—through social entrepreneurship, founding a nonprofit, launching a social-change project, or by simply cultivating their own leadership skills and creative talents.

photo of India Larry, a student attendee of the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

India Larry, a past student attendee of the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

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

The Ignite Retreat offers three workshop tracks:

Personal: For students who are still uncovering their calling and want to better understand their skills and passions, build self-confidence and explore the mindset of a social entrepreneur.

Problems: For those students who have a social issue or a set of problems they want to work on but don’t know how to get involved, this workshop track helps them develop concrete and practical skills.

This track is designed for students who want to dive deeply into a concrete solution, campus initiative, project or venture they’re trying to bring to life.

Building a Leadership Team

This year’s workshop leaders and presenters include Spud Marshall, founder of the and innovation director of 3 Dots in State College, Penn.; Jasmine Babers, founder and CEO of Love Girls Magazine; Reagan Pugh, founding partner of Assemble; Jarren Small, cofounder of the Reading With a Rapper educational program based in Houston; Nicole Kelner, cofounder and COO of Coding Space and founder of Lemonaid; Josh Nadzam, cofounder and director of On the Move Art Studio in Lexington, Ky.; Adrienne Wright, executive director and CEO of U-Turn Sports in Richmond, Va.; Jason Reed, founder of Reach USA; Danielle Espiritu, learning success director of WeThrive; and Abu Fofanah, founder of Power Your Launch Marketing Accelerator.

photo of Spud Marshall at the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

Spud Marshall

Marshall puts together the roster of Ignite Retreat facilitators and coaches for each event. “We look for emerging leaders across the country pioneering novel solutions to a wide array of problems,” Marshall said. “Our hope is that the leadership team that the students get to meet during the retreat will give them an exciting array of possible career paths and approaches they may apply to their own journeys.”

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

“Some of our coaches have started million dollar companies, some are working on grassroots and small-scale nonprofits,” Marshall added. “Others tackle challenges through public policy, while still others work through school systems or private enterprise. I’m particularly excited about the team we’ve assembled for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat. This group represents some of the folks I most respect and admire in the social change space, and it will be a humbling opportunity to spend a weekend together with nearly 100 college students.”

The Ignite Retreat: A Life-Changing Experience for College Students
College students who have attended past Ignite Retreats often describe them as life-changing experiences. “The Ignite Retreat demonstrated unapologetic and honest empowerment of youth by unlocking the passions and curiosities of both extroverts and introverts alike,” said Jonathan Molai, a 2019 graduate of Campbell University and attendee of multiple Ignite Retreats and social entrepreneurship field trips sponsored by the Sullivan Foundation. “It was truly amazing to see how much each individual had grown by the end of the retreat.”

Related: Jonathan Molai: “My life was forever changed” by the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreats

Jonathan Molai

Many of the student attendees arrive with ideas for personal changemaking projects that need some fleshing out. For example, Haleh Ghaffari, a student at Randolph Macon College, wants to use journaling to help promote mental health at her old high school. She has been keeping a personal journal for years that includes quotes for people suffering from depression, anxiety or self-harm. “When I was in high school, I had a really bad living situation, and I felt just so alone in the world,” she recalled. “The journal was a way to not feel so alone, to feel there was something good in the world [and to inspire] self-love. As I just kept going throughout the years, it kept getting bigger and bigger.”

Ghaffari plans to work with her high school counselor to create a journaling project that starts with her own journal. “The counselor will give it to other people who have gone through the same thing, and then they will make their own journal and give it to the counselor,” she said. Over time, future students will have access to these journals of former students who went through depression, anxiety and other mental-health issues. “To me, it’s so important … to let other people know they’re not alone,” Ghaffari said. “I know what it’s like, and I don’t want other people to feel what I felt if they don’t have to.”

Blaise Gourley of North Carolina Wesleyan College already had a project underway before coming to the Fall 2019 retreat. He launched the IMPACT Wesleyan Business Society, a program for business school majors and minors, especially international students. “It focuses on practical skills that you might not learn in class as well as networking. We have guest speakers [from the business sector], peer-to-peer collaboration where you can present business ideas and get feedback, and practical projects that get you engaged in different activities that can be added to your portfolio.”

Related: Ole Miss changemaker Cecilia Trotter learns to say yes to risks and new life experiences

Gourley said he liked the mix of people and perspectives that he encountered at the last Ignite Retreat. “Having an environment where people can collaborate without judging or comparing each other—that’s one of the important keys,” he said. “You can take other people’s ideas as encouragement and inspiration rather than making [negative] comparisons and feeling bad because maybe you’re not as far along as some others. Everyone’s journey is different.”

What’s the best thing a newcomer will get out of the Ignite Retreat? “Looking at yourself and saying, ‘I can make a difference,’” Gourley said. “From the Ignite Retreats, I’ve learned that the Sullivan Foundation is an organization that’s making a difference in our youth, encouraging people to pursue their passions in a way that’s going to contribute to a greater society. That’s something I’m totally for.”

Meet the Ignite Retreat facilitators: Reagan Pugh builds connections through storytelling




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

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

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

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

this photo conveys the energy of the Ignite Retreat attendees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ajax Jackson, founder of Magnolia Yoga

Abhinav Khanal, co-founder of Bean Voyage

Reagan Pugh, founding partner of Assemble

Tessa Zimmerman, founder of ASSET Education

Chad Littlefield, founder of WE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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