Doing well by doing good

Carl Hildebrand’s micro-funding project, Miami Soup, gives grants for transformative ideas.
Carl Hildebrand’s micro-funding project, Miami Soup, gives grants for transformative ideas.

With all the sadness, violence, hate and poverty burdening the world, it’s even more important that we recognize, support and lift up those around us working to change things for the better, chipping away at antiquated social structures and value systems.

These should be our role models, for they are demonstrating through thoughtful action the kinds of citizens we should strive to be. They show us how to contribute to and rebuild our communities, by integrating respect, kindness and civility into all areas of living.

Here are just of handful of Miami’s incredible community builders. They deserve applause and encouragement for their purpose-driven efforts:

Miami Soup

Miami Soup is a micro-funding project started in 2014 by Carl Hildebrand. Its unique model is centered around meals where community members dine, hear the ideas of those seeking a grants and make grants —and grant decisions — on spot. In addition to directing funds to various worthy causes and entrepreneurial efforts, Miami Soup also facilitates community building and networking opportunities through the informal setting of a shared meal among like-minded individuals.

Since its first event in May 2014, the project has hosted four “soup” events and funded three projects: Front Yard Theater Collective; Miami Marine Stadium Mural Project; and Urban Paradise Guild. Miami Soup has given away at least $6,000 in grants.

“Think of Miami Soup as an open platform to discuss new and ongoing projects with audiences, meet new collaborators and share ways of working together to transform ideas into reality,” Hildebrand says. “It elevates the quality of neighborhood living, one soup bowl and one micro-grant at a time.”

Love Life Wellness Center

The Love Life Wellness Center opened its doors in the Wynwood Arts District in September. It is the first full-fledged yoga, lifestyle and wellness business to set foot in Wynwood’s community of creatives, techies and entrepreneurs. The center, once a neglected warehouse, is home to two yoga studios, a juice bar and cafe, a library, a health and lifestyle consultation office, massage room and retail space.

The center’s mission is to help raise the quality of life of its community through services, events and outreach.

According to co-founder Megan Elizabeth, Love Life has a full-circle approach that seeks to invest in community development within its business model, including hosting monthly fund-raising events to support local nonprofits, beach cleanups and a summer yoga program for autistic children.

“We not only want to teach yoga, but teach love. Love for yourself, and love for your environment. Our students and clients will be like family, and this will be a safe place for anyone to come, grow and expand their consciousness,” Elizabeth says.

Yeelen Gallery

Yeelen Gallery has been around since 2008. The whopping art space and incubator in Little Haiti has more than 13,000 square feet. The business wants to nurture the development, promotion and expression of contemporary urban culture. The gallery’s mission is to give voice to the unheard and marginalized, curating a program that recognizes the humanity of socio-economically disadvantaged groups, with an emphasis on the African diaspora.

This year, the gallery hosted two thought-provoking and acclaimed exhibitions that spoke directly to current affairs: Black Freedom, held in February, showcased the work of Yeelen co-owner Jerome Soimaud. The exhibit presented images of the black experience, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to the present, signifying the continued need for work and discussion around human dignity and equality for African Americans.

TransCuba, a compelling exhibit by Mariette Pathy Allen that opened in October, highlights the struggle and lives of the Cuba’s transgender community through intimate portraits and images of everyday life.

Yeelen’s Karla Ferguson, who is married to Soimaud, says: “My hope for the gallery is that it inspires people to push for true freedom, both within the system and its institutions, as well as within their own minds.”

Miami Girls Rock Camp

Miami Girls Rock Camp launched this year, a one-week summer camp for Miami-area girls between 8 and 17 years old. The camp seeks to develop campers’ self-esteem, sense of community and ability for self expression, through music and performance, in an environment that is inclusive and supportive.

The camp includes both musical and nonmusical workshops with messages of self-empowerment. The week of activities culminates in campers’ live performances during which they perform songs they wrote throughout the week.

“While it is terrific when girls create an amazing song for performance, what is more important is that they feel safe to explore and express themselves and develop empathy and social skills that support others,” says co-director Heather Burdick.

Burdick believes in the power of self-expression as a proven tool to help young people deal with depression and trauma. In the camp, she says, girls are heard, valued and appreciated. “The girls take this back to their own communities, and it positively affects their interactions at home and at school,” Burdick says.

Miami Girls Rock Camp is run solely through volunteerism and fundraising. More than 300 locals came to out to watch the campers’ grand finale performance in the camp’s inaugural year.

Farm Fresh Miami

Farm Fresh Miami was founded in 2009 and works with local organic farmers to source the highest quality produce to provide its customers. Farm Fresh Miami’s mission is to create a simple, local food system that provides easy access to fresh, healthy food.

Founder Erika Lisman says that South Floridians’ interest in a local food system has grown substantially. “People truly want fresher food. People want healthier food,” she says. She also sees an influx of organizations providing education around the importance of eating local and fresh food.

Lisman believes that if we eat fresh, locally grown, nutrient-dense natural foods, our bodies, minds and spirits will respond, making us happier, healthier, and more productive: “Community itself relies on the relative physical, mental and emotional health of its individual parts. We know that what and how we feed ourselves determines our level of health and well-being,” she says.

Planted in Miami

Planted in Miami is a podcast that was launched in May to highlight the people and projects contributing to building the city through various aspects of thoughtful and compassionate living. It has gotten more than 6,000 downloads of its 15-episode release and has been named an iTunes New & Noteworthy podcast.

Founded and hosted by husband-and-wife team Jeanette and Alexander Ruiz, Planted in Miami seeks to cut through negative media banter and focus on residents infusing the community with positivity. “Whether it be opening a healthy, plant-based restaurant or creating an event to promote public transportation, we want to shine a spotlight on positive and passionate stories of change,” Jeanette Ruiz says.

She has lived in Miami most of her life. The podcast is working to build on the growth she sees here in art, technology and philanthropic initiatives by providing exposure to the people spearheading change and new ideas.

“Our everyday decisions have an impact on our environment,” she says. “And many are waking to the fact that we must take an active part in preserving and improving our city.”

Bringing Tech to Liberty City

Lashaevia Burns, just 20, recently held the first session of her new adult tech training program, Bringing Tech to Liberty City.

From August to September of this year, over a period of nine weeks, Burns trained 17 adults between 45-75 years old, on tech basics. Sessions were held at Miami Dade College, where she is a student.

The training program grew from Burns’ desire to teach her grandmother how to properly use the Internet. “I knew that in order for her to stop calling me at work for things having to do with technology I would have to take out some time and teach her,” Burns says. “Just teaching her would have been selfish. I then thought to tell her friends about me teaching them some things about the computer, and it started from there.”

Burns’ mentor, Felecia Hatcher, the dynamo behind Black Tech Week, Code Fever — and Feverish Pops — encouraged her to turn her idea into a proper project and pursue a microgrant from the Awesome Foundation Miami. After applying three times, Burns was chosen as a $1,000 grant recipient.

“I wanted to close the technology gap between my generation and my grandmother’s, and learning the basics of a keyboard, how to hold a mouse and how to send an email changed their lives tremendously.”