Former Toledo SOUP winners continue to impact neighborhoodsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Teneashia Cunningham keeps a bucket in her office.
It’s just an empty ice cream pail covered in paper marked “Toledo SOUP,” but it once held a donation of $734, enough to fund a basketball league at the Frederick Douglass Community Association that kept 120 young men off the streets on Friday and Saturday nights last summer.
“It looks like a bucket to everyone else, but to us it’s a trophy,” said Cunningham, the community center’s interim director.
SOUP is an international movement of microgrant fundraising events held in more than 100 cities worldwide. Toledo SOUP started in 2012. Since then, six events have raised more than $7,000 for seven community initiatives ranging from art programs, urban farming, human trafficking rehabilitation and small business development.
At each event, several finalists present their projects while attendees eat and vote. The winning project receives all the funds raised during the night through admission, donations, raffles and bake sales.
When votes were tallied last June, Frederick Douglass, which is located on Indiana Avenue, had the most.
“We were so over the moon,” said board member Brandy Fuller. “We have a number of gangs in this neighborhood, but basketball is a universal language. It brings people together.”
She recalled a time her son intervened when one boy pulled a gun on another. The boy with the gun knew her son from basketball and put his weapon down.
“That could have been a scary ending, but sports bridged it,” she said.
With the Toledo SOUP funds, Cunningham purchased team T-shirts, new nets, basketballs and a few team meals.
“It was awesome,” Cunningham said. “Our turnout was big and getting bigger. We had the structure, but we didn’t have the look of structure. We didn’t have jerseys or matching shirts.”
The players, mostly boys age 16-24, come from across the city, Cunningham said. Games start around 8 p.m. and can last until 2 a.m.
“We try to keep kids off the streets,” Cunningham said. “The whole purpose of it is to break those territorial lines. We have kids coming from the East Side, the North End. They see it as playing ball, we see it as breaking the lines.
“There’s a lot of gang violence during the summertime. I was trying to give them something to do. I knew I could get the draw with basketball.
“The older guys are helping the younger guys, building bridges and closing gaps a little bit. Some of them, once they start mentoring, they feel like they’ve done something and given back so there’s a lot of positivity.”
Besides youth sports, Frederick Douglass offers tutoring, GED classes, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and more.
“We’re in trying times right now, but we are still here,” Cunningham said. “We are still viable to the community. We do still have a heartbeat. The doors are open and we are building.”
For more information, visit www.fdcatoledo.org.
Glass City Pedicabs
The first Toledo SOUP took place March 4, 2012. Maxwell Austin of Glass City Pedicabs won $1,047, of which he used $800 for insurance and the rest for spare parts.
“[That] doesn’t seem like a lot for some people, but for someone like me who has put every personal dime into this, it’s the difference between me operating or not,” Austin told Toledo Free Press at the time.
Three years later, Austin’s enthusiasm for Toledo SOUP has not flagged.
“I just can’t say enough nice things about it,” Austin said. “You can take every nice word in the dictionary and I’ll say them all.
“If it wasn’t for Toledo SOUP, I don’t know how long I would have continued to wait or struggle for that amount of money. Eventually it would have happened, but it jump-started my business quicker than it would have.”
In 2012, Austin had two pedicabs in his Ohio West End garage. Today, he has a fleet of six with plans to add two more. He has a rented space, advertisers, 20 contracted employees, a growing wedding business and gigs for out-of-state events like the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500. Next up, he’s working to launch Atlantic Pedicab Fleet, a conglomerate of pedicab businesses from Detroit, Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Columbus, Boston and more, who travel to events together.
“We’ve grown and so has the city of Toledo,” Austin said. “Downtown has added way more restaurants and bars than were there in 2010 [when I started]. It’s really picked up. UpTown has grown too. That’s really nice to see.”
Austin said he’s excited about the future of Toledo and has no plans to leave his adopted hometown.
“I could go anywhere I want, but I love the people in Toledo,” Austin said. “You’ve got some naysayers that say, ‘Toledo sucks,’ but for the most part, man, there’s a huge group of diverse people trying to make a difference in Toledo, pushing for expansion and growth and new ideas. It’s a wonderful place.”
As a way to show his appreciation to Toledo SOUP, Austin now pays it forward by donating $100 to each new winner.
“When I put my idea out there to have pedicabs in Toledo, someone told me that was the dumbest idea they’d ever heard and it would never work,” Austin said. “I didn’t let that crush my dream. I went to Toledo SOUP and it exploded.”
For more information, visit www.glasscitypedicabs.com.
Art Around Town
The $858 Audrey Johnson took home from the second Toledo SOUP in September 2012, was used to take a group of eight Toledo youth to Chicago, most for the first time, to learn about Chinese culture.
Johnson is the founder and director of the Jamil Lewis Multicultural Center for the Arts. Art Around Town is a program at the center offering creative and educational art activities for area youth.
The Chicago trip was part of a Hostelling International program called Cultural Kitchen. The kids stayed overnight at a hostel where they visited Chinatown, prepared a meal of Chinese dishes and gave a presentation to fellow travelers about Chinese culture.
Next up for Jamil Lewis is building a greenhouse and sculpture garden at a renovated mansion on Winthrop Street, slated for this fall, Johnson said.
Johnson is a vocal proponent of Toledo SOUP.
“I always tell as many people as I can about Toledo SOUP because I believe it’s one of the best organically developed, crowd-funded, locally driven processes,” Johnson said. “There’s no political connection and it’s always kept fresh with people who are guiding the process. It keeps it honest by allowing the community to decide where the funds should be used for that particular time.”
Even finalists who don’t win gain valuable feedback and awareness of their projects, Johnson said.
“That’s how beautiful the process is,” she said. “Beyond what you get from the main crowd-funding source, other people step up to the plate and say, ‘Hey, maybe I need to support that.’”
That happened during the September 2012 Toledo SOUP when local a doctor in the audience offered to help raise money for one of the finalists, a free clinic in need of new equipment.
That offer allowed Art Around Town to win Toledo SOUP instead.
“Because that happened, we ended up winning,” Johnson said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
The Art of Hope
Only one Toledo SOUP event was held in 2013. The winner was The Art of Hope, a South Toledo-based program offering temporary housing, counseling and mentoring to women recovering from sex trafficking. The program has worked with about 40 women since 2013, said Genevieve Abalos, who started the program with Tina Robinson in a house owned by Vision Ministries, a South Toledo church.
The Art of Hope received $1,015 from Toledo SOUP, which it used to purchase exterior and interior paint for the house, which was then painted by volunteers.
“It meant everything to us. It was such a blessing,” Robinson said. “We had some donation money from the church but it wasn’t enough to take care of everything. When we got that, it was like a weight lifted off our shoulders.”
The Art of Hope will soon disband as Abalos is moving out of state. However, Robinson plans to continue work at the house. She’s starting a nonprofit called Butterflies 15, aiming to help women recover from drug and alcohol addiction.
“I’m a recovering addict myself,” Robinson said. “I want to give back to these women who are where I used to be.”
Butterflies 15 will use a five-stage, spiritually based recovery program developed by Robinson, who said she has been clean since 2004 and has gone back to school to become a social worker.
The five stages are Butterflies in the Sand, Butterflies in the Wind, Butterflies in the Sun and Butterflies in the Field followed by aftercare, Robinson said.
“Sand is you’re stuck. You want to get out of the rut you’re in, but you’re stuck,” Robinson said. “Wind is you have roots. You’re free from the sand and now you’re able to fly a little. Sun is a new dawning, a new beginning. You’re starting to change, you’re reaching out more, progressing more in your recovery. Field is you’re free, you’re finally free. You have all the tools you need to stay free. Then the next step is aftercare, where I will help them with housing, applications for jobs, resumes, all that.”
Right now, Robinson is searching for partnerships and working on house repairs, which lost heat after the furnace caught fire. The floors have been torn up; she plans to write Bible verses on the wood and shellac over them.
“I just started this at the beginning of this month,” she said. “It’s still a little baby. But this was set into me, God telling me what I need to do. So I’m doing it as he’s telling me to do it.”
Robinson said Abalos supports her change of focus.
“The Art of Hope was not really moving forward like we wanted it to. There were some major things we were not able to take care of,” Robinson said. “She has known my passion since the start.”
New Life Urban Agriculture
The first Toledo SOUP of 2014 came with another first — a tie.
Derek Bunch of New Life Urban Agriculture and the Glass City Goat Gals got an equal number of votes at the March 9 event and split the $2,168 pot.
Bunch’s plan was to use the funds to buy mushroom cultures, filtration units, lighting and other equipment needed to start local production of high-quality organic mushrooms in his Old West End home.
“For me it felt good that people believed in this plan I had,” Bunch said. “When you win, it’s a confirmation that something is a good idea.”
As it turned out, mushrooms didn’t work.
“In the first month, I had mold issues because the humidity has to be so high,” Bunch said. “I ended up reverting back to what I know, which is tomatoes, basil, peppers, carrots and strawberries. Mushrooms are still a part of it, but much smaller. But that Toledo SOUP grant gave me everything I needed to complete doing what I’m doing now.”
His goal is to sell his produce to local restaurants, food co-ops, food trucks and farmers markets.
Bunch first heard about Toledo SOUP the day after he had to shut down his former growing operation because he lost the space he was renting.
“I had to start over from zero,” Bunch said. “It was one of those things like, ‘What do I have to lose?’”
Glass City Goat Gals
Elizabeth Harris and Unique Jones of Glass City Goat Gals are an example of persistence paying off. Their project was a finalist at the inaugural Toledo SOUP, but didn’t win.
“It was disappointing, but made us see we needed to dig a little more, lay more groundwork, have a better business plan,” Harris said.
Two years later, they won.
“After losing, winning felt good. And it was also a confirmation that we’re on to something,” Harris said. “Once we won, it started a snowball effect of contacts and resources.”
The Gals haven’t yet spent their Toledo SOUP money — they’ve been waiting on city permits and approvals for construction — but still plan to use it for fencing for their 10 goats, hopefully by this spring, Harris said.
They are building their urban farm on Mentor Street in the central city. Both have degrees in urban agriculture and sustainability. They offer a 4-H Club and hands-on, STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, math) educational programs, which they bring to local community centers and soon to Moody Manor.
“We want the farm to be an educational resource for our community,” Harris said. “The children need to see the connection between nature and their lives.”
For more information, visit www.glasscitygoatgals.com.
Soul City Boxing and Wrestling
Soul City Boxing and Wrestling is the most recent Toledo SOUP winner.
After winning $1,278 in October, owner Roshawn Jones announced he would donate $100 each to the other two finalists.
“It was shocking and amazing,” Jones said. “People there were nice. It was so touching that I kind of wanted everybody to win.”
With the funds, Jones was able to purchase a laptop and three iPads for the Junction Avenue gym’s afterschool tutoring program. He also had two desktops and a laptop donated by people he met through Toledo SOUP.
Jones has about 55 kids who are regulars at Soul City, which just this week became a nonprofit.
“Their grades are monitored very closely,” Jones said. “Some of them have parents who don’t push them, so that’s what we do.”
For more information, visit soulcitygym.com.
Paula Ross was among the original people who advocated bringing the SOUP model to Toledo. Her husband, Johnathon Ross, is the physician who offered to help fundraise for the free clinic.
“It’s just wonderful,” Ross said. “It’s unique for Toledo but it’s part of something that’s international. I think they are doing a terrific job.”
Ross would like to see SOUP expand regionally.
“There’s room for some regional projects,” Ross said. “Some communities have more than one group. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of need and I think people like to connect to worthy causes where they can make a difference with a small contribution. There’s just lots of room for creativity, I think.”
The next Toledo SOUP is set for 5 p.m. March 8 at Toledo School for the Arts, 333 14th St. For more information, visit toledosoup.com.
Tags: Art Around Town, Atlantic Pedicab Fleet, Audrey Johnson, Austin Maxwell, Brandy Fuller, Butterflies 15, Derek Bunch, Elizabeth Harris, Frederick Douglass Community Association, Genevieve Abalos, Glass City Goat Gals, Glass City Pedicabs, Jamil Lewis Multicultural Center for the Arts, New Life Urban Agriculture, slider, Soul City, Soul City Boxing and Wrestling, Teneashia Cunningham, The Art of Hope, Tina Robinson, Toledo SOUP, Unique Jones