meet kathryn: chicago voluntour entrepreneur

Kathryn Pisco, Unearth the World

“One of my favorite quotes from The Alchemist is like ‘When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’ That’s how I felt in hindsight, looking back on the process of prepping for the trip.”

If you live in a state of perma-wanderlust as badly as Alysse and I do, you are totally going to empathize with the range of emotions I experienced while putting this story together: longing, joy, wonder, jealousy, conviction, a little more jealousy. I can’t actually complain—I’ve been lucky enough to plant my own two little feet on insanely breathtaking places, from Ireland last winter with our good friend Alayna to South Africa in college for a three-week study abroad. And Alysse may work for a nonprofit now, but she’s had some super cool travel experiences herself, from visiting a friend in China to doing yoga in Costa Rica this March. For 2016, I am planning/hoping/dying to finally take the trip I’ve been dreaming about and visit India for a couple weeks in the winter—then go to Peru later in the summer! If it all works out, I think it might be my most epic year yet. BUT I don’t think I can even dream of approaching Kathryn Pisco’s passport. She visited 20 countries in nine months!

New Zealand, Australia, India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Ghana, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Ukraine, Romania, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, Turkey

Who actually does that, right? Kathryn Pisco—that’s who! And her husband, Mike. They did the thing that most people hate them for only dream of doing—quit their jobs on the same day and took off on an adventure that forever changed the course of their life. The even cooler part is that it wasn’t just purely for entertainment. While diving into cultures all over the globe, they participated in five long-term volunteer projects that inspired them to start their own business: Unearth the World, an international volunteer placement company.

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as I just made it sound. Both Kathryn and Mike had really traditional corporate sales jobs at a medical device company. At first, the “taking a year off to travel” idea was just something they talked about every once in a while—not too serious. Then, after a chance encounter with another business professional who was taking a year to travel with his wife and kids, they started to realize it was more possible than they thought. And the planning began.

Kathryn Pisco: It seemed so drastic. We decided at that point to plan as if we were going and see—we could always not go.

People with Panache: Um… it’s kind of impossible to plan a crazy cool trip like that and then not go.

Kathryn Pisco, Unearth the World

Kathryn and monkey Pushkar in India. She says she’d love to revisit India one day—maybe we could go at the same time! I would love to meet Pushkar.

KP: Exactly! It hooked us. We couldn’t not do it. Plus everything fell into place. We were able to find someone to rent our apartment, left on great terms with our jobs, and got tons of support from family and friends.

PWP: I think so many people can totally relate to dreaming of taking a long period of time to travel. But what made you guys decide to add in the volunteering part of it?

KP: 1. We had grown up doing service through school and church and loved it. We always saw it as the most selfish and unselfish thing you can do. It just became a part of me. 2. More importantly, we saw it as an opportunity to travel in a different way—not necessarily as a tourist. Our hope was to really connect with the local communities, get to know people and see it really authentically.

PWP: Were you both happy you decided to travel with service as a priority?

KP: The volunteer projects were the most impactful part of the entire trip. Volunteer travel is now considered one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry, and a ton of companies have sprung up to facilitate it internationally. We learned that some do it better than others. What we saw that wasn’t being done well was no financial transparency, very little training for volunteers before the project and very little consideration for the local community. It was like “Let’s just do a project so Westerners can come over and repaint the same wall in the library year after year,” and it’s sad. So as we were falling in love with this kind of travel, we were at our last stop in Istanbul, drinking tea by the Bosphorus, thinking about what we’re going to do with our lives when we get home. We decided right there that if one of us could be gainfully employed so we can eat and that sort of thing, the other person could start this business.

I always say I lucked out because Mike got a job offer like two weeks later.

PWP: I bet he was a mixture of happy and envious. And now it’s been just a little over a year since you launched in April 2014! What has it been like finding projects to partner with?

Kathryn Pisco, People with Panache

Kathryn did a variety of service projects while growing up in Columbus, Ohio. “I did a teen help line. They could call and talk about anything from homework to issues going on at home and I really liked it, just connecting with other people and helping in some way.”

KP: It’s a long process. We currently have five partners, and we’ll keep it there for a while mainly because one of the things we saw with some other companies that had dozens of partners was that they really don’t have a true understanding of what’s going on in the local community. Our goal is to form reciprocal partnerships that are mutually beneficial for us and the international nonprofits.

PWP: What are the things you look for in a partner?

KP: First and foremost, it has to be an international organization that is solving some sort of community problem within the community. It’s not us coming in and starting a project. Then we must know the money is going directly to them and not a hotel chain in the area. They also have to have a long-term plan; volunteers need to play a role in their mission but not BE the mission. Our hope is that they’re going to accomplish something and it’d be sustainable.

PWP: Where are the projects you’re working with now?

KP: Our first two projects from Africa, Ghana and Zambia, were the last two projects we did on our trip, so we started off with them. Since forming the business, we’ve added three partners: one in Peru and two in Nicaragua.

PWP: It’s even more compelling knowing you actually volunteered there and know what it’s like.

KP: Creating well-vetted, impactful opportunities is the most important part of what we offer. If our projects are awesome, we are going to be awesome. If they’re happy, then we’re going to be happy.

“I love seeing the world, but really it’s about the people that I meet there.”

PWP: What’s the placement aspect like with the actual volunteers?

KP: Part of our process that makes us really different is we do a ton of in depth pre-trip support and training and then post-trip coaching. It’s important to talk about it afterward and figure out how to incorporate it into your normal life. Sometimes people just want to know how to articulate their experience, but many times people want to get involved doing the same type of work locally. So I’m always on the lookout for non-profits doing similar work in the States so I can refer people.

PWP: That sounds so mind-opening and meaningful, so even people who don’t want to quit their jobs can have life-changing volunteer travel experiences. What do you love about giving your time to help others?

Kathryn Pisco, People with Panache

Kathryn in a classroom in Nepal. She recommends staying longer than a week on an international volunteer project—the average is one month. “It’s a better experience for you and it’s more valuable for the partner. Think about having to organize and train someone. If they only stay for three days, it would take longer to train them than it would to have them work. In a developing country, it can take three days just to adjust, let alone be helpful!”

KP: Even in grade school, it wasn’t necessarily about what service it was; it was connecting with the people there. I’m a pretty social person and what I learned time and time again is that even though school or church would say you’re going to help these people, I would always end up learning way more from them. I loved the personal interaction and the community it built.

PWP: And speaking of building relationships, what was it like having only Mike with you for 9 months?

KP: We had to learn how to communicate in a different way because if you think about it, if you have a problem in your day-to-day life, you probably don’t always go to your boyfriend. You call your mom or a girlfriend or whatever. But when you’re a 15-hour time change away from those people with no wi-fi, he’s going to have to deal. We had to be there for each other in different ways and that took some learning.

PWP: I feel like that must have been great for your relationship! What makes you happiest?

KP: Relationships. People. Travel is my No. 1 passion in life that’s not a person, because I love seeing the world, but really it’s about the people that I meet there. I value my relationships with friends and family most in life, so that’s what brings me the most joy and happiness too. Things I learned traveling abroad: The happiest people that I met prioritized relationships over money. You’re a sum of all of your different experiences.

[Photos by Kate and courtesy of Kathryn Pisco.]

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happy father’s day!

Yesterday was Father’s Day and all we kept hearing on the radio was how Mother’s Day was way more important. We thought, well that’s pretty ridiculous! Dads are important, too! So today, the day after the Day of the Dad, we wanted to write about a certain group of people, the likes of whom are rarely discussed on this blog: Guys! Needless to say, none of what we or our awesome Panachies do would be possible without our dads. PWP is equipped with no shortage of fatherhood: Kate’s dad Stan and stepdad Dave as well as Alysse’s superfantastic dad Ken. Steve of Purple Door and Steve with First Class Care have been featured on the blog, and since we’ve started writing in 2013, no fewer than five PWP babies have been made, all with great dads (with panache).

Alysse and Dad! #nofearkengear

Alysse and Dad! #nofearkengear

Whether your dad is your rock, your support system, your best friend, your caregiver or even just your sperm donor, let’s all take time to thank them for giving us life so we can go on to be the best we can be!

And in this manly spirit, we wanted to talk about a few awesome dudes we’ve come across while writing People with Panache. We’ve been saving them up on our blog-planning doc for a special occasion—even future interviews if they’d be game—so we seized this day as our chance to share some of the things about them that most resonated with us. A few are dads and some are not, but if they’re any indication of what their offspring will be like, then we hope they go forth and procreate! Or, you know, just keep doing what they’re doing.

Some of these guys are in charge of huge national brands or businesses, and some are just starting out, but they’re all creating quite a stir in their communities. We’ll be back in a week with our regular woman-power programming, but for now, get inspired by the men:

Tom Matlack, co-founder of The Good Men Project

Tom founded The Good Men Project in 2009 with the goal of starting an international conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Considering that 2009 is now already 6 years ago (can you believe it?!), The Good Men Project has been around awhile. (How have I just discovered it?!) What I love about the beginning of Tom’s story is that he started out by collecting stories—just like we do—from men he knew about the defining moments in their lives. The stories evolved from there into a book, a film, a series of events, and eventually a website. I love this quote from their About page, as I think it sums up perfectly both what they do and what I love about this concept: “Guys today are neither the mindless, sex-obsessed buffoons nor the stoic automatons our culture so often makes them out to be. Our community is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world. The Good Men Project is a place where that happens.” It’s so refreshing to see this type of conversation happening all over the word. Plus, the CEO of The Good Men Project is a woman named Lisa Hickey. We like that, too. —Kate

Victor Saad, the Experience Institute

A few years ago, our best friend Alayna met Victor Saad and knew we’d have to meet him. Victor has strong roots in the Midwest but now calls the world his home as he travels with the Experience Institute, a year-long higher ed program he created. Yes, that’s right—created. The first student in what became the EI was Victor himself, after he wanted to figure out how to improve the world but only found options that were too expensive or that were lacking something he wanted. Today, in its second official year, the EI brings learners to their next stages through apprenticeships, coaching and more. Its core is made up of self-awareness, storytelling, operations, community-building and design thinking. And damn, I love my job, but this is sounding very, very tempting. (Side note: Sounds like we’ll have to interview Victor AND some of his students!) —Alysse

Jahmal Cole, author/filmmaker of My Block, My Hood, My City

I was lucky enough to meet Jahmal thanks to two women featured on PWP. About two years ago, Lacie Whyte was having a launch party for her new brand of athletic clothing, Swirlgear. Kimberly Eberl, Push PR, was attending the party, as Lacie was her client. I love supporting the women we interview, so I stopped by to say hello to them both—and that’s where I met Jahmal! The girls introduced me—they knew he’d be someone I would love to meet (and hopefully interview someday!). Jahmal was born and raised in Chicago and was launching a Kickstarter around that time called My Block, My Hood, My City. The idea was to visit and film all 77 Chicago neighborhoods in order to introduce Chicagoans to places in their city that they have never seen or experienced. He is also the founder of Role Model Movement, a non-profit organization that encourages disadvantaged youth to become educated, involved and inspired to make a difference in their own lives and their communities. Through My Block, My Hood, My City, Role Model Movement takes underprivileged teenagers on adventures to Chicago neighborhoods they’ve never explored—eating the local food, finding hidden gems and challenging their ideas of what our diverse city has to offer. —Kate

Jabril Faraj, Milwaukee Stories

I think I met Jabril over the Victory Garden Initiative Twitter. Or at Colectivo. Or somewhere else in Milwaukee. I somehow run into him a lot, but no matter where I see him, he’s wearing one of his many hats as a journalist/writer/connector/storyteller extraordinaire. One of my favorite Jabril Faraj originals is Milwaukee Stories, a site he uses to share the wisdom and experiences of individuals within Milwaukee’s vibrant—and often struggling—neighborhoods. Jabril’s work touches your heart, stirs your compassion and inspires you to be a better person, or at least it does for me. —Alysse

Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

In March, a few co-workers and I were given the fantastic opportunity to go to a workshop centered around creating a dignity-based framework for working with boys and men of color in Milwaukee. This means we spent a morning talking about how we could infuse measurements of dignity—not just outcomes like numbers served or skills assessed—in the work we do to serve others. This is encouraging, refreshing and incredibly necessary in today’s nonprofit world. The session was led by Decoteau Irby and Monique Liston and engaged us all in frank, honest conversations that I know personally have become ingrained in the way I operate since then. Dr. Irby is Assistant Professor in the department of Administrative Leadership at UWM and spends much of his work life examining programming and service delivery of organizations that work with marginalized populations, cultural politics in issues such as urban education, and much more in this realm. I so look forward to implementing his scale of dignity across disciplines and also interviewing Monique, who is currently pursuing her own Ph.D. in urban education. These two are changing a huge part of Milwaukee’s world. —Alysse

Luke Saunders, Farmer’s Fridge

Here’s the deal: I used to despise salads. In the past couple of years, though, things started to improve—I finally discovered delicious things such as kale and quinoa and nuts. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who just LOVE salads and can’t get enough, but besides being boring, they’re also inconvenient to make. So… much… chopping… On the other hand, salad bars and I do not get along. Just because you like black beans, dried cranberries and Greek dressing, does NOT mean they taste good together, as I found out two weeks ago. It turns out, somewhere else in Chicago, Luke Saunders was dreaming up the ideal means for salad consumption: convenience + taste. At 28 years old, he started Farmer’s Fridge, a vending machine for salads that begged the question: If healthy food were more convenient, would more people eat it? I am not sure what his results are so far, but for me the answer is YES! And boy, those salads are so good—they’re hearty with awesome stuff in them like chickpeas, quinoa, egg and beans in the right combinations. Plus what isn’t sold at the end of the day gets donated. And every part of the packaging is recyclable (onsite or off) and/or reusable. I also got to meet Luke at Chicago Ideas Week last year for about 2.5 seconds while he was hanging around one of his Fridges answering questions. I told him his salads had converted me to being a salad lover—at least a couple of times a week. —Kate

Fidel Verdin, Summer of Peace & Peace Park

Here's Fidel and a budding gardener on the day the Peace Park got an orchard!

Here’s Fidel and a budding gardener on the day the Peace Park got an orchard!

Fidel’s work has spanned much more than a summer. A few years ago, Fidel was sick of violence, vandalism and threats to his community. Instead of harping on the negative, Fidel was ready to promote the positive: peace. So he launched a big celebration and movement that spanned from Milwaukee to Chicago and beyond. Since, his work has grown to include the Peace Park and Orchard, which transformed a wasted, vacant lot into a food-growing little island of love in the city. It’s home to raised garden beds, fruit trees, a rain barrel, community art and children’s laughter. He’s a teacher, an artist, a community organizer, a father, and so many big, beautiful, magical things that just keep getting better. —Alysse

[Photos courtesy of Alysse and Kate.]

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meet karissa: children’s psychotherapist in milwaukee

Karissa Kesselhon on People With Panache

“My favorite demographic is school age to teenager,” says Karissa. “I don’t ever want kids to not have someone be there for them.”

“You’re living in your own reality,” says Karissa Kesselhon. Kate and I spend each week sharing stories of women turning their dreams into reality. This week I got to meet Karissa, who has a whole different view on that topic. She’s a psychotherapist, so every day she sees the impact of our brains’ perceptions on our actions, personalities and realities. Continue reading

meet monika: badass entrepreneur and coach in chicago

Monika Black on People with Panache

What Monika lives by: “I don’t say no, and I’m always there when you need to dance. You should never have to dance alone unless you want to.”

You know those amazing conversations after which you’re so full of thoughts and feelings and inspiration that you feel exhausted afterward (in the best way) even though all you did was pretty much sit and listen? I was lucky enough to meet Monika Black a few months ago and that conversation was one I will never forget. After lots of stories and a little dancing, I came away with a renewed sense of purpose. You’ll see why.

Monika is one busy woman. She owns a consulting and coaching business called TandemSpring with her husband, Tomer Yogev. She co-leads DyMynd, the eHarmony of the financial world. It’s a ground-breaking company that uses assessment tools to connect women with the right financial institution, and she runs it with Carolyn Leonard, another fantastic woman you shouldn’t be surprised to see on PWP in the near future. Oh and she teaches psychology at DePaul University. But it’s not any one of these things that makes her unique. From the moment you meet Monika, you can’t help but notice her energy! I’ve never met someone with so much spirit in my life. Continue reading

meet katie and cody: milwaukee candlemakers

BWY’s first scent was Kitten Toots: strawberry, bergamot and vanilla. “Having people email me ordering Kitten Toots is hilarious to me,” Katie says. “I want to talk about Yeti’s Breath and Mountain Men and My Drunk Sass! I want this to be fun and something we treat lightheartedly.”

BWY’s first scent was Kitten Toots: strawberry, bergamot and vanilla. “Having people email me ordering Kitten Toots is hilarious to me,” Katie says. “I want to talk about Yeti’s Breath and Mountain Men and My Drunk Sass! I want this to be fun and something we treat lightheartedly.”

I’m trying to envision Katie Daly as a kid decked out in colonial garb.

1) I am a weirdo and 2) Katie Daly: Candlemaker was sighted making her very first hand-dipped wax masterpiece on a field trip to Blackberry Farms, a living history farm outside of Chicago. (Katie probably wasn’t actually dressed up, but that’s just how I like to picture it.)

Katie Daly, 31, is now all grown up, generally dressed in decade-appropriate attire, and employed as a full-time training and development specialist in Fond du Lac, north of Milwaukee. She facilitates classes about how to be a better employee by day. But step into her candle laboratory at night, and you know she’s so much more. Continue reading

meet jazz: alternative agriculture advocate in columbus

Whenever new friends discover our blog for the first time, they invariably ask: How do you find these people?

Jazz Planting a Tree

How does Jazz stay disciplined being back in school full time? “Being my own supervisor, all my time is my own, and I pretty much work during the day like a normal person,” she says. “I work from home, so I’m eating constantly.” I feel ya, Jazz.

Here’s one story: Back in 2012, I was working for Reader’s Digest as a copy editor. I loved my team (like Deb!), but I was trying to figure out how to unite my passions for the environment, health, animal welfare, social justice and community into the next step of my career. The food system was the place I thought I could blend all those things and use my skills to make a difference, so I reached out to Jazz Glastra about Victory Garden Initiative’s (VGI) Food Leader Certificate Program. On a chilly winter night, she met me in the Saint’s Snug at County Clare Irish Pub in Milwaukee, which will forever hold a special place in my heart. Jazz told me all about how I’d learn to grow food, organize groups of people, and make a difference starting in my own community. I signed up for the program the next day.

Two and a half years later, I’m now working full-time at VGI, and Jazz has moved on to pursue her Master’s of Science in Environment and Natural Resources with a specialization in Rural Sociology at the Ohio State University. I miss her more or less constantly, so I’m so glad to share part of her story with you.

Jazz went to high school in an agricultural area of Washington state and hated it—the FFA kids in their big trucks blared country music and made it seem like farming was about not caring. After graduation, she went off to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, planning to get into environmental action or law—until she arrived. At Kenyon, Jazz totally fell in love with religious studies and became disillusioned with the policy world. Before she veered too far, though, she started her first farming internship at an organic farm in Ohio during her sophomore year. It was there that she became intrigued with agriculture and the local food movement. Continue reading

the best boss ever

Kate and I were talking this week, and she said, “It’s not always easy to be a human who has to deal with other humans.” She is hilarious—and right. After all, she has to meet with ME every Monday night! But this applies to all of the humans in your life: friends, family, co-workers, bosses…

Best Boss

Duncan Ferguson’s “Best Boss” study kept finding five pervasive themes. Looks like they align with what we’re hearing, too!

We’re all a little crazy, messy and unpredictable, but when you’re a manager, somehow it seems like it gets even more complicated. Kate and I think about this so much, interviewing entrepreneurs and women taking leading roles in their careers all over the Midwest. You get a promotion for being great at your job and, all of a sudden, you’re a boss. Or you start a company and have to hire a bunch of people you don’t quite trust yet. Or maybe you always wanted to be a great people developer, but didn’t realize how hard it really is. Kate’s mom always says: “Leadership would be easy if it weren’t for the people.” I’m in a pretty fantastic situation, because Kate (and her mom) work in leadership development and culture transformation, so not only do we talk about this all the time, but she actually knows things.

We thought it would be interesting, empowering and inspiring to hear what some of our friends, loved ones, and even my last supervisor thought of the best bosses they’ve experienced. The answers weren’t quite as diverse as I expected—a few even said they hadn’t had that great of bosses yet—so I’ll share four of the core tips I distilled from everyone’s comments that seem to add up to the Best Bosses Ever.

May we know them, may we work for them, and may we be them. Continue reading

gold at goldplaited

Remember Goldplaited from this week? Mal and Corinna not only offer finishing salon services, hold Dabble classes and sell their own make up line, they also sell jewelry by SeeSong Designs and Three Hearts Jewelry boutique. The Chicago necklace, however, is exclusive to Goldplaited and was designed by Corinna!

Remember Goldplaited from this week? Mal and Corinna not only offer finishing salon services, hold Dabble classes and sell their own make up line, they also sell jewelry by SeeSong Designs and Three Hearts Jewelry boutique. The Chicago necklace, however, is exclusive to Goldplaited and was designed by Corinna!

meet mal and corinna: the golden girls of chicago beauty

It’s officially wedding season.

Over the last few years, I’ve been really challenging myself: How many weddings can I get invited to in one year?

Me and Jim

Me and Jim at wedding No. 2 of 2015

In 2013, it was 2. Last year, I took a huge jump to 9 (and attended all of them). 2015 is a sad year, trailing behind at 3. But next year might be a record breaker—the unofficial 2016 total right now is 9 weddings!! So fingers crossed that they all happen plus a surprise bonus wedding, so that I can break my record.

Having just spent the last two weekends in Chicagoland celebrating the weddings of close friends, it’s safe to say the wedding season is well underway. Last weekend, my dress was one-shouldered with a HUGE bow on the right side. So I thought it would be a fun change to put my hair in a low updo to balance out the bow. It wasn’t a terrible idea, but I tried to do this side-pony-bun-updo-thing that I made up on the spot… and the results were mediocre at best. If I’d been a bit more prepared, I would definitely have made time to go to Goldplaited finishing salon in Lincoln Park. Continue reading

Farewell to Forget Me Knodt

One of the most joyful parts of writing this blog has been watching the women we meet grow and change and follow their dreams. For example, Lisa of Sister Pie in Detroit just celebrated her first full week as proud owner of her very own brick-and-mortar pie shop! Moriah in Milwaukee recently got her dream job where, in her words, “IT’S MY JOB TO LISTEN TO OUR COMMUNITY AND MAKE CHANGE!” (High five these two when you see them next!)

Others surprise us. This is the week Janessa, formerly and forever of Forget Me Knodt, turns from boss lady into Employee of the Month. (Fleur Inc., you’re going to have your hands full… of flowers!)

With no further ado:
“A Fond Farewell”
by Janessa Ambrosio

fmk_closing Continue reading