Tag Archives: Milwaukee

meet nayla: revolutionizing education in milwaukee (escuela verde series 02)

Nayla Bezares 02

How Escuela Verde works: They have a lot of open project spaces in their schedule, and students complete projects to earn credit to advance from one grade to another. If you’re a student who wants to go to medical school, for example, there’s a medical workshop where they bring in professionals from the community.

Kate and I were so pumped to feature Joey Zocher and Escuela Verde, we decided to turn her story and others’ into a series. Please check back over the next few weeks for more Q&A’s with the advisers, educators and overall awesome humans who staff Escuela Verde.

Nayla Bezares, 28, has been an adviser at EV for 5 months.

“My dream was to work for the bad guys and change their perspective,” says Nayla. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she always knew she wanted to save the world. Now, Nayla’s working with the Good Guys, I’d say, but she got there in a roundabout way.

Nayla and I met at one of our favorite places in Milwaukee—Outpost Natural Foods—to talk about dreams, education, and yes, trying to change the bad guys to change the world.  Continue reading

meet ruth b8r ginsburg: milwaukee musical activists

Ruth B8r Ginsburg

They picked the name Ruth B8r Ginsburg to promote female empowerment—and help people be a little more informed about politics. Notorious R.B.G. is a pretty fabulous role model!

“I feel like I dropped into the middle of this blossoming place, and it’s been amazing.”

“This is sort of therapeutic for me, a safe haven.”

“I feel like this is also a vehicle for messages. We can help!”

These uplifting thoughts bring to mind some of my favorite parts of life—activities that work toward my goals, within my passions, with people I love. While Ousia, Danielle and Johanna said them in the context of their melodically harmonizing, lyrically inspiring band, I feel like they could’ve been talking about anything. A new community, a calling, a group of friends.

That makes sense because Ruth B8r Ginsburg is all three. This week’s interview took me to a kitschy, cozy, eclectic third floor of a home in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. It was filled with warm tones and temps, low light and laughter of a bunch of inspiring women. Plus community bottles of local mead and a round of Brie literally being nibbled on made it feel a little extra Wisconsin-y. I liked it a lot.

My friend Quinn Cory invited me to a rehearsal of Ruth B8r Ginsburg, a Milwaukee band known for its mesmerizing harmonies. (Check them out here!) Practice was at the home of Johanna Rose, upright bassist extraordinaire, and I sat on the floor with them and got a really special glimpse into the energy that flows between this stunning ensemble. I even got to be there for their very first recording session. Continue reading

meet joey: revolutionizing education in milwaukee (escuela verde series 01)

Three years ago, I made a list of my personal heroes. I was on a quest to pave a path that melded my skills with my passions and my possibilities, and these people were true inspiration.

Joey, her mentor, and a group of teachers came together to start Escuela Verde as a team, under the umbrella created by the trailblazing TransCenter for Youth.

Joey, her mentor, and a group of teachers came together to start Escuela Verde as a team, under the umbrella created by the trailblazing TransCenter for Youth.

Then I made a list of my core values and drew little maps of potential professional paths I could create for myself, including things like starting a farm, going to grad school, moving to places I’ve never even visited, and—this is great!—working at Victory Garden Initiative! I just found the little notebook I wrote all my dreams and plans in, and I don’t really remember writing that, but it came true. I also researched the best educational programs and companies to work for, compared my strengths and weaknesses, and considered the characteristics and careers of those I looked up to most.

Now fast forward to today, and I really do feel like I’m living the values I listed while I take on the best parts of those paths I drew. (However, I laughed out loud when I found my weakness list and realized most of them hadn’t changed. Note to self: Work. On. Those!)

I also happen to work for one of the women on my hero list—and that dang list just won’t stop growing. Who would be on yours?

Settle in for a good one; Joey’s my newest addition. Continue reading

meet reeanna: daughter, cousin, friend

A few Christmases ago, my mom planned the first-ever Ramazini Run. She rented a van for us to cram into, and we pretty much ate and went shopping all day with the aunts, cousins, and sisters—all the girls in the family! My dad and uncle were the chauffeurs.

A few Christmases ago, my mom planned the first-ever “Ramazini Run.” She rented a van for us to cram into, and we pretty much ate and went shopping all day with the aunts, cousins and sisters—all 11 girls in the family! My dad and uncle were our chauffeurs, and that’s ReeAnna in the middle front.

Each week, Kate and I are proud and grateful to share the stories of inspiring, empowering, kind and encouraging women across the Midwest. They’re building businesses, catalyzing change, and paving their paths through the world. But as we prepared for this week, my family suffered a massive loss of one very special woman. Last Thursday night, November 5, my big cousin ReeAnna Ramazini was taken from this world too soon. My funny, hard-working, generous 35-year-old cousin was killed by a hit-and-run driver, and my family is reeling. Personally, I’m still about 20 percent sure this can’t be real. But I don’t think a bad dream would last this long.

As the only other only child in my family, my super-cool cousin Ree (who had the CUTEST friends my 9-year-old self could imagine) told me when I was little that she did not like me and that I should talk to her when I’m older. I think I got a little taste of my own version of a big sister from ReeAnna. Feisty, straightforward and fun, she was nine years older and definitely one of those cousins that was so cool to imitate when I was growing up—so I’m positive I earned that comment. Continue reading

meet sister adele: milwaukee franciscan nun

Sister Adele in the Vineyard, People with Panache

Before Vatican II—the first assembly of Roman Catholic leaders of such large magnitude in nearly 100 years—Sister Adele’s name was Sister Raymond after her father. Her beautiful baptismal name (in honor of her aunt) was returned to her five years after she became a sister.

The sky was bright and the breeze was perfect as I drove up for a 7 a.m. breakfast with the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Sister Adele Thibaudeau came out to meet me at my car, and we walked the grounds at this gorgeous oasis along beautiful Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. Vineyards, beehives, gardens, orchards, and gorgeous altars to Mary, St. Francis and key Catholic figures adorned the grounds, and it was so peaceful. If only every morning could start with Sister Adele!

As we walked and talked, I felt so serene and centered talking to the young nun my grandma had referred me to—Sister Adele’s tranquility is contagious. Widowed more than 25 years ago, my grandma is an associate at our local convent, which means she participates in much of the religious life without taking the vows of sisterhood. I come from a Catholic family on both sides and have very much embraced and deepened my faith in recent years, so I was happy and excited to get to share the story of Sister Adele, a woman following a path I myself have considered.

Fun fact: In a place where the median age is 80, Sister Adele is in fact one of the very youngest—though not quite as youthful as some of the sisters in If Nuns Ruled the World, one of my favorite recent reads. But it doesn’t matter. Her heart, her ideas, and her energy are timeless. Continue reading

meet melissa: milwaukee teacher, leader, community creator part 2

Here are Melissa, my roommate Jessica, me and Kate at our first People With Panache party! This Thursday, from 6-8, we're having another celebration of People With Panache at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space. You're invited! :)

Here are Melissa, my roommate Jessica, me and Kate at our first People With Panache party! This Thursday, from 6-8, we’re having another celebration of People With Panache at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space. You’re invited! :)

“I have this desire to create the best world for children,” Melissa Pallin says.

This vision rings so true to me, too. Growing up with a grandma who ran a daycare with me as her little sidekick, a mom and dad who were parental figures way before I was born, and a toy box full of dolls I called my “kids,” I’ve always loved children, even when I was one. Now, at work, I get to write grants for programs that provide children with education about growing food, eating healthfully and working as a team—and because we’re so small and connected, I also sometimes get to work with the kids, too. It’s a great blend of my skills and passions, something I think most of us strive for. Melissa has also found a way to lead a passion-driven life—as we saw in last week’s post. I hope you met Melissa already but if not, she’s a perpetual student, teacher, and creator of a better, brighter future for Milwaukee’s children.

Melissa Pallin, 29, established Summer of Learning in the City of Milwaukee, an 8-week summer education program featuring a 5-to-1 student-teacher ratio, Montessori methods and real-world experiences with the City of Milwaukee as the classroom. It was precipitated by the facts that (a) more than half the achievement gap between higher- and lower-income youth can be attributed to lack of access to summer learning and (b) most students lose about two months of their grade-level math skills over the summer, but lower-income students also lose more than two months in reading—while their higher-income peers actually make gains.

Melissa also created Milwaukee Teacher SPAce, a hub of teacher enrichment, connection and support in a spa-like atmosphere. Membership itself comes with collaborative open workshops, health and wellness opportunities, and more for teachers to feel supported and cared for. Melissa also sets up Teacher SPAces in schools themselves to catalyze collaboration, health and wellness through workshops, spa sessions, and even parent education retreats. Finally, Melissa works to make satellite SPAces in businesses and other community resources, featuring programming the first Tuesday of every month, bringing teachers, parents and children out into local businesses. Continue reading

meet melissa: milwaukee teacher, leader, community creator

Melissa’s goal: Connect the whole city to make dramatic change in education. “Teachers are community creators, designers, talent developers, and more,” she says, and the list goes on!

Melissa’s goal: Connect the whole city to make dramatic change in education. “Teachers are community creators, designers, talent developers, and more,” she says, and the list goes on!

Close your eyes (Okay, not actually—it’s really hard to read that way). Breathe in the sweet, vanilla-tinged smell of chocolate-chip cookies in the oven. Imagine the feeling of the warmest late-summer breeze on your skin. Let yourself get mesmerized by the image of a lake dazzling in the last golden glimmers of sunset. All those sparkly, warm, happy, almost-as-good-as-the-best hug feelings are my best attempt at describing what it feels like when you’re around Melissa Pallin. (She’s even sweeter than this pie I’m eating—and as you know, I freakin’ LOVE. PIE.)

During the day, Melissa, 29, is a teacher at Highland Community School, a Montessori school part of the Milwaukee Public School system. She also founded and runs Milwaukee Teacher SPAce and Milwaukee Summer of Learning (SOL), which take up her nights and summers. She is incredibly sunshiny, exuberantly enthusiastic, and I think all who meet her would agree: Melissa was born to work with children. Continue reading

meet christina and jacob: investing in entrepreneurs through tourism

“If you want to change the world, take something powerful and nudge it.”

I’ve seen this quote attributed to a few people—but no matter who said it, that’s what Christina Taddy and Jacob Taddy are doing.

Christina and Jacob are working on transforming the travel industry with living wages, alleviating poverty—so they hope these businesses will eventually not need them and they can move on to other locations, other countries. “We want to call and hear, ‘Well, we’re booked…’,” Christina says.

Jacob and Christina are working on transforming the travel industry with living wages, alleviating poverty—so they hope these businesses will eventually not need them and they can move on to other locations, other countries. “We want to call and hear, ‘Well, we’re booked…’,” Christina says.

This brother-sister pair and I shared a table at Colectivo (Kate’s favorite coffee shop in Milwaukee) to talk about Onwards, the nonprofit the two built together. Onwards uses tourism to address global poverty, beginning in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Onwards breaks the seemingly insurmountable challenge of alleviating poverty into three parts that make a pretty phenomenal model: They offer microfinance services, training, and ultimately revenue for the businesses they invest in. Their lending model gives lower-interest-rate loans and only accepts repayments when Onwards provides business via trips they plan. “With our first loan recipient, Raquel, we booked two nights with a couple dozen people and a few staff trips. She’s paid back $450 of her $950 loan so far,” Jacob says—and that’s only from a portion of her proceeds. “This lending model shares the responsibility but takes the risk off the vulnerable, more impoverished entrepreneur.” Onwards has only been around for a little over a year, and they’ve already given two loans, planned two trips, and are about to host four launch parties across the country. These two were just the inspiration I need lately—they waste no time. Continue reading

meet sara: yogini, teacher and nomad

Sara and Alysse at Cathedral Square in Milwaukee

Koha (as in Koha Yoga) is the Maori word for gift. After missing a flight from L.A., Sara headed to Venice Beach and caught eyes with Whakapaingia. It was “love at first flight,” as they say on their website. An instantaneous partnership and Koha Flying Yoga were created (in 2009). Baby Kotahiataahua, meaning “Beautiful Oneness,” followed soon after. Most of us call her Tahi!

A big part of Sara Laimon Luke’s story begins on a farm in Zimbabwe.

But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Instead of 8,456 miles away, I first met Sara at a park 4 blocks from my apartment. In 2013, during Milwaukee’s Bastille Days, Sara and her husband Whakapaingia (Whaka) were sharing their acroyoga moves on the grass, inviting anyone to play. Together, they own and run Koha Yoga, and what I experienced was basically grown-up gymnastics mixed with the airplane move you do with your mom when you’re little, infused with some realllllllly good-feeling back stretches, and I’m so happy I joined in! From there, I went to my first-ever Koha Yoga acro workshop with Jessy, and I spent a week-long retreat with Sara and Whaka in Costa Rica this March. It was a trip of a lifetime.

And yet, until a couple weeks ago when I met Sara at the home where she grew up—above a bait shop on a lake halfway to Madison—I didn’t know about Africa or a huge section of her path. Continue reading

meet monique: milwaukee ph.d.-to-be

Monique has worked hard to be fully funded through her entire collegiate career, which gave her the spaces and time she needed to study, read, research and organize. “I’ve been able to find opportunities that nurtured passions but also put food on table,” Monique says. This woman is an inspiration.

Monique has worked hard to be fully funded through her entire collegiate career, which gave her the space and time she needed to study, read, research and organize. “I’ve been able to find opportunities that nurtured passions but also put food on the table,” Monique says. This woman is an inspiration.

Monique Liston is power and light. I don’t really know how else to say it without getting into corny territory.

She has a gift for taking seemingly insurmountable problems and bringing them down to earth; while some people suggest I share a few traits with the Energizer bunny, Monique’s energy is passionate, unrelenting, focused and true. Kate and I are grateful for this blog to give us a reason to sit down with people like her.

I first got to soak up some of Monique’s awesomeness at the most memorable session I’ve attended at the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee: Toward a Dignity-Based Framework for Serving Boys and Men of Color. Monique and Dr. Decoteau Irby, the assistant professor leading the project, presented a workshop that brought in nonprofit organizations to talk frankly about race, dignity and opportunity. The duo is creating a scale to measure dignity, especially when it comes to working with boys and men of color.

Monique graduated with her Master’s in Public Administration from University of Delaware and returned afterward to where she was born and raised: Milwaukee. Her first job back was Project Assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Women’s Resource Center. She then moved on to UW-Whitewater to teach in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, returned to UW-Milwaukee to be Assistant Director of the Resource Center, and is now a research assistant with Dr. Irby at the Research Center for Urban Education and Leadership Development. She also does consulting on similar work—and during all of this, she has been pursuing her Ph.D. in urban education and leadership development since 2011. She plans to finish by fall 2016. Continue reading