Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Jay Savsani ’07 – Changing the World, One Meal at a Time

After many years working in technology, Lewis alumnus Jay Savsani ’07 has completely transformed into a thought leader in the sharing economy space.

In 2012, Jay founded Meal Sharing - a global platform that connects people to home cooked meals. Fueled by his experience in technology and inspired by all of the traveling he did after graduation, Jay made it his goal to create a website that would bring people together from all around the world via food.

Fast forward to eight years later…

Jay’s start-up company has recently been acquired by Traveling Spoon, one of the world's largest travel culinary companies. The company now has meals from over 150 countries and 450 cities.

“It has been a crazy experience and I owe it all to Lewis University,” said Jay. “I was just a kid that started as a pre-health student, and now I get to travel around the world doing work that I love!”

At the beginning of his journey, Jay was nervous. This was something that had never been done before, but he took a chance and worked hard to be the best he could be. Lewis provided Jay with a strong foundation, and he continued to grow and gain confidence throughout his experiences after graduation.

“The people that I met at Lewis were inspiring – especially professors Robert Bergman and Arthur Regal. Anything I wanted to explore, whether that be music or switching my major and joining the College of Business, was met with open arms in a way that was not at other universities! I had the confidence to jump into things; to get in there, explore, and make a difference for the world. Lewis inspired me to think big and do things larger than myself,” Jay added.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Marketing in 2007, Jay began working with a portfolio program advertising agency and had the opportunity to travel all around the world. From Paris to Brazil, he did it all. A few years later, Jay decided it was time to settle down and start his next adventure. As fate would have it, this adventure begins with a fellow Lewis alumnus. Jay and his good friend Justin Kempiak ’07 ’12 reconnected and, in 2010, they made the decision to build their own marketing agency company.

“It was a great experience to work with another Lewis Flyer!” said Jay. “We were definitely early players in the digital marketing scene in Chicago, and our work was ahead of our time. We brought something new to the table and it was exciting!”

Jay then opened his own agency which was a combination of advertising and marketing for clients and building startups for others. He had a team of designers and developers who helped their clients’ dreams come true – which is what ultimately inspired Jay to build Meal Sharing.

“I wanted to build a tech company for people to travel and try new food – a complete cultural exchange. I noticed a trend during my time abroad, gained confidence through my previous work, and just continued to build upon that. I was ready to change the world.”

Jay hopes that students will read his story and realize their full potential. “I want to be able to give back to the university that gave me the foundation to do some really exciting things in my career. But more importantly, I want to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs coming out of Lewis!”

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Lewis Mission Moment: Kevin Davenport '11 Answers Call to Empower Black and Brown Youth

From the time Kevin can remember, his mother spent most of her time mentoring youth at her performing arts school and provided workshops to teach them soft skills. Kevin mastered the curriculum in her program and was teaching classes by age 15. Fast forward to 2015, at age 25, Kevin decided to carry on his mom’s vision with her blessing and The Ideal Candidate was born.

Compared to every major city in America, Chicago has the highest out of school, out of work percentage for black and brown youth, ages 16 to 24. Kevin and his team at The Ideal Candidate have devoted themselves to changing that narrative.

At its launch, Kevin and his team focused only on soft skill development. Since inception, they have added onto the existing curriculum and grown more than 35% year after year. The Ideal Candidate is now an award-winning non-profit organization that certifies students with: Financial Literacy, Soft Skills, Etiquette, Corporate Integration, Sales & Communication, etc. As of January 2020, The Ideal Candidate has added to its operations to start placing students in positions and act as a diversity and inclusion pipeline for corporations and small businesses.

“The Ideal Candidate equips youth with skills they can use forever,” says Kevin. “I designed the curriculum to address all the skills needed to excel and thrive in the workplace that are not taught directly in a traditional high school curriculum; many of which are typically taught in the household. And when it is not being taught in the household, and they are not teaching it in school, some students enter adulthood with zero exposure to these skills. We address these issues head on. The Ideal Candidate program prepares an individual for getting the job, keeping the job, and knowing what to do with your new stream of income. We’ve impacted 600+ students to date.”

This organization services black and brown youth from all over the Chicagoland area, and many of these youth are dealing with major issues. Some have to cross gang territory to get to and from school or have had a classmate or family member that has died due to gun violence. At The Ideal Candidate, a necessary aspect of their job and commitment is to build a relationship with the students, and that involves listening to them so they feel heard and know that they are in a safe and open environment for learning.

For Kevin, it is important that each “Ideal Candidate” graduates with a new sense of confidence and truly believes that they are equal, and that they add value to any room they walk into, and that their value will continue to compound over time.

Kevin is very grateful to Dr. Ayers and Dr. Enyia of the Lewis Communications Department for being amazing teachers and going above and beyond to support him throughout his journey at the University.

“I really took advantage of their open-door policy, and I gained so much knowledge in creative thinking and problem solving just from seeing how they think and dissect problems to recreate solutions. Lewis University taught me grit, time management, problem solving and creative thinking, which have all laid the foundation for my professional career.”

Lewis’ Mission statement is a guiding star for how Kevin chose to design his life after graduation. He created a non-profit [The Ideal Candidate] to provide resources to a diverse student population and provide education. He then created a for-profit company [The Ideal Training Academy] to help with the diversity and inclusion issues corporations have when hiring new diverse talent.

“Every day, I wake up fulfilled, humbled, grateful that I can live and work in my purpose. I feel like I am doing the work I was put on earth to do. Very challenging work, but simultaneously very rewarding work. And I’m just getting started,” says Kevin.

He isn’t kidding about just getting started. On August 1, 2020, Kevin and another partner are launching a new company: Ideal Digital (ID). ID is a digital marketing, advertising, and branding company that will hire directly from The Ideal Candidate.

“This is a very exciting time. For the first time ever, I will be able to directly hire my own graduates from The Ideal Candidate. Allowing a student to complete our full cycle (Training - Job Placement – First check) 100% under our guidance.”

Kevin recently received two awards for his outstanding work: FWD (For Women & Diversity) Award – Chicago 2019 and the Mayor’s Award of Excellence – City of Aurora 2020. In addition, The Ideal Candidate was recognized in 2019 by the Chicago Community Trust – Young Leaders Fund with the Community & Economic Development Award and in 2020 Chicago Housing Authority CHCS recognized The Ideal Candidate with the Community Impact Award.

Kevin works with a team of dedicated volunteers, including fellow Lewis alumna Olivia Estrada '16 who serves on the Board of Directors for The Ideal Candidate.

“The Ideal Candidate is a great resource for the youth in black and brown communities. We, as board members, are proud to step in and help our little brothers and sisters succeed because EVERYONE deserves a mentor, but not everyone shows up for our black and brown brothers and sisters. It is our hope that we can propel our mission and continue to mentor the young leaders of the future," says Olivia.

To learn more about The Ideal Candidate, visit www.theidealcandidate.org.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mission Moment - Theresa Marten '15

As a student at Lewis, Theresa Marten ’15 was a very familiar face on campus. She led retreats, worked as a Peer Minister in the dorms, served as captain of the dance team, and took part in many other organizations and activities. After all the love and support Marten had received as a student at Lewis, she realized how important it was to give back and knew that her next steps involved serving others. And now, she continues to live out the Lewis mission in her work every single day.

Marten works as Program Manager for SAME Café – a donation-based, fair exchange restaurant that serves healthy food to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. At SAME, you can volunteer your time to help out in the kitchen, bring in fresh produce, or contribute a fair monetary donation in exchange for a tasty meal. This is based on a dignified dining model developed by Brad and Libby Birky, founders of SAME Café. Every single guest who enters SAME is treated equally and has access to an ever-changing menu of local, healthy, and organic food.

There are no set menus or set prices, but Marten says the philosophy is their one constant.
“SAME Café is the first non-profit restaurant in Denver!” says Marten. “Our mission is to create community through healthy food access. We believe in healthy food, community, and dignity for everyone.”

Marten joined the café staff after spending several years volunteering her time and talents at various non-profits.

Just one day after walking across the stage at graduation, Theresa moved into the Nativity House in Lockport, Illinois – a hou

se of hospitality complete with an on-site farm that supports first-time mothers through the principles of the Catholic Social Teachings. 

Soon after, Marten moved to Denver to volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers for one year where she worked as Case Manager at Urban Peak Youth Shelter. She lived in a community with nine young adults and helped them find work, provided the mental health services they needed and assisted them in reaching their education goals.

Marten found the SAME café right after completing her volunteer year at Urban Peak.
At SAME, Marten says she encounters a diverse and unique group of people daily who help her relate to her community in a more important way. One of those special people is SAME Cafe Head Chef and Operations Officer, Letisha Steele.

“As I began working at the café, I started to understand the beauty in regular customers and the joy new guests experienced as they were able to participate in the way that made sense for them,” says Marten. “I am motivated by the leadership of Letisha Steele. Her ability to invite our team and volunteers to appreciate, take care of, and reduce waste of all the food that comes through our doors is inspiring.”

Marten says with the help of donors, guests, and leaders like Letisha, SAME Café was able to recently purchase a food truck to continue to bring healthy meals to the greater Denver area. SAME has also received funding for its Cook-To-Work Program, a free program for underserved citizens in Denver looking to develop their culinary skills and then find a job in the industry.

Just as SAME Café remains firm in their mission, so does Theresa.

"I have been lucky to have built such a wonderful community through Urban Peak, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, and SAME Café. Through all of these experiences, I have been given a lot, taught a lot, and seen a lot. I just feel grateful. Life can be really difficult and I hope our work helps make it possible for people to feel needed and human."

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Lewis Mission Moment - Julia Mach '18

Julia Mach ’18 earned a double bachelors from Lewis in Secondary Education and English. Believe it or not, English is not her first language.

“I decided to go into the teaching field because I struggled with learning English after being adopted from Russia,” says Julia. “I was academically behind when I came to the United States. I wanted to help others students who struggle with comprehending the English language and the things that go along with that, like comprehension and writing.”

Julia wants to get working in the classroom as soon as she can, but for now, she’s opted to transform lives in a different way as a Lasallian Volunteer. As a volunteer, she performs service projects and outreach for a community she is assigned to work in.

Julia turned to a life of service after participating in multiple Lewis University Ministry Alternative Trip Experiences (LUMINATE). During LUMINATE, Lewis students enter a weekend long or week-long service trip during Spring break or after finals are completed in May. LUMINATE service projects include tasks like building houses or gardening all while learning about the importance of social and cultural justice. This year, her volunteerism has taken her to Oregon, Nevada, Washington, and Alaska.

“I was amazed at what could get done in a week, and I liked the idea of being able to live in a new place and meeting new people while helping those who need it most. I liked that I was filling a need.”

Julia calls to mind one young boy who made a lasting impact on her during a volunteer experience at DeLaSalle Academy in California. The boy, a fifth-grade student who struggled with the English language, had the academic comprehension level of a child in the third-grade. Julia worked with him one-on-one for a year to help him improve his reading, writing, and speaking skills. At the end of one year, the boy reached a comprehension level of a fourth-grader and was eligible to remain in his school.

“These experiences are meaningful to me because I like knowing that my skills are being used somewhere that they’re actually needed. It makes me want to do my absolute best for those left to my care.”

Right now, Julia is in Concord, California working to improve the lives of underserved residents and children in the area.

“It has been a great experience to live in California and to be a part of the group. My community gets along really well with each other and we’ve become a small family over the past year. I will miss them, but I’m looking forward to joining a new community next year.”

Julia plans to remain with the Lasallian Volunteers for a bit longer, but looks forward to coming back to the classroom to earn her master’s degree in Social Work to help children. When Julia isn’t performing service, she enjoys traversing the Concord and San Francisco areas of California, attending festivals and making new friends. While the travel is fun, she says it’s really about bringing joy and service to where she is assigned.

“My goal is to make as much of a difference as possible for the people I serve. I’m not just there to fill a job, I’m there to fill a need.  I want to make an everlasting impression on others.”

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lewis Mission Moment: How A Former Student & Professor is Using Urban Agriculture to Cultivate Healthy Lifestyles and Relationships

On the south side of Chicago sits a quarter acre farm.

That’s right: A quarter acre farm that grew and distributed more than 4,000 pounds of fresh produce to farmers and local residents around Chicago within its first operational year.

Just Roots is a non-profit co-founded by former Lewis student, campus minister, and professor, Sean Ruane ‘12. Sean spent the first nine years of his life in the Midwest before moving to Georgia with his family. It was only when he moved back to the Midwest to attend school at Lewis that he began to see just how hard it was for some communities in Chicago to gain access to locally sourced and reasonably priced produce.

“Over the last 75 years, Americans have progressively become more and more disconnected from their food – where it comes from, how it’s grown, and healthy cooking and diet practices,” says Sean. “Additionally, many people who want to eat better don’t have access to healthy foods due to socioeconomic, educational, and geographic barriers.”

Just Roots is starting from the ground up – literally – to change that. The organization offers on-site educational opportunities for those interested in learning about growing fruits and veggies in an urban setting and leading a healthier lifestyle. The farm is also open to tours, volunteers, and those who want to become community partners.

“It feels very fulfilling to do work that benefits the community and that I’m deeply energized about. It’s one of the greatest blessings of my life.”

Sean says his family history and his enthusiasm to educate others is what partly sparked this initiative.

“My grandfather lived on a farm in Ireland before he immigrated to the United States and my mom was always outside gardening when I was a kid. So I like to think that growing food is in my blood. Early on in my life, I was interested in becoming a teacher. When I moved back to Chicago, I started seeing just how disconnected people were from their food and I realized I wanted to blend my passion for education with my goal to empower people to lead healthier lives.”

Before starting Just Roots, Sean earned his bachelor’s in Secondary Education and History from Lewis and was a Men’s Baseball player for two years. He was multi-year Dean’s List student and recipient of the Brother David Delahanty award for his excellence as a student-athlete. He was also heavily involved in campus ministry programming, an activity that allowed him to cultivate his passion for community. After graduation, Sean returned to Lewis as the coordinator of social justice education in campus ministry and as an adjunct professor for undergraduate theology and sociology, leading immersion experiences and teaching The Search For Faith and Cultural Diversity before jumping on the chance to start Just Roots.

Sean is proud of the organization and the goals he and his team have accomplished, despite Just Roots being in its infancy years.

“It’s always easier to think about things we could be doing better, but if I have to choose one thing that I’m really proud of, I’d say it’s the fact that we’ve built up a really strong network of people (staff, board, volunteers) who believe in the work we’re doing and want to see us continue improving 
the lives of community members.”

Just Roots hopes to reach their goal of growing more than 10,000 pounds of food in 2019 at their south side farm. They hope to open a second farm site in the near future to spread a love of growing food and to empower others to cultivate healthy lifestyles -- and relationships.

To learn more about Sean, his team, and Just Roots visit: https://justrootschicago.org/

Friday, January 25, 2019

Lewis Mission Moments – Jared and Jill Reynolds – Lewis Sweethearts Reunited

It wasn't the planes at Lewis that brought them together, but an aviation encounter off-campus ignited a spark between two Flyers.

As Jill was getting off her flight in Cleveland, Jared was waiting to board at the same terminal gate. Four years after graduation, fate brought them back together and the loving couple is celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary!

“I have been in love with Jared for more than half of my life!” says Jill. “I knew we were meant to be together the moment I saw him.”

After being reunited, they knew there was only one real answer as to where they should get married. With a love of Lewis and a gratefulness for what they found here, Jared and Jill decided to get married right here on the Lewis University campus. They said their vows in the Sancta Alberta Chapel on Valentine’s Day in 2004. Shortly after, they purchased a brick in the Heritage Circle outside of the chapel to commemorate their special day.

But there's more to the story than just wedding bells and fairytales. As students at Lewis, Jill worked in the library and wrote for the school newspaper, while Jared ran both Track and Field and Cross Country in addition to several hours of flying. In between all of the classes and activities, the two found time to spend together. Though they went their separate ways, their happily ever after was never too far out of reach.

“All of my professors, especially Sister Lifka, were so involved in my education. They did not just teach and usher us all on to the next class. They really took the time to get to know us and wanted to see us succeed,” says Jill. Both Jill and Jared received scholarships and other forms of financial assistance which allowed them to continue reaching their goals here at Lewis. It is something they’ve never forgotten.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in History, Jill went on to earn her MBA from the University of Memphis and now owns a project management consulting company. Jared graduated with bachelor’s degrees in both Aviation Administration and Aviation Flight Management, and is now a pilot for United Airlines. Now, they live in Tennessee with their 9-year old son. They love to travel different places and experience new adventures as a family.

And there's more. Their love has turned into a lasting legacy here at Lewis– a fairytale that will star a new student every year thanks to a scholarship they’ve created. They want to make a difference in the lives of future Flyers for generations to come – through their scholarship.

“I know a scholarship can have an impact on somebody, because it had one on me. To be able to help another student in the same way means a lot to the both of us,” Jill adds.

And maybe, just maybe, that student here on their scholarship – able to stay in school because of the financial assistance – will find their own true love in one of their classrooms, or the Den, or maybe even at an athletic game. And it will all be thanks to two people who found love, and are sharing it with the place that brought them together.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Lewis Mission Moments - Ken Houbolt '88

Fear. Doubt. Anxiety. Pretending to be something you're not, or pretending a problem doesn't exist. Hiding the truth from those you love. Avoiding social situations. Making excuses. Wondering why we can't just be "normal." 

These are just a few of the things that people with mental health issues feel on a constant basis, thanks to the stigma around such issues. We see it on the news, we read about it in health classes, but it is reaching much closer to home for most of us.

When Ken Houbolt ‘88 went to visit a family member in the hospital who was battling depression, he was shocked to see other families he knew there, including a family he had grown up with. But he wasn’t surprised when he heard every family make up a reason for being there. In fact, it seemed to be the norm to not talk (to not talk or to make excuses?) about mental health issues.

Later, as Ken was sitting in a diner, he heard a woman tell her friend that her Jimmy had just been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. The first thing the friend said was, “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” Ken quickly realized that there was something very wrong about how mental health was being viewed.

“People talk about democrats and republicans all day long, but not mental health,” Ken explains. “One out of four people struggle with mental health and two-thirds of them don’t get help because of the negative stigma or lack of coverage. You’ll get help for a broken arm, but not a mental health issue, which affects everything we do - including friends, family, and work.”

When Ken later had the opportunity to partner with Lewis University for an event, he immediately suggested a comedy night that would raise awareness for mental health issues and raise money to support the cause. After forming a committee of other Lewis alumni and people who were passionate about the issue, “Laugh to Create Awareness” started to take shape.

The event, set to take place on April 25, 2019 at the Beverly Arts Center, will feature three comedians: Lewis alumnus John Caponera ‘79, Joe Killgallon, and Marty Derosa, who also hosts his own podcast “Wrestling With Depression,” featuring successful people who struggle with the disease. WGN’s Mike Toomey will join as emcee.

The proceeds from the event will support a scholarship for a Lewis student in the graduate counseling program, the Center for Health and Counseling Services at Lewis, and Pillars Community Health, a nonprofit that helps individuals who have no insurance or have limited coverage for mental health issues.

The goal? Get people talking. “We’re doing the opposite of what people have been doing,” Ken explains. “Instead of keeping it inside, through comedy, we are showing an outward sign. It’s not something to make fun of, but something that we want and need to express outwardly.”

“If we can help people to come out of the event with a willingness to talk about it, and have those people say it’s okay to talk about it or be more willing to listen to others who are struggling with it, then that can spread,” adds Ken. “It can catch on and help people who struggle with mental illness and their families.”

Since Ken has made a resolution to talk about mental illness with others in his life, he has noticed a huge difference - not only for himself, but everyone he talks with. He has gotten numerous calls from other families hoping to talk about their personal or loved one’s struggles with mental health. This support and openness is ultimately what the “Laugh to Create Awareness” event is all about.

To find out more about the event, or to register, go to www.alumni.lewisu.edu/comedynight.