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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

American Faces No. 87

The Northside of Minneapolis is a community-rich place, and people like Markella Smith of the Dream Shop are what make it great. Markella is a shining beacon in her community. The passion she has for the North Side is palpable. You see emotion well up in her eyes as she talks about her youth and what community meant to her back then, and what it means to her now as she raises her three sons. You hear her drive for the community as she speaks about the Dream Shop. This shop literally was a dream for Markella, an entrepreneur at her very core. She wanted a place where she could sell the jewelry she made and provide a place for other entrepreneurs like herself to share their own offerings.

This woman is an absolute ray of light. Through The Dream Shop, Markella provides space for Open Mic nights, game nights and many other events that help build community and offer a place for folks to belong. Markella’s smile projects hope and joy to anyone visiting her shop. Her friendly service welcomes customers the moment they open the door into her bright, well lit and inviting space. Her passion for employing people from her North Minneapolis community challenged me to ask myself, “How am I engaging my own community with my business?”

Markella and I sat on couches just inside her wonderful store and we shared life. Our worlds might be different – I live 30 miles west of Minneapolis on a 7 acre hobby farm, but when those differences are set aside, we each have struggles and joys, and we remain united by our common humanity.

Markella left home at 15 and found herself on a road through life filled with hardship, an abusive marriage and other challenges that can make life hard. Through all of that, she rose from the challenges of her past to become who she is today: a mom who loves her boys like crazy, cherishes the time she has with her dad and a woman who strives to make the Northside of Minneapolis a brighter place.

Markella told me it was community that helped build the Dream Shop and it’s her passion that the Dream Shop can help build community.

I usually like to close my posts with some words encouraging my readers to take some kind of action. So, here it is: Get yourself out of your comfort zone. Meet someone new, outside of your own community. You could even visit Markella at her shop at 3701 Freemont Avenue N. in Minneapolis.. You need her smile, and she needs yours. Heck, she might even give you a hug. If you're feeling especially bold, go for Open Mic night!

Photos/Story by: Nielsen Studios

Editing by: Scott Whitman

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

American Faces No. 86

Brian Ingram can be called a “Hope Dealer.”

I met Brian at his Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul. He was whipping up a few creations from his unique breakfast menu – the carrot cake pancakes, and the pork belly and biscuit (he sent them home with me, it was amazing). Despite the array of culinary temptations on offer, I discovered what Brian’s really dishing up is a whole lot of hope, served with a big slice of love.

The Hope Breakfast Bar is one of several Purpose Restaurants, co-founded by Brian and his wife, Sarah. I could tell this place was special. “Hope” is more than just a name on the door. The mission to care for people comes from a very personal drive to do things differently.

For a while, Brian lived the life of an award-winning, fast-climbing corporate chef, with its relentless schedule and intense competitive pressures. He was helping build nationally-known brands, setting trends in the restaurant business. That fast-paced and turbulent life, while offering the opportunity to showcase his unique skills as a chef, came at a high cost, and created turmoil in Brian's past.

With Purpose Restaurants, Brian and Sarah have flipped the tables. Now, for them, it’s all about people. You see, Brian discovered hope and love. He’s taking a second shot at living a life of purpose. And he’s making it count.

Brian says, “We believe everything good starts with a meal.” In that spirit, three percent of every customer’s tab is directed to Give Hope Minnesota, the charitable organization they formed to invest back into local communities in profound ways. Brian and Sarah say it’s about bringing the community together to support and serve those in need.

One way they do that is by placing “Give Hope” cards at each table, inviting their guests to write down their hopes, prayers and dreams so the restaurant staff can pray over what they’ve shared. Brian says, “It doesn’t matter what you believe in – we believe in you.”

Through Purpose Restaurants Brian and Sarah strive to cultivate a culture that prioritizes the well-being of workers. They want their 300+ employees – and restaurant workers throughout the Twin Cities metro – to thrive, find hope and know they are loved.

When it comes to it, that’s what any of us should hope for. To help others thrive, and to be a hope dealer. Maybe to the waitress who served you a meal, or the elderly neighbor alone in their apartment. Whoever it may be, don’t leave your opportunity to help go undone. Then celebrate by heading over to Hope Breakfast Bar, order up some of Brian’s crazy-good food, and help them spread more hope.

Photos by: Nielsen Studios

Writing/editing by: Scott Whitman

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

American Faces No. 85

On a recent chilly March morning, in an unassuming warehouse space in Fridley, MN, we found Reverend Shawn and Reverend Jamie Morrison, ministers ordained with the Free Methodist Church denomination, surrounded by crates and barrels full of donated shoes. Together, they operate Good in the ‘Hood, a non-denominational not-for-profit organization providing food, shoes, basic foot care, holiday help and hope to local communities in the Twin Cities.

The Morrisons are on mission together: to influence, inspire and impact individuals, families and entire communities for good. ‘’For good’ is a play on words to imply both noble deeds and to promote perpetual impact,” says Shawn, “We want to do what we do, for good, for as long as possible.”

They’ve actually been ‘doing good’ a pretty long time. The two have been married 35 years, and serving together even longer. “We’re a lifetime and a million miles from where we started,” says Jamie.

They went to school together at Bethany College of Missions in Bloomington (now Bethany Global University). Following graduation, Shawn worked as an outreach evangelism director, preparing students to serve in local communities and in cross-cultural missions. Jamie also attended the college, and joined the school as a student advisor. They later pastored together at churches in Bloomington.

Together, they pursue their shared vision for Good in the ‘Hood: changing lives together, doing simple acts of kindness with the community rather than merely for the community. “It’s not just doing good,” says Shawn, “But helping people grow and share, encouraging and inspiring people to move forward in life.”

The Morrisons have developed an organic perspective on ministering to the community, and mentoring their team of staff and volunteers. They call it a “greenhouse of grace.”

Jamie says, “Much like a greenhouse offers a safe place for plants to grow, promotes plant growth, and prepares plants to be successfully transplanted into the real world, in serving humanity, it’s our goal to be safe, promote personal growth, and prepare people to successfully live in the real world.”

Their vision for inspiring kindness and desire to help others grow, cultivated among their many volunteers and partner organizations –and they would say, nourished by God’s blessing – has yielded a bounty in acts of kindness, demonstrating God’s love to the community in practical ways.

In 2022, Good in the ‘Hood distributed more than 3 million pounds of food over multiple sites to more than 133,000 hungry, hurting people. They provided over 24,000 pairs of shoes/boots to shelters, schools, and the underserved. In all, since the ministry’s inception in 2003, Good in the ‘Hood has been able to inspire intentional kindness and bring basic resources and practical expression of genuine care to more than 1,000,000 people.

Through it all, Shawn and Jamie have developed a deep respect for each others’ strengths. “As Executive Director, Shawn’s about the big picture. He builds the house,” Jamie says, “I make the house a home.” Jamie serves as the Director of Operations and HR. “She provides the traction to keep us moving forward,” says Shawn, “And she’s the anchor to keep us from drifting.”

As they reflect on the Good in the ‘Hood team, their partners, volunteers and community, Shawn and Jamie agree, “We’re better together.”

They say they’ve learned to build trust and community by employing “four L’s” – look, listen, learn and love.

With that formula, we can all be better, together.

Photos by: Nielsen Studios

Writing/editing by: Scott Whitman

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