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Purposeful Pitch

Purposeful Pitch

By Joe DiBenedetto
Welcome to the Purposeful Pitch, a podcast focused on initiating positive change and addressing socio-economic challenges facing communities across the country. Conversations will feature school leaders, CEOs of not-for-profit organizations and public policymakers, among others.
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Helping the Homeless Amid a Global Pandemic
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put a strain on economies throughout the U.S., many nonprofits are feeling the impact, especially those focused on homelessness and poverty. With limited support from the public, and rising demands for food and supplies, these organizations have had an uphill battle since the start of the pandemic. This reality is all too real in Phoenix, Arizona, where the nonprofit Phoenix Rescue Mission is in the midst of its annual Code: Red Summer Heat Relief Campaign, a city-wide mobilization effort to prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses among Phoenix’s homeless population. The campaign is centered around a fleet of Hope Coach vans, armed with water and other heat-relief items, that travels the streets in search of those caught in the deadly heat. Add in the pandemic, along with diminishing resources, and the Mission is facing its toughest challenge to date. On this episode of the Purposeful Pitch, Phoenix Rescue Mission Chief Program Officer Nathan Smith joins my colleague, Josh Skalniak, and me for an in-depth conversation on the struggles and risks associated with homeless street outreach during a pandemic. We’ll look behind the scenes of what it takes for an organization like Phoenix Rescue Mission to be successful in preventing heat-related deaths while curbing the spread of the virus among the city’s most vulnerable population. Following his life’s passion, Smith has worked as a missions pastor, case manager, program director, board president, and executive in several churches and nonprofits. Smith has been with Phoenix Rescue Mission for the past six years, and he now oversees all of the nonprofit’s programs, including its public-private partnerships aimed at reducing crime, poverty, and homelessness in targeted regions of the metro area. Smith was instrumental in the expansion of the Mission’s reach into neighboring regions like Glendale, where he and his team saved the city’s largest food bank, Hope For Hunger Food Bank, from closing for good. His team reopened the food bank and increased the output of the previous ownership by more than 50% – serving more than 160 families per day. He was also a key player in the formation of Glendale Works, an integrated workforce development program aimed at reducing homelessness in Glendale by providing homeless individuals day-work cleaning city property. To continue the conversation or learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
42:05
July 20, 2020
A Time to Listen
In his years of public service, Michigan State Senator Peter MacGregor has been a man of action. Serving as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on health and human services, Senator MacGregor recently led the Senate in providing $524 million in federal COVID-19 funding to deliver much-needed supplies to front-line workers, help families in need of financial assistance, and to support critical state infrastructure. A former small business owner, Senator MacGregor can empathize with the challenges facing local businesses experiencing hardship as a result of the COVID pandemic. During this episode of the Purposeful Pitch, Senator MacGregor shares his thoughts on the pandemic’s impact on Michigan and the efforts needed to continue to build on the progress seen across Grand Rapids and Kent County over the past decade. In our conversation with Senator MacGregor, we also discuss the issue of systemic racism across the country and the protests taking place to institute necessary change. As all agree, the time to listen to voices calling for critical change to address racial injustice is long overdue, but that is where we must first start for such change to occur. To continue the conversation or learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
38:50
July 2, 2020
The Call to Serve
The path to public service differs for many. For Michigan State Senator Winnie Brinks, it included serving as executive director for One Way House, a non-profit serving non-violent female offenders in a residential setting as an alternative to incarceration, as well as working with a number of public schools in the Grand Rapids area. It was her work assisting individuals and families in overcoming barriers to success that inspired her to run for office in Michigan’s House of Representatives in the early 2000s. After more than seven years in the House, Brinks became the first woman to represent Grand Rapids in the Michigan Senate since Eva McCall Hamilton was elected in 1920. While certainly proud of this distinction and acknowledging that we should celebrate such firsts, Senator Brinks shares during this episode of Purposeful Pitch that she would prefer that women in public office in West Michigan and across the state become the norm, not the exception. Of course, we can’t discuss any topic at present without including the impact of COVID-19. As the global pandemic continues to turn our world upside down, Senator Brinks remains confident that Grand Rapids—which has experienced remarkable growth over the past decade—will be able to recover given the city’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit. Still, she admits, there will be many challenges due to funding uncertainties at the state and federal level. Learn more about the road ahead in this episode. To continue the conversation or learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
24:42
June 12, 2020
Into the Great Unknown
School leaders across the country are working diligently in preparation for the upcoming school year, despite the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. As you can imagine, developing plans becomes even more challenging when you have no idea if or when you’ll be able to safely re-open school buildings or what funding you can expect from the state and federal governments. Like all states, Michigan is facing a sharp decrease in tax revenues as a result of the extended shutdown. Projections from the state’s recent Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference (CREC) estimate a $1.25 billion hit to the existing year’s School Aid Fund, money that’s largely already been spent as the academic year soon comes to an end, and $1.1 billion in next year’s budget. It remains to be seen what per pupil funding will look like as a result. Any cuts to school funding will impact services provided to students – be it in the classroom, the lunchroom or on the field. On this episode of the Purposeful Pitch, we talk to Dr. Dan Applegate, superintendent of Niles Community Schools. It’s an in-depth discussion on the challenges school districts and communities face in preparation for the 2020-21 school year and beyond. We talk about the different scenarios school leaders must consider, how families and teachers have been handling the shift to distance learning, and how this situation could lead to the evolution of the country’s education system. To continue the conversation or learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
28:50
May 26, 2020
4 Impact: Amplify GR
Amplify GR seeks to widen pathways so that more residents can participate and benefit from neighborhood growth. In our conversation with Jon Ippel, the non-profit organization’s executive director, we talk about establishing more equitable outcomes through community development.
05:20
May 19, 2020
4 Impact: Samaritas
Kelli Dobner, Chief Advancement Officer at Samaritas, a non-profit organization providing critical services supporting vulnerable populations, discusses the ongoing foster care crisis across Michigan.
05:21
May 14, 2020
State Economies in Flux
In addition to the grave health concerns surrounding COVID-19, the global pandemic is wreaking economic havoc on communities around the world. While nothing is as important as the health and well-being of our neighbors, the long-term impact of COVID-19 on local economies should not be ignored – especially as it relates to the education of our children. As school superintendents across the country try to figure out how best to educate students via distance learning, they must also start preparing for the next school year amidst great uncertainty surrounding budgets. Economists are predicting billions of dollars in decreased tax revenues in the state of Michigan as a result of the current recession—and that’s going to have a dramatic impact on state funding for schools, roads and other critical infrastructure. On this episode of the Purposeful Pitch, former Michigan State Senator John Proos joins my colleague, Clare Liening, and I for an informative discussion on state budgets. We take a look behind the curtain at the state budget process, the grim reality facing businesses, nonprofits, schools and other organizations, and the tough decisions that have to be made in developing the next state budget. Senator Proos is an experienced former legislator with over two decades of public service at both the federal and state levels – including serving in the Michigan House of Representatives and most recently in the Michigan Senate. He served on appropriations committees for 12 of his 14 years in public service, so he’s more than qualified to talk about the state budget process and the challenges that lie ahead. Today, Proos is the CEO of JP4 Government Solutions, providing strategic counsel to corporate, manufacturing and not-for-profit organizations seeking to increase productivity while decreasing the uncertainty and burden of regulations. To continue the conversation or learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
53:04
May 11, 2020
4 Impact: Humane Society of West Michigan
Holly Guild, executive director of Humane Society of West Michigan, shares why the non-profit organization is a critical part of the community and the challenges it faces during COVID-19.
05:18
May 6, 2020
Democratizing Entrepreneurship
The president and chief innovation officer at Skypoint Ventures in Flint, David Ollila, is a serial entrepreneur with 12 patents on products ranging from sporting goods to wearable technology. He’s also deeply interesting and funny as hell. David moved from Marquette (in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) to Flint several years ago to help introduce Cowork at Ferris Wheeland 100K Ideas—where startups, garage inventors, creatives and entrepreneurs can locate resources that are critical to getting their ideas off the ground, facilitating project progression from ideation to commercialization. Having successfully launched Invent@NMU years ago, a unique idea incubator in tandem with Northern Michigan University, David sought to replicate the successful program in one of America’s most iconic industrial cities—Flint. During our conversation, David and I talked about democratizing entrepreneurship—making the pathway to entrepreneurship accessible for all. While it was important to make entrepreneurial opportunities more accessible before the COVID-19 global pandemic, it’s going to be even more vital as businesses cut or furlough staff and unemployment rises. What I love most about talking to David is the passion he brings to everything he pursues—and that’s easy to hear throughout this edition of the Purposeful Pitch. Listening to David, you can understand why he’s been successful across the many ventures he’s pursued and why he’s inspired others to not only follow their dreams, but to achieve them. I’ve had the pleasure of working with David on a variety of projects, including the Entrepreneurs in Elevators video series Lambert created for its client, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation initiative. David was our first choice to host this entertaining, engaging and informative video series because of his passion, his insight and, most importantly, his curiosity. For it is his curiosity that has led David to explore different opportunities along his own entrepreneurial journey. If you’d like to listen to additional conversations focusing on matters of social impact (or education), please download previous editions of the Purposeful Pitch here. To continue the conversation or to learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
20:15
April 9, 2020
A Renaissance in Detroit
Detroit is experiencing a major renaissance—returning to its former glory as one of America’s greatest cities. One way in which this renaissance is obvious is in the vast amount of development taking place across the city. While development is certainly a positive for economic growth, it’s critical that development be inclusive and equitable, so as not to exclude existing residents who have called Detroit home for decades. On this episode of Purposeful Pitch, my colleague, Sawyer Lipari, and I speak to Sonya Mays, president and CEO of Develop Detroit, a non-profit organization committed to building vibrant, resilient communities and expanding opportunities for all residents to succeed. Develop Detroit creates mixed-income communities and single-family homes across Detroit—featuring an integrated approach to stabilizing and growing neighborhoods. Our conversation with Sonya covers the dreaded ‘G’ word—gentrification—and how Develop Detroit is working with partners across the city, such as Capital Impact Partners, to ensure current residents aren’t left outside looking in while economic development continues throughout Detroit. Focusing its efforts in the city’s disinvested neighborhoods, Develop Detroit has launched an innovative single-family development pilot program in the North End (along Woodward Avenue between Marston and Philadelphia Street) and a mixed-used inclusive community in the Sugar Hill Arts District (Garfield and John R. Street intersection in Midtown). The two projects include over $36 million in investment and more than 100 new homes (single family, townhomes and luxury apartment homes). For more information on Develop Detroit, visit developdetroit.org. To learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact me at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
17:07
February 10, 2020
A Return to Classical Education
Parents have never had more choices for their children’s education than they do today. Whether it’s traditional public schools or public charter schools, brick-and-mortar or virtual, parents have myriad opportunities to select the learning model that best fits their child’s needs. Though far from a new model, classical education is gaining popularity across the country. Rooted in the traditions of Western culture – hearkening back to the form of education that was at the center of most, if not all schools, just a generation or two ago. On this episode of the Purposeful Pitch, Dr. Kathleen O’Toole, assistant provost of K-12 education at Hillsdale College and a former principal at Founders Classical Academy of Leander, joins me for a discussion on the rebirth of classical education. Dr. O’Toole and I discuss why more parents are seeking out the model—in some cases, going so far as to open their own schools through the Barney Charter School Initiative. As part of the Barney Charter School Initiative, which was founded more than a decade ago, schools receive curriculum development and teacher training support from Hillsdale College. The Initiative includes more than 20 schools across the country founded by local residents committed to training the minds and improving the hearts of young people. For more information on the Barney Charter School Initiative, visit their website. To learn more about Lambert’s robust Education & Social Impact practice, contact me at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
20:07
January 17, 2020
The Age of Data
Have you seen the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt? It’s one of my favorites. Whether that is because Brad Pitt is my favorite actor or because baseball, my favorite sport, is heavily featured throughout the movie, I’m not sure. What I can tell you, however, is the movie’s focus on the intersection of data and baseball IS NOT the reason why I adore Moneyball. Today, data rules the world. It has seeped into every aspect of our lives, from sports like baseball to major corporations, local retailers and even schools. Unfortunately, the datafrication—yes, I just made up a word—of baseball has hindered my love of the game. Long gone are the days when baseball fans focused on easy-to-understand stats like homers, runs batted in, batting average and wins. Since the introduction of Moneyball, the sport has shifted to less warm and fuzzy statistics like WAR (Wins Above Replacement), OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) and velocity angle. While ceaseless chatter about data has led to a slight decrease in my passion for baseball, there’s no denying its usage has led to smarter team building. That’s why CEOs continue to look to data to help fill their teams and strengthen their bottom lines. It’s also the reason schools are increasingly turning to data to support learning and help guide students through their career journey. On this episode of Purposeful Pitch, I talk to Bill Guest, president and Chief Solutions Architect at Metrics Reporting, a company dedicated to helping businesses solidify their talent supply chain management. He’s also a key player at Talent Innovation Network of West Michigan, or TalNet, a coordinated effort across the region to help accelerate innovation and talent systems. During our discussion, Bill and I take a deep dive on how data is not only improving how businesses identify and retain talent, but how schools and parents can use data to better guide children to the appropriate career path. To learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact me at jdibenedetto@lambert.com
25:21
December 2, 2019
Widening pathways for all
Anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting Ashanti Bryant can’t help but be engrossed by his enormous personality. By making every person he meets feel as though they’re the only one there, he captivates every room he walks into. As a result, he’s become a tremendous public advocate for those whose voices aren’t always represented. The education director for Amplify GR, a nonprofit organization committed to widening pathways for all, Ashanti knows that strengthening access to high-quality education options is essential for a community’s growth. That’s why he’s leading the charge to expand access to early childhood learning for families in Grand Rapids. A veteran educator, Ashanti knows that the foundation to lifelong learning begins in preschool. He knows that only by working together as a community can we ensure that all families, regardless of socio-economic status, receive the services essential to success. On this episode of Purposeful Pitch, Ashanti and I engage in an important—and sometimes silly—conversation about education, advocacy and community. I hope you enjoy listening to it nearly as much as I enjoyed recording it. Our discussion may stray from its original path from time to time, but I’m confident that you will find value in the conversation. Though our primary focus is on Grand Rapids, the challenges and opportunities discussed throughout are applicable to communities across the country. To learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact me at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
40:32
November 15, 2019
Importance of great superintendents
Having worked with public schools for more than two decades, I continue to marvel at the commitment required by superintendents. A typical work day for a school superintendent is 14-16 hours long, due to early mornings and the various evening commitments that take place throughout the school district. Of course, this doesn’t factor in winter months, when decisions about weather-related school closures start late at night and end before 5 a.m. You won’t hear superintendents asking for compassion and understanding, but let me tell you, they deserve it, and they also deserve our thanks. I can’t express how important having a good (great) superintendent is to a community. Given the vital role schools play in a community’s success, strong leadership is critical. When you’re responsible for stewarding public funds, like superintendents are—in partnership with their boards of education—you always have a bullseye on your back. Being able to handle that pressure isn’t easy. Those who have been to public meetings where residents register complaints against the superintendent will certainly agree, especially when those complaints are uncensored. I respect the passion and dedication school superintendents demonstrate every day, which is why I invited Scott Korpak, superintendent of Northview Public Schools, to join me on this episode of Purposeful Pitch. Since being appointed superintendent at Northview (located in West Michigan), Scott has worked closely with his talented team, his board and the community to ensure students across the district receive a high-quality education. As the workplace continues to evolve, Scott has helped ensure that the school district’s offerings do too, providing innovative programs that allow students to choose the appropriate pathway to their success. Whether or not you have a child in school, I would encourage you to get to know the superintendent in your community. I’m certain that if you do invest the time, you will come away with a greater appreciation for the role they play and for their commitment to the community’s children. To learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact me at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
24:22
November 5, 2019
Caring for children with mental health concerns
According to a 2016 study by the University of Michigan, nearly half of the 7.7 million children and teens in the country who are living with at least one treatable mental health disorder—including ADHD or anxiety—do not receive needed treatment from a mental health professional. As the father of one such child (at that time of the report), I understand the importance of seeking support: support not only for the child, but for the parent as well. I know that I often felt alone and didn’t know where to turn during times when I felt completely inadequate as a parent. Not only does this not make sense—as my wife was going through the same experience I was—but it was a detriment to my daughter. My stubbornness and pride didn’t allow me to seek guidance, whether from friends, family, professionals. Fortunately, my daughter’s self-awareness that she needed help broke through, and we finally sought out the treatment she needed. What I’ve learned over the past several years is that I’m not the only parent who feels like a failure. Here’s a secret: parenting is hard. I’ve also learned that there are resources available to parents of children dealing with mental health issues. On this episode of Purposeful Pitch, I speak with Jane Shank, executive director of the Association for Children’s Mental Health. The organization was founded 30 years ago by two mothers committed to brining help and hope to families of children and youth with severe emotional, behavioral and mental health disorders by ensuring they have access to information and support. What makes the ACMH unique is that it’s led and staffed by parents who have faced the same challenges as those who are seeking support. I encourage anyone with children—or thinking about having children—to listen and learn about existing resources, and that you are not alone. To discuss learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact me at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
24:11
October 11, 2019
Community Mental Health with Bob Sheehan
Due to growing epidemics like the opioid crisis, and systematic underfunding of mental and behavioral health services, discussions on such issues have become more prevalent over the past decade. Open conversations take place more frequently among families, in business settings and within schools. Our understanding of the importance of mental and behavioral health on our overall well-being has come a long way—to the point where Oregon now allows students to take mental health days during the school year—and these conversations are critical for continued progress. While we have made tremendous strides, there are still stigmas associated with mental and behavioral health that need to be eradicated. Additionally, how we treat and fund these issues remains a serious concern across the country. On this episode of Purposeful Pitch, I engage Bob Sheehan, CEO of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, in a conversation on the evolution of how we approach mental and behavioral health in the United States, the current state of treatment and what more we should be doing to increase access to services. During my conversation with Bob, I talk about my own experience as the father of a child with anxiety. I can see now that I was never fully prepared to help her through that experience – dealing with her feelings in a way that wasn’t beneficial to either one of us. For that reason, this conversation is very personal to me. Knowing that there are others who have probably been through similar experiences, I would encourage you to listen, and join in the conversation. To discuss further or to learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact me at jdibenedetto@lambert.com.
19:47
September 24, 2019
School Foundations with Sally Andreatta
School funding is a sensitive topic. While many think we don’t spend enough on schools, others would argue that we spend too much. Having worked with public schools for more than 20 years, I know that administrators and parents are always fighting for more funding. One thing is clear – there will never be a consensus on school funding. On this episode of the Purposeful Pitch, I speak with Sally Andreatta, executive director of the Grand Rapids Student Advance Foundation. If you’re unfamiliar with school foundations, you’re not alone. Education foundations are privately operated, nonprofit organizations established to assist public schools by augmenting, supplementing or complementing programs and activities currently being provided by the school district. Sally has a long history in leading nonprofit organizations and is a self-proclaimed intrapreneur, implementing strategy to elevate the nonprofit’s leadership profile, engaging effective partners, raising awareness and inspiring action. Join me for a discussion with Sally on why more people don’t know what school foundations do and why they’re more important than ever. To continue the conversation or learn more about Lambert’s Education & Social Impact practice, contact Joe DiBenedetto at jdibenedetto@lambert.com. For more information on the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, visit www.grsaf.org.
15:43
September 4, 2019
Career Pathways with John Proos
It’s no secret that schools are at the heart of the community – if your school system is doing well, more than likely your community is doing well. But what if your school isn’t doing well? What options do parents have and what changes can communities make to improve their school systems?  These aren’t easy questions. In fact, they’re questions communities and legislators have been exploring for decades. Still, the only way to develop equitable solutions for all children is to continue the conversation. On this episode of Purposeful Pitch, we speak to former Michigan State Senator John Proos on a number of education issues, including school choice and the importance of parent engagement. Proos is an experienced former legislator with over two decades of government service at both the federal and state levels – including serving in the Michigan House of Representatives and most recently in the Michigan Senate.  Today, Proos is the CEO of JP4 Government Solutions, providing strategic counsel to corporate, manufacturing and not-for-profit organizations seeking to increase productivity while decreasing the uncertainty and burden of regulations.
34:19
August 19, 2019
Purposeful Pitch Trailer
Welcome to the Purposeful Pitch, a podcast focused on initiating positive change and addressing socio-economic disparities facing communities across the country. Conversations will feature school leaders, CEOs of not-for-profit organizations and public policymakers, among others. 
00:34
August 13, 2019