PCSE Grant Recipient Blog Posts

PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from TRAP House

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. This year’s winners are Walking Elephants Home, Kindergarten Kickstart, and T.R.A.P. House. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here is the first report from the TRAP House team: Bashaun Brown ’18, Irvine Peck’s-Agaya ’18, Gabe Weinreb ’18, and Will Barr ’18.


TRAP House team and friends with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin

TRAP House team and friends with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin

With the help of the Patricelli Center, TRAP House has exceeded all expectations, including our own.

The Patricelli Center seed grant helped TRAP House leverage an additional $25,000 in funding from the Newman’s Own Foundation and the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation. Impressed by our momentum and the impact that TRAP House is already making in the community, several individuals were inspired to contribute an additional $2,500.  With this funding, TRAP House has launched its pilot program in the North End of Hartford.

On June 4th, TRAP House hosted a Startup Day where residents of Hartford’s North End pitched us their business ideas.  Throughout the day, these entrepreneurs-in-the-making had the opportunity to work with our mentors one-on-one as they conducted market-research, refined their business plans, and wove their moving personal stories into their business pitches.  TRAP House will continue to work with all who participated in the Startup Day competition, to ensure that we remain a far-

Startup Day flyer

Startup Day flyer

reaching resource to the community. We have selected three TRAP Stars from the day’s competitors to receive startup funding and full-time business incubation.

The first, Vodal Crooks, will use his passion for storytelling and filmmaking to start a videography company. He intends to document weddings and birthdays, in addition to shooting music videos for local musicians. The second, Antoine Blue, will use the job-training he received in prison to launch a commercial cleaning company that employs other ex-offenders from the community.  Finally, Gr8 One will leverage his talent for community-organizing to execute small ventures in North Hartford; stop by the cook-off on Wednesday, June 15 to see his skills at work!

In addition to Seed funding, the Patricelli Center has helped us establish a network of mentors and advisors throughout Connecticut and beyond.  This network has been indispensable to TRAP House as we take our first steps.  Key partners include reSET, a social enterprise-incubator in Hartford that

TRAP House CFO Gabe Weinreb '18 and volunteer Michael Smith '18 on Startup Day

TRAP House CFO Gabe Weinreb ’18 and volunteer Michael Smith ’18 on Startup Day

offers us free office space and legal advice; Our Piece of the Pie, a youth development agency that gave us space and equipment to host our Startup Day; and the Rideshare company, a commuter service administrator that donated a van to TRAP House. The TRAP House met with Luke Bronin, the mayor of Hartford, and participated in a roundtable discussion about mass incarceration with Governor Malloy.  This chain of excitement and support was strengthened in the media. Our work was featured in an article by the Hartford Courant, and our CEO Bashaun Brown ‘18 was interviewed by Stan Simpson on Fox 61 News. People are excited to learn about the #newhustle!

TRAP House COO Irvine Peck's-Agaya '18 teaching a workshop to TRAP Stars and affiliates at reSET in Hartford

TRAP House COO Irvine Peck’s-Agaya ’18 teaching a workshop to TRAP Stars and affiliates at reSET in Hartford

Over the next five weeks, our TRAP Stars will attend an entrepreneurial boot camp every Saturday where they will learn valuable skills in marketing, financial planning, and legal compliance.  We will continue to draw on our network of mentors and the resources at the Patricelli Center to give our entrepreneurs a competitive advantage.  This way, our entrepreneurs will beat the odds and establish lasting ventures that will combat mass incarceration from the supply side and return economic power to the North End and the amazing people that call it home.

Follow our journey on Facebook and Twitter.

PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from Walking Elephants Home

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. This year’s winners are Walking Elephants Home, Kindergarten Kickstart, and T.R.A.P. House. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here is the first report from Rebecca Winkler ’16, writing with updates from Walking Elephants Home.  

people-IMG_8170-2Time has flown by since the announcement of the 2016 seed grant competition winners. In just under a month I will be boarding a plane with a one-way ticket headed to Thailand to fully roll out our Walking Elephants Home project. Just a couple weeks out of graduation, the words of Bryan Stevenson still ring through my mind and reaffirm the importance of the work we are doing. Stevenson told us at graduation that we had to get proximate to the places we are trying to impact, that problem solving from afar is not the same as problem solving within the community. Stevenson also told us that narratives matter, and solving problems, changing the world even, requires changing narratives. By bringing people out of the traditional model for tourism in Thailand and bringing them to Huay Pakkoot and to the elephants in their natural habitat, I believe we are helping to change the narrative about elephants and mahouts in Thailand. 

One of our guests to the project wrote about her experience saying “During the day we would walk to find the elephants living free in the forest, we would follow them as they foraged and sprayed water from the cool streams nearby. It was an absolute privilege and delight to see them live in such a natural environment.” 

sunti-AQ2I7649She left our project feeling that it was a privilege to be able to hike out through the jungle and see elephants living in their natural environment. This is our goal for all guests to the project and for a larger audience throughout Thailand. In the future we are working to create, people will no longer expect to walk out of their hotel and cross the street to an elephant camp and to ride elephants in the middle of a city. People will realize that elephants are sentient intelligent beings deserving dignity and respect and a life in the forest free from labor for humans. And people will realize that the job of Mahout requires an immense amount of compassion and empathy to be able to interact with and understand the needs of elephants. Although it is in its very early stages, our work is already having an impact on the people who come in contact with it, and we are invigorated to keep working and growing. 

Each guest that comes to the project and affirms to the community that yes indeed people do want to come see elephants in their natural habitat and support community based tourism strengthening our mission and our relationship with Huay Pakkoot. Our immediate goal now is to continue to fine tune the experience we offer and begin expanding so we can sustainably support more elephants and mahouts in the village! 

people-IMG_8295-2Our immediate goals are:

  1. Secure partnerships with ethical tour agencies here in the states and abroad: We are in conversation with a number of groups that are interested listing our project as a part of larger tours they are leading.
  2. Make sure every guest that visits the village has a once in a lifetime experience and leaves full of wonder and joy ready to tell all of their friends about our project.
  3. Secure grant funding to support the immediate return of more elephants as the project grows.
  4. Increase our visibility though our online presence on Facebook, Instagram (@mahoutselephants) , and Website 

We thank the Patricelli Center for Social entrepreneurship and the Seed Grant for helping us grow our project and look forward to updating you with more exciting news in the future! 

Dah Bleu (Thank You in Karen)

PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from Kindergarten Kickstart

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. This year’s winners are Walking Elephants Home, Kindergarten Kickstart, and T.R.A.P. House. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here is the first report from Stephanie Blumenstock ’16, writing with updates from Kindergarten Kickstart. The Kickstart team also includes Meg Narwold ’16, Natalie May ’18, and Professor Anna Shusterman. 


centers This past semester has been an eventful one for Kindergarten Kickstart and we can’t wait for this summer. As Kickstart moves into its 5th year of operation, we feel so fortunate to have gotten a Seed Grant to allow us to move beyond our original community non-profit model and launch Kickstart 2.0, an enterprise with the potential to create a ripple of impact in the field of education beyond Middletown. Kindergarten Kickstart 2.0, through collaborations between Wesleyan students and faculty, Middletown community members (including educators and non-profit workers), and academic researchers, will seek to both (1) help prepare children in Middletown with little or no prior preschool experience for kindergarten through a high-quality, low-cost program and (2) bridge the research-to-practice gap in education. Here’s a snapshot of what we, along with our faculty advisor Anna Shusterman, have done so far for the 2016 Kickstart program:

  1. Finalized dates and sites: Kickstart will run from July 5 – August 5, with one classroom at Farm Hill School and one at Bielefield School (both elementary schools in Middletown).
  2. Recruited students: With the help of our collaborators from Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Lab and Middletown’s Family Resource Center, we reached out to eligible families in Middletown with children entering kindergarten in the fall, and were met with lots of enthusiasm from parents. We expect that both classrooms will be full, with 15 children in each.
  3. Hired teachers: Stephanie and Natalie will return as Kickstart teachers, and we have 4 amazing new teachers on board, each with experience in developmental psychology and working with children and full of ideas about how to make Kickstart the best it can be. At the end of the semester, the teachers briefly observed both a preschool and kindergarten classroom, in order to get ideas for the Kickstart classroom and get a better idea of the school environment we’ll be preparing our students for. We will also work with two Middletown-based certified teachers (one of whom taught with Kickstart last year!). Each classroom will be staffed by 3 Wesleyan teachers and 1 certified teacher.
  4. Continued relationships with our research collaborators: This summer, we will continue to work with our research collaborators from last year, testing interventions (i.e., fun educational games) that target both executive function and socio-emotional skills. We will also use the math intervention that has been developed in Anna’s own lab over the past several years.

KKblogpostThe groundwork for this summer has been laid, and the next few weeks will be busy as we finalize the details of Kickstart 2.0. Our overall goals for this summer include:

  1. Piloting our own literacy intervention: Beginning during our training period in late June and continuing throughout the summer, Kickstart teachers will design a new literacy intervention and begin to implement it in our classrooms. This process will include researching pre-existing literacy interventions and deciding which aspects of them we want to incorporate into our own, creating the materials themselves (including picture books, visual aids, board games, etc.), and trying them out during Kickstart to see how our students react to and learn from them. Ideally, we will have a set of finished materials by the end of the summer that can be shared with teachers at other preschool programs (although Kickstart teachers in 2017 and beyond can continue to refine them!).
  2. Increasing Wesleyan student-teachers’ contact with our research collaborators: While last year, most of the communication with our research collaborators was done through our faculty advisor, this summer, Wesleyan student-teachers will be in consistent contact with our collaborators, giving them feedback about how the interventions are working in the classroom and brainstorming suggestions for improvement. Currently, one of the Kickstart teachers is researching a new and improved assessment we can use to evaluate the impact of the socio-emotional intervention on our students.
  3. Standardizing our training and curriculum materials: In Kickstart’s 4 years of existence, we have used (and produced) tons of documents with information on the psychology and education research that guides our program, as well as many lesson plans and general classroom descriptions. By the end of the summer, we’d like to have put together one synthesized training curriculum manual with all of the information someone would need to know about Kickstart prior to working in a Kickstart classroom. This manual can then be sent to other universities where faculty members have expressed interest in starting a program like Kickstart, making it easier for Kickstart to take root in other locations.
  4. Updating our website: As we look to expand Kickstart in the near future, both through scaling our model to other universities and connecting with more research collaborators, revamping our website to make it more informative and visually appealing will be helpful. We are also working with a graphic designer to design a new logo!
  5. Shifting our business model: Thus far, Kickstart has depended on philanthropy (and we are so grateful to all of the funders who have made the program possible thus far!). However, our major long-term goal is to develop a self-sustaining financial model, through our partnerships with outside researchers and through selling our own materials. Thanks to the Seed Grant, we will begin to pivot towards this goal this summer!

Overall, we are in good shape for the launch of Kickstart 2.0, and we are so excited to work with our research collaborators, Middletown partners, and the Patricelli Center this summer!

Davis Projects for Peace Check-in with Alvin Chitena ’19

This spring, Alvin Chitena ’19 was awarded the Davis Projects for Peace award to launch Zim Code in Zimbabwe.

Zim Code provides Zimbabwean youth with free access to resources they need—computers, internet access and instruction—to learn computer programming and how to apply their new skills in their community. Read more here.

The Davis Projects for Peace grant, given annually at a select group of colleges including Wesleyan, funds grassroots summer projects anywhere in the world which promote peace and address the root causes of conflict among parties.More information about the application process and past winners is available here. Alvin writes to us today with the first of (we hope) many updates on his success.


zimcode1We officially launched Zim Code on Saturday, June 4th! 

One of the key objectives of the launch was to bring together the Zim Code team, its student beneficiaries, the school staff, education authorities, sponsors and partners. Although the Provincial Education Director was unable to attend, the Provincial Computer Inspector stood in on his behalf. Students and staff from Mzilikazi, Premier and Mpopoma high school were in attendance. Representatives from our partners, Luyanda Uthando Children’s’ Foundation, Lead Us Today and Education-USA were present. ZOL and Higher Life were represented among the VIP guests.

Through the launch, Zim Code team members explained, with the aid of speeches and videos, the true importance of technology in our modern day lives and the big role that computer programming has to play in all that. After the Founder of Zim Code gave his key-note address, a few other Zim Code team members shared their life experiences relating to their decision to be a part of Zim Code. One of the key pillars of computer programming is being able to collaborate with others on big projects. Having a team of intelligent, passionate and driven individuals to work with has made all of Zim Code’s successes possible.

zimcode4The highlight of the launch was the Official Launch itself. The Zim Code Founder decided to shy away from the traditional ribbon-and-scissors type of launch and rather have a more creative, relevant and meaningful launch. Working along those lines, we created a program that launched Zim Code when “launch” was typed in. After the Provincial Computer Inspector initiated the program, “<Z/C>” was printed on the screen and then a congratulatory video started playing, all done through code. This launch procedure received lots of commendations from the attending guests.

Enrichment Grant Report: Carlos Eguiluz Rosas

Carlos Eguiluz Rosas was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. With this grant, he participated in an inter-faith service trip over spring break. You can read Carlos’ reflection below, read past grantee reflections here, and visit thePCSE website to learn more about all of our grant programs.

carlosFrom March 14th to March 19th, I attended the Interfaith Service Trip to Harrisburg, PA. This was my first service trip and I was excited to see what will be in store for me. On my first day, I introduced myself to a crowd of 5 students, 2 religious staff members, and a dog. All 8 of us, including the dog, became the Interfaith group. Some of us knew each other from mass and class, but a few of us were new. Despite our different religions, we all got along like family, especially during the night when we came together to reflect on our faith and what “Faith” meant to us.

On the second day, we drove to a Catholic charity for our first service project; we were going to help teach English to a class of refugees. I was really excited about our first service project because I wanted to help them with their transitions. For some students, “home” was Syria, Nepal, or Cuba, but for others “home” was wherever their family was. I spoke with a man from Cuba who informed me of his current situation and how he had hoped to learn English for employment. Hearing him talk about how he, his wife, and his daughter have trouble settling was emotional for him and me as I too know the how hard it was to leave home in search for opportunities. Once we finished our session, we all departed knowing well that we have helped a group of wonderful people settle in their future home. We then spent the rest of afternoon organizing donations for refugee families. I was amazed by how many donations there were in one storage, ranging from pots and pans to cleaning supplies. We spent about 2-3 hours clearing and organizing donations, and every hour was tiring that the one before. Everyone was helping in their own way for the good of humanity. 

Our second major service project took place in the inner city. Our group volunteered at the Brethren Housing Association where we helped renovate old buildings for single-parent families. We each broke into small groups; some of us worked on the floor while other worked on the walls. Three of us, including me, worked on removing the chimney from all three floors. Removing bricks was the easy part. Walking down three flights of shaky stairs while only holding onto a heavy bucket of red bricks (no handrail) was the hard part. After our group finished, I took some time to reflect on what just happened. I was scared and nervous of what would have happened if I fell…But because I had faith and trusted the Lord with all my heart and soul, I knew that everything was going to be alright. Sometimes I doubted myself of my strength, but the Lord reassured me that if I put my faith on him, he would guide me like the other times in my life. 

On our last work day, before we left, we all the opportunity to attend Jummah Prayer. Attending Jummah Prayer was an enriching experience because it exposed me to another religion, one that is not common back home [Miami]. Every part of the experience was enriching from listening to the sermon to praying. It was amazing to learn that my religion [Catholism] and Islam shared several commonalities. 

To conclude, I am grateful for being part of the Interfaith Service trip, and I am glad to have been surrounded by amazing people. 

Enrichment Grant Report: Trevon Gordon

Trevon Gordon was selected to receive an Enrichment Grant from the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. With this grant, he participated in a mission trip to Ghana to install a solar power business. You can read Trevor’s reflection below, read past grantee reflections here, and visit the PCSE website to learn more about all of our grant programs.


1The entire Saha Global experience was a pivotal point in my college career. Being a part of mission in Ghana was a tremendous learning experience. With the help of SAHA global, my team and I were able to set up a solar power business in the village of Kushini around Tamale, Ghana. Over the course of three weeks, we found an existing structure to house the solar business, restored it to suitable conditions, installed solar equipment, and distributed flashlights to the entire village.

2By the last day we could see that our time there had made a difference. That night, once every one had finally received their lanterns we could see how each compound would light up. You could look around and see that the village had come alive with this new gift of light as people waved the lanterns around in the night.

Before we had come there, the people had used kerosene to light their house which is both expensive and dangerous. What was alarming to me is how important it is to h3ave a light in these communities. Of course light is also important here in the states. Street lights and headlights keep us safe in the night, just as they do in Ghana, or anywhere else in the world. But a problem we don’t face is scorpions that live in roofing material. Furthermore, the difference between being stung in the night by a scorpions and moving about your compound without worry was having a flashlight that you could spot them with.

4This was the reality for the people of Kushini, and still is for many other villages throughout northern Ghana. Other parts of this difficult reality include no toothbrushes or toothpaste which leads to severe cavities at a young age. Or having your foot rot away from an infection but not being able to seek medical attention. But this is where my amazing team members come into play, (picture). In those three weeks that we were setting up the solar business my team continually went above and beyond for the people of Kushini. Off of the initiative of Hailey Seo, our team put together some funds to buy the children toothbrushes and toothpaste. So on the day that we were distributing lamps, Hailey and Emily took the time to teach the kids of the village how to brush their teeth.

5On the same note, we all put our funds together to have the man with the infected leg hospitalized. About a week after we returned home we got the news that his leg was finally amputated and that he was free of all that pain.

6All in all, it was an amazing trip, and the generosity was returned 10 fold by the people of the community, they gave us gift after gift, including our rooster, elvis, and a goat that I didn’t bother naming because I figured shak was going to eat him. Furthermore, the entire Saha team was amazing. Our team of over 40 people was filled with engineers, scientists, grad students, people in law school and even medical school. Over the course of a month we bonded we all became surprisingly close with each other. We shared our goals and aspirations and thought provoking conversations about the state of Ghana and the world in general. We talked about sexism and the detrimental involvement of first world countries in Ghana. Looking back, I would say the trip is one of the greatest learning experiences I’ve had thus far.

A significant amount of what I learned took place before I even crossed the Atlantic. The journey had actually started a year and a half before that. I fundraised to go on this mission trip and failed. It was humiliating mainly because of all of those who donated that I let down. To those who donated I apologize but at the same time, it because I let these people down that I felt like I had to do this program again.

7But even this year’s fundraiser was no easy ride. Just like the year before I found myself in another bind. I had raised over $3,000 and and was still short another $2,000. With the nowhere to turn and no one to turn to for help, this year could of easily been a repeat of my previous blunder. But I didn’t give up. I persevered and in the last two weeks of fundraising I raised the $2,000 and went on the trip.

I was able to raise such an enormous amount of money in such a small amount of time through the help of some amazing people. To name a few, Dean Renee, Hailey Broughton-Jones, Victoria King, Joaquina Borges King, and Rod Powell.
8I share this piece of my story with you not to tell you who talk to if you want to do some social entrepreneurship. I share this because I think the biggest thing I learned from this entire experience is that you can do anything if you put your mind it.

My family doesn’t have money and I don’t know of many people from Poughkeepsie who have ever left the city, or the country for that matter. And yet I made it Half way across the world because I was passionate about getting to Africa. That being said, accomplishing this feat felt like doing the impossible.

9So what I learned is that you can do anything you want in this world if you put your mind to it. Your potential is limitless. So to my peers I would like to encourage you dedicate yourself to whatever you want to do. Even if you’re as bad at it as I am at fundraising.

Lastly, I would like to thank Wesleyan. All of my professors and mentors who build me up, and even the people in the admissions office that gave me the opportunity to attend this university. And to the all my peers who have served as an inspiration for me over the past three years, I sincerely hope this little piece of writing can be an inspiration to you as well.

Thank You


Enrichment Grant Report: Alexandra Stovicek ’17

Birth Doula Training PhotoFrom March 4th to March 6th, I attended a Doula of North America Organization (DONA) certified birth doula training in Brooklyn, New York. The first day was a required childbirth education class. It served as a refresher to the required reading for the training, The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. Using diagrams, models, and interactive games, our trainer taught us doulas about everything from the anatomy of female reproduction and the different physiological stages of labor to the health of the newborn and breastfeeding practices. My trainer’s comprehensive approach helped me learn the ins and outs of childbirth in a way that I could not have learned from reading a book. As she joked, we covered “three years of material” during the day.

The next two days were much more doula-specific. We began to discuss labor support, which is the fundamental role of a doula. A birth doula provides emotional, physical, and informational support to a pregnant woman during her pregnancy and especially during all stages of labor. We role-played the types of emotional support that a doula gives to a pregnant mother, learning to use different empathy and interpersonal communication tactics. We discussed instances in which it is better that a mother asks her care provider for specific information, and when a doula can step in to guide her. We also practiced different types of physical support that a doula can give a pregnant woman during labor, such as massage, stretching, and guided movement.

A portion of the training was also focused on doula work as a business. To be a birth doula usually means to be an entrepreneur, to create your own business (if you are not part of a collective), marketing your skill set to potential clients. I found this information valuable as I consider how to find clients and attend as many births as possible this summer. The skills I learned in the training, such as how to develop a network and action steps to take when planning a business, are certainly transferable to any entrepreneurship endeavor, especially for small businesses with one person offering one service.

At certain moments in the training, it was uncomfortable for me to hear pregnant women called clients and to discuss how a doula decides her going rate for paid work, since I believe that all women should be able to have a doula if they want one, regardless of their ability to pay. I personally want to volunteer as a birth doula instead of starting my own business, as I am aware that only certain demographics can afford doula care, know to ask for a doula, or have learned about the benefits of doula support. However, my trainer did discuss these socioeconomic disparities and ways in which doulas can be part of the movement for Medicaid coverage of their services. I see now that it is important to learn about the business aspects of this work if being a doula is a full-time career and source of income. I can also see how a business model can help sustain a volunteer model-by charging a fee for pregnant women who can and want to pay, some of that income could be used to help other women receive services at a lower charge or for free. I see now that being a birth doula is not only about being an entrepreneur, but a social entrepreneur: you can find ways to support women and change the healthcare model in our country for births whether or not you charge for your services. This training felt very much in line with the work of the Patricelli Center, as starting a socially aware doula business can positively impact health equity in our country.

PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #3 from Assk

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here’s the second report from Rachel Verner ’15, founder of Assk, a company that strives to normalize sexual consent through apparel and education, thereby preventing sexual violence. You can read Rachel’s first report and a description of Assk here, her second report here, and you can read other grantee reports here.


Well, I set a few big goals for Assk in the last blog post. I wanted to have a team, a new name, a fashion/graphic designer, a website, and a social media presence by now. I wish I could say that all those items have been crossed off (one of) my (many) to do lists, but I’m slowly learning that’s just not how start-ups work. Here’s a look at what Assk has been up to since the last post was published:

  1. Forming a Team

For a long time, this was Assk’s biggest hurdle. It was just me trying to drive the daily operations, and that wasn’t sustainable. So, when I moved to Boston, I started chatting with friends (new and old) about what I was doing. I knew a few people were interested, and was excited to receive a couple emails from people who had read my last post and wanted to get involved. There are now 7 of us working on various aspects of Assk, and I can’t wait for you to meet them. I asked everyone to write up short bios, which you can check out here: http://www.assk.ca/aboutus

  1. Assk Brand Board

    A brand board created by the team during our first brainstorming session

    A New Company Name

No matter how hard I try, some things just take time – in this case, coming up with a new name is taking what feels like eternity. After many failed attempts at creativity, I called up my step-mother, Marilyn Barefoot, who runs a brainstorming business (Barefoot Brainstorming). She designed a workshop based on the principles of convergent and divergent thinking. In other words, we got to make collages (officially called “brand boards”, I’m told!), go on a scavenger hunt, play with Play-Doh, and eat bubble gum, all of which helped us come up with name ideas. We made some really good forwards progress, and are planning another workshop for the coming weeks. That said, if you’ve got any name ideas, I want to hear them! Just shoot me an email at rachel.verner@assk.ca.

Not having a name is incredibly frustrating. It often feels like we can’t make do anything because we don’t have a name. At the same time, though, the process of trying to come up with a new name has forced us to think critically about our brand identity. We’ve thought about our essence, our personality, our values, even what colours most accurately illustrate who we are and what we stand for. And while we may not have sold any t-shirts yet, we have a really good idea of who we are.

  1. A fashion/graphic designer
Boss of These Parts

T-shirt design in the works

 We don’t have a fashion/graphic-designer-by-training on the team, but I’m feeling really good about where we’re at with clothing design. We’ve come up with some awesome design ideas (shout out to Dara’s mom for the “I’m the boss of these parts” concept!), and can’t wait to hit the streets with them.

  1. A Website & Social Media Presence

This one is huge for me. Every time I have talked to someone about Assk over the past few years, I haven’t had anywhere to send them, or any way to collect their information. I’ve dropped so many leads, and that’s just unacceptable. Thankfully, we finally have a live website! It’s just a landing page at the moment, but that’s all it needs to be right now. Check it out, and sign up for our mailing list, at www.assk.ca.

No social media presence yet, mainly because we don’t have a name. That said, we’ve got a social media strategy meeting coming up, and have been doing lots of research on best practices.

In the coming months, we’ll have our hands full with a number of projects: developing a website (and maybe an online store!), producing our first pieces of clothing, selling our first pieces of clothing, building our social media presence, hosting events in the Boston area, and getting ready for our Kickstarter campaign. If you haven’t already, please do join our mailing list – we’d love to keep you posted on our progress!


PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #2 from Assk

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. Each grantee reports back with blog posts and photos. Here’s the second report from Rachel Verner ’15, founder of Assk, a company that strives to normalize sexual consent through apparel and education, thereby preventing sexual violence. You can read Rachel’s first report and a description of Assk here, and you can read other grantee reports here.

Apparel samples that Assk founder and CEO Rachel Verner '15 found during pre-graduation packing. With the PCSE Seed grant, Rachel will formally launch Assk outside the Wesleyan campus, continuing her mission to "tackle sexual violence by normalizing consent."

Assk Apparel samples. With the PCSE Seed grant, Rachel will formally launch Assk (under a new name) outside the Wesleyan campus, continuing her mission to “tackle sexual violence by normalizing consent.”

Since writing the last blog post in June, I’ve embarked on an incredibly unexpected adventure. I managed to secure a job, meaning that I’m legally allowed to stay in the country for at least another 8 months. My fortune in securing that job was, in large part, due to Makaela Kingsley, the Director of Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center. My visa restricts me to work related to my major, which I interpreted to mean doing research at a hospital or university, but Makaela hooked me up with an incredible Cambridge-based start up. I’m now doing neuroscience and psychology research, and cannot imagine a better fit, or a better learning environment. Makaela helped me do what seemed impossible: pursue my love for neuropsychology and my love for entrepreneurship at the same time. Unfortunately, the process of securing that job and getting set up in a new city has completely sidelined my efforts with Assk (as evident by this month-and-a-half-late blog post). My big task now is getting back on track. It’s time for another set of “To do’s”:


  1. We need a new name

There’s another apparel company called ASSK. They’re based in Paris, so I was hoping it wouldn’t be an issue, but after talking to a handful of advisers and lawyers, I’ve been successfully convinced that moving forwards with the name Assk is a bad idea. I’ve been using that reality as an excuse to not work on the business. If I don’t have a name, how am I supposed to make a website? How am I supposed to sell clothing? I was so obsessed with the name Assk that I felt like we wouldn’t be able to succeed without it. Assk encapsulated the brand – it promoted sexual consent while breaking down all gender roles and stereotypes. But the reality is, particularly right now, the name doesn’t matter – and that’s not a realization I came to on my own. I received some great advice from a co-worker who didn’t even realize he was giving it to me. He told me that one of the two main reasons start-ups fail is because they take too long to make a decision. He said it didn’t matter if you made the wrong decision, so long as you made a decision and tried your way down that path. That’s what we need to do. We need to pick a name and run with it. Who cares if we change it for something better later, so long as we give ourselves a place to start. Yes, rebranding will pose its own challenges – but those aren’t challenges we’ll have the opportunity to face unless we start somewhere.


  1. I need a team

This has been obvious from day one.  While I was at Wesleyan, I tried to build a team around myself, but sadly, graduating has seen that team fall apart. I need to find some folks in Boston who are eager to apply creative solutions to social problems. I need to find people to help hold me accountable. I need to find people who want to shift this culture as badly as I do. I’ve been obsessed with finding the best and brightest, but the reality is, none of us have any idea what we’re doing. I just need people that are as motivated as I am, so that we can fumble our way through this together.


  1. I need to stop making excuses.

This is probably the hardest thing to admit, and the hardest thing to do. It’s really easy now that I’m working a full-time job to put my own projects on the backburner. But now that I have a job, an apartment, and the necessary furniture, I just need to stop making excuses. I need to get to work, because if I don’t try, I’m going to regret it.


It’s time to hold myself accountable. Here’s hoping that publishing an ambitious timeline will help me do that.

  • By November 1, I will hold a meeting with people in the Boston area that are interested in the project.
  • By December 1, we will pick a new company name and find a graphic designer/fashion designer.
  • By January 1, we’ll have built a website and a social media presence.

And with that, I’ve got a lot of work to do.



2015 Davis Projects for Peace recap from Claudia Kahindi ’18

In March 2015, Claudia Kahindi ’18 and Olayinka Lawal ’15 were awarded a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant to implement an English language education program in Claudia’s home town of Kilifi, Kenya. The program is named Kiu for the Swahili word for “thirst,” evoking the idea of “thirst for knowledge” or “thirst for success.”

The Kiu mentors, university students from the Kilifi region, meet their students on the first day of the program.

The Kiu mentors, university students from the Kilifi region, meet their students on the first day of the program.

The Davis Projects for Peace grant, given annually at a select group of colleges including Wesleyan, funds grassroots summer projects anywhere in the world which promote peace and address the root causes of conflict among parties.  Applicants are encouraged to use their creativity to design projects and employ innovative techniques for engaging project participants in ways that focus on conflict resolution, reconciliation, building understanding and breaking down barriers which cause conflict, and finding solutions for resolving conflict and maintaining peace.More information about the application process and past winners is available here

Last spring, Wesleyan did a story about Kiu here, and this month, the Argus wrote about it here. Below you’ll find Claudia’s recap of her experience leading the program on the ground in Kenya. 


Project Goals:

The grant funded several pieces of hardware which are now being used at Kilimo Primary School. (We were especially happy to see the ENGAGE sticker in this shot!)

The grant funded several pieces of hardware which are now being used at Kilimo Primary School. (We were especially happy to see the ENGAGE sticker in this shot!)

KIU aimed to foster a strong understanding of the English language among at-risk fourth graders at Kilimo primary school in coastal Kenya. Success for young people in this region is predicated on knowing English; through mentorship and reading, we sought to elevate opportunity for our students.

Other Fundraising:
The $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant covered all of our expenses. In addition, we sourced hardware at a discounted rate from Wesleyan University, and we obtained children’s books through a donation drive in Middletown, Connecticut, in May 2015.

Project Details:
By the end of the program, I could see great improvement in the children’s attitudes towards the English language. Their command of grammar and their willingness to speak in English improved tremendously. When the project started, it was difficult to engage the kids in speaking English, but that changed as we continued to interact with them. They started speaking in English despite their grammatical errors and the inclination towards their native tongue. Some would correct each other in the middle of a conversation. The kids developed an eagerness and curiosity to learn—especially about things they weren’t aware of before. This curiosity was demonstrated by the kids’ growing participation in class. The movies we watched and the foreign storybooks stimulated their thinking. Furthermore, the whole school was in sync with our project, and students in other grades approached us with questions.

Kiu mentors taught their students English by reading stories, playing games, and conducting lessons around weekly themes.

Kiu mentors taught their students English by reading stories, playing games, and conducting lessons around weekly themes.

A main goal was to provide mentorship and serve as role models. This worked as the kids started opening up about their academic and future interests. During our fourth week, we focused on careers and this provided an opportunity for the students to start thinking about their own options and how to work towards them. At first it was not an easy concept for the kids to comprehend, but eventually most of them had an idea of the terminology and what careers they were interested in pursuing. Another positive outcome was the addition of resources to the school. When I first went to see the head teacher in his office, I was astonished to see it in a deplorable state and without a single laptop. When we were done using the project’s laptops during the six-week camp, I donated two laptops to the school. The administration was excited to work with the new hardware. I was touched when I found one teacher using one of the laptops for class work. The 100+ storybooks we donated to the school allowed these kids to travel mentally across the globe while simultaneously improving their comprehension of English.

We had a few unanticipated challenges. The bureaucracy of the Kenyan system proved difficult because I had to go through a relentless hierarchical chain before I could start implementing the project. In the middle of the project timeline, there was a teachers strike. I was shocked as the strike paralyzed our program for four days! Another challenge was in the students’ level with English prior to the program. I discovered that we had overestimated the kids’ prior knowledge of the English language, and hence we had to crawl through the execution of the syllabus, tweaking as the weeks went by.

The remaining challenges that we faced were expected. Expectedly, we had a handful of uncooperative people, from the teachers, mentors to the kids. We also had a few power shortages that led to interference with our project activities such as watching movies. Fortunately, we did not face language barriers or budget constraints.

Many people benefited from this project. The 108 grade four students who were the main focus of our program advanced their English skills, got to do exciting activities, and even their parents lauded us for having an impact on their children. The mentors and the three teachers that we hired earned a stipend, gained a new sense of relevance in the community, and felt the gratification of seeing the children’s progress in such a short time. The entire school will benefit from the resources we have provided them, from a storybook library to laptops. We gave motivational talks to the grade seven and eight students, so as to encourage them to work smarter, and I think there is a definitely a few whose trajectory we changed through our short speeches.

Overall, the project affected the entire Kilifi community, as the grant’s money circulated in its economy through the modes of transportation that we used, cybers, the hardware shops and the restaurants that we had our lunches in.

Long Term Impact:
Our initial aim was to eventually curb insecurity in Kenya by ensuring that student’s trajectories were changed through enforcing the mastery of the English language. Of course, it is impossible to achieve that goal in one summer; however, we made a noticeable step in that direction.

Our aim was very ambitious; however we commenced a process that could ultimately turn this aim to a reality. Looking back at the same kids six weeks later, I saw transformed students with a passion in their eyes to learn more and smiles full of hope. Whenever I reflect on the final photograph I took of “my kids” (as everyone calls them now), I am filled with joy because I see a generation changed due to our work.

KIU will be sustained through volunteers and organizations like Rotary Club-Kilifi. Jennifer Grimm, a Kilifi R.C. Member, is introducing an exact replica of KIU (with my permission) to a different school in another region called Takaungu, which also has a huge thirst for education. Charity Kaluki, another member, will also continue teaching the same kids that I was mentoring, but using a different program that also emphasizes on comprehension of the English subject. Rotary Club’s rotaractors based in the neighboring Pwani University will also provide mentorship to my kids to ensure continuity of what we began. Through all this support, I see a future for KIU.

Ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi once said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” KIU’s debut this summer is the single step towards peace for many in Kenya. The wonderful thing about peace is its ripple effect. It not only affects its intended focus area but permeates through all areas of life. KIU demonstrated just this by positively influencing its intended beneficiaries – the students – but also the school, teachers, mentors, parents, and community members. This is our greatest accomplishment, that one course of action has the ability to impact more lives and ultimately, the peace of Kenya.

What is peace to us? Peace is the opportunity to gain more from available resources, impact the mindset of many, and ultimately develop the perspective to make and live a better life through sound education.

Personal Statement:
“I learned more than I have in my 20 years of existence in 2 months. KIU ended up being an eye opener on the immense needs in my society. I was impelled to do more, but I cannot do everything. This was the most important lesson for me because I think it’s the first step towards becoming a better social entrepreneur. I cannot cure all the ills in my society, but I will give my all on whatever I focus on.”
–Claudia Kahindi, Wesleyan Class of 2018