PO BOX 12492 Toledo, OH 43606 info@radicalloveinc.org 517.442.9809

So you like roast coffee, catch bees, and go to Mexico?

I wanted to write a blog about RLI and how my experience in grad school has shaped me as a nonprofit leader. People see little snippets of my life on Facebook and Instagram, and since I post like one thing a month at most, people get a rather vague picture of what I do. Some people think I spend all day in the metroparks catching bees, or roasting coffee and making chocolate-covered espresso beans. They think RLI is this weird nonprofit that is mixture of bees, coffee, missions trips, urban gardens, and ecology. Since I’ve been talking about RLI and asking people to be a part of our support team, I thought I should talk about how the things I’m doing in grad school help make a RLI a better nonprofit.

When we started RLI back in 2013 our team had dreams, vision, and passion. We knew we wanted to change the world. And when we got that letter from the IRS saying we were an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, we had the legal status to actually go out and do it. However, the one thing we lacked was experience and expertise in the functioning of nonprofit world. This is one of the primary reasons I decided to go to grad school. I wanted to learn about nonprofits, writing grants, international development, education, growing food, etc. Four years later, I’m still in grad school (almost done) and I’ve gained a lot of insight and met some really good people that influence the way I view nonprofits. So I wanted to share with you some of the ways my time in grad school as changed the way we do things at RLI.

What have I learned in the past four year of grad school?

1. Have a narrow focus. You find success when you have a narrow focus. Grad school is all about honing in on an excruciatingly narrow topic that nobody has researched. As an undergrad I took all those random classes that had nothing to do with my degree (i.e. history of jazz). My focus was insanely broad, and I learned a little bit about a lot of different topics. It’s kind of like when you go to a restaurant that has a 40 page menu, and you just know that the food is going to taste like ‘meh’. Grad school is the opposite. It’s like this restaurant in Brooklyn that only serves avocado-based foods. The menu is 1 page and every item contains avocados. And I think nonprofits benefit when they actually identify their focus. That’s why RLI has strategically narrowed our focus to 3 things: food, education, and health. Rather than do a bunch of stuff and be ‘meh’, we want to do a few things and do them right.

2. Ask questions. The most fundamental part about being a successful grad student is the ability to ask good questions. My job as a PhD student is to ask a lot of questions, and to design experiments so that I can answer those questions. I read a ton of papers so that I can get information to help me answer questions, and to learn what others have done to answer similar questions. Nonprofits are also in the business of asking and answering questions. Almost every nonprofit exist to address and solve the problem plaguing society, and the nonprofits that find success ask really good questions. Why do homeless people remain homeless after years of assistance? Why does 40% of the food we grow end up in the trash and not in the bellies of hungry people? Why does Africa remain the poorest continent when it has received the most aid over the past 50 years? We at RLI want to be continually asking questions, critiquing our methods, and ensuring that we do what we do well. 

3. Set goals regularly. Throughout the majority of my undergrad, I was a major procrastinator. And I do admit that I would stay up all night writing papers for a few of my classes. But you can’t procrastinate your way to a PhD. I mean, when you have to write a 100+ page dissertation, it’s not really a one-night deal. Similarly, nonprofits shouldn’t expect to go from A to Z in a night. We set goals to keep us on track, and so we can tell all the cool people who support us that we’re using their money wisely.

4. Meet people who are different than you. Grad schools are filled with students from all over the world that have different cultural, religious, and home-life backgrounds. And these differences are encouraged and celebrated. It’s part of the experience of grad school. Nonprofits need this. We need to spend time listening and hanging out with the people we serve. That’s why we’ve been working in the same communities for 5 years. We don’t want to walk in with our agenda in order to do our thing. We want to first listen and hear from the people we serve. And then work with them to implement change.

5. Do your research. I’ve collected a ton of data on the diversity and health of bees across Northwest. I’ve collected around 50 species of bees, and I know super specific information about them. The exact coordinates where they were captured; the humidity and temperature the moment they were captured; the soil moisture and the species of flower they were pollinating; their exact weight and length and how much water was in their body the moment they were collected. Collecting good data is the reason I can analyze and make conclusions about what factors influence bees. We want to do the same thing at RLI. It’s so important for nonprofits to collect data on their programs so they can actually see if the programs are effective. Many nonprofits don’t. We want to collect good data so we can improve and be the best at what we do.

There are tons of other things I’ve learned about mentoring, teaching, dealing with conflict, failure, etc. While I’ve learned a lot of things in grad school, I’m excited to be done. To be able to devote all of my time to RLI and to working with communities to implement change.

Interested in hearing more? Some people have asked to read about some of the research I’ve done in the Toledo area. Send me an email (justin@radicalloveinc.org) and I can send you some of the papers I’ve published in the past few years.

Want to support RLI? Donate Here.

We left for Mazatlan and returned with a new mission

Last month I had the opportunity to take a trip down to Mazatlan. On most trips, I lead a team of seven to fifteen people, and I’m busy keeping track of people and ensuring their parents that they are alive and safe. But this trip was different because I went by myself. I stayed with my missionary friend and his family. The pace of the trip was slow, and I had a lot of time to think and process and ask questions. I had no worries that someone would lose their passport, or wander off into a squatter camp to never be seen again. I was fully present and focused. 

This was my tenth trip to Mazatlan in the past seven years. RLI has taken over 75 people on trips, and we’ve done a lot of good. We’ve encouraged, fed, clothed, and helped thousands of individuals and families. But sadly, it’s seven years later and those people we helped are still living in poverty. They have clothes on their back and a full belly, but their economic situation has remained constant. Poverty is cyclical, and the cycle is extremely difficult to break.

I have some good friends from the colonias in Mazatlan that are my age. They’ve made it to college and a few even graduated. This past month I saw that they had moved back into the colonias. They are bright and skilled, and are just as qualified has myself for many jobs in our respective fields. However, employment opportunities are ridiculously rare, and they were forced to settle for a job well under their pay-grade and level of expertise. While it makes me grateful to be in the land of opportunity, it also frustrates me. It’s frustrating because if I were born 2000 miles to the south, I wouldn’t be where I am today. None of us would. 

The major obstacles individuals in Mazatlán face are issues of access.  Access to food, education, and opportunity. If my friends had access to employment opportunities, things would be different. If moms had access to fresh fruits, veggies, and water in the colonias, their kids wouldn’t be sick and at risk for diabetes. These issues run deep and they can’t be solved on a week-long trip. They are issues that must be uprooted and replaced and this process takes time. This is why RLI has chosen to shift our focus away from missions trips. We still think missions trips are rad, but we believe our focus should be on developing strategies that target the deeper issues people face. In particular, we have chosen to focus on food, education, and health.

Creating long-term change in these areas will be a lot of work, and it requires time, investment, and collaboration. We have chosen to surround ourselves with experts in these fields, and would love you to join our team. We could use your expertise if you are passionate about (1) farming, gardening, cooking, and preserving good food, (2) teaching kids and ESL training for adults, and (3) healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

The biggest need RLI faces in making this shift in our focus is to hire a full-time director. Currently, all our directors volunteer their time, and thus our time is stretched between our “real jobs” and RLI. We are planning to hire myself (Justin) once I graduate, so I can devote all of my time and energy to make the vision of RLI a reality. I’m pretty pumped for this, and I think there is a ton of good work for us to do that will empower and alter the lives of people living in Mazatlan.

That is why we are asking you to partner with us by investing and sewing into the vision of RLI. We’d love for you to pray for us, offer your expertise, and to give if you are able. We have two big goals for this year: (1) expand our board of directors with passionate individuals in the fields of food, education, and health; and (2) grow our support team to 50 individuals donating to RLI each month.

We understand that time and finances can prevent you from helping us reach these goals – no pressure. But if you want to sign up as a monthly supporter, it’s easy and you can choose whatever amount you want (i.e. $10, $25, $50). And if you have a passion for what we do, please contact us because we’d love to give you an outlet for that passion. And we’ll mail you a bag of Mexican coffee if you sign-up to give!

 

Please feel free to call/text me if you want to get coffee and talk, or ask questions. I’m excited for this next chapter, and I’d love to talk about it with you!

Justin Burdine
Executive Director
517-442-9809

Ten Day Countdown: Mazatlan

We are headed to Mazatlan in ten days. Over the past five years, RLI has taken nearly a dozen trips to build into the work God is doing there. Mazatlan is a youthful, vibrant city known by many for its boardwalks, beaches, and tourism. Many US and Canadian citizens retire in Mazatlan, and it’s a major vacation destination. The city is clearly demarcated by a tourist district (Zona Dorado), and the remainder of the city is unknown to most tourists and visitors. Nearly half a million people reside in this remainder zone, and these are the people we serve.

Focus. Surrounding the central part of Mazatlan are dozens of smaller neighborhoods (colonias). Colonias are a settlements that typically lack basic human needs (i.e. running water, electricity, sanitation). Colonias range from a handful of homes to hundreds. In these neighborhoods, people don’t own the land their homes are on. It can take years before the local government extends water and electric lines to these neighborhoods. These are the communities we work with. Those that have been marginalized and forgotten. Those who have few resources and opportunities, but still strive to make a livelihood for their family.

Purpose. For the past five years, we’ve taken teams to Mazatlan for week-long trips to help these communities with our friends at La Vina. These trips have exposed many to the reality of global poverty, and given them a glimpse into the daily lives of the poor. Our upcoming trip is different. Our goal is to identify the top needs of the people in the communities we serve, and to develop programs to address those needs. Some needs we have identified in the past are education, health, food access, and literacy. However, there could be important needs we have missed and we want community input and support.

You help people by empowering them. Lending a hand to get them back on their feet and on their way. True charity equips and empowers people to be successful without you there.

This transition in our focus from being a “missions trip” organization to a “community empowerment” organization is exciting to us. Through the years, the things that have made us come alive are all related to empowering people. Teaching people English, sharing meals, encouraging community leaders, running kids programs, etc. All centered on equipping, training, and helping people.

Your Part. The work we do is completely funded by people like you. We are looking for a team of monthly supporters to join us. Our goal is to have 50 people sign-up as monthly supporters to partner and share in the work we do. There are two ways you can be a monthly supporter. (1) Join our coffee club. Subscribe and we’ll send you coffee each month. (2) Donate. All donations are tax-exempt and are used to pursue our mission statement.

Contact us for more information.
Email: justin@radicalloveinc.org
Mail: PO BOX 12492 Toledo, OH 43606

Food: Our Most Beloved Pastime 

Food. It’s a remarkable creation. Seeds that germinate in the dark of soil and sprout through ground towards the sun. Stalks growing tall, producing colorful flowers, and developing into the edible foods that we consume. Humans have found creative ways to mix our foods to form unique dishes, flavors, and culinary experiences. Many of the cultural traditions we appreciate as people are centered around food. We take pictures and post about the good (and bad) foods we consume daily.

Food is a necessity to sustain life, but it is also a joyful part of life. Cooking with friends and family. Making sugar cookies at Christmas. Roasting pumpkin seeds and hot apple cider in Autumn. Ceviche and steak tacos on the coast of Mazatlan. Coffee and chocolate in the mountains of Chiapas. Food was designed to be enjoyed. Consuming and sharing food is part of the human experience. We domesticated plants (and animals) in our history for complex flavors and tastes. We plant, prune, harvest, store, cook, sell, buy, and share food.

Yet billions of people don’t have enough food, and millions of other people have a bit too much. People in the United States throw away roughly half the food we purchase. Half. That’s an absurd amount of food. That means we could cut our food budget in half each year. And if you’re like me your first through is, “Well, I know I don’t waste half my food. I’m not one of those irresponsible, uppity people that over-consumes.” Yet, if I really think about all those fruits and veggies in my fridge that begin to wilt, the leftovers that don’t really look appetizing reheated, the hundreds of to-go boxes I’ve left on the restaurant table, etc. We waste because we can and because food is everywhere. Our value on food is a different than people in other parts of the world, or for the food-insecure families in our neighborhoods.

We live in a world where under-nutrition (malnourishment) and over-nutrition (overeating) are major health issues. It’s a paradox, right? Parts of our world deal with people who get sick by eating too much, and other parts deal with people who get sick by eating too little. The agricultural industry produces enough food for everyone on the planet to meet their daily nutritional requirements. However, that doesn’t happen. We know that doesn’t happen because we see the commercials with the kids that need help. And that single parent who works hard but can’t afford the expensive, nutritious foods for their kids. Or that guy who was never taught how to cook so he only buys frozen meals. Or the migrant family that can’t get the traditional herbs, spices, and vegetables to make the cultural meals they are accustomed to.

These are issues of food access. Barriers to local, healthy, nutritious, economical, culturally-relevant foods. Barriers in knowledge on how to prepare meals. Barriers on how to consume a balanced diet. Barriers in how to purchase and store foods to reduce waste. Barriers in getting to the grocery store. Millions of people in the U.S. live in food deserts (regions where majority residents live greater than 1 mile from a grocery store). And the numbers are worse in the developing world. These barriers act like walls preventing people from enjoying food the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed.

Our hope and mission is to increase food access for individuals. That’s access to consume, produce, purchase, prepare, and enjoy food. We believe food is a basic human right. And food is one of the best preventative medicines for at-risk communities. An important strategy we are taking to increase food access is to build gardens. Community gardens have been shown to reduce the prevalence of food deserts in U.S. cities. Gardens provide local, fresh, and healthy food options for communities. Many gardens incorporate fruits, veggies, herbs, and animals to meet all nutritional requirements of communities. It’s a first step on the path toward a sustainable, independent future for many at-risk communities. And it’s a main focus of ours over the next five years to address food access in the places where we operate.

So. Enjoy your meals today.

Try to throw away a little less food today. Eat a few more fruits and veggies. And join us in securing food access for all. If you think this is a cool idea, you can donate towards is here.

P.S. We will be taking a team to build gardens in western Mexico to implement this strategy. You are welcome to join us! Contact us: info@radicalloveinc.org

Drink Coffee: Change The World

Coffee. That black nectar we enjoy each morning, and the fuel we use to stay up late into the night. Coffee is the second most globally exported good (behind only petroleum). It’s the top export for many nations in the Global South including: Madagascar, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Nations across the Americas, Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Mediterranean cultivate our beloved coffees. The production of coffee provides a livelihood for over 25 million farmers across the globe. However, the majority of coffee workers do not earn a livable wage for the work they do planting, pruning, harvesting, peeling, drying, and roasting the coffee beans.

If coffee is so globally exported and consumed, why do farmers earn so little income? A long supply chain and uncertainty in the global market forces farmers to sell their crop at low prices. Many farmers earn pennies per pound of coffee produced. We go to a coffee shop in the U.S. and spend $2 for a cup of coffee, while the farmer is lucky to earn a few cents for that cup. There’s a definite disparity in the coffee system, and a disconnect between farmers and consumers. But direct-tade and fair-trade programs are helping increase farmers income. These programs can also aid in community development projects to improve living conditions for coffee workers and their families.

Where we enter the story. So why is a missions organization getting involved with coffee? All of our outreach and programming occurs in countries that produce large quantities of coffee. A unique strategy for us to improve livelihoods in these nations is to empower and partner with coffee farmers. By helping farmers earn higher wages and by improving community resources, we can make long-term differences in these regions. In particular, the southern Mexican state of Chiapas is referred to as the organic coffee capital of the world. I spent a summer working on a coffee farm in these region and fell in love with the people. Ever since, I’ve been roasting and selling coffees from this region to fund our Mexico outreaches.

There are a bunch of reasons why people get involved with coffee. Some get involved to make money, others to open their own shop and serve their customers. The reasons we decided to get involved with coffee are to:

  1. Provide benefits to the farmers in the nations we serve. Coffee opens an avenue for us to empower people in the nations we serve. It gives us the opportunity to share their story, and to come alongside them.
  2. Offer a fun way for our supporters to get involved in our ministry. People want to get involved and volunteer with nonprofits, but don’t always have the time or accessibility. Coffee gives our our supporters a practical (and tasty) way to get involved! Roasting coffee is also a fun hobby we’ve developed over the past few years, perfecting the roasting technique to make wonderful blends. We want you to enjoy our coffees too!
  3. Invest in the regional economy of our mission field. We want all our outreaches in the nations we serve to be long-term. By getting involved with coffee, we show our support of the sustainable and equity of the local economy. We show people that we are here for the long haul, and are invested in their livelihoods.

We are introducing a monthly coffee club to allow our supporters to get more involved in our ministry. When you join the club, we’ll send coffee to your home each month! You select how much coffee you want, and which variety. We roast and send the coffee to you the first week of each month. It’s our way to help you enjoy those early mornings and late nights with a tasty cup of coffee. And you get to show your support of Radical Love Inc. Fill out the form below to get started!

Monthly Coffee Subscription Form

$ 14
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Donation Total: $14