FOR GOOD WORKS

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS COMPETE IN NEW CATEGORY

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Jessie remembers the nights. She’d wake up in a terror. She’d lie pinned to her bed. Her hearing was hyper-alert. Heart pounding. The house creaking, a branch brushing against a window, a menacing shadow, all adding to the panic. Someone was inside. He was going to kill her.

“It happened every single night,” she says. “I cried myself to sleep. In the daytime, I was always exhausted.”

Atlantic Beach businessman Michael Hosto understands Jessie’s fear. In 1978, when he was 11 years old, a man broke into his St. Louis home at 4 a.m. The man raped his mother. She didn’t yell for help because she feared her children would get out of bed and the man would attack Michael’s twin sister, too. After that, everything changed. “Because it happened in our home, there was never a place after that where my

mom felt safe,” he says. “And it has lasted to this day.”

When Hosto first heard about the One Spark crowdfunding festival, he decided to act on an idea he’d tossed around for years.

After undergoing brain surgery a few years ago, Hosto began a recovery aided by a special friend: his pet German Shepherd. The dog was constantly by Hosto’s side, a loyal guardian and companion.

This led him to believe a German Shepherd’s natural instincts as a protector would help a rape survivor feel safe and its loving nature would support the emotional healing process.

During One Spark 2013, Hosto’s idea, Guardian Therapy Dogs, earned $1,043.67. But, he says, the money wasn’t important. It was the impetus the festival gave him to commit the idea to action.

“I had this idea for years, and I always wanted to do it. But I never had the time,” Hosto says.

“One Spark inspired me to start Guardian Therapy, to take it from idea to action.”

Jessie, who asked that Folio Weekly use a pseudonym for her and her dog, received the first Guardian Therapy Dog. For Jessie, her German Shepherd Sasha has been a world-changer.

Before Sasha, she says, “I felt very uncomfortable. I couldn’t talk to my family. I felt very prickly. I Just didn’t trust people.

When I got her, it was like I had somebody who I knew would be there for me. And I know if someone tries to hurt me or if I was in danger, she would protect me.”

This year, One Spark has added a Social Good category for contributors like Hosto. Previous One Spark participants say it’s important to have a category for social entrepreneurs, or businesses organized around the common goal of initiating social change.

In the past, these kinds of projects competed in other categories.

Consider Kristin Keen, whose 2013 project, Rethreaded, earned the most votes. Rethreaded recycles T-shirts into scarves and necklaces to employ and support women leaving the sex trade. With a 20-foot-tall house made of 500 recycled and dyed T-shirts that she built in Main Street Park, Keen garnered a lot of attention — 1,443 crowd votes and $7,066, to be exact. Since then, she’s built a manufacturing facility and a storefront that features products made by women from all over the world. The organization employs four women, including a bookkeeper and an event planner (paid for by a grant from Delores Barr Weaver) and two women who create the company’s necklaces and scarves.

“We didn’t really fit, and a lot of organizations didn’t really fit. We entered in the art category,” says Keen. “It’s cool that they now have a Social Good category, for those like us who are doing social entrepreneurship, trying to use business to solve a social problem.”

As One Spark has evolved, the organizers recognized the large number of social enterprise and nonprofit projects entered, and decided it needed its own category, says One Spark community and public relations director Meredith O’Malley Johnson. This year, 108 projects will compete in the Social Good category.

“I believe it is the largest category,” O’Malley says.

It’s a crowded field, but Fort Myers cabinet-maker Frank Schooley hopes his 2015 creator project will help make a dream come true for those still reeling from the 2010 earthquake that demolished a large part of Haiti. Schooley is seeking crowdfunding to build a three-room school and furnishings for a village in the northwest part of the Caribbean nation.

When Schooley’s business dried up after the 2008 real estate collapse, he began to fiddle around with furniture design on his computerized cutting machine. Because it was cheap, he used wood fiberboard for his mockups. Fiberboard is made of recycled wood chips and fibers. It’s inexpensive, it doesn’t glue easily and often splits when boards are nailed together. As Schooley experimented with his designs, he gained a respect for the material. The inventor in him refashioned an ancient carpenter’s fastener out of a hole and peg to assemble his pieces. It was sturdy enough to use for furniture and for assembling structures.

This year, Schooley will exhibit his Terrapeg Building Systems in the food court at The Jacksonville Landing. Schooley says a Terrapeg shelter can be shipped flat; a whole house and furnishings can be assembled in three hours. One of the first structures he built has held up well after four years on the grounds of a Fort Myers church.

“We think that the Terrapeg house, or shelter-in-a-day, is a very important building, going forward, to house and comfort the billion people a year who don’t have adequate housing, who are homeless because of natural disasters, or war, or not having a home just because they are too poor.”

Like many creators in the Social Good category, Schooley hopes his project can be a world-changer.

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