Matt Kurtz Kindness Award Winners Announcement

A huge shout out to Jesse’s Paddle (aka, The Jesse Klump Suicide Awareness and Prevention Program) for their very generous donation to sponsor this month’s award winners, Quilen and Hannah Blackwell.

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Quilen and Hannah Blackwell (Chicago, IL) founded Southside Blooms in 2014. A $150 donation allowed them to start their off-grid flower farm where participants convert vacant lots into commercial flower farms using solar-powered rainwater irrigation. This created jobs for young people on the south and west sides of Chicago.

Quilen said, “Southside Blooms helps Black youth, inner-city blight and the environment through a network of urban flower farms and a flower shop. The farms and flower shop provide meaningful work for at-risk Black youth who have few economic opportunities. They earn money working on solar-powered-urban flower farms.

We want to break the stereotype that young people from these inner-city communities think gang activity and violence is fun. It’s not. It’s traumatic and it’s destroying lives. They may end up in that activity due to their circumstances but it’s certainly not something they want.”

Southside Blooms has six farms and a brick-and-mortar flower shop in Englewood. There is always plenty of work to be done, providing lots of opportunities for the kids. They work the land, plant the flowers; then weed, water and harvest them. They also take care of the farms’ chickens and honeybees, packaging the honey and making beeswax candles. There’s also the work of making bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces for events, plus seed paper greeting cards.

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Quilen said, “I came to Englewood from a very different background than the people who were born here and their experiences often made me think of how very different my life would have been if I had simply been born under different circumstances.

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. My parents had good corporate jobs and provided a comfortable life. I participated in many school and community activities. The reality of inner-city life was completely absent from my privileged existence.

Things changed when I went into the Peace Corps after college. Living in rural villages and being exposed to intense poverty was a defining experience for me. It made me think about how I could use my life to help people in need.

When I came home, I became a community organizer and later moved to Chicago to go to ministry school. While tutoring at a high school, I discovered the awful inner-city conditions and devastating impacts of poverty. I thought I could have been any one of these kids and I just felt God gripping my heart saying I could use the blessings and privileges in my life to make myself comfortable or I could take up my cross and walk like the Bible says. So, Hannah and I got to thinking about starting a social enterprise to put our faith into action to help the inner-city community by changing its economy.

It turned out that flowers presented the best pathway. As odd as it seems the first time you hear it, we truly believe flowers can save lives. That’s our mission. We want to see more (kids) choosing the shop instead of the street. We’re ultimately about preserving life and showing that the Black community has a lot to offer not just for Chicago, but all of America.”

A very heartfelt thank you to Quilen and Hannah for all that you do. Thank you for your compassion, for opening up this safe spac, and for creating opportunities for inner-city youth. You make a difference in the lives of so many people. You’re an inspiration to us all and we are honored to have you as part of our MKRO family.

More about Jesse’s Paddle/The Jesse Klump Suicide Awareness and Prevention Program. Their objective is to end the threat of suicide in Worcester County (MD) and beyond through a program of outreach and education. This is a mission that MKRO supports wholeheartedly and we are so grateful for all the work they do to support mental health and suicide prevention initiatives.

Thank you to everyone at Jesse’s Paddle for all you do and for your very generous donation to MKRO so we can recognize and reward people who dedicate themselves to making our world a better place.  

If you need help, please call 988

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Jackie Kurtz is a blogger who is on a mission to make the world better, one kindness at a time. When her son died tragically, she started a kindness website and blog as a tribute to him. In his 32 years he impacted more lives than most people do in a lifetime. Her favorite quote is, “Even if we disagree about everything, we can still be kind to each other.” – Matthew L. Jacobson You can connect with Jackie on her website or through email.

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