Crave Cares: Together We Can Make a Difference

    Photos L-R: © National MS Society; © Arc Greater Twin Cities;
    Courtesy of Camp Odayin; Courtesy of Twin Cities Rise!

    CRAVE recognizes the importance of being a committed community partner, and we strongly believe in working with our neighbors to help improve the communities we serve. As a result, we created CRAVE CARES in 2008, which has been an ongoing initiative that focuses on significant efforts to support organizations in our community. Our goal is to do everything within our power to support these organizations by hosting fundraising events, creating special menus to raise funds and awareness, making donations to silent auctions, and proudly sponsoring the CRAVE CARES “Heart of the Event” awards, recognizing local volunteers who go above and beyond the call of duty. In these pages CRAVE honors eight individuals who exemplify what it means to truly be the “Heart of the Event.”


    Kim ValentiniKim Valentini
    Smile Network International

    guage. But what about those who can’t smile—those who were born with cleft lips, cleft palates or other conditions requiring surgical intervention? The babies who don’t have access to modern health care or parents who can afford to pay for surgery? Are these kids destined to grow up feeling self-conscious, ashamed, and socially isolated?

    Not if Kim Valentini, founder of Smile Network International, has a say in it. Since she left the corporate arena and launched Smile Network in 2003, she has been carrying out her life’s mission—to reconstruct lives, one bright, smiling face at a time.

    Kim, a kind, bubbly, generous, ambitious and tenacious woman, believes that actions speak louder than words. In the past eight years, she has recruited hundreds of doctors and volunteers to help carry out her mission and traveled to remote, poverty-stricken villages in nine countries.

    Through local efforts, Smile Network has developed international partnerships that enable volunteers to build trust in foreign countries. These global relationships provide Smile Network the opportunity to impart dignity and quality of life to individuals whose medical needs may otherwise go untreated.

    According to Kim, “We are blessed to be able to do so much, for so little and dramatically change somebody’s life forever.”

    Kim is making strides and changing lives every day. To date, she has met hundreds of families and children who have been forever changed as a result of the free reconstructive surgeries. New faces, better futures—now that’s something to smile about.

    J. Marie Fieger

    In the Fieger family, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. J. Marie learned the value of giving from her parents, June and Jim. Now her 12-year-old daughter, Emmie, is following in the Fieger tradition. Emmie recently took it upon herself to raise money for Bridging—a nonprofit organization that distributes furniture and household goods to individuals and families in transition—by performing tasks around the neighborhood—clearly taking after her mom by helping those in need.

    For the past 13 years, J. Marie, the president of the advertising and PR firm Nemer Fieger, has been involved with Bridging. She served on the board of directors for many years and continues to support the Annual Subway Bedrace for Bridging and Bring a Blanket Drive, utilizing a talent for cause marketing, her sunny disposition, and innovative thinking to spur others to action. “J. Marie is an inspiration and has made a difference for thousands of people in need in the Twin Cities,” says Sara Sternberger of Bridging.

    Gifts of donated furniture and household goods can be life-changing for someone who is transitioning out of poverty and into permanent housing, someone who is working hard to make ends meet, someone who has absolutely no money for furnishings.

    “Bridging gives people dignity and choice,” J. Marie comments.

    After being blessed with a wonderful family life of her own, J. Marie wants others to have the opportunity to share meals around the table, cuddle with their kids on the couch, and tuck their loved ones into bed at night—those little actions that transform a house into a home.

    Janel Goff
    Hope Chest for Breast Cancer

    Janel Goff is passionate about education, especially when it comes to women and their finances. She educates women in her job as a consultant at The Goff Group Global Wealth Management, during monthly “Invest in Yourself” networking luncheons, as a featured speaker at Fortune 500 companies, and by supporting The Hope Chest for Breast Cancer, an organization that helps financially challenged women with breast cancer pay their rent, utilities, and childcare so they can focus on getting well. It’s bad enough having cancer, and it’s the goal of the Hope Chest to lift financial burdens for those diagnosed.

    The Hope Chest business model is a combination of a not-for-profit foundation and for-profit retail stores that help fund emergency financial assistance programs in hospitals, treatment centers, clinics, and other human service organizations for local under-served women in the Twin Cities area experiencing breast cancer.

    The Hope Chest depends on annual events to help raise money for the Foundation, including the Putt for the Pink Golf Classic, now in its seventh year. It was Janel and her husband, Brian, who came up with the idea of a golf tournament; and it is Janel and Brian who take great pride hosting the tournament every year.  For seven years, they have brought together a wonderful team of people and motivated them to make a difference by having fun and raising money for Hope Chest.

    “Janel is a very caring and giving person,” says Susan Wineland of Hope Chest. “She has dedicated a portion of her time and resources to making a difference in the community.”

    Bruce Gunderson
    Mud Run Multiple Sclerosis Twin Cities

    The Twin Cities Mud Run is not your typical weekend footrace, unless “typical” means slogging through a mud pit, climbing up hills, and being blasted by a hose down a giant slip ‘n slide. The 10K adventure race is a team fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter and is as ridiculously fun as it is challenging.

    One of the driving forces behind this event is volunteer Bruce Gunderson, who made the first Mud Run possible in 2010 by fostering relationships between the National MS Society, Trollhaugen Ski & Snowboard Resort, and the Minnesota 4-Wheel Drive Association, of which he serves as president. He not only spent two weeks camping at Trollhaugen while building the obstacle course, he secured in-kind donations (including some of the tools and materials necessary for the course) and recruited 15 of his off-roading friends to provide transportation to volunteers the day of the event, then supervised those volunteers. His group of friends took it a step further by paying for radio rentals during the Mud Run so that volunteers could be well-connected should they need to radio for help.

    According to Anna Kucera with the National MS Society, Minnesota Chapter, Bruce is “incredibly generous and hardworking, expects nothing in return for his efforts, and makes it his job to see that everyone around him has a great time at this event.”

    Most participants who finish the race cross the muddy finish line with huge smiles on their faces. And whether they realize it or not, Bruce Gunderson has a lot to do with that.


    Sharon Hawkins
    Twin Cities RISE!

    Overcoming poverty—to many of those who are deeply entrenched—is often as intimidating as scaling a mountain.

    It’s the goal of Sharon Hawkins to empower people to not only reach the peak of the mountain, but climb over it into a life of independence and prosperity.

    For the past four years, Sharon has volunteered with Twin Cities RISE!, an anti-poverty nonprofit organization that trains under-employed and unemployed people (primarily men)  for placement in long-term jobs where they earn at least $20,000 a year.  Sharon, described by Amy Anderson of TCR! as having a “big heart” and warm and welcoming “Southern-style manners,” works directly with TCR! participants in mock interviews and one-on-one tutoring sessions. She sees the tremendous potential in these men and understands how their lives can be transformed once they have the necessary training for career-track jobs. When you feel good about your job, you feel good about yourself, which translates into better relationships with your family and community. 

    In addition to generously donating her time on the TCR! board and development committee, Sharon also generates big fundraising ideas, such as “Music on the Mississippi,” featuring great food, wine, and live music. As co-chair, she helped develop the silent auction and overall tone of the event, now in its third year.

    Sharon’s involvement with TCR! is truly a “blessing,” Amy says.

    Her commitment to the common good has helped those in disadvantaged circumstances scale mountains by turning dreams into reality.

    Bess Heyer
    Camp Odayin 

    In a quiet room, Bess Heyer is amplified. No, she is more than amplified. She is a 400,000 watt rock concert. She lights up a room just by walking in.

    Imagine then, how the kids at Camp Odayin—tailored specifically for kids living with heart disease—feel not only when they find out this fun-loving woman is their camp counselor, but that she is “one of them,” spending many of her early years at Children’s Heart Clinic of Minneapolis being treated for a rare congenital heart defect.

    Bess has been volunteering at Camp Odayin since its inception 10 years ago, “one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” she says. For one week each summer, she lives with and mentors children who have “special hearts” like her own, watching them grow and bloom and laugh and bond in a safe place of acceptance. 

    The campers love her upbeat, positive attitude, the fact that she takes the time to really listen to them, and her fun personality.

    “She’s the first to let campers cover her in flour and she often has the wackiest costumes for the themed programs,” says Alison Boerner of Camp Odayin. “It’s very difficult to be unhappy when she’s around, she’s just too much fun.”
    It’s hard to tell who gets more from the camp experience—Bess or the kids.

    “Camp Odayin has been my greatest source of inspiration, community, friendship, and strength,” Bess says. “I am so blessed by every kid I have met.”

    The kids feel the same way. In the Camp Odayin Leader in Training program—when former campers are asked to think of a counselor they admire—the most frequent response is Bess.

    Pam Ryder
    The Arc Greater Twin Cities

    Pam Ryder is the kind of person who focuses on the needs and concerns of others. She cared for her father until he passed away in 2008 and is the guardian of her brother, Ron Williams, who has a developmental disability.

    It is simply in her nature to help, which is why she doesn’t think twice about devoting countless hours to The Arc Greater Twin Cities, a nonprofit agency that serves the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

    As the volunteer chair of the Auction Committee for the Arc Gala, she is responsible for both the live and silent auctions, a monumental task involving soliciting and cataloging donations, recognizing the donors, creating attractive displays, and managing the bidding process. In the past she has secured live auction items such as airfare and a timeshare at Tybee Island, Georgia; a hosted chef’s dinner at the Pillsbury Mansion with chef Stewart Woodman of Heidi’s Minneapolis; and custom artisan jewelry by George Sawyer. For the 2011 Gala, Pam and her team collected 343 items either sold individually or packaged into theme baskets. She is enthusiastic about every donation, large or small, making the donors feel appreciated.  Together the live and silent auctions raised $36,000, nearly 15 percent of the Gala’s gross revenue. Her efforts are greatly appreciated by everyone who has the opportunity to work with her.

    “Pam is a warm, positive, and outgoing person,” says Pam Carlson of The Arc. “She’s also extraordinarily organized! It’s fun having her involved and we are grateful for everything she has done.”

    Judy Toback Kaplan
    Children’s Cancer Research Fund

    Twenty years ago, Dayton’s department store set out to host a benefit fashion show in support of children with cancer. What started as Dayton’s Cause for Applause morphed into Fash Bash, and eventually became what is known today as Macy’s Passport Presents Glamorama.

    Since the very beginning, Judy Toback Kaplan has been part of the events team—the show’s “coordinator of chaos,” making sure that everyone has the “right” seat, the sponsors are properly recognized, and the logistics are streamlined at both the theatre and after-party venue. Through it all, this calm and cool fashionista maintains an extraordinary level of customer service to the nearly 2,000 guests each year that attend the glamorous event, attracting such big-name celebrities as Cyndi Lauper, Macy Gray, and Bruno Mars.

    Two decades and countless fashion trends later, Judy remains at the center of this event that has garnered more than $4 million for childhood cancer research. As the primary liaison with the benefit organization, Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF), Judy has been a tireless advocate for their mission, which is to find a cure for childhood cancer by providing funds to the University of Minnesota, a national leader in pediatric cancer research. The organization also educates the public about childhood cancer and supports quality-of-life programs for pediatric cancer patients and their families. “Judy is focused, kind, and determined to do things the ‘right’ way without taking shortcuts,” says Jim Leighton of CCRF. “She’s a true advocate for our cause.”