Everyone’s A Winner, Baby! by Paul Seale
You’ll never meet a group more ready to absorb a loss than the team from the Old East Village Grocer at this year’s Pillar Nonprofit Network Community Innovation Awards. Owned and operated by ATN Access for Persons with Disabilities, the OEV Grocer serves as a live classroom for skills training and was a finalist for this year’s Innovation award. They didn’t win, but executive director Vicki Mayer thinks the experience was a big win for ATN, for the store, and for the communities they serve. “For the record, I like winning and that would have been nice. But the nomination gave us a chance to tell our story to a roomful of people who really care about London and the people who live here.”
OEV Grocer store manager Matt Swenson agrees. “I hadn’t even heard of some of the nominees until we were among them, and I’ll bet that happened to lots of people. With more than 800 community leaders at the awards ceremony, we’ll probably be getting some new hits on oldeastvillagegrocer.com, some new followers on social media, and some new visitors to the store.”
ATN Access has been a Pillar Award finalist once before, in 2014 for a program called Don’t Forget the Theatre. They didn’t win then either and, even worse, the funding dried up and they had to drop the program the following year.
It’s a fate that the OEV Grocer won’t have to face. Mayer explains, “As a social enterprise, the store is meant to help people find meaningful employment – that’s the social part – but also to self-fund that training. That’s the enterprise part, and we’re very proud of that combination.”
It’s a solution that puts the store in good company says manager of community relations Paul Seale. “People are makers and they are ingenious. If there’s a gap in service, someone will see it and fill it and make a difference. We’re still sandwich-makers, but we’re happy that people see us as change-makers too.”
In short, Mayer says, “Every day we make sure that nobody is forgotten and nobody is invisible. We feel we’ve been noticed for that, and we’re still celebrating.”