Encinitas woman returns from global innovators summit
Aviva Paley, a 25-year-old Encinitas resident, got the opportunity of a lifetime last month when she traveled to Jerusalem to meet and interface with 150 young Jewish innovators from around the globe.
And Paley’s name wasn’t just picked out of a hat for the ROI Global Summit, held June 26-30, she was selected for her extraordinary work with Kitchens for Good, a profitable catering service that uses those profits to provide job training and careers for hard-to-employ people as well as funding other social programs.
Paley, now the organization’s Director of Programs after working with founder Chuck Samuelson from its inception in 2014, also was honored recently when the University of California announced its Global Food Initiative 30 Under 30 Awards on June 14.
“It was a really fantastic recognition of leaders in the areas of food and agriculture trying to make a difference in our food system,” Paley said of the award. “It’s provided a lot of great press and notoriety to the cause I’ve been working on, so in that way it’s been really great.”
Being picked for the ROI Summit, however, was more than just an honor, it was a great learning experience and one that will continue to be beneficial as Paley is now part of the ROI Community, an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
“They call it ROI, which is return on investment, so they are really investing in each of our individual leaderships to make the world a better place through all of our various projects and causes,” explained the Baltimore native who moved to Encinitas three years ago and originally worked with the Leichtag Foundation.
“We left (Jerusalem) with the ability to apply for future microgrants. And they are really supporting our professional development, so for future projects we launch or classes we want to take, training we want to do, they will support us through all of that. I feel really spoiled.”
The summit itself brought together social entrepreneurs from more than 30 different countries to learn and share experiences. Throughout the four-day event, the innovators interacted through Brain Dates —small-group meetings where one person would share a skill or lesson (Paley taught lessons on volunteer management, starting a social enterprise and cooking) — TED Talks-style presentations by one of the young changemakers to a larger group and programed presentations for the entire group.
Paley said she learned something different from each one, especially noting the larger program on “looking at power structures and how to work with them and against them … to make change in a modern digital age” as one she really valued. In the smaller group presentations, it was the details of each innovator’s specific experience that blew her mind.
“There was a big aspect of getting to know one another and I think that was my favorite aspect of the conference,” Paley said. “People were just working on some incredible things, from a woman who flew to Lesbos (Greek Island) to do refugee work to another woman who had been a victim of rape and created a rape recovery toolkit via youtube that has reached millions of people.
“You’re meeting people from 30 different countries, so looking at what those projects look like, whether it is India or Poland or Chili or Uruguay, just the landscapes in these places are so drastically different so our opportunities and challenges are often similar and also worlds apart.”
Though there wasn’t much time left over for sight-seeing, the group did visit the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and hear from the mayor of Jerusalem.
While the conference organizers are looking to invest in Jewish changemakers, Paley estimated that two-thirds of the projects highlighted by conference attendees did not specifically focus on supporting and engaging the Jewish community.
“I think they see an opportunity to use Judaism as an organizing tool,” Paley said. “For me, it’s part of my cultural heritage, my father is Israeli, and it’s part of my local community here in Encinitas. My work is separate but I’m sure in some way also informed by (my heritage).”
That work, for the past few years, has been alongside Samuelson on Kitchens for Good. The organization is based around the fact that a kitchen can be used to do a lot of social good, including job creation, food waste diversion, health and hunger relief.
“The core of what we do is food rescue and meal prep for hunger relief programs, but we also provide a culinary and job training program for hard-to-employ populations to help launch their careers in the culinary industry,” Paley explained. “We primarily work with youth aging out of foster care and formerly incarcerated individuals.”
Paley said her heart as well as Samuelson’s are in North County and they originally hoped the Kitchens for Good headquarters would be here. However, an opportunity for a great kitchen location in southeast San Diego (at the Jacobs Center) was too good to pass up. Still, Kitchens for Good provides farm to fork style catering for the Encinitas Senior Center and is looking to expand further into North County.
The Kitchens for Good program started with those two and, after signing the lease for its headquarters in September 2015, has grown to have a staff of 37. The budget has gone from $200,000 to almost $2 million.
“We run a large catering and events enterprise that is the core of our social enterprise operation, so it generates a lot of revenue to help support the programs we run,” Paley said. “And it creates really great opportunities for the graduates of our job training program.
“We do about 500 catered events a year and are still looking to grow because the more events we can do, the more services we can provide for the community.”
For more information on the organization, visit www.kitchensforgood.org.