Above: From left to right, Elysia Newman, Lucinda Wade, Jamie Johnson, Leigh Solomon Pugliano, Dawn Lehman, Connie Capiotis, and Brittney Thieroff.
By Leigh Solomon Pugliano, Director of Opportunity
The GROW Residency Program is an eight month incubator style program developed to provide long term support for growth stage businesses, nonprofit projects, and collaborative initiatives that are under resourced or may face barriers to success and sustainability. GROW Residents receive access to a dedicated number of individual consulting hours per month, group workshops, and a financial award for acceptance into the program.
I designed the GROW Residency Program to provide founders and leaders with individualized growth strategies, leadership training, and professional development. It was also important to create a space for the participants to connect and share ideas, challenges, and best practices with others in leadership.
The most valuable aspect of this program for me is the personal support I’m able to give to the women in the program. I like to build a relationship and get to know folks on a personal level before attempting to give them advice or strategic support. It’s important for me to understand the personal needs of the individuals I’m working with in order to give advice and strategies that work best for them and what they’re building. I’m very proud of this program and all of the accomplishments, friendships, and success that has grown from it. Here are the 2019-2020 GROW Residents, in their own words.
Collective Change Partners
Dawn Lehman, Founder
The most fulfilling experiences in my life have involved working in partnership with others who shared similar values, including the desire to be the best that we can be, while contributing to the well-being of others. These relationships were grounded in a respect and trust that allowed for reflection, learning, and growth. While some of these relationships happened spontaneously, others were the result of conscious intention and effort. The aim of my business is to support others, individually and collectively, to live with intention in their deepest values.
Because I am committed to living with integrity, I couldn’t just go to a conventional business consultant and force myself to do the prescribed steps. My attempts to do so haven’t felt right for me. I needed a process that worked with me as a whole person, and recognized that my work does not fit the typical mold. Just as my coaching work supports people to find their own voice and path, I needed support from someone who could nudge me in the right direction while letting me find my own approach, which Leigh did.
My professional work includes facilitation, training, and coaching, all of which are fundamentally collaborative endeavors. Starting a business, in contrast, has been largely an independent process, often pushing me to develop skills that are outside of my comfort area. Leigh’s first challenge to me was to consider how I could market my business in a way that conveys the relational nature of my work. By selecting the name Collective Change Partners, I not only have a more effective brand but also a touchstone for the aspiration I have in doing this work.
Throughout the GROW experience I faced many challenges. Completing and launching my website involved many obstacles. There are aspects of business development and maintenance still feel mysterious and distant to me, but I have a solid foundation. Through my relationship with Leigh, and my cohort peers, I know that I am not alone. I know that many others have pushed through these same obstacles and that we have one another for support.
My hope is that Collective Change Partners can be a support to groups and organizations who see the effectiveness of our work is not just in the skills we bring to the table, but in how we show up for one another.
Connie Capiotis, Founder + Executive Director
I started Digital Bridges in 2017 with a lot of passion and an idea. I wanted to help people by teaching them the technology and business skills that would make a difference in their life no matter their situation or circumstance. I had a background in business development and technology, but zero experience in the nonprofit world. No connections. No history. Yet with typical entrepreneurial passion, I jumped in. I founded Digital Bridges Pittsburgh as a fiscally sponsored nonprofit with New Sun Rising.
By the time I entered the GROW Residency program I had some major accomplishments with our programs in Hazelwood supported by the Heinz Endowments, successfully participated in the Lively Pittsburgh Age-Friendly Challenge and actively ran both our own curriculum and taught the SMARTER Robotics program, and obtained a Google IT Support Certification Programs in partnership with Auberle. With those accomplishments came a few stinging lessons as well; I was smack dab in the thick of growing pains.
The GROW Residency program was exactly what I needed. The ability to connect with other business owners, in that same place of balancing exciting successes with the challenges of being a new business, helped me to find community and much needed support in what can be a lonely journey. Right now I am a team of one with an advisory board; the work is all on me. Having the support of other entrepreneurs and the guidance from Leigh, someone to bounce ideas off of and ground me when those growing pains became overwhelming, without fear of judgment, is valuable beyond words.
From a productivity standpoint, I’m proud to report that the organization has moved forward according to the roadmap that we set in the beginning of the program. I am pleased with the progress that was made in further shaping our programs and the focus we are taking on matching our work to the PA Standards for Entrepreneurship including our signature technology programs. I’ve also begun offering coaching services to earn additional revenue. There have been more professional gains than I can put into an already lengthy story, it’s suffice to say we accomplished our goals and then some. I can attest that the content presented by Leigh and the speakers throughout the program is of high value. I am a firm believer that you can never stop learning.
That said, I want my final thought to be clear: the greatest value is in the human connection that the GROW Residency provided and the value of working with other entrepreneurs cannot be overstated. My greatest need as an entrepreneur is human support from like-minded individuals. That is the beauty and the greatest benefit of the GROW Residency, and I am forever grateful for it.
If you would like to support Digital Bridges Pittsburgh, I am always open to like-minded support in any form. You can email me directly at email@example.com, or visit our website www.digitalbridgespgh.org.
Elysia Newman, Executive Director
Moving to Pittsburgh from China nearly 10 years ago I fell in love with the city and its vibrant lifestyle, but one thing was noticeably lacking: there was no robust fashion industry and the opportunities to work creatively within it were few and far between. For years as I completed my college degree, I scoured the city seeking ways to work in fashion, trying everything from modeling to styling to starting my own e-commerce businesses. It was not easy and — while I faced the challenges of being a small business owner — I also faced the challenges of being a small retail business owner in Pittsburgh, which were far greater. These were my personal challenges with being a fashion creative in Pittsburgh and the conversation that I started, which later became Style412, is what sparked it.
Style412 began as a discussion by the fashion community, for the fashion community. Since 2017, it has existed as the only non-profit dedicated to fashion in Pittsburgh with a board of industry veterans fueled by the passion to see the industry grow. It exists to fill a void, one that we believe can be filled through educational programming and building a support system to connect existing and emerging professionals.
I would use one word to describe the GROW residency: clarity. For the past year, Leigh has helped me build a better roadmap for the organization and challenged me to better shape my goals. I feel lighter and more confident having gone through the program. Meeting and learning how other fellow cohort members navigate the growth of their organizations has also been a most cherished and valuable experience.
For those interested in being part of the fashion community in Pittsburgh, or those who simply want to see it evolve, they can support Style412 by joining our inclusive membership network, Playground at www.style412.com. Other ways you can be a part of our community is by subscribing to our newsletter at www.style412.com/frow or giving us a follow at @style412.
Coraopolis Youth Creations
Lucinda Wade, Executive Director
When I arrived in Coraopolis over 15 years ago, there was no community center, rec center or Boys and Girls Club within walking distance. We started offering “Friday Fun Night” in the small basement of the Church of God where kids received a hot dinner, played games, and went on occasional field trips. Before we realized what was happening, we went from doing what we can to help fill the gaps in our community to becoming change agents. We started a small after-school program, began offering free summer lunch, and the Annual Back 2 School Bash became our signature community event.
In 2016 we launched the Community Youth Center (CYC): a safe gathering space for the under-served community of Coraopolis that houses youth programs, classes, family activities and events. Our vision is to create a vibrant community hub where the community members are empowered to take ownership and are active in making it a great place to work, learn, connect and serve.
Through this residency I was able to connect with other non-profit directors and entrepreneurs who, like me, wear many hats. The experience allowed us to discuss our challenges, share resources, encourage and support one another. Like most executive directors, I have the responsibility of performing many roles within my organization and it is easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. Working with Leigh provided the accountability and strategic tools that I needed to stay on track. One of the main things that she helped me accomplish was to set and develop challenging, but attainable, goals with measurable and trackable deadlines.
We are currently recruiting “Community Champions” to provide professional expertise through teaching, mentoring, or serving on our board of directors. We also need donors and sponsors to support the development of the Coraopolis Community Hub through in-kind and financial donations.
To learn more about the GROW Residency Program, visit our website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. You can reach Leigh Solomon Pugliano at email@example.com | IG @properleigh.
Makeup: Sarah Jenkins
firstname.lastname@example.org | IG @sarajinkies_mua
Photography: Joe Lowrey
email@example.com | IG @joelowreyphoto
Shoot Direction: Brittney Thieroff