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Mural Arts' Open Source launches an intercultural store and community center in North Philly

Thanks to the Mural Arts Program, one of the biggest arts and culture events this year isn’t happening inside one building, but all around the city, indoors and out, with public installations from artists across the region, country and world.
Open Source features 14 projects that, according to Mural Arts, transform the organization "into an open source platform, allowing artists to create projects that demand public involvement and inspire widespread participation."
One North Philly installation is a kick-off for a longer-term project examining the social and economic ties and tensions in a Philly neighborhood. Last year, with Corner Store (Take-Out Stories), Ernel Martinez and Keir Johnston of AMBER Art & Design examined similar themes to those in their current project, La Frontera. Corner Store spotlighted the primarily Chinese and Korean-owned take-out restaurants and bodegas of Chinatown North, whose customers are primarily black and Latino. The moveable Corner Store installation aimed to be a space to understand different cultural roots and the myriad similarities at heart.
La Frontera examines long-existing connections and tensions between the communities divided by North Philly’s 5th Street corridor: primarily African-American on one side, and immigrants from South and Central America on the other. Located in a 3000-square-foot warehouse at 2200 N. 8th Street, building 3A, that Mural Arts helped the artists to locate and rent, it’s half creatively-funded bodega, half arts/community center.
Martinez, a Belize native who grew up in Los Angeles and Detroit before settling in Philadelphia, calls La Frontera a "bridging of two worlds," featuring site-specific community-created artwork telling neighbors’ stories, as well as a unique "bodega" of goods and services, from homemade soaps and foods to services like hairdressing. Wares will be dispensed free to visitors via small grants from Amber Art & Design to participating providers.
"Philadelphia historically is a city built on immigrants," argues Martinez (who earned his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania before helping to found AMBER Art & Design in 2011), and these bodegas or corner stores are often instrumental to the immigrant families who run them, as well as their customers.
La Frontera is especially a nod to the parallel histories of African Americans (who swept north across the country in the Great Migration) and Latino immigrants.
"Within these American cities, these urban areas, you have people with different cultures, but they really do have a shared history," having left one place for another, he explains. "They’re the ones that are bringing life [and] creativity into these cities. They’re the formation of new communities."
But sharing space with limited resources leads to a lot of conflicts, too, and the artists hope diverse community members will find new understanding at La Frontera.
The project won’t end with Open Source in October. The artists hope to continue it for up to two years; the Open Source installation is "kind of a seed project," explains Martinez, "and we’re going to run with it from there."
In the meantime, locals are invited to a free North Philly Block Party outside the warehouse on October 18 (noon to 4 p.m.) featuring food, music and other entertainment.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ernel Martinez, AMBER Art & Design

Give Kids Sight Day lets low-income Philly youngsters see clearly

Every year, kids in the Philadelphia School District get an eyesight screening at school. About 16,000 of them don’t pass the eye exam, says Colleen McCauley, health policy director at Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY).

But the trouble with blurry blackboards doesn’t stop there: About two thirds of those 16,000 kids don’t go on to get the eye care they need, including a full exam from an optician and a pair of glasses. That’s partly because many Philly families still don’t have health insurance or can’t afford the extra expense. Other low-income families may have coverage through Medicaid or CHIP, but aren't aware that these benefits extend to eye care.

These are all reasons PCCY is holding its seventh annual Give Kids Sight Day on October 24, with help from Wills Eye Hospital and the Eagles Youth Partnership (which has operated its Eagles Eye Mobile since 1996).

"Every year, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the children who come to Give Kids Sight Day are uninsured," explains McCauley. While the majority of participants may actually have coverage for eye care, no-one is turned away at the event. "One of the main points of this day is to make sure people understand that insurance is available, and public health insurance covers eye care."

Parents who learn this -- and get help registering for and navigating the system -- are then better equipped to deal with their kids’ healthcare needs overall.

Since its inception, Give Kids Sight Day has helped give totally free eye care to about 5,500 youngsters in Eastern Pennsylvania. Over the years, attendance at this busy healthcare event has ranged from 700 to 1400 people. This year, PCCY expects about 1200, so it’s a good idea to arrive early. There will be translators onsite for up to fifteen different languages, making sure services are accessible to all families.

The whole event takes about 450 volunteers, from the clinicians performing the exams to helpers registering families, escorting them and keeping kids entertained.

McCauley notes a small but important victory in kids' healthcare policy that the event helped bring about: Two years ago, PCCY surveyed all participating parents about why they came to the clinic and found that many families arrived not because they couldn’t get a pair of glasses, but because public health insurance programs in Pennsylvania covered only one pair of glasses per child. When those got broken -- common for any active kid -- families couldn’t afford to replace them.

Lobbying from PCCY and partners resulted in a policy shift at CHIP: The program now covers replacement glasses, when needed.

The day’s services, which will include activities and snacks for participating families (who should be prepared to wait a few hours for their kids’ turn), will be held in three different buildings on the Jefferson Medical Campus in Center City. Doors open at 8:30 a.m., and families will be able to register for services until 2 p.m. The free eyeglasses dispensed through the program will arrive at participating kids' schools a few weeks later.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Colleen McCauley, Public Citizens for Children and Youth


The Magic of Olive Oil: Findings from the Monell Chemical Senses Center

Next time you’re cooking with extra virgin olive oil, go ahead and take a little swig. If it burns your throat or makes you cough, you've got some potent EVOO there.
Connoisseurs have long known that the distinctive irritating sting (almost but not everyone experiences it) is the mark of high-quality olive oil. It is also, according to Gary K. Beauchamp of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, indicative of a naturally occurring compound called "oleocanthal." It's unique to EVOO and appears to be an even more potent anti-inflammatory agent than ibuprofen.
Speaking at a recent session of the University City Science Center Quorum "Lunch for Hungry Minds" program, Beauchamp, emeritus director and president at Monell (the world's only independent nonprofit research institute focused on taste and smell), described how research is substantiating the health benefits of EVOO and, by extension, the Mediterranean diet.
Both ibuprofen and olive oil create a similar burning sensation in the back of the throat. Monell set out to determine what accounts for what Beauchamp calls "the throat localized pungency of EVOO" and whether it has the same pharmacological benefits as the pharmaceutical mainstay.
In 2005, Monell (and simultaneously Unilever) identified oleocanthal, the compound that accounts for the throat sting. This natural anti-inflammatory agent inhibits activity of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, a pharmacological action shared by Advil, Motrin and other over-the-counter ibuprofen drugs.
The health benefits of the oleocanthal in EVOO for those raised eating traditional Mediterranean cuisines -- and those who adopt the so-called Mediterranean diet -- could be considerable. It is well known that the regimen can protect against heart disease. Monell researchers believe that oleocanthal might also be associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and certain cancers.
Further research is needed to determine the connection between the sensory attributes of EVOO (bitter, pungent, fruity, etc.) and the anti-inflammatory effect, and to determine the safety, stability, efficacy and cost of isolating the molecule for commercialization. Also of interest to Monell is why humans have come to appreciate the sting of the oleocanthal in olive oil. (As Beauchamp notes, we’re also the only species that likes hot peppers, whose capsaicin affords its own health benefits.)
For now, what is known is that oils pressed from young olives from an early harvest have the highest levels of oleocanthal and the biggest burn.
Source: Gary K. Beauchamp, Monell Chemical Senses Center
Writer: Elise Vider 

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Local 'Shark Tank' alum shares tips for business success at International House

For the second event of its Entrepreneur Works Presents speaker series, Philly nonprofit Entrepreneur Works is bringing Rebecca Rescate to International HouseShark Tank viewers may remember her from memorable turns during seasons two, three and four; on October 19 from 7 to 9 p.m., she will lead a special presentation and Q&A with aspiring entrepreneurs

A Northeastern University graduate who majored in design with a minor in business, Rescate tells Flying Kite that she wanted to be an art teacher growing up before realizing that product design was her true calling. In the last decade, she's shepherded a diverse stable of products onto the market, including the ones she landed deals for on ABC's Shark Tank. Cat owners across the country are toilet-training their felines with the CitiKitty system, while others are staying cozy with HoodiePillow. (For a look at all of Rescate’s brands and products, check out her website.)

A mother of three kids under 10, the Yardley resident is an advocate for tailoring work life to one's personal schedule. She also emphasizes that developing a successful brand or product doesn’t happen overnight.

"There’s a lot to learn and people don’t have the patience to do the learning," she explains, touting the value of the local library and myriad modern resources aspiring entrepreneurs can access without relying on a specialized degree. "I didn’t launch my second brand until six years into owning my first business."

It took her that much time to master the ins and outs of understanding a market, fine-tuning and promoting a product, and building her brand.

According to Rescate, her October 19 speech will tackle "the reality of entrepreneurship, and the really amazing lifestyle that you can build as an entrepreneur," unshackled from the typical nine-to-five, Monday through Friday schedule. It took her awhile to realize this, she admits, but once she began building her work hours around her life instead of the other way around, she realized "you can use it to your advantage to be more effective than you ever imagined."

For her, that means being "on fire" at four or five AM -- she can get more done in the wee hours of the morning than she ever can in the middle of the afternoon -- and designing the cycle of work on her businesses around the kids’ school year.

"A lot of times as an entrepreneur, you can forget to use those things to your advantage," she insists. "Take advantage of when you’re at your best…I have used the best of me to create the best business."

In other words, "Why are you working when everybody else works? It doesn’t have to be like that."

"I always try to empower people to use what they have at their disposal," she adds. "It’s never lack of education, lack of funding, or lack of connections that keeps you from being successful. How successful you are is determined by you."

The event, sponsored by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, is happening in partnership with International House’s Intercultural Leadership Series, which fosters "insight on the competencies, behaviors and specific skills needed to be an effective leader in an intercultural environment." Advance registration ($20; free for International House members and residents) is required.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rebecca Rescate

The Center for Architecture unveils Kahn Coffee -- designed by you?

This year, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture's DesignPhiladelphia event (October 8 - 16) will feature a small but energizing twist: a contest to create branding for a new coffee blend open to designers of all stripes. The buzzy brew will be available exclusively through the Center and American Institute of Architects (AIA) Philadelphia, courtesy of a new partnership with Philly Fair Trade Roasters.

DesignPhiladelphia attracts over 150 partners each year for public programming on 21st-century design, technology and collaboration in the business world.  

AIA and Center for Architecture Executive Director Rebecca Johnson says the beverage brainstorm came about as the Center worked on some renovations in advance of the AIA Convention in May 2016, which will bring 25,000 architects to our city. The team started thinking of fun ways to improve the space -- a place to grab a local pick-me-up made a lot of sense.

"There’s always meetings here, so we want to have a sense of a hub of activity for the design community," explains Johnson. "Coffee just kept coming up. For the Convention, I thought that would be a really fun thing."

The name Kahn came up due to the Center’s annual Louis Kahn lecture.

"Do people know the significance of Louis Kahn to the entire world?" asks Johnson. "He’s a huge influencer. And he’s a Philadelphia architect."

And then the idea went a step further: Bring the local creative community in on the process. Running during DesignPhiladelphia, the contest is open to everybody: architects, artists, laypeople. The finished branding doesn’t necessarily have to feature Kahn -- if participating designers have another idea of someone to feature, they should go for it.

The deadline for entries is September 30, and the concepts will be on display at the Center during DesignPhiladelphia. The public can vote on their favorite. (For formatting guidelines and other instructions, click here.) Everyone who votes will get a free sample cup of the new coffee.

Beyond simply offering a new amenity for the many people who use the Center, the organizers hope to get the community even more engaged with the interdisciplinary space that also houses the Community Design Collaborative. Johnson hopes Kahn Coffee (or whatever the brand turns out to be) and the contest will be one more way to spark the kind of conversations AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture aim to foster.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rebecca Johnson, the Center for Architecture and AIA Philadelphia

Dear Startups, the Digital Health Accelerator wants you!

The University City Science Center  is now accepting applications for the sophomore class of its Digital Health Accelerator (DHA), a program that helps launch companies in the digital health or health IT sectors.

Need convincing? Consider UE Lifesciences, one of the startups in the inaugural DHA class that wrapped in July. UELS recently announced that it has raised $3 million in venture capital to commercialize its handheld breast health examination tool.

iBreastExam, a painless and radiation-free device, can be easily operated by nurses and social workers to provide standardized breast exams with instant results at the point of care. The product uses patented ceramic sensors invented at Drexel University to detect subtle variations in the stiffness of breast tissue that can point to tumors.

The implications for women in the developing world are enormous. Survival rates for women in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer are 80 to 90 percent compared to less than 50 percent for women in the developing world.

"iBreastExam may provide a fighting chance for them by enabling early detection on a large scale," explains Dr. Ari Brooks, director of the Integrated Breast Center at Pennsylvania Hospital.

According to the Science Center, UELS and the six other companies in the first DHA class went from prototype to commercialization, created 53 new jobs, generated $600,000 in sales and raised almost $4 million in follow-on investment.

For the next class, they're is looking for companies ready to establish operations in Greater Philadelphia with a product or concept ready to be sold -- or that will be ready with DHA support -- on the U.S. healthcare market. The six companies will each receive up to $50,000, office space at the Science Center, professional mentorship, access to investors and introductions to appropriate decision makers in their target markets.

The program will run for one year beginning in February 2016. Applications are due October 26.

Source: University City Science Center and UE Lifesciences
Writer: Elise Vider

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Choose your favorite Philly innovator at October’s Philly Stake dinner

Recently, we took a look at Germantown photographer Tieshka Smith’s project Racism is a Sickness, which will be on display at City Hall on November 2. In the meantime, Smith of is one of eight presenters at the fourteenth Philly Stake dinner, which draws creatively and civically minded folks together to enjoy a meal and hear from some of the city’s most ambitious grassroots innovators.

A member of the worldwide Sunday Soup Network (founded in Chicago), Philly Stake has been operating since 2010. Until 2014, the all-volunteer group did three events per year, but it now focuses on just one. Held picnic-style at beautiful Bartram’s Garden, the shindig will return on Sunday, October 4 from 3 - 6 p.m.

Guests (which usually number about 250; get your $20 tickets in advance online here) come for the Philly Stake-provided dinner and dessert, featuring foods from local suppliers, and stay to hear presentations from artists, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders.

"It’s very simple," says founder Theresa Rose of their guidelines for presenters. "It’s just creative, relevant, community-engaged projects."

After hearing each presentation, diners vote by ballot on which concept they like the best. The first-place winner gets a cash prize of about $1,000 on the spot; the second-place winner nabs around $500 (sometimes when the vote is very close this prize is split between the second and third-place vote-getters).

According to Rose, Philly Stake isn’t a formal nonprofit or an LLC -- it’s a group of volunteers working together to boost Philly's best ideas for community improvement, and all the money gathered from ticket sales goes directly toward the next dinner and the prize money for the presenters.

This year’s dinner has an arts focus, and for the first time Philly Stake has the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance as a promotions partner. (Past Stake winners have run the gamut from urban farming projects to a poetry program for Vietnam veterans to a dance program for Philly seniors. Others victors have included Recycled Artist in Residency, now its own nonprofit, and the West Philly Tool Library.) The other partner is Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sports Management -- it is donating its kitchen for food preparation, and also lending some students to help out at the event. With a core group of just eight volunteers besides Rose (Mira Adornetto, Annemarie Vaeni, Brett Map, Mallary Johnson, Jonathan Wallis, Ruth Scott Blackson, Albert Lee and Emma Jacobs), the events are getting a bit hard to handle without the help of sponsors.

Philly Stake typically narrows its presenters down from a pool of 20 to 30 applicants. Rose calls the event "fuel for the imagination," because in a world full of dire news and fear for the future, Philly Stake reminds its fans that "there’s so many awesome things going on" and also a tangible way to support them.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Theresa Rose, The Philly Stake

Mt. Airy's Make Art, Grow Food connects kids and elders thanks to a new grant program

This summer's news about the impending loss of their lease didn’t deter Mt. Airy Art Garage leaders and supporters from celebrating the September 9 dedication of their new Make Art, Grow Food mural and garden. The project has transformed MAAG's backyard from a blank wall and a tangle of weeds to a vibrant art piece and rows of fresh vegetables.
The project was made possible by a grant of about $5,000 from the East Mt. Airy Neighbors Association (EMAN) Community Fund, administered through the Philadelphia Foundation. It’s EMAN’s first year giving these grants, and Executive Director Elayne Bender says Make Art, Grow Food was a natural fit for their mission.
The mural was developed via a months-long collaboration between a specialized class of autistic sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the nearby Henry H. Houston School, the elderly day residents of Homelink, Inc. (an adult center and MAAG neighbor), and MAAG member artists and educators. According to Bender, this inter-generational aspect in particular appealed to EMAN.
Illinois native Daisy Juarez, a painter and MAAG member, spearheaded the mural portion of the project. The participating kids and elders drew their own designs for the wall, and Juarez worked them all into one piece. The design was projected and traced onto primed paper pieces. The students and adults then painted in segments on tables inside MAAG; these paper segments were then mounted and sealed on the wall.
"It’s the first time we did a project here with this many people," explained MAAG co-founder Arleen Olshan at the dedication, which was attended by the kids, the elders, Bender and representatives of other supporting groups such as Valley Green Bank, Primex and Mt. Airy Animal Hospital.
For the garden portion of the project, a local Home Depot donated plants and gear, including tables and hoses. MAAG volunteers are helping to maintain the space.
The proud kids (along with a few parents) and elders got their first look at the finished mural on the wall at the dedication. Wherever MAAG lands, Slodki promises that the mural will follow, with a large photograph of it converted into a giclée print.
Bender says the project was a particularly emotional one for her: She cried upon seeing the finished mural in August. 

"It’s joy on a wall," she enthuses.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elayne Bender, East Mt. Airy Neighbors

From Fishtown to Society Hill: Local publisher Head and The Hand's big move

The Head & The Hand Press has been building its brand from its home in Frankford Avenue’s Stationery Engravers building for the last three years, but September brought a big change for the Philly publisher.
"What’s amazing about Fishtown is it doesn’t have a university anchor there," says founder Nic Esposito of how the neighborhood matches the company's "scrappy" ethos. "There’s really no big corporation or business district there; it’s just an avenue of artists and young entrepreneurs and older people from the neighborhood who are pretty forward-thinking...People are just remaking that neighborhood building by building. Having that kind of energy and being a part of that was great…That was really the hardest thing about the move: Not so much leaving our space, but leaving the neighborhood."

But despite that neighborhood connection, the many benefits of the press’s September migration to office and events space at Society Hill’s historic Physick House -- through a partnership with the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks -- were impossible to ignore.
The move to Physick House really got going when the late 18th-century site hosted a July fundraising dinner for the company. It went so well that Physick staffers suggested the house could be Head & The Hand’s headquarters. Timing was perfect since the press had just decided to seek a new home -- they received word on July 1 that their rent was about to go up. The lack of renovations to their space and the uncertain fate of the building led the group to give notice on the lease without knowing where they’d land.
The move is benefiting everyone.

"They know they need to get more people in there, a diverse group of people, not just people who usually go to historic houses, or tourists,” argues Esposito. Head & The Hand events and workshops will bring an influx of young, passionate visitors.
And it will be good for the press to be more centrally located, though Esposito still lives in (and loves) Fishtown.
"Fishtown will always be part of the Head & the Hand,” he insists, but “we really have an opportunity to reach so many more writers in Philadelphia…we are a Philadelphia publishing company. We’re here to serve all Philadelphians."
The company is just beginning their outreach to neighboring organizations and businesses in Society Hill, and hoping that new partnerships and programming will bloom.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nic Esposito, The Head & The Hand Press

Keeping Up with the University City Science Center

It should come as no surprise to readers of Flying Kite that a lot of innovation – and news of innovation – comes from the University City Science Center
Now Flying Kite and the Science Center have embarked on a new partnership, a way to keep up with the amazing output generated by this dynamic hub for innovation, entrepreneurship and technology commercialization.
For the next year as "Writer in Residence," I’ll be filing regular dispatches, offering an in-depth look at the West Philly institution's scientists, entrepreneurs, startups, and established companies, along with the work it does to move technology out of the lab and into the marketplace.
Founded in 1963, the Science Center is the oldest and largest urban research park in the United States. In service of its goal -- "to inspire a community of knowledge, spark the spirit of enterprise, and help expand and strengthen the Philadelphia’s region’s technology sector" – the campus offers an array of services including lab and office space, business incubation, support services and programming for entrepreneurs.
A few numbers reflect the magnitude of the Science Center’s impact on the region:
  • The Science Center has 17 buildings – and is fast growing – at its 17-acre West Philadelphia campus.
  • 8,000 people come to work at the Science Center every day.
  • More than 350 companies have "graduated" since 1963.
  • 93 graduate companies located in Greater Philadelphia employ 15,000 people.
  • Graduate and current incubator companies generate $9.4 billion in annual regional economic impact.
  • The Science Center’s 31 nonprofit shareholders include many of the region’s leading colleges, universities, hospitals and research institutions.
Over the next year, Flying Kite will report on many aspects of the Science Center’s programs and resources. For now, a quick primer:
  • The Port Business Incubators flexibly accommodate the changing needs of emerging, fast-growth life sciences, physical sciences and digital technology companies. The Global Soft Landing Program fosters international business in the U.S. by helping global companies establish a foothold in local life sciences and IT markets. The Digital Health Accelerator (DHA) supports early-stage digital health companies with funding, office space, professional mentorship and introductions to key stakeholders in the region.
  • The QED Proof-of-Concept Program supports proof-of-concept work in early-stage life science and health technologies with commercial potential. 
  • Quorum unites the region’s entrepreneurial and innovation communities through a central gathering space on the Science Center campus.
  • FirstHand adds art to the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) to create project-based STEAM programs and workshops that empower individuals and convene communities around creative applications of technology.
  • The Innovation Center @3401 is a flexible workspace for startups.
  • Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia supports student entrepreneurship in the Greater Philadelphia region through a partnership between Philadelphia University, Temple University and the Science Center. 
So watch this space and stay abreast as the Science Center takes Philadelphia innovators "from idea to IPO."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Making great food products while combating poverty in southeastern Pennsylvania

Lancaster entrepreneur Charlie Crystle, whose food products are finding an enthusiastic audience in Greater Philadelphia, has a specific philosophy on the trouble with America’s economy.

According to the Lancaster Food Company CEO, what we need is "an effort to make jobs that meet people where they are, rather than where we want them to be." Politicians and civic leaders talk a lot about job training, but especially in a city like Lancaster -- which has a 30 percent poverty rate -- this falls short. Focusing on job training programs rather than immediately accessible jobs "continues to push the responsibility for unemployment onto the unemployed…if we don’t do something to meet them halfway, or all the way, [they] will never have decent employment," he argues.

Hiring people in poverty with a good living wage is a part of his company's mission. Crystle founded the company alongside his childhood friend Craig Lauer, who serves as chief product officer, in 2014. After launching and then exiting two software startups, living coast-to-coast and working in Central America with a program for street kids, Crystle felt a strong desire to create a company at home with a social as well as an economic impact.

Lancaster Food Company specializes in organic and sustainably sourced breads, spreads, salsas and jams, including sandwich rye and cinnamon raisin swirl bread, sunflower seed spreads, and limited-edition small-batch toppings from locally grown ingredients such as golden orange tomato salsa and organic strawberry jam. A Lancaster Heritage Grain bread is also on the way this fall.

While their products are handmade, Crystle insists Lancaster Food Company is already a scalable business -- their target market ranges from Washington, D.C., to the New York metro area, with a large presence in Philly. Currently, you can find their products at Mariposa and Weavers Way food co-ops, Reading Terminal Market, area Shop-Rites and the Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA. They just closed an exciting deal with five Wegman’s stores in Southeastern PA, and have their sights set on Whole Foods; look for their products on the shelves of a location in Wayne soon.

That increased reach means more room to advance the company’s social philosophy: hiring people in poverty struggling to find jobs. The company was launched with "a demand for jobs that require relatively low skills, and could meet people where they are in terms of their education, work history or legal background," explains Crystle, something that was difficult to achieve with his prior work in tech startups. "We’re trying to scale so that we can hire hundreds of people, not dozens."

He’s also adamant about the value of supporting local businesses and enjoys being able to tap into the vibrant agriculture of the Lancaster area.

"Every dollar that we spend locally has…three times the impact on our local economy" as money spent on goods from corporations in faraway states, he explains. That adds up to a business as committed to combating poverty as it is to pleasing customers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Charlie Crystle, Lancaster Food Company


A Flying Kite guide to the Fringe Festival

Feeling a little overwhelmed by the Fringe Festival website or catalog? When you count FringeArts’ "curated" collection of shows, the theatrical free-for-all by neighborhood and this year’s brand-new free online experience Digital Fringe, there are 140 shows in all.

The festival is underway September 3 - 19. Here are some experiences Flying Kite readers shouldn't miss.

Outside Sound Concert and Art Gallery promises to be an interesting and accessible evening. Happening September 16 at the Central Branch of the Free Library, this free "live music and art event" features pieces by artists with disabilities and live original music inspired by artwork.

Looking for more music? Hit up Philadelphia Opera Collective’s Jump the Moon ($20). It’s about a true-life late 19th-century "harem" of women at Harvard who "discovered and catalogued more stars than anyone before or since." The piece is an "experimental opera" mashup of science, music and the cosmos that invites you to "leave your orbit." It’s coming to the Skybox at the Adrienne in Center City September 16-19.

For another interdisciplinary experience, consider Soldier Bear ($5) from Leila and Pantea Productions. Funded by the Jim Henson Foundation, the show is based on the true story of a Polish WWII soldier who adopts an orphaned bear cub. It promises "puppetry, dance, shadow theater and animation combined," and is coming to the Mainstage at Center City’s Plays & Players Theatre September 9-19.

Willing to step outside for another animal-themed show? At The Renegade Company’s Damned Dirty Apes ($20), the audience will take a "theatrical expedition" of FDR Park incorporating three classic films: Planet of the Apes, Tarzan the Ape Man and King Kong. The description warns: "Wear comfortable shoes, prepare to get dirty, and don’t stray from the path." It’s running September 9-19.

If you like the interactive element but want to stay indoors, Linda Dubin Garfield’s FAMILY: Portraits and Stories offers an "interactive mixed media Fringe Installation." The show is free, and art materials for telling your own story are supplied to everyone who comes; donations go to Family Support Services. It’s happening September 13, noon - 2 p.m. at the Book Trader in Old City.

If you’re interested in technology, past and present, check out Brian Shapiro's A Few Thousand Upgrades Later ($15). This show originally premiered in 1995, predicting how "computers would impact human interaction." After twenty years, what did it get right? Shapiro revisits the work to take a look. It’s coming to Fairmount’s London Grill through September 18.

Tangle Movement Arts is a company doing some really interesting work around town: This all-female circus/acrobat troupe devises performances built around the feminine and queer experience. They’re premiering The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct ($20) which uses a "kinetic cityscape" of ropes and silks to fathom "life’s unspoken rules and expectations." The show is part of the Fishtown/Kensington Fringe at Philadelphia Soundstages, September 10-12.

Finally, for a one-night fest-within-a-fest check out Alternative Theatre Festival 2015 ($5), an annual event hosted by University of Pennsylvania's iNtuitions Experimental Theatre. Each student-written, acted and directed piece "features some sort of experiment or new and different idea." It’s coming to West Philly’s Platt Performing Arts House on September 12.

For the full Fringe line-up, plus dates and times, visit FringeArts online.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: FringeArts


New dollars for WINS send Philly's science-loving girls across the world

Since 1982, The Academy of Natural Science's Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program has been making science exciting and accessible to Philly’s high-school girls. Now, Academy Vice President of Education Jacquie Genovesi is excited to announce that the program has finally been recognized with a national award.

Flying Kite recently took a look at WINS' exchange program, which welcomed youth from Mongolia to Philadelphia, and then organized a reciprocal trip for Philly WINS girls to Asia to study ecology and the impact of climate change on different sides of the world.

In August, the WINS E-STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math through "projects involving real environmental problems") received a $50,000 Innovative Education Award, given through a partnership with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Genovesi, who traveled to the UL headquarters in Chicago in early August to receive the Academy’s second-place award and network with other honorees, says the contest drew almost 150 applications from 40 states and three Canadian provinces.

The new dollars will boost the WINS program by opening up paid internships and field experience for WINS girls.

"We actually just put out a call to all of our scientists, saying, 'Ok, what kind of fun projects do you have coming up in the next  year?'" says Genovesi. Internships could last a summer or -- depending on where they’re located and cooperation from the student’s school -- up to eight months, in the lab and in the field.

"They could be almost anywhere," she adds. The Academy has scientists working in the Greater Philadelphia area, but there are also researchers stationed in Brazil, Vietnam, Jamaica and Mongolia.

"Not only is it about STEM and about young women, but it’s about supporting the entire person," muses Genovesi. The WINS program stands out among other STEM programs, which often recruit kids who are acing their classes, love science and are already college-bound. WINS instead focuses on "in-between" students who may be interested in science, but don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives and aren’t at the top of the class. Many come from low-income households. "We give them that extra boost to say, you know what, anybody can do science…And not only can you do science, but you can stay in school, you can go to college, and you can really succeed in life."

“We can’t afford to throw away any creative youth," she adds, especially the girls, who are "so underrepresented" in these fields.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jacquie Genovesi, The Academy of Natural Sciences

Community funding propels G-Town Radio from the internet to the airwaves

G-Town Radio station manager Jim Bear says that though it might not yet be visible to the public, big changes are underway for Germantown’s Internet radio station, which at its highest listenership has over 15,000 people tuning in worldwide.

The major news broke in January, when the station got its permit from the FCC to become a Low Power FM radio station -- new federal legislation gave non-commercial neighborhood groups access to low-power airwaves previously denied them in favor of major broadcasting frequencies.

"To serve the community as best we can, being on the radio allows us to do that much better than we can online,” explains Bear who is still "a big believer" in Internet radio. "I love the medium. I love what you can do with it, but at the same time, there are real limitations to who you can expect to reach. I think that would be true anywhere, but I think it’s even more evident in a community like Germantown."

In many neighborhoods, the digital divide is still very real. Unlike Internet access, which can be costly and require certain skills to tune in, radio is still a ubiquitous and easily accessible medium, free for everyone with a car or a radio in the home. (The station will continue to broadcast online as well.)

With an existing studio and programming, G-town Radio (which will share airtime with Germantown United CDC and Germantown Life Enrichment Center) is ahead of some nascent LPFM stations who must build their presence from the ground up.

Right now, Bear is looking into locations and lease agreements with local property owners who might be able to host a radio antenna on the roof. The studio space itself won’t require much additional equipment: the primary expense of shifting to LPFM will be that new transmission equipment, including the gear that beams the audio from the studio to the tower.

To that end, G-Town Radio has launched a "Drive for the Sky" crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo, hoping to raise $5,000 by October 3. That will cover the initial costs of equipment and installation, and possibly the first few months of rent for the antenna location.

"We want to make sure we get to the air… [and] demonstrate our worth, and hopefully when we’re doing that, people will recognize the value of community radio, and give us access to a larger pool of donors and supporters and listeners," enthuses Bear.

He hopes the new G-town Radio signal -- available at 92.9 FM -- will hit the airwaves as soon as possible: They’re on an FCC-administered deadline requiring completion of LPFM construction within 18 months of receiving the permit, which means launching by next summer at the latest. The signal is expected to reach what Bear calls "greater Northwest Philadelphia," including Germantown, East Falls, Nicetown, Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane. (Depending on location and the density of area buildings, LPFM signals typically have a three to five mile radius.)

"A lot of it’s behind the scenes so there’s not much to see," says Bear of the LPFM progress so far, "but we’re actively working on it and we’re still moving forward."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jim Bear, G-Town Radio

Scientist of the Year nominee grapples with rehab robots at GRASP

Dr. Michelle Johnson isn’t a Philadelphia native – she’s been heading up the new Rehabilitation Robotics Lab out of University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP (general robotics, automation, sensing & perception) laboratory for only about two years – so when she heard she’d been nominated for Scientist of the Year in the Philadelphia Geek Awards, she didn’t know what to think.

"Since I’m new to Philadelphia, I didn’t know what it meant," she explains. "I’m like, 'What? Is that a good thing?'"

In Philadelphia, also known as the "eds and meds" capital of the U.S., it definitely is. But in the truest geek fashion, Johnson wasn’t even able to make it to the August 15 ceremony at the Academy of Natural Sciences. She spoke to Flying Kite about her recent work from Singapore, where she and her Penn team were presenting at the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics, before jaunting to Botswana for some more research.

The Jamaican-born Johnson grew up in New York and received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford with an emphasis in robotics, design and mechatronics. (Don’t know what mechatronics is? It’s a combination of mechanical engineering, computing and electronics to help us discover and develop new manufacturing techniques.)

In 2013, Johnson moved her lab from its original location in the medical college of Wisconsin’s Marquette University to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, taking up a faculty position at Penn.

Johnson acknowledges that her focus -- robots that assist in rehabilitation and treatment for people dealing with things such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other problems -- is a very narrow slice of a rapidly expanding field, one that has been around only for the last 25 years or so.

Engineers like Johnson and her team at Penn work closely with neuroscientists. Neuroplasticity is the name of the game: the brain’s ability to re-wire and reroute itself after an injury. It's crucial in fields such as prosthetics -- where patients’ brains learn to interact with robotic devices that restore the body’s function -- or to bolster limbs weakened from conditions like MS.

With cutting-edge technologies like EEGs and functional MRIs revealing our neurons’ "structural connectivity," they're working not just to understand the normal brain, but also to piece together what happens when the brain becomes damaged, and develop technology to pair with our bodies in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago.

Things like Ekso Bionics, which help people with spinal cord injuries to walk again, get a lot of press, but Johnson also points to work like functional electrical stimulation and implanted electrodes as recent major advances in rehab, along with rehabilitative robotic devices that enable injured patients to continue crucial exercise regimens at home for a much longer time than is feasible in hospital settings. Wearable sensors, especially those invisibly embedded in textiles (with myriad applications for remote monitoring of patients), are also part of the next big wave of medical robotics, even if it’s not widely commercialized yet.

Though proud of her recent nomination, Johnson stresses that science is a team sport.

"Oftentimes when you get the accolade, you forget all the students and the support staff that really are critical to this process," she insists. "I want to really make clear that nothing can happen without that team…I want to congratulate my team for working hard and doing good research."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Johnson, Ph.D., Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at Penn
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