Meet the Atomic® Grant recipients!

Round 1 – Colombian Influence

Erika Poesch and Resa Schier, Minneapolis, MN

A two-woman team that has started a podcast series about Colombia and adoption after they discovered they were adopted from the same orphanage in Bogota. Their hope is to ultimately grow their offering beyond the podcast to family services and travel assistance. Listen and subscribe to their podcast here!

The word “adoption” can have a negative connotation to some, and we wish to not only change that, but explore why. The presence of this topic in mainstream media is another step for our world to be open and understanding. Adoption also expands the idea of privilege to another demographic. When the two of us met in 2018, it was quickly discovered that we were both not only adoptees, but had been adopted from the same orphanage in Bogota, Colombia.

Upon meeting, the feeling of sharing emotions, hardships, joys, and challenges led us to a content mindset that we normally don’t experience. The emotional impact that adoption has had on our lives is just a small sliver of the possibilities for other adult adoptees, and it’s very important for us to include as many stories as possible.

Creating an accepting community where everyone is proud of where they come from, and feel supported by people like them is our purpose.”

Round 2 – Love for Words

CaTyra Polland, Rochester, NY

CaTyra is CEO of Love for Words, an editing boutique, so she knows the power that books and reading can have on making change happen to individuals and communities. CaTyra plans to use her grant to help children develop a love for reading through book donations, a “read-a-thon” and writing sponsorships.

“The books I am donating to local elementary schools feature characters who look like the students. Black students deserve to read stories they can relate to, appreciate, and enjoy. I remember being a girl in school and not finding many books that included characters that I was able to connect with. I want to change the narrative for today's youth. It warms my heart to know I can add one more book to the collection of students' personal libraries.”

Round 3 – Bella Nava Creations

Brandie Itman, Shakopee, MN.

Brandie is growing a thriving baking business from her home, a venture that started after she made a birthday cake for a friend.

Brandie discovered a real passion for not only baking, but bringing people together through food and celebration. When adversity hit her family, she realized how much she cared about it, and what it took to build.

Brandie plans to invest her grant into building a community for baking to help others, and an upgrade to her tech equipment that captures her creative process.

Round  4– Caregivers Connect

Genevieve Cornish, Lakeville MN

Genevieve Cornish is the latest recipient of an Atomic® Grant – she and partner Gena Patrella have started a new community – Caregivers Connect – which supports families and working professionals who are caring for a child or adult with unique medical, intellectual, physical, emotional or behavioral challenges.

Round 5

Vicky Harrison

Vicky intends to invest her Atomic® Grant towards a specialized exercise certification to begin her passion — helping others obtain the health benefits of healthy weight loss. With this certification she intends to deliver specialized fitness instruction to help those struggling with obesity or those in cancer rehabilitation.

Having lost nearly 300 lbs herself, Vicky understands the vast benefits physical and mental wellbeing can create. Her goal is to help others work towards improving their quality of life just as she did.

Round 6 – Birth With Dignity

Sue Steen and Lynn Zdechlik

Sue Steen and her business partner Lynn Zdechlik are co-founders Birth With Dignity, an incredible organization that is working with midwives in Uganda to decrease neonatal and maternal deaths.

Between them, Sue and Lynn are nursing professors, maternal/child health nurses and nurse-midwives and have huge passion for helping this community, and Covid - with its lockdown of Uganda's borders - has made it so difficult to do so. We are hoping that the $1500 cash from this grant and the coaching from Keystone Group International team will help with their goals.

“Passion Collective awarded Birth with Dignity a grant in July. We were thrilled to receive it and their support. Besides the financial grant, Passion Collective also allowed us to meet with Chelsea from Keystone Group International who has given us 6 sessions in making Birth with Dignity stronger on many fronts. As nurses, having a consultant who thinks more about business, processes and structures has been so helpful.”


Round 7 – Rwanwanja Dance Studio

Oliva Nalwadda

Oliva Nalwadda is an academic, founder of humanitarian organization Uzima Ari Uganda and a youth worker. She lives in Uganda and wants to start a dance studio/class for children in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Western Uganda. This will be an open access dance studio where refugee children aged (5-14 years) can gather to showcase their dance skills and learn about other cultures through dances and contemporary poetry. Dance classes will be integrated with mental health counseling sessions for refugee children identified with depression. This grant would help Oliva to buy dance and music equipment, and the coaching will help her develop her management skills.

Round 8

Sharmila Rao Thakkar

Sharmila Rao Thakkar is a philanthropy consultant from Staten Island, NY who is finding herself at a crossroads for how to take her work forward. She knows she can help many groups of people, but she needs clarity and direction to do so.

Sharmila says: "There is nothing more fulfilling than watching the people I am honored to work with discover their own passions and put their visions into action. To clarify my own direction and align that with the work I do out in the world would no doubt benefit me but most certainly I believe will help me more intentionally and deeply meet the needs of those individuals and the communities I work with."

Round 9

Qiana Hicks

Qiana Hicks is highly purpose-driven in her goal to help break generational cycles of poverty. Qiana is on a mission to increase high school graduation rates and post-secondary education attainment among youth in disparate communities. This grant will help her grow her training business, Pathway Forward. The coaching provided with this grant will help her think beyond her immediate vision to a longer-term plan.

Round 10

Tetiana Pylypchuk

Tetiana created an educational platform for women that focuses on mental health and personal development, with a mission to inspire and empower Ukrainian women to build the lives they want.

She will use the grant to design and produce a set of cups for the community as a small sign of support, and the coaching would help her better understand the financials and operations of her growing community.

Learn more here (the website is in Ukrainian)

Round 11

Olka Forster

Olka is a first-generation beekeeper, passionate about turning to nature as a solution to climate change. As a Black beekeeper, she strives to create representation in this field and teach other marginalized communities about bees and the solutions they can bring.

With the Atomic Grant, Olka will be able to further educate herself and other women through classes and equipment. The coaching will also provide her with knowledge on how to monetize and grow her passion to a higher professional level.

Learn more about Olka here.

Round 12

Shelby Kretz

Ohio-based Shelby took her background working in education and noticed that many teachers and parents found it difficult to speak to their students and children about social justice issues. If they weren't learning about it in a safe setting, they would instead develop it through the news and social media.

That’s why she created Little Justice Leaders, a monthly subscription learning kit for teachers to integrate into their curriculum by providing content and resources to help children develop their own opinions about these issues.

Shelby would use her grant to fund their curriculum developer and the coaching sessions to learn how to grow as a first-time business owner.

Learn more here.

Round 13

Wanda Martin

Pennsylvania-based Wanda is passionate about helping to solve gun violence.

After losing her niece to gun violence, she decided to design a Goal Setting Action Guide and curriculum, “Have Goals Not Guns”, to encourage and educate youth to utilize goal setting to create a healthy career path. Wanda will use the grant award to fund the initial phase of her “Goals not Guns” youth program. The coaching from Keystone Group International will help her to learn how to build a social media strategy and a successful team.

Learn more here.

Round 14

Karima Ladhani

After realizing how many maternal and child deaths in South Asia were preventable, and the tragic death of her cousin in childbirth, D.C.-based Karima started Barakat Bundle, a nonprofit that provides essential health services to mothers and newborns.

To fund this - and to deepen her passion for women's wellness - Karima created a pajama collection, Kulsum, with every purchase supporting the cause. Karima would use the grant to set up a pre-launch campaign and use the coaching sessions to build effective mentorship and culture strategies.

Learn more here.

Round 15

Michelle Pieper

Michelle, a Hawaiian language teacher in O'ahu, was moved to act after noticing her school's dramatic increase in cafeteria food waste. She co-created The Scrappahz Union 96792, an initiative to start repurposing compost and cardboard reuse.

With the help of educators who saw composting as an extension of the school's mission to cultivate service-learning opportunities rooted in Hawaiian values, Michelle learned the art of creating “bokashi buckets”.

She then created a nonprofit, Hānai Kaiāulu, that funds in-class bokashi work, cardboard shredding, and extracurricular outreach.

Michelle will invest her Atomic® Grant in off-island travel to expand community workshops for schools and organizations.

Learn more here.

Round 16

Maureen Akorsong Ashu Ayem

Maureen Akorsong's passion is rooted in creating opportunities for the youth of Cameroon, Africa.

After years of conflict, and with high unemployment rates, digital skills are crucial for Cameroon's young people to realize thriving lives. With her organization Amaan Africa, Maureen Akorsong provides essential training in graphic design and social media.

This Atomic® Grant will train 20 Cameroonian youths and help meet Maureen Akorsong's goal of empowering 10,000 young people with digital skills by 2023.

Learn more here.

Thank you to our Grant sponsors, Atomic Data and Keystone Group International.