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Awesome Tallahassee

by Zachary Caronna | Photography by Dave Barfield

There are two types of people in this world: dreamers and doers.

It’s an age-old saying which splits people into two factions: those that aspire to do great things, and those that achieve great things. What some people often overlook is that doers are dreamers that have simply sought to realize their ambitions by refining their skills and staying persistent in the face of adversity.

One of the most powerful skills a person can possess is the ability to present and materialize their ideas. The world is saturated with dreamers, but many of them never reveal themselves as doers because of their inability to convey these ideas in a gripping manner. Fortunately, it truly is more skill than talent, meaning a little practice and a lot of heart can go a long way towards building this foundation for success.

Now imagine: you have a dream of starting up a project, in this case an event set up by a nonprofit organization which allows artists to work on their entrepreneurial skills by pitching their art to a crowd against other artists. You have a venue in mind, you have the manpower in place, and a willing audience showing interest in attending your first post-inaugural event – everything except the money to pay the venue and your workers. What is the next course of action? For a vast number of dreamers, the primary obstacle hindering their conversion from potential to actual doer is a lack of funding. It’s a painful situation to be in: knowing the project can easily become self-sustaining once it’s set in motion, but not having the capital necessary to get it moving.

Luckily for Qultur and Nicklaus Matos – the real nonprofit organization described above and its co-founder pitching the idea at the time of this article’s composition in April – there is somewhere you can go to not only make your ideas heard, but also to acquire a pocketful of startup change.

Awesome Tallahassee is a chapter of The Awesome Foundation, an international community founded in 2009 which provides grants to people and organizations that benefit the culture of a city but ordinarily would experience difficulty receiving funds for their projects. This branch has been granting life to peoples’ dreams since February of 2015, when they provided a local artist with $1,000 to provide every nursing home in Tallahassee with a homemade bird feeder which doubles as an impressive work of aesthetic beauty. The criterion for application is almost nonexistent, and winners can be found in almost any industry regardless of whether they’re funding an animal shelter’s quest to find homes for puppies and kittens, organizing events at local high schools in which officers educate the students in how to respond to the police when approached, or adding to the artistic expression of the community of an aspiring artist. There’s not a lot tying together the winners of Awesome Tallahassee’s grants besides the fact that each and every one truly loves Tallahassee.

This city has provided some amazing career opportunities for each of the ten trustees which comprise the organization, whose occupations range from CEOs of media and communications agencies to city legislators. Awesome Tallahassee is simply their way of returning the favor. “We all live here, some of us have lived here our whole lives,” explains Kevin Cate, head of the nationally-acclaimed Kevin Cate Communications. Erin Vansickle, Director of External Affairs for Volunteer Florida, agrees: “There’s diversity among us politically, and what we do professionally, but there is a singular passion for Tallahassee, whether it’s people that have young kids or don’t have kids at all, people that are working private industry vs. nonprofit.” The myriad of perspectives means that every applicant has a chance having their work appreciated. Additionally, the reward is the same each month. No winner is awarded more or less than $1,000 – $100 from each trustee – with no stipulations regarding how the money is to be used.

For many of us, $1,000 may not seem like enough money to cover the cost of catapulting our dreams headlong into fruition, and it’s not supposed to be. The applicants selected are those who have already put in the effort to plan out and set up their paths to success. These people are doers who have disregarded financial barriers. Nicklaus and Qultur had already proven that Sell It Tallahassee would, in all likelihood, be a self-sustaining enterprise. The money is important to these organizations not simply because of what it can buy, but because of what it represents. When a congregation of some of the city’s brightest agrees that you have the opportunity to improve its culture, that your dreams are not only achievable but awesome, it is no small victory.

“I just went in there thinking if even one person likes it, that’d be great. But this is obviously better,” insists Nicklaus, who walked out of Domi Station – the location of this particular Awesome Foundation congregation – with a check for one grand to use for Qultur. Their idea, Sell It Tallahassee, is designed to help artists with minimal experience in rhetoric pitch their ideas. In seeking validation and financial security from a well-connected group of doers, Nicklaus has provided an excellent example for the artists he works with of what is possible when what Sell It’s teachings are put to use. Make no mistake, no matter how confident or experienced a speaker you are, presenting an idea to people who can determine the direction of something dear to your heart is never easy. But for Nicklaus, it’s an instance where facing your fears puts you in a better position to handle any of life’s challenges. “Just putting yourself out there, especially when it’s for something you’re really passionate for, is a valuable experience. If you can get comfortable with that, you can do anything.”

No matter what kind of dreams you have, this is sage advice for those hoping to really do something.

Have an idea to make Tallahassee awesome? Apply for your own $1,000 grant at www.awesomefoundation.org.

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