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A look at how Columbus SOUP has influenced social change over past 6 years

J.R. McMillan

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Columbus SOUP started as a simple concept, borrowed as great ideas often are. Audiences come together to share bowls of soup from local restaurants, listen to pitches from a collection of community advocates, everyone votes with their signature green spoons for the project they want to fund, and the ones with the most votes receive a small grant. Imagine Kickstarter with a supper club spin meets Shark Tank for social change.

“It really struck a chord with me, as something we could pull off, and that would really resonate with the Columbus community,” explained Liz Martin, executive director of Columbus SOUP. “Our city is really receptive to people with a passion for new ideas.”

Introduced through a friend to earlier efforts in Illinois and Michigan, Martin connected a cadre of folks involved in various local community-building efforts over tea on a cold winter’s day to see whether there were enough combined skills and bandwidth to launch a similar SOUP in Central Ohio. Six months later, on June 9, 2013, Columbus SOUP hosted its first event, amid more than a little uncertainty.

“We thought if 35 people showed up, it would be a success. We reached out to people we thought might be interested and received six applications,” she recalled. “All of them were invited to pitch, and we packed the house with more than 100 people at Brothers Drake.”

The idea undeniably resonated and grew to nearly two dozen events in the years that followed—and nearly $60k in grants so far. But it also offered the invaluable experience of distilling an idea down to its essence, then selling it to an audience of strangers with a succinct and inspiring pitch.

“The heart of SOUP nationwide is to fund projects that may not be eligible for traditional funding. These micro- grants give people exactly what they need to achieve something small, yet impactful, in their communities,” Martin explained. “Most of us grew up in an age of giant checks where it seemed like only the wealthy could be philanthropic. SOUP brings philanthropy down to a level where anyone can make a difference.”

Themes quickly became a concept unique to Columbus SOUP. Chicago’s version was created to support arts and culture, while Detroit’s was adapted to serve social justice. Columbus SOUP is both, yet neither, providing access and an audience to a variety of community-led projects that don’t always fit easily into obvious boxes.

Also there since the start is Bryant Miller, director of Columbus SOUP, and among the first folks Martin recruited to the cause. His infectious enthusiasm and knack for putting everyone at ease was also the perfect match as event host, welcoming new and familiar faces, ensuring presentations run smoothly, and sharing the results of voting in a way that recognizes everyone’s efforts—not just those who receive funding at the end of the evening.

“The magic of Columbus SOUP is that it’s very different than any similar organization because we allowed it to morph into what Columbus needs. We just tend to say yes to a lot of things,” Miller revealed. “When we were at the Idea Foundry a couple of years ago, there were some folks who could help them host an event for teenagers, and we had never been to one before who asked us afterward if we could help them host an event for teenagers, and we said ‘YES!’ It was an event that reached an audience we hadn’t before.SOUP is about saying yes, giving people a chance, and not trying to put everything in the same box.”

Crowdfunding and collective philanthropy only seem like a novel idea inspired by the internet. But the notion of ordinary folks doing extraordinary things with a humble investment is hardly new. Back in 1938, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was still a small and obscure organization that needed a boost, even in the midst of a polio epidemic. That’s when radio and film comedian Eddie Cantor asked Americans from all walks to send 10 cents to the organization’s founder, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The response was unprecedented, with tens of thousands of letters pouring into the White House the week of FDR’s birthday—just as Cantor requested when he coined the phrase, the “March of Dimes.”

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The indelible idea stuck, eventually becoming the name of the organization now focused on providing a healthy start for new mothers and their infants. That sounds like a tall order, but so too was curing polio with pocket change.

Without hyperbole, Columbus SOUP is not so different, offering a solid start to ambitious initiatives with a donation many of us have in our wallets, pooled together to achieve something no one could do alone. SOUP has likewise accomplished its original goal to inspire grassroots ideas and small-scale investment, which is why the next Columbus SOUP will be the last, putting a proverbial lid on the concept and making room for what’s next.

“It’s easy to get hung up on the idea, and many do, that organizations need to go on forever to be significant, and I just don’t believe it. I tend to think of it like a story. What story did we set out to tell? We wanted to share philanthropy in a completely different way,” Miller explained. “We loved the concept behind micro-grants, because they create the opportunity to be the very first group of people to believe in an idea. We feel really good about what we’ve achieved and have accomplished everything we wanted to do. That’s our story.”

Everyone has watched a television series or film franchise that effectively ended long before it was over. Columbus SOUP didn’t want to make that mistake by presuming everything worthwhile extends indefinitely. But they’re really only half right. If every event was like a pebble thrown into a pond, the ripples continue to make waves that grow, intersect, and change shape long after the stones were cast. Quantifying the lasting impact six years of SOUPs have had on Columbus is impossible, because the ripples just keep going.

“I think about how distraught everyone was when Independents’ Day ended. All of that energy didn’t go away, now it just goes somewhere else,” he noted. “When you look at all of the new events and festivals inspired by Independents Day that only started after it ended, you can still see the impact.”

The final event, billed as “SOUP’s Last Hurrah” was originally set for November. But an accidental scheduling snafu afforded the opportunity to extend the application deadline, ensuring everyone from presenters to donors won’t miss their chance to celebrate, say goodbye, and raise their spoons one last time.

“We decided the final Columbus SOUP should end how it started, without a theme. We’ve had projects reach out to us that never quite fit into one of our recurring events or common categories,“ Martin explained. “It’s a chance for all of those ideas to finally be heard. This will be the last Columbus SOUP, but it’s still the beginning of something new.”

For details on Columbus SOUP’s final event, or to apply to pitch your idea, visit columbussoup.org

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Sports

Columbus’s John Tortorella Coach of the Year finalist

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Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella / photo by Lori Schmidt

The NHL has announced that Columbus Blue Jackets head man John Tortorella is a finalist for the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award. If he beats out Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins and Alain Vigneault of the Philadelphia Flyers, it will be the third time Tortorella has taken home the honor. 

He’s been a finalist for the award four times.

Not many seasons have been like this one, though. 

Before COVID-19 interrupted the Blue Jackets season, Columbus went 33-22-15 despite losing 419 man games to injury. 

Among those missing significant time for the Blue Jackets: last year’s leading goal scorer (Cam Atkinson), the team’s All-Star defenseman (Seth Jones), and All-Star goaltender (Joonas Korpisalo). 

Even as players fell to injury, the team rose to ninth place in the Eastern Conference, which qualified them for the modified postseason, which is scheduled for next month.

Columbus will face Toronto in Toronto for a best-of-five Stanley Cup Playoff qualifying round, the dates for the first games of which are set.

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Prior to that, Columbus will face Boston July 30 at 7 p.m. in an exhibition game. 

It won’t be long after that, Tortorella will learn if he is the NHL’s coach of the year. The winners of this year’s NHL honors will be revealed during the Conference Finals.

Hear captain Nick Foligno's thoughts on the Stanley Cup Playoffs below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6OyEsL0h68
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Ohio high school fall sports are on…for now

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Interim Executive Director of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Bob Goldring today announced that, as of now, fall sports are going ahead as scheduled. The decision as to whether to cancel play over COVID-19 concerns will be left up to individual schools. 

Goldring added that this could easily change. He talked about the fact that the governor might make a ruling that affects the ability of athletes, particularly those in contact sports, to play. 

There has been some discussion of pushing back the start date of sports in which the most contact occurs, particularly after This Week Sports reported an unknown number of local high school football coaches had suggested moving football to the spring, while having baseball staged in the fall.

Goldring did admit they have been looking at options and said they would be naive not to do so, especially because 80 percent of their revenue comes from ticket sales. Without games being played, tough decisions will certainly have to be made. 

 “The fiscal part of things is very much on my radar,” Goldring said. 

As to whether fans would actually be able to buy tickets and attend games if they do go ahead? Goldring said that, too, is ultimately a local matter. 

OHSAA may cut the minimum number of games a football team is required to play to qualify for the playoffs to account for the possibility of only some games being canceled. 

The board of directors is also still pondering the question of whether athletes can take the field if they are relying on virtual learning and aren’t allowed into the classroom. 

Right now, though, they are proceeding as if the fall season will kick off Aug. 1.

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Buckeyes back to work

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Ohio State athletics is permitting athletes from seven different sports to resume voluntary workouts after a pause due to an outbreak of COVID-19. 

Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade heads into a workout

The university said that all athletes were tested Monday before determining that the resumption was safe. 

“These young people come from across the nation and the world to be part of our Ohio State family, and we do everything we can to create a safe, healthy environment so that they have a chance to study and compete,” said Athletics Director Gene Smith. “Our medical team will continue to evaluate, and we will share decisions as we move forward.”

The Buckeyes have refused to say how many athletes have tested positive, but longtime beat reporter Tim May had said it was fewer than ten. 

OSU teams with athletes currently working out on campus are football, men’s and women’s basketball, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

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