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Good morning, and thanks for joining us for our Sense of Community series. I’m Jennifer Moore, and I’ve come down to Askinosie Chocolate on Commercial Street in Springfield, where I’m about to talk to Shawn Askinosie, who used to be a criminal defense attorney, and decided to throw in the towel one day and become a chocolatier.
Askinosie: The idea to leave the law was something that was sort of gradual for me. I could just sense that I was just losing my passion for it. And I didn’t want to spend another 30 years wondering why I wasn’t passionate about it anymore and searching for something else.
So I really had an intense time of prayer, and searching for something new, and this is what I found.Moore: The strong aroma of chocolate inside the factory reminds me that I’ve had tougher assignments. On this day, employees are making peppermint bark. They’re hovering over a vibration table, which is noisily settling the shards of peppermint onto the white chocolate.
Askinosie has opened up his business to local schools for learning opportunities. He took several high school students from Springfield to Africa with him to help select a cocoa farmer for his next chocolate bar. And he works with the kids in Boyd Elementary, some of whom currently reside at Springfield’s largest homeless shelter, the Missouri Hotel.
Askinosie: And we’re in our, I guess our fourth year with the kids at Boyd. Together, we incorporate their units of study into something to do with our business--so that by the end of the time, when they finish school in May, they really feel like they’re part of our business. For example, when they have a unit on machinery and inventions, they’ll come to the factory, and we’ll talk about our machinery.
Moore: Tell me about the organization you helped found, “Lost and Found.”
Askinosie: Lost and Found is now in its—we’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary in January. It was founded by Karen Scott and myself. She and I co-founded that 10 years ago, and it’s for kids who have experienced the death of a parent or a sibling, and it’s a place where they can go and meet with other kids who are experiencing similar loss.
They can have a place that’s safe to talk about what they’re feeling. When my dad died, I really could have used a place like that. I was messed up for a long time—well, I’m probably still messed up [laughs]—but I could have healed sooner, and really realized that grief is not a mental illness; it’s natural. We grieve when people die. This is a place where children can learn that.
Moore: You started a website: www.servesomeone.org. Can you tell me about that?
Askinosie: Servesomeone.org is a place where people can go sign up to be reminded to serve a person they’ve chosen to serve, for however long they want to serve them. And what’s cool about it is, you can be reminded by text or email once a week, once a month, or once a day, to serve somebody that you’ve picked.
So what this website encourages people to do is say, Look, we’re in an economic crisis that is gargantuan. But these are real people who are unemployed. These are real people who are on food stamps. These are our neighbors, these are people in our towns, and churches. So what I encourage people to do is, don’t let that overwhelm you. What you should do is pick one person that you know. Just one person. And serve them until they don’t need it anymore. And maybe it’s just calling them on the phone. Maybe it’s buying them groceries when you can. Maybe it’s a card every now and then.
I believe this is one of the ways we can recover from the economic crisis and not expect the government to do everything. We have to do it.
Moore: Lastly, Shawn, how would you like to encourage others to make a difference in their communities?
Askinosie: I think one of the things we think about is that our businesses are only there to make money and support our families—which is true. But I think we can look at community work as part of our business.
In other words, it doesn’t have to be so separate. It doesn’t have to be a separate part of our lives. And if we incorporate just some small project into our businesses, it just becomes part of the business.
The school, I think, is the perfect place for small businesses to involve young people. So businesses that have schools in their neighborhoods should talk to the principal of the school and teachers. Because kids love learning about business and seeing how the things that they're doing in school can apply to business. It can be fun for them.
Moore: Shawn Askinosie, thank you very much.
Askinosie: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Moore: Shawn Askinosie is one person who's making our community better. For KSMU's Sense of Community Series, I'm Jennifer Moore.
[Music: Sweet Like Chocolate]