How This Man Built A $3M Business A Year After Four Years In Prison

Frederick Hutson, CEO and cofounder of Pigeonly

I cover entrepreneurship and venture business.

Frederick Hutson is a man who sees business opportunities in everything. By his own admission, this doesn’t always work out for the best. Hutson spent over four years in prison after getting busted for an opportunity he saw in drug trafficking, a huge market, and one that was as he saw it, ripe for disruption. Police busted him at his Vegas mail store, where he’d been reducing inefficiencies by rerouting marijuana through his Florida business via FedEx, UPS and DHL.

Hutson, who’d built several businesses before and after a stint in the Air Force, which he left with an honorable discharge, began meditating on new ideas soon after he started his 51-month sentence in 2007, aged 24. “I did my time that way,” he says. “While I was there I just saw how grossly inefficient the prison system was and there was just so many opportunities.”

A big gripe for the 2.3 million doing time in the US is keeping in touch with friends and family on the outside. There’s no internet in prison so all communication is through snail mail or the phone. Calls are often expensive and long distance. Relatives and friends, leading increasingly digitized lives, write less and don’t get around to sending photos for weeks on end.

“It was a pain point I experienced firsthand,” says Hutson. “I’m very close with my family and I knew they cared about me but even with knowing how much they cared about me they were still sometimes unable to send me photos.”

Transitioning from digital to analog is tough, says Hutson. It’s hard to sit down and write a letter now but simple to text or email. What if you created a website that printed out emails, texts or photos from your computer, Facebook or Instagram and mailed them for you in the plain white envelopes these institutions favored?

The idea for Pigeonly was born. Essentially, it’s a platform that centralizes the myriad state-level databases making it a quick search to find where an inmate is in the system – Hutson himself was moved eight times during his stay – as well as a way to communicate. “People get lost in the system all the time,” he explains. “We have attorneys contacting us trying to find their clients.”

Through its sub-brands, Fotopigeon, which sends digital prints to inmates and Telepigeon which lowers phone call rates through VoIP, Pigeonly is on track to be profitable on about $1 million in revenue in its first year following $2 million in seed financing from Silicon Valley investors. Hutson’s Las Vegas-based team has grown from two to twelve. Key to this was getting accepted to NewMe, a Sillicon Valley-based accelerator for underrepresented minorities. It was the only accelerator to accept Hutson, he says.

When he started as part of the winter 2013 cohort, he and his cofounder Alfonzo Brooks had already launched a version of Pigeonly while Hutson was still in his halfway house. They’d quickly picked up 2,000 customers by directly mailing inmates touting their services.

“We identified 500 people and sent them greeting cards saying here’s a product people can use to send you photographs. Three or four days after our cards landed we started seeing people show up on our website creating accounts and sending photos so we kept doing that,” says Hutson.

CEO Frederick Hutson

CEO Frederick Hutson

At NewMe Hutson started re-orienting the business from a few services to a searchable platform and began taking meetings with investors. “In the very beginning I was hesitant to even talk about my background but the question would always come up, well how do you know?” he says.

NewMe’s founder Angela Benton gave Hutson some advice. “She said, look some people are not going to vibe with you and they’re not going to be able to get on board with what you’re doing – there’s going to be a block because you’ve been in prison and you don’t look like the typical person they invest in,” he remembers.

When he focused instead on the people who were open and understood that his background was why he knew this problem exists he started gaining ground. “A lot of times a thing that can be perceived as a weakness actually turn into the greatest strength and for me it was that. It actually became the reason people invested – because I’d been there, and I know and understand this market better than anybody else,” he says.

Still, fundraising was no cakewalk, he says. “It can be hard because as an entrepreneur you feel like it’s your baby and when you talk to someone about your baby and they go, no that’s whack I’m not interested you can’t take that personal, you have to be able to talk to the next person with the same intensity and fervor,” he says.

Convincing investors to write a check for the first million was the hardest. “I probably talked to about 60 investors, and in our seed round we had six, so that gives you an idea of how many no’s you had to get to the six yes’s,” he says.

Hutson thinks prisons are a natural pool of entrepreneurs. “When you take away that seven percent or so that did something violent that people are afraid of, people who we need to have locked up, most of the other guys were selling drugs or involved in some kind of scam or did some kind of wire fraud, or white collar crime that was motivated by finances,” he says. “So you just really got the business model wrong, you got the product wrong, the goal was wrong but if you can apply that same drive and bottom line principles to something positive then now you have a viable business.”

He learned a lot from his fellow inmates inside. “In some facilities that the classes they have aren’t taught by people outside, they’re taught by other inmates,” he says. “So you’ll have a guy who has a white collar crime who might have embezzled 40 million dollars and he knows something about business because he ran some listed company and now he has a 36 month federal sentence for tax evasion – he’ll teach a class on how to form an LLP or start a balance sheet.”

Still, getting prisoners ready to reenter society isn’t a big priority, thinks Hutson. “Most institutions are geared around containment,” he says. “Most are based around ‘you don’t leave and you guys don’t kill each other while you’re here’ – that’s their priority number one.”

With reoffending rife – one study tracked 404,638 prisoners in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005 and found 68% were rearrested within three years – some organizations are already turning to entrepreneurship as a way forward. For example, the Houston-TX-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program, which trains around 250 prisoners a year in launching a business says instances of inmates reoffending once they’ve completed the course is only 5%.



80 Million of Us Will Need Help Caring for A Loved One. Can Honor Turn That Into a $100 Billion Company?

Published on

By: John Battelle


After selling his first company, Meebo, to Google in 2012, Seth Sternberg was actively on the hunt for a new idea. Meebo was fun — it helped publishers engage readers through chat and advertising — but Sternberg and his co-founders wanted to have a larger impact with their second company. They came up with three criteria: First, the company had to make people’s lives fundamentally better. Second, the company had to be really hard to build, but address a real market need (as opposed to creating a new need, like Facebook did). And third, the company had to be have the chance to be really big — like $100 billion big.

These were the questions turning over in Sternberg’s mind as he visited his mother several years ago. Almost immediately, he noticed she was having trouble driving, and realized she’d need help if she was going to stay in her own home back in Connecticut. Sternberg had built a life and a career on the other side of the country, in Silicon Valley — he couldn’t be around to care for his mother every day. Who could he trust to help?

That’s when Sternberg discovered that there are roughy 40 million seniors in the United States today, and that number is predicted to roughly double over the next two decades. From there, his research led him to a realization that the senior care market in the US is deeply broken — and that there was a huge opportunity to fix it. The result is Honor, an 18-month old senior care platform that combines the platform approach of an Uber with the algorithmic matching of a Work Market, but with a twist: All of Honor’s workers are W2 employees — bucking the on-demand economy’s trend toward “gig labor.”

Sternberg views Honor as a net creator of high quality new jobs — taking care of people is better done by people, not robots. In fact, he predicts we’ll need at least five to seven million qualified care givers in the coming decades, and his goal is to build the platform that aggregates both the demand for and the supply of those care givers. Sternberg sat with us for the first episode of Shift Dialogs’ second season. Below is both the video and the transcript, edited for length and clarity.

Join us for the NewCo Shift Forum, where 400 of the best minds in business, technology, and government will come together for two days of focused, action-oriented dialog.

John Battelle: How did you came to the core idea behind Honor?

Seth Sternberg: I was working at Google — I’d sold my last company to Google. My friends and I started thinking about what would the next problem be that we’d work on, and we had some criteria. The most important was to be able to look a human in the eye and know that we’re going to make their life fundamentally better.

Why was that the number one criteria?

The only thing we all really cared about anymore is figuring out ways to help other people. Like, why are we getting up in the morning? Why are we going to work? It was by far the most important criteria.

It (also) had to be what we believed to be an execution risk play, not a market risk play. We wanted to know that it was very, very hard to build, but if we built it there was clear demand and a clear problem, as opposed to, “We could build it, but we don’t know if people want it.” The early Facebook or Twitter, they didn’t know, right?

Then the third criteria is that we had to believe that it could be a $100 billion market. And our reason for it was it’s actually easier to build that company. You can get more resources, better people, more capital, and it’s a measure of the size of the problem. Why work on a problem that can only be a billion-dollar company? It’s not as big a problem.

I went for a drive with my mother. She picked me up at the airport in Connecticut when I went to visit her, and she was driving slow. She literally used to get speeding tickets in Montana. In Montana, it’s really hard to get a speeding ticket. I was like, “Mom, why are you driving slow?”

She said, “Driving’s harder than it used to be,” and that’s how we discovered that the elderly space is pretty broken in general, and then narrowed into home care with the goal of helping our parents stay in their homes as they age.

Tell me a little bit more about what Honor does.

Honor is re-making a category called non-medical home care. As we get older, there are these activities of daily living: getting out of bed, getting dressed, getting food. Most of us do them all day every day, hundreds of them. We take them for granted.

But if you can’t do one, two, or three of them, you can’t live alone anymore. As you get older, you’re going to want to live in your home. You probably want your parents to live in their homes, and they probably want to live in their homes. How do you enable that?

You have to get someone to go into their home and help them. Turns out it’s a $30 billion industry in America. Turns out there are 2.5 million paid care pros in America who help the elderly stay in their homes, but it’s just a very, very broken industry. This is a classic case, actually, of a market where it is clear the demand is much larger than the current size of the market.

Similar to Uber and taxis.

Similar to Uber and taxis, because it is so disastrously broken as an industry that if you make it a great product for people you will expand the size of the market.

Tell me a bit about how it’s broken.

The biggest thing is that your mom and my mom probably have different needs. Maybe my mom has dementia and cats in her home, and maybe your mom speaks a specific language and maybe she’s heavy. That means they need different care pros.

With 50,000 agencies across America, it means that the individual agency’s very unlikely to have the right person to match the needs of your mom and the needs of my mom because they are so unique. It’s so heterogeneous, the needs, and the capabilities.

That’s piece one that is broken. Piece two is that the care professionals who go in and help our parents, they’re treated really poorly. They’re wages are extraordinarily low. Fifty six percent are on government assistance programs. We have societally put them in a place where they can’t really care for themselves. If you can’t care for yourself, how can you care for someone else? We need to enable the care pros to be comfortable in their own lives, amazing at their jobs so they can then provide amazing care to our parents.

Fifty six percent of care givers are on government assistance programs. We have societally put them in a place where they can’t really care for themselves. If you can’t care for yourself, how can you care for someone else?

And you’re actually paying a living wage. Honor has full time employees. They’re not contractors.

W-2 employees. They can be part time or full time. It’s up to them.

How did you come to that decision?

The biggest issue around 1099 is that we could not train the care pros. While you see there’re 2.5 million care pros today in America, the elderly population will double in America in the next 15 to 20 years. We’re going from 40 million to 80 million. We’re going to need at least five million care pros, except like I said, this market is actually probably larger than we think it is. We probably need seven million care pros.

We believe we have actually screened 30 percent of all registered care pros in SF Bay area. We’re accepting five percent of people who apply.

Then you’ve got a real problem.

We got a huge problem. It means that we need to create care pros, and to do that you need to be able to train people. Really, training people is also about moving people up. We’ve had people churn out of Honor, but it’s actually to go become registered nurses — because we enabled them to get real world experience.

It’s like upward churn.

It’s the kind of churn you want. You’re creating paths forward for people which is, I think, something that we’re missing in America in general right now. We have a whole population of people that we’re doing a very bad job lifting up. We need to do that, to enable folks to be amazing.

But it is more expensive, and you have a minimum wage that you’re paying, I understand.


You told me earlier that Honor was an intentionally hard company to start.

That’s right.

Then you discovered it was even harder than you imagined, right?


You’ve raised $60+ million, but are you concerned that you’re going to need more capital for much longer time than a traditional venture-backed company? That there’s going to be this funding desert in the middle years of your company, where maybe it’s going to be hard to raise money and justify the ongoing expense of the operations?

Great question. When you work on a problem this big you know your time horizon is long. There’s a known thing about being an entrepreneur: If you don’t stay extraordinarily focused, you will die. You will fail to solve the bigger problem that you’re trying to achieve.

If I can make Honor today what I want Honor to be ten years from now, I’d be so thrilled, but I just can’t do it yet. We have to stay focused, and we have to win at serving the elderly, serving the care pros in the markets that we’re in. Then you can actually get through that chasm you’re talking about.

If you did try to do the build it all from the moment at which you start, I think we would fail because of exactly what you’re talking about. It is so big, it is so hard. But if we create reasonable milestones for ourselves… we’re fixing the system for the elderly in San Francisco, LA, Dallas right now.

When you mentioned that seven million job number, it made me think of another number — six million — which is roughly the number of drivers and truck drivers that are estimated to be put out of work because of autonomous cars and trucks. It strikes me that the jobs you’re creating are jobs that probably never could be replaced by robots.

It is a fascinating point you’re making. We’re in a world where structurally some of the technology that we’re creating is taking away millions of jobs.

Honor very specifically is creating technology so that we can train people better, treat people better, pay people better so they’re in a better place in their own lives. So, they then provide a better service that people will pay for. This is a human service.

We will absorb some number of truck drivers, some number of veterans, and some number of people from the existing industry. I actually see Honor, partially, as a mechanism to be able to help folks who are being dislocated by technology. We’re using technology to create more, better jobs. I think that more industries need to figure that out.

I actually see Honor, partially, as a mechanism to be able to help folks who are being dislocated by technology. We’re using technology to create more, better jobs. I think that more industries need to figure that out.

The core of it, it strikes me, is that what you’re delivering human to human connection.

That’s exactly right. It’s important because our customers think of Honor as the care pro who walks across the threshold of their door and says, “Hello, I’m from Honor.” Honor is not technology to our customers. It’s the care pro. In a lot of Silicon Valley companies, the stars are the engineers, but in Honor, our products — our stars — are the care pros.

We realized one of the most important things we have to look for in people we bring into the company is that they believe in enabling the care pros to be amazing. The technology our engineering team works on, it’s fundamentally to enable the care pros. We enable them then the customers get a great experience.

Tell me about the technology — what’s my experience if I want to use Honor? There’s a platform that I interact with that it helps me understand how the care is going, right?

Yep. As a customer, you’ve two choices. You can go kind of an app, our app, get it in the app store, our website, or you can call our call center and talk to someone. A lot of people choose to do that and say, “Here are my parent’s needs.”

It might be that you’re coming from a hospital, and a social worker says, “You might need help at home. You might wanna use home care like Honor.”

Then you start talking to Honor. We put the needs of either you or your parent or your loved one into our system, and then it figures out who are the relevant care pros in Honor, who work for Honor for your particular situation. That’s the first screen. Then it sets up care over time. It’s not just about that match. It’s also about the notes after every visit. You probably don’t live with your mom, right?


But you want to know what’s happening in your mom’s home. That would be good, right? So, you’ll get a note after every visit. It can be texted to you, emailed to you, or you can see it in your app. Our technology is watching to make sure that the care pro’s arriving on time. At the same time it actually protects the care pro, and this is all about like I said, how do we treat the care pros really well? Because sometimes our customers have dementia. They don’t remember.

So it can’t be just like Yelp, a five star rating or something like that because it doesn’t work because there’s so much nuance.

Our customers absolutely rate the care pros and vice versa. Let’s say someone has advanced dementia, and they always rate care pros poorly in a given home. That says nothing about those care pros. We have to look for other signals like, how long was the note that they wrote to the family, are they timely, or how engaged are they in the app.

The technology platform is there to both enable a great match, but also to enable great care delivery over time. I think that that’s really important, but the end goal is the human experience.

It’s funny because when we first launched, people inside the home care industry had an initial response to Honor. They (would say) “Oh, it’s technology, and this is a human business.” But no, this is technology to make the humans better. We are not replacing humans with technology. With Honor, rather, it’s technology to make the humans better.

When I think of elder care I think of a lot of awful stories about things that have gone wrong, about neglect and abuse. How do you handle things like that?

We do see things sometimes that are really challenging. It ranges from times when we do see what we think might be abuse, to times when we do see an elderly person who we’re serving who is abusive. Maybe through no fault of their own, they might have some advanced cognitive impairment.

We have different processes depending on what that situation is. I think the important thing in all this is we don’t have great systems today as a society to help get rid of the fraud, abuse, and mistreatments on all sides of elder care. That’s a big part of what we’re building on.

When you first realized this might be a big idea that checks the three criteria, at what point did you realize that it was way harder than even you realized?

It’s funny. I thought that the first time Honor would have to deal with something like death would be months and months and months after we launched. I was wrong. I think it happened within the first month. A care pro was in someone’s home when they naturally passed away.

My goodness.

In home care that happens. I didn’t realize that that would happen in month one. It’s kind of like, what do you do as a company, as a service? How do you help the family?

You didn’t have a protocol yet for that.

Right. How do you help the care pro? Because they just lived through that too. It’s somewhat traumatic. It turns out great care pros usually have experience in dealing with death. They are usually really great at helping the families, because the family usually doesn’t have experience, but the care pro usually does.

There’s just all these little nuances. Turns out some customers love care pros who are very talkative. Other customers really don’t like it if that care pro wears perfume. There are all these nuances.

You must always be adding parameters to how someone chooses a care pro.

Yes, the awesome thing is that a lot of times you can’t ask the customer explicitly because they don’t know the answer. If I said to you, would you prefer a care pro who is amazing at customer service, but not quite as skilled in the technicalities of advanced care? Or would you prefer a deeply skilled but a little more gruff? One of those really good people who is like “get out my way, I know what I’m doing.” You probably don’t really know which one you would want for your parents, you might have a gut, but the data can actually tell you, the answers become very clear.

If your mother’s reasonably healthy and just needs a little companionship, you care about customer service, you do not care much about advanced skill. If your mother has advanced dementia, and this care pro is the only person who can get your mom to get up, go for a walk outside the house and get her physically moving, you don’t care if that care pro is a little bit gruff.

You’re in an industry that has 50,000 mom and pop shops. There was no data collection across that industry, right?

Effectively not. It’s spiral bound notebooks on kitchen tables for the most part.

It’s pre-Internet in a way. The nodes were not connected, so now you are seeing a network of connected nodes, and you are seeing data…You have the ability to leverage insights in a way that couldn’t be done before. This is very similar to Alt School. Like that company, you’ve also taken a vertically integrated, full stack approach to the business.

Full stack basically means we want to control the end to end experience. We employ the care pros. It is our software that runs the entire system. We are the interface with the customer. Honor is the full of the experience that a customer and a care pro have with us.

We looked actually at hey, should we take the easy route? Should we just write software? Let’s just do a little bit of technology. Our challenge with that is that we actually saw the industry is so fundamentally, structurally broken, we didn’t believe we could simply hand technology to the industry and fix it.

Very similar to education and schools, you can’t just hand some technology to a public school and expect it to work.

I think that’s right. We’ve talked to a bunch of folks who run pretty good home care companies. Honor’s retention rate on care pros is almost always substantially better than theirs.

You unpack how we manage care pros versus how they do it. There’s no one thing we do that that agency could kind of replicate and have much better retention rates. It’s the totality of the system.

How many people are in Honor now as employees? Push it out three or five years, where does that go?

We don’t release head counts. We believe we’re the largest home care company in San Francisco Bay Area, by number of homes served on daily basis, monthly basis. We got there in about a year, we believe. We’re growing extraordinarily fast. To give you a sense, last week we literally grew 10 percent week over week. The week before that was five percent.

I have actually never heard of a week over week growth like that.

Week over week 10 percent. Week before that was five percent, week before that was 10 percent. We won’t be able to maintain that for forever, but the growth is pretty staggering. Imagine the operations, the logistics behind that.

I think if we have a super deep bench of care professionals, we can make their lives so much better because we can have them work close to home for customers that they are compatible with. That helps the care pros.

My father had a caregiver who was a two-hour bus ride away. She would come twice a week, and, literally, it was eight hours of commute.It just struck me as crazy.

That’s exactly right. It’s very hard especially for a caregiver, they may not have a car. If we can get proximity, and then match that care pro with the right customer around personality and skills…Let’s not put care pros in homes of people who have cats when the care pro is allergic to a cat.

With scale, we’re going to make the world so much better for the care pros. Then we’re going to make the world so much better for the elderly and their kids. A few years out I hope that we’re doing that many, many, times more than the scale that we’re doing it today.

I imagine you might wince if someone wrote an article about Honor and said it’s the Uber of elder care.

It gets me, and then I do wince.

What do you make of Uber — it has become kind of our Rashomon for the tech industry for massive social change and for possibly great things like drunk driving and other things, but it’s also accused of being rapacious and demonstrative of a sort of unalloyed capitalism.

Yeah, great question. What I’m deeply impressed with around Uber is that they showed that it was possible to use technology to help manage a very very large portion of labor. They’ve made the world better for the riders, like certainly in San Francisco it’s a lot easier to get from point A to point B than it was before Uber.

If you talk to the drivers, most drivers I talk to they say, “I get income, either part time income or full time income.” That they can just go pick up some extra income is a big deal, and that is amazing. The reason I wince at the Honor-Uber comparison is that they look on the surface similar but they are totally different, Uber is very transactional, you don’t form a relationship with your driver. You do form a relationship with your care pro.

We are a relationship-based company. Uber showed that it was possible for technology to help with labor. Home care is a little more complex. It’s probably a lot more complex. There are a lot more nuances around making that right match, but it absolutely is possible.

Has being a purpose driven company with a very big mission helped you recruit people who otherwise might work at the large tech companies in a comfortable job?

Yep, that was the biggest benefit that I did not expect. There were parts of doing Honor that are much harder than I thought they would be. The part that was massively easier is we literally have people who email incessantly saying, “They are great people. I really want to come to Honor, like is there a role that fits me?”

Someone who spent their whole live working on something that maybe they are not super passionate about, all over sudden they see an opportunity to work on something for the same economic advantage that could change the world for the better, that’s a great recruiting tool.

What happens if a big private equity fund or some large health care company seeing the opportunity that you have now defined comes in and says, “That’s awesome Seth, here’s a check for $10 billion.”

Literally, the goal of Honor is that it outlives the founders. That was one of the very explicit goals. It outlives us. To your point, we did found other companies. We sold those other companies. And fundamentally those companies don’t exist anymore. One of the reasons why we wanted to work on something so big is if you sustainably change the world for the better, working on a problem that’s that large, that is a company that will outlive you. Facebook is going to outlive Zuck, Google is going to outlive Larry, and we want Honor to outlive us.


‘Solar suitcase’ saving moms, babies during childbirth

By Christie O’Reilly, CNN
updated 7:39 PM EDT, Sun October 13, 2013

Watch this video

Dr. Laura Stachel


  • In some countries, a lack of reliable electricity is to blame for deaths during childbirth
  • Dr. Laura Stachel witnessed this tragic truth during a trip to Nigeria five years ago
  • She and her husband are now delivering a solution: solar energy in a suitcase

Berkeley, California (CNN) — On a research trip in Nigeria, Dr. Laura Stachel watched as physicians performed an emergency cesarean section.

What happened next stunned her.

“The lights went out,” Stachel recalled, “and I said, ‘How are they going to finish?’ “

She was even more surprised by the nonchalant response.

“You didn’t even see people reacting because it was something they were so used to,” she said.

Fortunately, Stachel had a flashlight with her, and the doctors were able to use it to complete the surgery. But during that two-week trip in 2008, she witnessed countless other times when the lives of mothers and babies were at risk simply because of a lack of reliable electricity. Pregnant women would arrive at the hospital with severe complications, but without adequate light to treat them, procedures had to be compromised or delayed until daylight. Some women were even turned away.

“I realized that my skills as an obstetrician-gynecologist were utterly useless (without) something as basic as light and electricity,” Stachel said.

Stachel said midwives in Nigeria use all kinds of makeshift lighting when they deliver babies: kerosene lanterns, candles, even cell phones.

Inadequate lighting can be a dangerous -- and sometimes fatal -- issue during childbirth.
Inadequate lighting can be a dangerous — and sometimes fatal — issue during childbirth.

“That’s not adequate light for maternity care,” she said. “If somebody is hemorrhaging, if a baby needs resuscitation, you need to have directed light.”

Nigeria is one of the 10 most dangerous countries in the world for a woman to give birth. In 2010, an estimated 40,000 Nigerian women died in childbirth — 14% of all such deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the neonatal mortality rate is also one of the worst in the world. Each year, about 4% of babies in Nigeria die before reaching 28 days old; for comparison, the United States rate is only a fraction of this at 0.4%.

Stachel said that in her two weeks in Nigeria, she saw more complications than she had in her entire career in the United States.

“Once I witnessed the things that I saw,” she said, “I had to let people know, and I had do something about it.”

With the help of Hal Aronson, her husband and a solar energy educator, Stachel worked to find a solution. He drew up designs for a solar electric system to provide a free source of power to the state hospital in northern Nigeria where Stachel had conducted her research.

While they raised funds for the project, Stachel returned to Nigeria with a small kit to help show what the system would be able to do: It had a couple of solar panels inside, some lights and walkie-talkies to improve communication.

These solar energy kits provide much-needed light as well as power for all the necessary medical equipment.
These solar energy kits provide much-needed light as well as power for all the necessary medical equipment.

The kit was only meant for demonstration purposes — a miniature model of the larger system. But the surgical technicians saw it as something else.

“They said: “This is incredible. You have to leave this with us. … This could help us save lives right now,’ ” Stachel said.

She did just that, and news of the kit soon spread to other clinics. So each time Stachel would return to Africa, she came with one or two new “solar suitcases” assembled by her husband.

Today, the solar suitcase includes two solar panels that are mounted on a clinic’s roof and connected to high-quality LED lights. Once fully charged, it can provide light for up to 20 hours. The kit also contains headlamps, a fetal Doppler to monitor a baby’s heart rate and a cell phone charging unit.

Over time, the solar suitcase has become simpler in design.

“We got to something that was really rugged, simple to use, portable and that we knew would really work in harsh environments,” Stachel said.

It also spread to other countries after Stachel and Aronson started a nonprofit, We Care Solar. Since 2009, the kits have been helping health-care workers save lives not only in Nigeria but in facilities throughout Africa, Asia and Central America.

To see birth associated with death and fear is an outrage.

The solar suitcase

For Stachel, the solar suitcase is only part of a bigger mission to improve maternal health care and lower mortality rates in developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization, about 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. And 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

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Pearlie Mae Smith (far right) and her children won the Powerball jackpot.

We’ve all fantasized about what we’d do if a few million dollars just found its way into our lives. For the Smith family of Trenton, New Jersey, philanthropy was at the top of their list after they won a $429 million Powerball jackpot last year.

At a post-win press conference last May, the family, which consists of Pearlie Mae Smith and her seven children, said they planned to spend their earnings on their community ― and they meant it.

“It was like affirmation from God because we each have dreams that we want to fulfill in this life, and do for our community and do for each other and for our families and we have been funded to do that,” Smith’s daughter Valerie Arthur said during last year’s press conference, which you can watch above.

The eight-person Smith family chose to collect their winnings in a lump sum as opposed to yearly installments, with each receiving about $25 million after taxes. After paying off bills, student loans and taking care of other financial obligations, they invested their money in Trenton through the Smith Family Foundation.

According to the foundation’s website, the family’s future in charity was inevitable.

“The seeds for the foundation were planted decades ago in the South Side of Trenton, where Seamon and Pearlie Smith raised their children on values of hard work, love of God, and giving back,” the website reads.

Just one year after their win, the family celebrated the opening of their grant-making organization on Saturday, reported.The foundation will provide financial support to education, neighborhood development, children and families in Trenton.

“We want to fund programs that directly affect systems of poverty so we can help change the systems or change the dynamics that are causing people to be in poverty,” family member and foundation program manager Harold Smith told

“Rather than just helping them find food or give away food, we can make it so they now have the ability to obtain employment, get their proper education in order to be able to go out and get their own food,” he said.

“When people think of the city of Trenton, we don’t want the first thing they think of to be gangs and violence,” Smith continued. “We want people to think of a vibrant city, a city that’s on the upswing, a city that’s bringing new life into the community, the capital of the state.”

The foundation plans to work with other community organizations and help create both short- and long-term grants that will improve Trenton.




Meet The Woman Behind Compton’s First Black-Owned Grocery Store

(Photo courtesy of Kia Patterson)

In April, 36-year-old Kia Patterson made history when she took over ownership of Grocery Outlet in Compton—making it the first black-owned grocery store in the city. The Compton native, who told an interviewer that her family works at the store with her, aims to bring quality food at low-cost price points to the community.

In a video posted to Facebook that has since gone viral, Patterson said she was able to take over the store because of her extensive experience in the industry. After years of working at Smart & Final, she was actually recruited by Grocery Outlet to help with their L.A.-area expansion. The L.A. Sentinel reports that Patterson began training with the company in June 2016, and after gathering her investments and setting up a business plan she took ownership of the store on April 1, 2017. Grocery Outlet is a San Francisco-based company with more than 250 locations in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Pennsylvania. According to the company’s website, each store is independently owned and operated by local individuals like Patterson, who make the day to day decisions of the business.

When the Compton Grocery Outlet first opened in May 2016 (about a year before Patterson took over ownership), locals praised the addition of another store with fresh options and produce in the city, which was declared a “food desert” by the USDA in 2013.

“This store is really good for the community. The most important thing is we sell a lot of organic products at a bargain,” Patterson says in the Facebook video. “[The community] is so welcoming. Everyone wants to talk to me and shake my hand. Even just say ‘Hi,'” Patterson told BET.

(Photo courtesy of Kia Patterson)

“I made the decision to own a Grocery Outlet so that I could have the freedom to be able to do what I want to do and not be pigeon-holed to anything,” Patterson told the Sentinel. “Now I have the ability to set my own destiny.”

“I’m not one of those owners that dictates things. I mop the floor, I do car runs,” she continued.

The Compton Grocery Outlet store is located at 2175 W Rosecrans Avenue in Compton. The store is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.

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