Author Archive

June Amber Grant Awarded to Good Morning Bedlam

Monday, July 9th, 2018

As a new week begins, we’re thrilled share with everyone the winner of the June Amber Grant: Good Morning Bedlam.

This midwest folk band blends immense energy and musical talent to create something truly special. Visit their YouTube page to get a taste.

While you listen, learn the story of members Isaak Gill Elker, Victoria Elker and Sophia Mae — plus much more — in the interview below.

(A special thanks to Sophia for taking the time to answer our questions while touring!)

WN: Share the story of how Good Morning Bedlam began.

SM: Isaak and I grew up in a theater company together and spent all our pre-adolescent energy on connecting with our communities through stories– old, new and made up. We watched faces light up, and gave it everything even when there was only one person in the crowd. I absolutely loved it. Our main repertoire were Shakespeare shows that we would perform outside, riding on homemade caravans with fold out stages. The costumed, mostly barefooted company would push the caravans down mainstreet and Isaak and I, along with the other musicians, would perch precariously on the top playing our tunes to announce our arrival. There I developed a deep love for Shakespeare and language. I found that I was capable of accomplishing anything with a bit of learning, failing and determination. I learned how simple it is to connect deeply with anyone just by filling a need for honestly told stories. And when the time came for us to continue with our adult lives, grow up and get a job, it was only natural that we took the route we did — we became musicians.

Starting with that theater troupe, Isaak and I have been writing music and playing together since we were 13 and 11. We went on our first brief semi-national tour at ages 17 and 19. Obviously our parents were thrilled, and not nervous in the least…

But we survived, and the band began to grow. We were recommended to and picked up by a B-Corp record label in Minneapolis, Last Triumph, who we are still with today. But the group was not complete until Tori Elker (formally Tori Smith) entered the picture.

About 10 days before our 1st full length tour, Isaak and Tori were married. When faced with the decision to stay home for the honeymoon, work a nine to five job, care for the house, (also get a house), while her husband toured across the country for two months Tori said, “Hell no. We can be technically homeless for a little while,” and she packed up and came with us.

She didn’t play an instrument. But that wasn’t going to stop a woman with immeasurable determination to help people and an incredible ability to improvise her way through just about any situation. She started by running the merch table, dealing with the obnoxious drunken men and charming people into spending more than they planned to.

After that summer, our bass player left. Tori had decided she was going to continue touring so she said “Yeah. I can learn bass in two months.”

The crazy thing is, she did, all while finishing her theater degree. She’s now the owner of our LLC, manages the accounts, heads our marketing and branding and belts it out every night on stage with us and with her bass, Mr. Jones, thus becoming the head of our predominately female band in a male dominated industry. She kicks butt at it, all because she refused to stay home.

WN: Listening to your music, watching performances and reading reviews, one component that’s abundantly clear is your collective energy. Does that come from a genuine love for performance? 

SM: Oh absolutely it does! It also comes from a genuine love for each other, our audiences, and the stories we are telling. We need a lot of sources for energy since we use so much of it, and we want each of our performances to be unique and earnest.

And when we perform together, something invigorating happens. We sync up. There is an unspoken connection that forms immediately between us. This has required hours of practice and hard work, but the unification goes beyond playing technically well. It’s its own breed, living and breathing, giving our music distinctive life each time it is played. It is exhilarating and it is exhausting. But we love the stories we are telling, and want them to come to life for us and our audience. They’re something outside of ourselves, something we can help foster, and that we can nourish. So, when we are too tired to love the performing alone, there is something outside of us to take care of that.

WN: What’s the process like for getting in touch with and eventually playing at venues?

SM: Repetitive, tedious, frustrating, discouraging, and necessary! You need to be ready for rejection, or no response at all, and let that propel you forward rather than drag you down. The more venues you are rejected by the closer you are to booking one.

Luckily we have a booking agent now who does a lot of this, and he has connections and knowledge about venues that are looking for our type of music. My bandmate Isaak is now hired by our record label and books bands himself as well. Often we route out where we want to go, and find multiple venues on that route for each stop. If you strike out, you reroute. And we are continually working on new ways to find the most successful shows possible with our record label. It’s a constant learning process.

Playing at so many different venues across the country is a mixed bag to say the least. We’ve played anywhere, from classy listening rooms with wine and coffee on tap, to tiny bars with mannequins and stuffed squirrels on the wall, to dark vintage rooms in Montreal with free poutine and broken conversations in French. We have days and days worth of stories and wish we could tell you more.

WN: Tell us about your first professionally recorded album, Like Kings, and what went into the recording process.

SM: We are so excited for our new album, Like Kings.

Our music is boisterous, precise and wild — and we’ve had the opportunity to expand our sound with this album. We collaborated with local Minneapolis musicians to add trumpet, trombone, and cello. Due to our short attention spans, we pull from a lot of different genres including gospel, klezmer, jazz, blues and pop, but we still have unity with our central three part harmonies and sound rooted in folk and story telling.

Our previous album, Prodigal, explored the process of being lost, and returning to a place where you feel at home. This one picks up where that left off saying, “Now what? I went on this journey, but Im still struggling. What’s that about?” These were written from a personal standpoint but we recognize this struggle as something very universal to people. Struggles continue — there are triumphs and joys but we continue to live after those. There is always something new to face, but similarly there is always room for growth and yet unexplored questions to be answered. This is tiring, but it is also beautifully human.

The recording process is repetitive, and at times discouraging. When you come to the studio with parts you’ve worked out and have been fine tuning from show to show it’s easy to feel very sensitive when those parts are put under the microscope of being recorded individually. But you learn quickly to be less attached to ideas, and more focussed on how those ideas truly play out. It’s a fine balance between precision and reputation, and knowing when to be satisfied. It’s very easy to become tunnel visioned when recording. But once the tracks are finished, and the mixing process begins there is nothing quite as exciting. Working with a professional sound engineer has given us freedom to explore nuances in our sound that we’ve mostly imagined up till now. We’re so grateful to have had the opportunities we’ve had with this album.

WN: What are some of the venues you’ve enjoyed playing at the most, and do you have a “dream venue”?

SM: About a few months ago we played at First Avenue, the premiere venue in our home city (Minneapolis, MN), Prince’s home venue, and a Minnesotans musician’s dream.

When we played there, we were the opener for the opener’s opener and were playing so early in the evening that we weren’t sure if anyone would be there. We went out onto the stage, shaking a bit behind a large projection screen that hid the crowd, or lack there of, but when the screen lifted the room was packed with around 500 people pressed near the stage, faces turned towards us, not towards the bar for once (extraordinarily enough). It was such an exhilarating show and an honor to play there.

My other personal favorite “venue” is the home of Isaak’s brother in law in Philly. We stay there some tours and whenever we do, the family sets twinkle lights on their porch in their shared garden that spreads over to their neighbor’s far rose bushes. They call over their friends, neighbors, a few friendly strangers and we play a barefooted show for a quiet group of people in the soft grass and holy leaves. And we sing and talk while the mosquitoes eat at our legs. And the sun goes down on the primroses and the little fountain halfway between their house and the neighbor’s.

Our two dream venues would be Red Rocks Amphitheater and NPR tiny desk concerts. RedRocks is an amphitheater with miraculously perfect acoustics in Red Rocks Park where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. This is a dream venue for many folk musicians, and if we play there someday, we’d be following such inspirations as Punch Brothers, Avett Brothers, Joseph, and more.

Tiny desk concerts are also full of our inspiration with an intimate setting that celebrates the tradition of connecting through live music.

WN: What advice would you give someone aspiring to break onto the music scene? 

SM: Be hopeful, but by all means don’t expect a Big Break. The most productive way to think of growing your band is little by little, year by year, and placing the power where it belongs — in your own hands. If you want to be a musician, really want it, be prepared for frustration, uncomfortable living spaces, endless amounts of gas station coffee (if you can afford it) and a good deal of disrespect. But most importantly, love what you do, and do it for the love of it. If you get swept up in the pursuit of success you’ll be miserable, as that takes time and a considerable amount of failure.

Two things I’ve learned about growth in pursuing this career…

First, it is not linear — you don’t start to grow and continue on an level uphill trajectory. There are ups and downs, valleys and peaks. That is natural, and if you despair because you are in a valley, you won’t realize the valley you’re in is leading to a peak that’s just a little higher and wider than the last one.

Second, you can’t always see growth when you are so close to it. Just as a little child will lament over how they never get any taller, only to find the next time they’re measured they’ve shot up a whole two and a half inches. You can’t always see yourself growing but you are, and it will become apparent with a little space. So take a breath, work harder and harder every day, be disciplined, plan meticulously and don’t worry. Because contrary to the belief of that little voice in your head screaming at you that it’s all you can do, it won’t help. It will only distract you.

June 2018 Amber Grant Finalists

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Hi everyone.

We hope your summer is off to a great start.

Today, we’re delighted to reveal 5 finalists for the $1,000 June Amber Grant.  One recipient will be eligible for our year-end Amber Grant ($10,000).

By early next week, we’ll announce the winner on Facebook, our website and our email list. So, stay tuned.

Until then, have a wonderful 4th of July.

June 2018 Finalists











May Amber Grant Awarded to Amazingly Uplifted

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

On Saturday, we announced our May Amber Grant finalists.  Today we’re here to reveal the $1,000 recipient and the qualifier for our $10,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Veronica Crafton, Owner of Amazingly Uplifted. Veronica’s mission is to support children, educators and families through school consulting and in-home therapy. She shares her story with us in the interview below.

WN: Tell us your background and how that motivated you to launch Amazingly Uplifted.

VC: In 2006 I fell in love with children with autism while working at Emory’s Autism Preschool in Atlanta, GA. Two years later I became a teacher for students with autism and severe behaviors. By 2013 I recognized flaws in our education system, particularly how some students did not receive effective support from their previous classroom. I’d just won teacher of the year and knew my talents weren’t to be contained in one classroom. I applied for a teacher trainer position but was encouraged to take a more administrative position — a position that I absolutely did not want!

As it turns out, being rejected for the trainer position was the best thing that happened to me because that’s when I decided to quit. I left my teaching career, closed on a house and started a business on the same day. Sounds crazy, but I knew everything would work out and it has. We have continuously grown every year and year 5 is on track to be the biggest year yet!

I was also motivated to leave because I knew children with autism needed more support at school and at home. I’ve seen how much support families need. I’ve been working with families privately in addition to my full time job since 2007 and even lived with an autism family for a year and a half while in grad school. Children with autism are often FAR more capable than we give them credit for. Our name, Amazingly Uplifted, describes how the children I’ve encountered inspire me as an educator. They are amazing and keep me uplifted every single day!

WN: What kind of feedback have you received from schools?

VC: Our teachers mean the world to us and their feedback has been encouraging. They have been very appreciative of the support we’ve provided in their classrooms and often request that we return the following school year. Please feel free to head over to our website to see some of their testimonials!

WN: What type of competition do you face in the Atlanta area – and how do you stand out?

VC: There are several companies that provide the same services as AU. As cliche as it may sound, I don’t consider them to be competition. Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means that children are affected by autism in a variety of ways and no two children are just alike. The spectrum also refers to families. Just like children are different, families are different and may have different needs. The other businesses may be able to meet the needs of some families that another can not and with the current prevalence of autism (1 in every 59 children according to the CDC) we need as many providers as possible.

Amazingly Uplifted does have some unique qualities that separate us from other service providers. We presume competence for every child that we encounter. We understand that just because 1 child may not be able to communicate in the way we are accustomed to doesn’t equate a lack of intellect. An inability to speak does not equate to an inability to understand. The treatment plans and goals that we set for our clients focus on skills that lead to independence.

Part of our success in schools has been the ability to relate to the classroom teacher. All of our consultants have worked in the classroom either as a teacher or role that supports teachers. This builds trust with the educators we serve because they know we can identify with the challenges they face. The plans we develop for classroom and behavior management are often plans that we used and know to be effective not only from our education but from our experience in the classroom. There are also very few companies that offer classroom coaching after professional developments. This type of wrap-around service helps teachers implement what they’ve learned immediately due to the direct support they receive from one of our consultants shortly after the training.

WN: How do you plan to use the grant money?

VC: The first thing we would do with the grant money is use $1,000 to start a scholarship initiative for families that can not afford in-home therapy for their child with autism.

Should I win the year-end Amber Grant, part of the $10,000 would cover approximately seven months of office space. Having seven months of free office space would allow us to save funds to insure sustainability. The remaining funds would go directly to materials needed for the children that would receive our services in the clinic (.i.e. sensory items, toys, educational games, etc.).

The clinic would be used for multiple purposes. Aside from providing one-on-one support for children we will be able to facilitate social skills groups as well as parent training. Social skills groups are essential in assisting children with autism learn appropriate play skills and social pragmatics. Unfortunately it is difficult to capture authentic opportunities to practice these skills. Having a designated and controlled environment will significantly help us serve our children more comprehensively.

Having a clinic would also give parents an opportunity to connect with other parents. Despite how skilled and experienced professionals are, parents learn the most from other parents. We want to create a space that is just as supportive for parents as it is for children. We will offer parent trainings and reach out to our mental health partners to facilitate individual, group and family therapy.

WN: What advice you would give to an aspiring female entrepreneur.

VC: 1. Use your job to build your value and habits. If your job offers training courses, take them. If they offer to pay for certifications or degrees that would benefit you, take advantage. It’s also important to build your habits. Get that report in early, train a new hire, get in a management position, turn things in on time, keep your appointments, and work with integrity. Many people say, “Well if I were working for myself I would care more and get my work done.” While this is true to some extent it’s important to remember that you do what you practice and correcting poor habits is harder than learning something new. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect!

2. Learning what not to do is sometimes just as important as learning what to do. Find people who are doing it the right way AND the wrong way so that you don’t make those same mistakes. Research people who have failed, find out what they did, and don’t do that. It will save time and money!

3. Speaking of money…SAVE SAVE SAVE. Entrepreneurship is really sexy these days. Some people will try to convince you that you aren’t serious about your dream if you aren’t willing to quit your job today. Wrong! Take as much time as you need to save money for your household and business. Risk will always be there but there are some things you can avoid by having a financial plan. I saved for six years and I’m glad I did! To this day I have not borrowed a single penny and plan on keeping by business debt free.

3. Mentorship is essential. Obviously you should find someone in your field but don’t be afraid to have multiple mentors for different areas of your life. The sooner you learn balance the better because entrepreneurship is all consuming. You don’t want to end up despising what you once loved because of burn out.

4. We are women and we are powerful. We can do absolutely anything. Don’t doubt yourself because you are capable and the world needs everything you have to offer. You and your gifts are valuable so please share them!

*A huge thank you and congratulations to Veronica for taking the time for our interview. We’re already reviewing applications for the June Amber Grant, so if you’re interested in applying, please take a look at our application

May 2018 Amber Grant Finalists

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

Today, we’re delighted to reveal 5 finalists for our May Amber Grant ($1,000).  One recipient will be eligible for our year-end Amber Grant ($10,000).

Keep an eye out for an email and a blog post announcing the winner next week.  We’ll also share the news on our Facebook page.

Until then… congratulations to the finalists, and best of luck.





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Amazingly Uplifted Logo


April Amber Grant Awarded to Cyant

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

On Wednesday, we revealed our April Amber Grant finalists.  Today we’re here to announce the $1,000 recipient and the qualifier for our $10,000 year-end Amber Grant.

Congratulations to Barbara Hanna, Founder of Cyant.  Barbara and her talented team have a goal of connecting art and tech to foster learning and creativity.

So… how are they attacking that goal?  Let’s get the lowdown from Barbara.

WN: Share some background on yourself and how Cyant came to life.

BH: I bring a technical background, with a PhD in Computer Vision. I have had the opportunity to work on a number of technology and application areas, and in recent years my attention has turned to 3D printing and related technologies.

This is a very disruptive field, one that uniquely bridges the gap between digital and physical. It also brings together all types of people, backgrounds and disciplines, from art to engineering. It is always inspiring and exciting to read the latest advances in the field, which is already giving rise to tremendous innovation. It’s also a fast growing industry, which is poised to reach ~$20bn by 2020, with potentially significant impact in industries from fashion to medical to space exploration, in addition to creating new paths for design, production and sustainability!

So, this area is bringing great opportunities — and for the next generation of creators and builders in particular. Nonetheless, it is also raising a few challenges and needs to address. For example, making 3D modeling and 3D printing accessible and intuitive, which are two of the problems that are a focus at Cyant.

With a mission to foster learning, creativity and engagement through the connection of art and technology, our goal is to develop software products and services that can empower a diverse community of  young “cyantists” to learn and create new things in new ways. Our first product, Cyant’s Lab™, is an app that lets kids of all ages easily create 3D models.

WN: Explain what functionality the current app provides. 

BH: Our iPad app enables kids to create 3D models by doing something known to humans since prehistoric times: drawing! The app automatically turns those drawings and writings into 3D models. Models can be free drawn, but the app also offers a selection of templates as guides.

To make it particularly accessible to younger kids, the base version of the app has an intuitive, simple interface, with the possibility to add more tools and features in the future. Since not everyone has a 3D printer, 3D Prints of the models can be ordered and delivered via a partner 3D printing service. The app also provides articles to learn more about 3D printing, as well as pioneers in the field who can be inspirational models for young cyantists. So Cyant’s Lab™ can be used to very easily create and 3D print designs, from ornaments to components of more involved arts or crafts projects or educational activities.

WN: How long does it take the product to reach the customer once a design is submitted?

BH: For the first version of Cyant’s Lab™, the assumption is that not everyone has a 3D printer. We have been working with a partner 3D printing service (Sculpteo) which can achieve a rapid turn around. They can fulfill the order and deliver it within a week if there is a need for fast handling and shipping. This service offers a range of materials (including metal) and 3D printing technologies. So in general, the exact handling timeframe may depend on the order, but the prints are high quality, professional grade right off the bat.

This being said, for those who have a 3D printer, we plan to offer the ability to have access to the 3D model files. And depending on the model and print settings, the printing time can be fairly rapid. That’s critical in a setting like a classroom.

WN: Talk about the educational workshops you offer. Beyond those events, is there potential for partnering with schools?

BH: By nature, there is a significant focus on STEAM learning at Cyant and throughout the educational workshops we organize. We work to create art-meets-tech experiences that are project driven, and allow for individual creativity to be stimulated, while maintaining a level of collaboration. And while learning about 3D printing is weaved into the workshop, true to our mission, other areas maintain an important place too. It’s always wonderful and fun to see what kids (including the big ones known as grown ups) learn and create!

We have had the opportunity to explore educational activities in school settings and have received great feedback. So yes, there is definitely potential for partnering with schools!

WN: What advice would you give to an aspiring female entrepreneur?

BH: First, don’t hesitate to try. Try not to let self-doubt get in the way. Entrepreneurship is a journey with ups and downs. There may be 10 no’s before there is one yes, and there may be unexpected, time consuming roadblocks.

So it is important to persevere and draw lessons for the next steps. And try and find networks, friends, mentors who can provide input, feedback and guidance. Along the way, make sure to keep sight of the internal passion, or idea or mission that made it all start in the beginning! Oh, and, it may be hard, but remember to switch off from time to time, too.

Thanks to Barbara for her time, and congratulations once again on earning the April Amber Grant.  With May in full swing, we’re already considering candidates for the May Amber Grant. If you’re a woman-business owner, please consider applying today or sharing our grant with someone in need.


2018 April Amber Grant Finalists

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Below you’ll find the 5 finalists for the April Amber Grant ($1,000).  One recipient will become eligible for our year-end Amber Grant ($10,000).

Stay tuned, as we’ll announce the April winner by early next week.

Until then … congratulations to the finalists. And best of luck.