January 24, 2020
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This Meals on Wheels delivery brings seniors together in a Washington diner

Here are three stories about the power of transformation in communities to inspire you as you head into the weekend.

Meals on Wheels provides nutritious food and a sense of community to senior citizens at The Diner. Photo by Tim Cook/Meals on Wheels People

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week we’re looking at the power of transformation. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at info@therenewalproject.com.


Food and fellowship: In Vancouver, Washington, the nonprofit Meals on Wheels People is offering a new place for senior citizens to go for assistance: a hip retro diner. While the organization regularly provides about 5,000 meals a day, most delivered to homes, it also supports a local restaurant where senior citizens can engage with the community and receive the mental health benefits that come with emotional connection. “A restaurant that is intergenerational. It’s good food,” Suzanne Washington, CEO of Meals on Wheels People told NPR. “And at the same time, the paying public can help offset the cost of those in our program.”

The Diner uses a donation-based program to help cater to patrons aged 60 and older. In addition to financial accessibility is physical accessibility. The restaurant also has extra space for wheelchairs, noise-minimizing walls, and large handles on coffee cups for arthritic hands.


Parks n’ Rec: The city of Pittsburgh is making moves to turn a former industrial and mining site into a thriving, recreational green space. The area of land is known as Hays Woods, and with over 600 acres in the heart of the city, it’s one of the largest contiguous forested areas in the region. Pittsburgh residents, spearheaded by nonprofits like City as a Living Laboratory, want to see this area protected and turned into a park, with hiking paths, biking trails, and much more. “Given the sense of wilderness in close proximity to the city, there may be some unique opportunities for activities you might not find in a typical city park,” Kara Smith, principal environmental planner with the City of Pittsburgh, told CityLab. These opportunities include green education and workforce-training programs. Due to some challenges, including poor water and soil conditions, the city expects that this transformation into a fully operational park will take at least a decade.


Coats transform lives: A simple design for a coat has turned into a movement to help those experiencing homelessness in Detroit. Veronika Scott, the 30-year-old CEO and founder of the nonprofit Empowerment Plan, created a coat that can transform into a storage tote and a full-length sleeping bag, meant to help protect people sleeping on the street during a harsh Detroit winter. But Scott told CNN that when she brought the coat to a homeless shelter the response was negative. A woman at the shelter shouted: “I don’t need a coat! I need a job!” Scott soon discovered a way to provide just that by collaborating with other organizations and creating a business plan to employ people experiencing homelessness and providing them on-the-job training. “The lack of business knowledge that I had served me well in a weird way,” Scott said. “I don’t know if I would have taken the risks that I did.”

Danielle Moskowitz

Danielle Moskowitz

Dani Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.