Many of our servers at Franktuary have other jobs; Kelsey Halling’s likely wins most unique. When she’s not at the restaurant, this classy lady works with trash. Haitian trash, to be specific.
Kelsey is one of five team members of Pittsburgh based company Thread, and we’ll let her tell you why it’s a great organization. But first, you should know that Thread’s CEO is running SIX back-to-back marathons in the Sahara to raise money for Team Tassy, and we’re helping rally around the cause. Team Tassy’s mission?
“To unleash the inherent power in every person to eliminate global poverty.”
The benefit happy hour is at Franktuary on Thursday, January 23, from 5 to 7 pm and will feature Haitian food and drink.
Thread in a nutshell, please.Thread transforms trash from the poorest countries into dignified jobs and useful stuff people love.
That’s beautiful! That’s exciting! And…how?
Thread has been moving hundreds of thousands of pounds of recycled plastic out of Haiti to be turned into products. The waste is collected through a program called Ramase Lajan, which was founded by Executives Without Borders, and translates to “picking up money”. That’s a lot of plastic not in a landfill, or in Haitian streets and canals. Instead, it’s sustaining jobs. Thread has processed almost 250,000 lbs of recycled plastic, which will eventually be converted into fabric and turned into finished goods and jobs for Team Tassy families. Thread has the big hairy audacious goal of transforming 1 billion pounds of trash by 2022.
How did you get hooked up with this fine organization?
Our Director of Marketing, Frank Macinsky, and I went to High School together. Frank worked for Ian, Thread’s Founder and CEO, at a Pittsburgh advertising firm before Thread. When Ian had the idea to start this company, he told Frank about it. Frank mentioned it to me, and I told him I really wanted to be involved. He set up a coffee meeting for me to meet Ian, and at the end of the meeting Ian said, “Let’s get you down to Haiti.” I went and got my shots that afternoon.
What’s the relationship between Thread and Team Tassy?
Thread and Team Tassy were both founded by Ian. Team Tassy takes a holistic approach to working with families to help them climb their way out of poverty and become self-sustaining through medical intervention, education, and job training. Team Tassy came first, and as their work increased it became more and more apparent how crucial jobs are to ending poverty. Thread was started with the belief that international development comes from creating sustainable employment opportunities and economic impact. As Thread grows our employment in Haiti, and as Team Tassy prepares people for employment, we see a natural partnership with Thread and other companies providing jobs that will allow Team Tassy families to become self-sufficient. To date, Team Tassy has engaged almost 50 Haitians, preparing them and their families for employment.
What did you originally think of Ian and how has your perception of him changed over time? Not many people have bosses who can run 6 back-to-back marathons and stay focused on work too.
Oh, good question. So, the thing to keep in mind is that starting a business with people is a fun, stressful, amazing, terrifying experience and the bonding that occurs makes you family. So, my perception of Ian has changed from him being this tall guy with a crazy idea, to being my big brother who I see and/or talk to almost every day with crazy ideas. Ian is genuine, so when you first meet him you get an accurate understanding of who he is. He’s a visionary, and that has attracted awesome teams, and partners, and groups of advisors around Thread and Team Tassy. He’s also one of the most stubborn people I’ve ever met so when he decided to run this race, that was it. At first I thought it sounded like an insane idea, and then I wasn’t even surprised. I think you’re right in assuming that not many people have bosses who prepare for this kind of physical experience while staying focused on work, but not many people have Ian for a boss.
It is an ongoing privilege to work with not only Ian, but the entire Thread team.
If you could use Thread’s plastic flake to build, create or produce anything in the world, what would you choose?
This answer may seem unoriginal because it’s what we’re doing, but I sew, and love clothes, so am thrilled that we’re turning garbage into fabric. Watching that whole recycling process is mesmerizing. I would love to see a couture piece someday made with our fabric. I can’t wait to wear our fabric!
After so many trips to Haiti, do you still experience culture shock coming back and forth? What emotions do you experience when the plane hits the ground either place?
Yup. More so coming back than when going there. Sometimes it feels like time-travel. Pittsburgh feels really clean, and quiet, and organized to me when I come back. City-planning is this really amazing thing I took for granted for a long time. Haiti is a beautiful country and there’s a thrill when flying in over the ocean, and suddenly there are all these mountains and you’re right over Port-au-Prince. Yesterday, when I flew in, I had a window seat and I saw one of the recycling collection centers that feeds into our supply chain as we descended to the runway. Seeing something I recognized and work with from that vantage point was pretty cool.
Describe the best food and drink you’ve had in Haiti. Are there good places to get Haitian food in the US?
Working in Haiti has made me a total snob about mangoes. Once you’ve eaten one straight from the tree, it’s hard to get excited about them sitting in grocery stores. The fresh juices are terrific, and the coffee is strong. The peanut butter is spicy.
I spent a month living on a hospital campus in Haiti a couple of summers ago. We were in this small village, so there weren’t really restaurants or anything. We ate with the hospital staff, but the schedule was 2 meals a day; one at 7 am, and again at 2 pm. So, sometimes at night you’d get hungry. There was a woman in that village named Michelline, who had turned a shipping container up the street into a sort of restaurant/bar, so there were quite a few nights we and some other folks from the hospital walked up the street and to sit outside and drink Prestige (Haiti’s beer) and eat fried breadfruit with avocado and onions. Really simple, and really delicious. Certainly not the fanciest meal I’ve had in Haiti, but I have good memories from those evenings.
There are good places for Haitian food in the US, especially where there’s a concentration of Diaspora so New York, Miami, Boston. In East Liberty, there’s Kazanda’s cafe on Penn ave, owned by Kazanda who is Haitian. She used to cook Haitian food for lunch specials, but I think now does mostly sandwiches and cafe-type foods.
Does Pittsburgh have a Haitian community beyond the children who landed at Children’s Hospital after the quake?
Yes. There’s a big Pittsburgh-Haiti connection with a lot of great organizations in our town working in Haiti, and involved with the small Haitian community here. The Hopital Albert Schweitzer is probably the most well-known, but Haitian Families First, and Pittsburgh Kids Foundation are also doing great work. This past December, Pittsburgh hosted the first Pittsburgh-Haiti Symposium with more than 30 organizations who work in Haiti coming together. I was in Haiti at the time and couldn’t attend, but other Threadheads did, and said it was a great experience.
For more on Thread, Team Tassy or Kelsey’s adventures, follow her on Twitter: @hallingpreis @threadintl @teamtassy