Dream Big: Making a Difference in Brownsville

New York City is a make it or break it kind of town. Opportunities are vast, if you’re willing to work for it. But, you have to really want it, especially if you’re from a neighborhood like Brownsville, Brooklyn. Despite the fact that the 1.16 square mile of Brownsville is well known for high crime and poverty, this community has raised successful people whose names we all recognize, like Mike Tyson, Al Sharpton, and Willie Randolph.

These distinguished individuals have more than just their hometown in common. They each had a goal that required a laser-focus to achieve, an unwavering commitment and more than a little ingenuity to be successful. And perhaps also someone willing to give you a little encouragement, or to help open a door of opportunity, when you needed it most.

Working hard to turn an idea into a reality is something Robert LoCascio knows a little something about. After his first company, IKON, folded unsuccessfully in 1995, Robert spent the next two years sleeping on a couch in his office and showering at a local gym while he planned his next move– founding LivePerson.

In 2001, Robert founded his next venture, the Dream Big Foundation. Its first program,FeedingNYC, was created to give the city’s hungry a full Thanksgiving meal. Since its inception, Feeding NYC has fed over 40,000 families around the five boroughs, and it’s a cause that is near and dear to the LivePerson staff, with dozens from our NYC headquarters participating each year. Today, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at LivePerson, and our employees live by two values: Be an Owner and Help Others. As part of these values, giving back to the community remains an integral part of LivePerson’s culture.

But Dream Big does more than just one day’s work at Thanksgiving, which is what has brought the organization to Brownsville. Over the last few months, Pernell S. Brice III, Dream Big’s director of entrepreneurial programs, along with Robert, have been working towards establishing a program in this underprivileged neighborhood to grow and develop aspiring entrepreneurs with the same kind of tenacity that Rob has.

In an effort to provide Brownsville residents resources that may not be readily available, Dream Big is well on its way to building a center for aspiring entrepreneurs from the neighborhood. Entrepreneurs in this program will receive training, high level mentoring, and funding.

“By building this resource center for the community, we hope to not only give residents the tools they need to be successful, but give them the power to transform their lives and their community,” said Brice.

Answering the community’s need for a place to gather, connect and learn, Dream Big is also funding and opening the 3 Black Cats Cafe and Cakery on Belmont Avenue. Run by three sisters who were born and raised in Brownsville, Three Black Cats will serve as the storefront to the resource center, and is the first investment of Dream Big,

“We have been working extremely hard towards our dream and finally feel like it’s starting to pay off. To be a part of Brownsville’s economic success allows us to give back to our community in way we never imagined,” said Ionna Jimenez, one of the 3 Black Cats, representing her sisters. “The 3 Black Cats Cafe and Cakery will be the staple of a true ‘stronger together’ community. The support that the Dream Big Foundation is providing for entrepreneurs in Brownsville lets us know that there are still some people out there who have hope like ours,” she continued.

The 3 Black Cats Cafe and Cakery is not only the first business to emerge from this program, but will also be one of the only coffee shops in Brownsville.

“We walked around the Brownsville community and asked residents what would make their neighborhood better. Presently, it lacks a safe place to gather and connect, so this coffee shop – run by some of their very own – will give them that,” said LoCascio. “It will not only be our entrepreneurial center, but will serve as inspiration for others to reach for their goals.”

One person who heard about this program and was inspired by the initiative and community is Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. The Duchess, a budding entrepreneur herself, spoke with Rob about the program and earlier this month they visited the space that will become the coffee shop and entrepreneurial center.

The Duchess met with the women behind Three Black Cats and leaders from the Brownsville community about the challenges and opportunities of starting your own business as well as learning about the challenges of growing up in a neighborhood like Brownsville.

As for me, a born and raised New Yorker, I had never been to Brownsville. This visit with Dream Big was an eye-opening experience. Even though my visit was just a few short hours, it was easy to see that this community, despite its troubles, is vibrant, brimming with untapped potential. I can’t wait to celebrate the success of the ladies behind the 3 Black Cats, and the other entrepreneurs that will get their start with the Dream Big Foundation.


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