The COVID-19 pandemic brought about significant social, economic, and political challenges, but it also catalyzed a wave of entrepreneurship that inspired a sense of community and newfound altruism. Many organizations, businesses, and individuals mobilized and re-invented themselves to help their communities during this time of crisis. Other activists and innovators evolved anew. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, FOLCS’ Heroes of COVID-19 showcased a group of special, resourceful individuals who exhibited extraordinary acts of innovation, compassion, and civic duty.
On November 17, 2020, FOLCS was joined by Shelly Tygielski, Founder of Pandemic of Love, a global, grass-roots mutual aid community that connects families in need to volunteers; Erik Bruner-Yang, Chef and Founder of The Power of 10, an initiative that supports local restaurants through donations so they can supply meals to those in need; Kisha Dimbo, Senior VP for Strategic Alliances at First Book, a nonprofit that aims to remove barriers to education equity and has provided supplies, resources, and donations to schools during the pandemic; and Josh Pugh, Founder of America Josh, an online guide and community network that has provided weekly updated resources, news, and virtual activities for expats living in New York City.
Founder, Pandemic of Love
Shelly Tygielski is the Founder of Pandemic of Love, a global, grass-roots volunteer-led mutual aid community that has directly matched over 700,000 people since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, accounting for over $42 million in direct transactions.
She is a trauma-informed mindfulness teacher, a community organizer, self-care activist and an author, with a forthcoming book, “Sit Down to Rise Up” due out in the Fall of 2021 from New World Publishing.
After spending almost 20 years in Corporate America immersed in Fortune 1000 organizations, and the past decade as a high-ranking executive in public and privately-held companies, Shelly Tygielski, turned to teaching “modern-life mindfulness” full-time and has become a “self-care activist” who focuses much of her time in communities that are underserved, social justice and community organizations, nonprofits and public schools. She is known for her practical approach that makes meditation accessible to all.
Shelly is a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) instructor and a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) certified teacher, delivering the mindfulness course founded and developed at Google. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and a master’s degree from Columbia University.
Deeply involved in offering trauma-informed healing practices to communities affected by gun violence and mass shootings in the US, Shelly has led retreats for survivors and victims’ families representing Parkland, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Aurora, Columbine and more. She was featured on the cover of Mindful Magazine® in June 2019 covering her work in this space and her Florida-based meditation community of over 15,000 practitioners.
As a “Self-Care Activist,” Shelly has worked with NGOs, aid workers, volunteers, front-line workers and staff of political and social justice organizations focusing on the use of formalized self-care in resilience training, helping these populations address activism fatigue, compassion fatigue and burnout.
Shelly was selected by the South Florida Business Journal in 2014 as one of their “40 under 40” honorees and in 2015 as a “Most Influential Business Woman” in the region. In 2019, she was featured on the cover of Mindful Magazine and was also named by mindful.org as as one of the “Ten Powerful Women of Mindfulness.”
Shelly’s work has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Upworthy, The Kelly Clarkson Show and TIME magazine and she was recently recognized by Vice President Joe Biden as being one of the individuals that is restoring “the soul of America.”
Chef; Founder, The Power of 10
An agent of alternatives, Erik Bruner-Yang creates space. Through his Washington, D.C.-based concept development company, Foreign National, he offers an alternative: food and space as commons. There exists a constant dialogue of community, culture and progress.
Bruner-Yang’s restaurants are instinctual; contemporary yet habitual, including Maketto, a three-level Asian market with a retail store, coffee shop, and restaurant; and at the LINE DC hotel – Brothers and Sisters, serving American classics from Taiwanese and Japanese points of view; and Spoken English, a standing-room-only space modeled after Japanese tachinomiyas. While Spoken English is temporarily closed in response to the pandemic, he has opened Cafe Spoken in the interim, inspired by Japanese kissatens, featuring coffee and Japanese comfort food (onigiri, Napolitan pasta. His restaurants have received numerous accolades, from Bon Appetit magazine’s 50 Best New Restaurants 2018; to Thrillist’s Best New Restaurants 2018 and RAMMY’s Best New Restaurant 2019 for Spoken English.
Born in Taiwan and raised in the States, Bruner-Yang has been credited for introducing D.C. to ramen in 2011 with Toki Underground. He is a multi-James Beard finalist, and was named Starchefs’ Rising Star D.C. Restaurateur 2018. His latest collaboration is Italian & Asian restaurant ABC Pony in DC, COIN Mezze, Lebanese fare at the Brixton DC.
Senior VP for Strategic Alliances, First Book
Kisha Green Dimbo is the Senior Vice President for Strategic Alliances at First Book, the nonprofit social enterprise that removes barriers to education equity for kids in need. In her role, Kisha leads the Strategic Alliances team in expanding organizational visibility, reach, and mission impact through the development and management of partner relationships. With more than 20 years of experience as a senior leader and change agent for non-profit and for-profit organizations, she has facilitated organizational transformation to drive growth through effective strategy & program development, operations leadership, partner & client management, and volunteer engagement. A former engineer and PMP, Kisha takes a process-driven approach to bringing creative solutions to complex challenges.
Founder, America Josh
Josh Pugh has been America Josh since May, 2017.
America Josh is an online guide and community network helping expats from all over the world move to and thrive in America and Josh’s mission is to make the transition more straight forward and life abroad less stressful. In 2017 Josh moved his whole life to New York from South Australia and while he found many resources across the internet to help with the move, he couldn’t find a reliable central point with information about the basics; so he thought I’d fix that.
America Josh started as a selfish hobby for Josh to make new friends and has evolved into a supportive community of fantastic people helping each other and working together to make their transition to and lives in America more straightforward.
He writes articles, creates events, builds partnerships, and helps people. It’s the dream job!