It takes a special kind of innovation to curate events and experiences that serve the culture and community. However, Dinai Yelverton serves with enough grit and grace to get the job done. This millennial mama, wife and budding entrepreneur has taken on the challenge to bring a mobile clinic to town to service more Black and Brown kids with eye care. Yelverton, talks with the Chicago Defender about the importance of eye care for children, conversations that enhance our world and building a brand that matters in Chicago and beyond.
Chicago Defender: Dinai, why was it important to create an organization like, Experiences That Matter Foundation that brings resources to the community?
Dinai Yelverton: Honestly, I’ve always had a heart to serve, since a child. I grew up in Trinity (United Church of Christ) and every year my mom took my sister and I out of school to put together Thanksgiving boxes for families in the area. We made thousands of boxes each year and my mom made it a point to ensure that we knew the importance of, not just “giving back” but using the resources God gave us to bless others. I’m a planner and so managing events and creating experiences has always been my thing. Prior to leaving Corporate America, I was privy to how organizations and companies developed community initiatives and I even took part in many of them. Activities like painting schools, cleaning up trash from neighborhoods, and reading books to kids at under performing elementary schools. And while these efforts are appreciated, and at times needed, I just felt like more could be done. I also realized that anytime you think of a cool experience in Chicago, very seldomly are these activations taking place on the South and West Sides of Chicago. So I asked myself, how can I use my love of events to authentically bring resources to communities that need them. How can we create experiences that are fun and unique, and ACTUALLY enact change…thus the foundation was formed. It’s actually the charitable arm of my event management agency, The uDe Agency where I work with brands and clients to use their influence to produce their own socially driven, community focused events and campaigns.
You have provided access to free eye exams for under-resourced communities for quite some time. What sparked the challenge to help black and brown children in such a unique way?
Jesus Christ himself! I never wanted to do this. I tell this story all the time, I was in my den sweeping my stairs and this random thought came to mind “how cool would it be to do a vision event in the year 2020 [20/20 is the indicator of perfect vision]”, it was 2018 at the time. As much as I tried to rid myself of the thought, it kept creeping back up and I found myself down a rabbit hole of research into the disparities of vision health care for Black and Brown children. I couldn’t explain why I was so enthralled but it was evident that there was a huge lack in vision health care so I began brainstorming ways to help. Later that year, I attended the Dream Village Tour here in Chicago, an event curated by Eunique Jones Gibson of “Because of Them We Can”. The entire premise was to inspire dreamers to “take the pledge to build your dream and village”. I remember they had transformed this school bus into a classroom of sorts where they were having coding workshops led by “Black Girls Who Code” for the kids who attended the event. When I stepped on that bus I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do…transform a vehicle into this really cool experience making it fun and exciting for kids of color to get their eyes checked. I had never seen anything like it before. You can tell there was so much thought put into transforming this school bus to make it for “us” and I loved that, and wanted to create something similar.
There is a deeper connection to humanity when we step aside to serve a cause greater than self. As a mother of school aged children, what do you hope they learn from seeing their mother serve in her own right as a social entrepreneur right here at home?
Just like I learned to serve from my mother, I hope they are learning the same from me. I also hope that they get a realistic view of what “dreaming big” really means. In this highlight reel world we live in, we forget that fulfilling a dream, working towards goals, etc is HARD work. I don’t hide the journey from my kids. I think sometimes parents don’t want their kids to see them fail or cry, but I would be doing them a disservice if I only chose to share my wins with them and not my losses. My kids are very much apart and keep me accountable. They attended events with me…and for two years we were all home so they were privy to conversations and meetings I had discussing the project, they saw it all lol. My hope is that I don’t scare them (lol) but inspire them to see Mommie not giving up, even when the chips don’t fall the way she wants or expects.
Let’s talk more about the mobile clinic. When is the official launch for the mobile clinic and what communities are you aiming to target first for eye care access?
Our plan is to have our own mobile unit retrofit and ready to hit the road Summer 2023, Lord willing! This past year, we made stops in Englewood, Roosevelt Square and Lansing, IL in partnership with VSP Eyes of Hope, utilizing their mobile clinic to conduct exams. In 2020 we made stops in Auburn-Gresham, Austin, Bronzeville, Little Village, and Englewood with a vehicle we temporarily leased through Mobile Care Chicago. Our goal has always been to have our own vehicle and service 10 neighborhoods during a tour season (August – October) and hopefully we can reach that goal this summer. We do plan to focus on more south suburban areas like Robbins, Harvey, Chicago Heights, etc., where poverty rates are high and resources aren’t as accessible as they are in the city.
For those looking to support your endeavors, what can people do to support you? How can the culture and community assist your mission with Experiences That Matter Foundation?
One way of course is through donations. We are looking to raise $100K ahead of our summer tour to retrofit our own vehicle and have it ready to service the Chicagoland area this summer. Donations can be made by visiting the website: www.theudeagency.com/foundation or by selecting the “support” button on our Instagram page @etmfoundation. And because we are a 501c3 organization, donations are tax deductible. We are also actively seeking board members. So for anyone who is interested in helping us to further the mission of the foundation, we welcome you to email us email@example.com. We are looking for grant writers/fundraisers, digital marketing gurus, and partnership specialists. Lastly, community support and exposure to what we’re doing. Follow us on social media, share our posts, connect us with community partners and leaders so that we can all work together to get much needed resources to those who need it most!