By: Shannon McCauley | @uptowngirlclt
As I've grown into my thirties, I have started appreciating how important it is to support local, and not only be a part of the community you live in, but be proud of it. Charlotte has an abundance of non-profit organizations that are working hard to bring awareness to different things and make our community stronger and better for everyone in it.
CLTIVATE is a nonprofit organization based right here in the Queen City, and the mission is to help those in our community who battle addiction and to support people in recovery.
I am so amazed at those who take time out of their lives to make a difference in others. One day while I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across a non-profit organization, CLTIVATE. I instantly admired the purpose. I wanted to not only feature the founder’s story behind his organization, but let him tell us that story himself with a series of interview questions.
What better way to start than with a proper introduction. Tell us a little about yourself! What’s your name and age? How long have you lived in Charlotte?
My name is Zack Gudzan – but my friends just call me Gudzan ;) I’m 28 (turning 29 on Nov. 10th) and I am the definition of a Scorpio, lol. I’ve lived in Charlotte two years. I moved here from Birmingham, Alabama to start over and get sober.
When and why did you start CLTIVATE?
The idea happened in my truck in Myers Park on July 31st 2016 –the idea was sparked from a simple, passing thought about how much I love Charlotte. I was driving home, it was dark, the stars were out – it was just really pretty, and the word “cultivate” is what immediately crossed my mind. This all happened in a matter of seconds, but I connected the “CLT” in Charlotte with the word “cultivate”. Knowing it was the idea I had been waiting for my whole life, I started it that night, still not knowing exactly what it meant.
For whatever reason, I’ve known my entire adult life that I wanted a nonprofit…just didn’t know what its purpose would be. I’ve always had an extremely sensitive and empathetic heart, and now I know why. I’m using my experience with sobriety to help other people. Sobriety is hard, and addiction kills – my hope is that CLTIVATE can encourage other people in recovery to stay the course and find a genuine appreciation for life!
Can you tell us about the work CLTIVATE does and the community programs you run?
1) We provide outreach and encouragement through social media and blogs. You wouldn’t believe the amount of messages we get on Facebook and Instagram. CLTIVATE is essentially a nonprofit “brand” that promotes the sober lifestyle. Addiction affects everyone – most of us have a story, and CLTIVATE is a platform where people can share those stories about their own recovery, losing loved ones, and offer encouragement to people who are struggling.
2) We encourage fitness – we have a partnership with QCworks in Charlotte, where we put on free boot camps. Fitness, running, hiking, and just being outside are huge components of a happy life.
3) Our clothing line has been a huge hit so far. All of the proceeds go toward helping us with startup expenses.
This is so very new, and it’s already starting to boom. People like good things. As this continues to grow, we will expand our footprint to make a huge impact in communities everywhere.
What’s your most successful program so far and why?
Oh, definitely our clothing line. Probably because people just want to do good. Buying a shirt that carries such a positive message is an easy way to make a big difference. We’re just two months in, and orders have already come in from California, New Mexico, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and all over North Carolina.
How have you seen CLTIVATE'S work make a difference?
The results are incredibly tangible – we see messages every day from total strangers saying thank you for encouraging them to stay sober another day. It’s pretty cool to be making a difference in so many lives.
Is there anything that you wish more people knew about CLTIVATE or the issues you are trying to solve?
Ha! Yeah…sobriety is hard. If people only knew the daily battles we face in recovery. It can be something as simple as seeing a Coors Light truck in traffic – it triggers so much emotion – if we’re not equipped, it can quickly lead back to that dark place in life. We want the general public to become more sensitive to the fact that every person has battles. Be careful what you say, and just be positive! Encouragement is one of our most powerful weapons, yet we so rarely see it. We’re doing a lot more than cultivating the fight against addiction. We’re cultivating a generation of positive people to make a difference in this crazy world.
How are you collaborating with similar organizations on a local, regional, or national level?
My goodness, where to even begin? So many nonprofits have reached out to us about partnering up. Planning big things for 2017 – you’ll have to stay tuned!
What differentiates you from other organizations?
1) This is a nonprofit – a ton of brands are out there who promote great causes. CLTIVATE exists to actually be a great cause. 100% of everything we do revolves around addiction and recovery outreach/awareness.
2) We’re cool. Please don’t take that the wrong way haha – some nonprofits just seem to be missing the “cool factor”, and we have it.
3) We’re so open to collaborations – it seems like business owners are legitimately surprised when we start promoting them without asking for anything in return. Just looking to be an example that helping others is the best way to help yourself – that applies to business, too!
What are your goals for CLTIVATE in the next three to five years?
CLTIVATE is going to be huge. Specifically, I’m talking brand ambassadors at every major university in the country, mega partnerships with other awesome nonprofits, and I see the mission evolving into something where we can “cultivate” anything positive. The brand will expand so far beyond shirts – like, full-on clothing line, dog stuff, accessories, you name it. We have a vision for being the very definition of “social good”. We’ll have multiple offices (hopefully mine will still be in Charlotte), a warehouse, and you’ll see our brand in retail stores all over this country. We’ll sponsor so many events, bring hope to so many people, share some good laughs and so many tears – I’ll probably have gray hair in five years haha.
What would make the greatest difference in helping CLTIVATE get better at what it does?
People being honest. This is all about opening up, learning to be ok with your past, and using your story to help other people. We’re all in this together, and the sooner we break those fake barriers on social media of “oh, my life is so perfect”, the sooner we’ll be able to make a bigger difference.
What are the ways people in the community can help and be a part of spreading the message of CLTIVATE?
A ton of people send emails and messages asking “how can I help?” This would be my reply:
1) Donate - Seems obvious, but a lot of people forget that nonprofits survive through donations. It’s way more than just buying a shirt (although, we certainly want you to start by doing that lol)
2) Share anything we post on social media - If something moves you, share it. You’d be amazed at how many people are scrolling through Facebook, just hoping to see something that actually matters. I’ll add to that by encouraging you to start being more open about your own story. We all have a past – it’s time to use our past to build the future.
3) Send us your ideas - We really appreciate it when people ask about getting involved, but it’s far more effective to just tell us how you’d like to get involved. Creativity has no rules – if you have an idea, we want you to run with it! You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anything else you want to share?
That’s a loaded question haha. Yes. I’ll be resigning from my full-time job in December to pursue CLTIVATE with my entire heart. I have zero answers about where money will come from, health insurance, or anything in between. I just know this is my calling, and that’s enough for me to have faith. Please donate, buy a shirt, and start telling your friends. If I end up on the street, that’s fine, but I’d prefer not to ;) 2017 is going to be a big year!!! Definitely follow us on Insta!
Because of Zack, people in our community as well as others are getting the help and support they need. It’s truly inspirational to see what you are giving of yourself to benefit others. I know I can speak for the masses when I say we look forward to seeing all the good this organization will do. With sincere thanks, we appreciate you taking the time to tell us your story. Now, let’s CLTIVATE!