Breaking Barriers, Building Futures: Dan Weidenbenner’s Vision of Multigenerational Change in Greenville.
By Kristi Waterworth – Published Feb 9, 2024
Living in an area of Greenville, South Carolina, where aging and abandoned textile mills had slowly changed into urban decay, allowing a food desert to form where a neighborhood had once thrived, Dan Weidenbenner knew what had to be done: first, people needed to be fed.
It Takes a [Mill] Village…
In 2012, Dan founded The Sullivan Street Garden, which would later become Mill Village Farms, a community garden project that now includes 30 beds, a greenhouse, and a commercial kitchen. But the garden was only the beginning. Mill Village, the organization Dan built, is also the parent of Mill Village Farms, Village Wrench, a bicycle repair shop, Village Launch, an incubator for local entrepreneurs, and Village Engage, which helps promote social justice and equity issues in his large minority community.
“I love getting out of bed every day!” Dan told The Motley Fool Foundation. “When I get to see the impact of our work, I see students find their purpose and reach their fullest potential as they graduate high school and become adults in our community.”
Although Dan would never be one to brag about what Mill Village has done for his community, the numbers speak for themselves. It truly takes a village to do the kind of work that’s been made possible through Mill Village:
Mill Village Farms has distributed over one million pounds of food with the help of 40 community organizations since 2018. Village Launch helped 64 entrepreneurs and 38 Business Entrepreneur Academy graduates complete over 1,100 training hours in 2022 alone. Village Wrench trained 16 community youths to work on a team that completed 560 free bike repairs and performed 2,000 tune-ups, creating reliable and sustainable transportation for the community.
What’s Next for Mill Village?
One of the most amazing things about Dan’s work with Mill Village is that so much of the work his team is doing has evolved naturally where he is. The needs that are being addressed aren’t being assigned by some organization in another city or state, but they’re coming from within his community and being solved by his community – this community that he’s been building over the last decade.
“I think of one of the first youths that I met in our community, Jimmy, and I think of how he’s grown as a leader despite the challenges and setbacks he’s had,” Dan said when asked what keeps him motivated. “He’s in many ways an inspiring person to me and a blueprint for how we can support the next generation of leaders that are growing up in our community.”
Just by giving kids a chance to learn a skill and business people a fair chance to own their own companies and have the support they need to get them off the ground, Mill Village is changing the entire financial landscape for a community that was once living below the poverty line.
In 2023, Mill Village rebranded its Third Thursday Market, an open-air market that supports minority- and women-owned businesses, to the Village Launch Market to better help support its Village Launch participants.
“The Village Launch Market is more than a market. It’s an incredible opportunity for the Greenville community to come together to support our entrepreneurs and for entrepreneurs to connect, collaborate, and grow their businesses,” Dan told the Greenville Journal in May 2023.
2024 holds just as many opportunities for Greenville, with constructing a 14,000-square-foot home for Mill Village and all the umbrella organizations under it. This space is meant to be a hub to unite further and strengthen the Greenville community.
Dan Weidenbenner: Rulebreaker
Dan and Mill Village partnered with The Motley Fool Foundation as a member of our very first class of Rulebreakers in 2023. Due to the incredible work happening in Greenville, we saw in him what we see in all Rulebreakers – a leader who isn’t afraid to go his own way and who will work hard for what it is that he believes in.
It just so happens that what Dan believes in is what we believe in: Financial Freedom for all. He didn’t know it, but he was already a Fool for Good long before we met him. He saw a need in his community and found ways to meet it. Now, with the help of The Motley Fool Foundation, the community of Greenville, South Carolina, will have the support they need to continue to go through an incredible transformation that will have implications for future generations.
“The family and network of The Motley Fool is quite incredible,” said Dan. “I think just being aware, knowing what we’re up against in our community and as a country matters. It’s not just me being a Rulebreaker; we’re all Rulebreakers and need to be in this fight together.”