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Making Change in Uganda

7 Feb

The Swanky Swine was created to “make change” in the lives of our students.

We believe that every person was created with a divine purpose and that each of us has the opportunity to “make change” wherever we happen to be.  We’re inspired by other individuals and organizations who work tirelessly and often sacrificially to transform lives.   We want to come alongside those people who are building bridges of hope out of hopeless situations.  We want to promote and support people who are “making change” all over the world.

We’ve donated some of our profits to help an orphanage in Thailand and a Cambodian orphan realize his dream to attend university. At this time, we’ve decided to give a portion of our store’s earnings to God’s Hope Primary School in Uganda.  You can read about this incredible organization and their mission below.  As we grow, we hope to support more non-profit organizations in different areas of the world.  We hope that this exercise will broaden our student’s worldview and teach them the importance of giving.

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Making Change in Uganda

In 2010, a young woman named Simone heard about a school for orphans in Uganda that was about to shut it’s doors and immediately got involved. Simone knew that if no one stepped in, the students would no longer be able to receive the life changing opportunity to attend school.  In America, we are lucky that all children are provided an education regardless of their family’s economic situation. However, in many countries this is not the case.  In Uganda, without assistance, orphaned and poverty stricken children would never have the opportunity to learn to read or write.  Simone decided to do whatever she could to help this school keep it’s doors open. It was this commitment that birthed her organization, Simone’s kids.(

According to the Simone’s kids website, God’s Hope Primary school is a place “where poverty stricken children can receive an elite and valuable education.”

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“We are opening the minds of children that have been handed nothing in life. We are providing beyond a child’s basic needs of food, water, education and love. We are providing children with the ability to see their world as an opportunity. We operate a school for 300 children, and are currently building somewhere for that school to take place. We also have plans to build homes for the children that have no where to live.”

Our donation will help build a new school for these special children. We are proud to give to an organization whose heart and mission so closely mirror our own.  Simone’s Kids is truly making change in Uganda as they educate and empower these beautiful children.



Thank you Fox 13!

15 Dec

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The Swanky Swine’s employees were so excited to be Hometown Hero’s on Fox 13 this past week.  In the midst of preparing for our Christmas program, making boxed lunches for the school and selling a crazy amount of pies, we received a call from Jennifer Epstein at Fox 13.  The students were thrilled for the opportunity to be on the news and to be “famous again.” When the huge Fox 13 news van pulled up they could barely contain their excitement and started jumping up and down.

Jen did a wonderful job and we are so proud of the story Fox 13 told.   All of us know individuals whose special talents and abilities are often overlooked.  We hope that people who watch this story are inspired to make change in their own communities.

If you missed the story you can watch it by clicking the link below:

Fox 13 News Story

Christmas Pies for Sale!

4 Dec

This Christmas, buy a pie with a purpose. Our students are working hard to make delicious holiday pies. Each pie is handmade, and the profits support our growing transition program and the vocational training of our incredible students!  All pies are beautifully packaged and make great, meaningful gifts!

Click HERE to order your pies online!

Update 12/15/13  We sold way a lot more pies than we expected and had to stop taking orders. We had more demand than we could keep up with! I guess next year we’ll start baking earlier!

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Summer School!

5 Jul

This summer we offered 5 weeks of summer school for our Swanky Swine employees.  Our goal was to offer our special needs students an opportunity to use their summer break to develop their vocational and life skills.  Every week we spend our classroom time talking about character development, nutrition, recipes and grocery planning and then we go on several field trips where we apply this knowledge to the real world.

One of our first trips was to Publix grocery store where the students did a Supermarket Challenge.  Grocery shopping is an important life skill. Our first task was to familiarize everyone with where things typically were. What would you find in the produce section? Where are hot dogs? What is the difference between bread in the bakery and in the aisle?



Each student was given a list of products and they had to work in teams to find each item and record the aisle and the price.  They spent a lot of time crisscrossing across the store and eventually they were able to find everything.  It was a great exercise.

After the activity was complete we did shopped for the ingredients we needed to make our lunch.



We’ve been doing a lot of cooking. The students love following recipes and making their own lunch.  So far we’ve made macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, potato salad, watermelon salsa, black bean salsa, squash, corn on the cob, zucchini  salad, BBQ Chicken and fruit salad.  Cooking is a not only an important life skill but also a great way to practice math, motor skills, and following directions.



Here are some of the delicious meals the students have made for themselves:



Exercise is an important part of every healthy lifestyle so we try to schedule some of that into every week as well.  We swim, walk at the park, swing and play catch.



Our first two weeks of summer school have been a lot of fun for everyone. We can’t wait for all of the fun we have planned over the next 3 weeks! We hope everyone is having a great summer!

A Visit to the Gateway Organic Farm

19 Jun

On Monday, we started our very first Swanky Swine Summer School (we admit, the alliteration is getting a bit out of control).  Our goal for this program is to offer our young adults the opportunity to learn and practice valuable life and vocational skills.  Every day we will spend some time in the classroom but a good portion of our time will include hands on activities.  There will be an ongoing emphasis on character development, healthy living and money management.  We also plan to grocery shop and cook a lot!


Today, we took our first field trip to the Gateway Organic Farm in Clearwater.   There are so many important lessons to be learned in a garden.   Not only did visiting the farm teach our kids about nutrition and agriculture but it also exposed them to a possible vocation. The Gateway farm is the only organic farm in the county and it is quite impressive.  This past year, they won the Florida Innovative Farmer Award, which is impressive since they were competing with much larger farms all over the state.  While the farm itself is only about 3 acres, it was amazing how much they were doing on the land.   We took tons of pictures!


When we first arrived, Pamela (the farmer’s wife) and her family met us at the Gate and immediately engaged the students.  We toured their children’s garden  that was filled with vegetable and herb plants in plastic buckets that had been planted by children at the local elementary school.


Hank (the farmer) showed all of the children an empty bee hive and explained how they harvest honey.  The entire fence was lined with large pots overflowing with fresh herbs including Rosemary, Thyme, Cuban Oregano, Mint and Basil.  The students loved smelling everything. The basil reminded everyone of pizza and someone said the sage “smelled like Thanksgiving.”


We picked kale and Pamela taught us the importance of rotating crops.   However, everyone’s favorite part seemed to be the chickens.  We even left the farm with fresh eggs that we can cook together tomorrow!


It was such a great day!  We look forward to visiting the farm again in the fall when there are more vegetables to see. We also plan to volunteer on a planting or weeding day. Many of the students expressed an interest in farming. We even talked to Pamela about joining the farm’s CSA so that we can have fresh, local, organic produce to cook with throughout the year.  If you’re from the area and haven’t heard of the Gateway Farm I encourage you to check them out (  The family is wonderful and they are doing great work!

What’s in a name?

12 May

The Swanky Swine began, like everything begins, as an idea.  It started in a conversation that went something like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could start a program that would give our kids the skills they needed to get jobs?”

Then, “Wouldn’t it be really cool if we could start a business so our kids could have jobs in an environment that they are already flourishing in?”

Then, “What if our mascot was a pig with a mustache?”  Admittedly, that part was a harder sell.


The question we get asked the most when we’re meeting parents, doing newspaper interviews or wearing our t-shirts is, “Where did you get that name?”  The truth is, it all started with a piggy bank.


Before we opened our store, we identified one of our student’s biggest deficiencies was money management.  Counting money is a critical functional skill for all students.  It’s a skill that many of us take for granted but imagine how difficult life would be without it.  Understanding currency is the first step towards self sufficiency and the ability to live independently in the community.  It gives our students access to the things they need to purchase and the freedom to make these purchasing decisions on their own.

It’s not just counting change, its a necessary, foundational skill.  Counting small change is the literally the beginning of big change (get it?!).

So we started with pennies, nickels  dimes and quarters.  We presented it a lot of different ways, we used touch math, flash cards, worksheets, ipad apps and anything else we could get our hands on.  In the midst of these lessons we purchased each student a little pink piggy bank from Target.  When students answered questions correctly, or completed an assignment they would get plastic coins that they would collect in their banks.  Once every couple of weeks, the students would open their banks, count their coins and could purchase things from a class store.

The students LOVED their banks much more than we anticipated.  We drew mustaches on the boy’s banks so they seemed a bit more masculine.  The students named them and displayed them proudly on their desks.

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So when it came time to start our store we knew that homage must be paid to the pigs who started it all.

From the beginning,  we wanted our store to be more than just a typical school store. We wanted the name to reflect that we were setting a different standard.  After throwing out “the Pretentious Pig” and then then “Swaggering Sow” we landed on the “Swanky Swine.”

Our mascot has a mustache and a monocle that of course are indicative of his style and class.  However, most importantly the Swanky Swine is a pink piggy bank that represents that first small step towards big change in our students lives.  He’s also inspired a growing collection of banks that are displayed in our school’s lobby,


AND an stylish t-shirt that is worn by our awesome supporters all over the country.

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Every time someone asks “Why does that pig have a mustache?” it’s another chance to tell the story of a small school store that’s attempting to make big change.  We believe the old adage,  “From small beginnings come great  things” and we have only just begun.

Our First Golf Tournament (and our public debut)!

5 May

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Yesterday, we finally had our public debut at the first annual Woodlawn Community Academy charity golf tournament. The event was held at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club in Belleair and was coordinated by the WCA parent board.  Pat Shriver who is a Woodlawn parent and a professional golf instructor at the Shriver Golf Academy, coordinated a lot of the event details and did an incredible job.  The funds that were raised are all going towards our transition program and the Swanky Swine. Thank you so much to everyone who worked tirelessly to make this day a success!DSC_0075

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Our students were thrilled to participate in the event by putting together a swanky lemonade stand on hole 14.  This was a great opportunity for us to showcase our store and allowed the golfers to interact with the students they were helping.

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At the beginning of the day, the students were a bit nervous; however, they quickly became more confident as they interacted with the golfers. Everyone was so nice and so impressed with their customer service skills.   We may have received more tips than actual sales!!

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In addition to water balls, our menu for the day included several types of fresh fruit lemonade including strawberry lime, watermelon and blueberry. We also had Arnold Palmers of course!


We received a lot of compliments on the drinks but the most popular item by far were our baked goods.  On the Thursday and Friday before the tournament our students baked their hearts out.


We had bacon brownies and our signature pink pig cookies.  After trying our cookies, one golfer even returned to the hole to buy three more bags! By the end of the day we didn’t have to encourage anyone to stop.  One of the last carts told us, “We’ve been hearing about these cookies all day and have been looking forward to trying them!”  The kids were so proud that everyone loved something they had made.


Other than the fact that it was a bit windy, the weather was perfect and it was a wonderful day.We would have a group of 4 golfers come through every 10 or 15 minutes.  The employees are used to serving 100 people in 30-40 minutes so they enjoyed the slower pace of the tournament.  We had plenty of time to enjoy the weather and take some fun pictures!

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Don’t worry, we didn’t actually let Dimitri drive 🙂 He did get a chance to hit a ball in the longest drive contest though thanks to a generous golfer who let him use his club.

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There were even some of our regular customers from the school at the tournament. They were happy to see their favorite store along the course.

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It was such a great day and a wonderful chance for the students to show off everything they have learned this year.  We hope this is the first of many opportunities for our store. We are thankful for everyone who has come alongside of us and bought into our vision.  We can’t wait to see what is in store for the future.

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April Employee of the Month

30 Apr

Every month we pick an employee of the month.  The employee of the month is someone who works hard and meets or exceeds our employee expectations. These expectations include:

  • following directions
  • having a positive attitude
  • practicing good customer service including making eye contact & smiling
  • wearing a uniform when scheduled to work
  • washing their hands before working and practicing proper food handling
  • increasing knowledge of prices & products
  • Making an effort to learn money math skills including adding purchases, making change and using a cash register

This month, Marlena Williams, was our employee of the month.

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Marlena is one of our happiest employees. She is always smiling, joking and making everyone laugh.  She has learned a lot over the past year. She understands that to be a good employee, it is important to have a good attitude even if you might not feel like working.  She knows all of the store’s prices and can ring up purchases on our cash register.

Marlena said, “I like working at the Swanky Swine because I get to work with my friends.  I also really like wearing the shirt.  My favorite thing is doing the cashier so I can learn how to give out money to the customers.”

Marlena commented that the the hardest thing about work is “when the kids (the customers)  try to rush me and everybody wants this and that right now. It’s ok though,  I just say wait your turn and I’ll help you when I’m done.”

She also talked about how she learned to handle the stress of working a busy shift.  “When I’m stressed out I tell myself in my mind to stay calm and don’t worry and all that other stuff  and most of the time that helps.”

Congratulations Marlena!

The Tampa Bay Times

27 Apr

Last week we were so excited about being featured in the Tampa Bay Times!

Click here to see the article on their website.  The students were thrilled to read the story and to see their names in print.  One of them said, “I can’t believe our store is so popular!”


After the excitement died down, we shifted our focus to our upcoming golf tournament. The parent board at our school, Woodlawn Community Academy, is sponsoring a charity golf tournament on May 4th to raise funds for our  transition program.  We’ve been asked to set up a drink stand on the course.  This will be our very first public event and we can’t wait.  We spent this week perfecting our customer service skills for the event.

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We developed a script for closing out sales.  In class, we practiced ringing up orders and making eye contact at appropriate points in the conversation.  Everyone had a turn playing both the employee and the customer. During our weekly shifts at the Swanky Swine, we practiced with real customers.  Everyone has learned so much this year and it was great watching them put their new skills to work.

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If you are interested in being a part of our golf tournament you can click here to find our more information.  As of today, there are over 100 golfers registered! If you are already signed up, be sure to stop by hole 14 where we will be selling several flavors of lemonade, swanky swine sugar cookies, bacon bourbon brownies and of course our Swanky Swag.  See you there!

Our Newest Employee

16 Apr


This week our store is closed for our school wide standardized testing.  However, in the midst of our number two pencils and scantran forms we wanted to take a minute to introduce our newest staff member, Victoria.  Victoria is 18 years old.  She is the first new person our staff has had the opportunity to train.  On Friday, during Victoria’s first shift,  each employee took turns describing their jobs and sharing tips on being a good employee. It was great to listen to them share all they have learned including words of wisdom like these:

“Sometimes the customers order too fast but you can ask them nicely to slow down”

and “When you get stressed out, the best thing to do is to take a deep breath and calm down.”

Welcome Victoria! We are so glad to have you on our team!