Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Ice.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Growing up, my dream was to be a stage actress, but after going on a 2 month trip to West Africa in 2002, the bright lights of Broadway faded and my entire worldview shifted. The trip shaped a lot of my 20’s. For the first time, I realized that there are real people with real names and stories who are in need. This began my journey to see more of the world and work with NGOs and other ministries that care for people in poverty.
While I was in college, I spent time traveling to Morocco, Nepal, China and other countries serving and sharing the love of God with different people all around the world.
I have always wanted to start a nonprofit or somehow make a career out of helping others, specifically the marginalized and the poor. I was able to launch and found my own 501c3 called The NET in 2012. My husband Jamey and I thought it would be a great idea that same year (while I was also working full time) to help open a restaurant/coffee house called BREWED with some of our friends, all while we were also remodeling and investing in historic homes in our neighborhood. This was during a season where Jamey was on tour with his band, Green River Ordinance, and I was going to school in the evenings to get a degree in social work as well. Whew!
Although I wouldn’t suggest the insanity of the way we got here, I am thankful for our crazy unconventional and very full lives. We currently live in our dream house built in 1920 and through our remodels I discovered my passion for eclectic decor and design. Now I am enjoying being the Executive Director of my NPO The NET. We have a building where we host events for the homeless and women who’ve been sexually exploited. We have an after school program for refugee kids, 5 full time staff, and a team of dozen interns from TCU who are all engaged in poverty alleviation efforts. My husband has turned a house-flipping-side hustle into a full-blown real estate brokerage and renovation company called 6th Avenue Homes. Our goal is to follow where God leads us and to do our best to leave our city a little better than we found it.
Right now my favorite ‘new venture’ of all the things I am doing is being mommy to Roosevelt Pearl, my sweet baby girl.
Has it been a smooth road?
I would be lying if I pretended like struggles were “a thing of the past.” We are still experiencing hardship in each venture and business we are a part of, but isn’t that the definition of success?
When you hit a roadblock you push forward, you dust yourself off, you try again, you learn, you grow. I think one thing I have learned is how hard the restaurant business is. It’s one thing to dream up a space, a vibe, a menu, a recipe, an environment and esthetic you want to create, but to implement that is really hard work.
There are so many moving parts. You can have the best idea in the world but it has to make sense operationally, logistically, financially etc and I have learned that the hard way. I am thankful our doors are still open today and a lot of our original mission has been accomplished. I have so much respect for folks in the restaurant world.
With my non-profit, I have learned that culture is key. When you are working on a small budget or are under-resourced (i.e. not making profit) you can be inclined to make compromises with your brand, your culture, your hires, etc., if you are not careful. You need more than a warm body to create a specific culture among a team and keep a consistent presence. At The NET, I have implemented more processes that didn’t previously exist to ensure the right culture on our team.
Things like a more proficient handbook, better hiring practices, more ways to celebrate and discuss our core values so they are clear. I have found one thing that slows you down is when you have people on your team that are not the right fit, but the opposite is also true. When you have the right team the sky’s the limit with making waves of change, and I believe we are doing that at The NET.
Lastly, I have learned the power of having partners who have the same values as you otherwise nothing will work. My husband and I have found a lot of success in our desire to be more intentional with our time, saying yes to the right things, keeping our family as a first priority, setting boundaries to ensure focus, and saying no when it inhibits our values and mission.
Basically, trying to refuse to live in the tyranny of the urgent but instead be more calculated so we can succeed at work and our personal lives, since those things are very interwoven. When you have partners, who are aligned in these things you can work together to ensure each other’s success. If you are not aligned then those values and boundaries can easily be misunderstood.
I could keep going down the list of struggles and how I am in a constant state of learning the do’s and don’ts one day at a time. The bumps in the road are never-ending but how we recover from those things is what becomes the true test of success.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with The NET & Brewed – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
My main gig is being the Founder and Executive Director of The NET. We are a non-profit in Fort Worth that serves the homeless, women and girls who have been sexually exploited/trafficked, and refugee youth.
Although those three areas are vastly different, our poverty alleviation efforts look the same. We are a highly-relational model and our services focus on development versus relief. We truly believe that when you empower someone in need in the context of an on-going-consistent relationship, true life change can occur. At The NET, we avoid paternalism at all costs. Paternalism the idea of doing something for someone when they are capable of doing things themselves. So instead of asking, “What is wrong with you? What can I do to fix your situation?” We ask, “What is right with you? What can YOU do to fix your situation because I believe you have ideas, gifts, talents, and the skills to do it. I want to be here for you every step of the way!” We don’t shuffle people through a system, rather we have genuine friendships with folks in need and support them as they move towards a better future. That’s truly what makes us different from other organizations. We fight every day to create a process of offering services that never deviate from the idea of giving people dignity through those services. For example, we have a breakfast every Friday morning called Bingo and Bagels for people experiencing homelessness. At this breakfast we say, “We don’t serve a meal, we share a meal.” At Bingo, there is no ‘giver/receiver roles’ you commonly find at a serve event, instead you would walk into a room of 60+ people all sitting down chatting over a cup of coffee and eating bagels. Like one big family.
In addition to our events for our friends experiencing homelessness, and our after-school program for refugee kids, we are most known for our work with women and girls in our city who are trafficked. We offer different kinds of advocacy for them including mentors, court support, and a survivor group that meets at our building each week for women who have been affected by the sex industry. We partner with a specialty court called Rise under Judge Brent Carr, and get to walk alongside women who are going back to school, are clean and sober, gaining employment, and recovering from their past. We have jail advocates who go into our county jail each week to encourage women with this same background. We also have a men’s group called MASE (Men Against Sexual Exploitation) who are disrupting men attempting to purchase sex through our demand efforts. I am super proud of this part of our organization. There’s a lot of darkness in our city but I’m encouraged that people in my community who are willing to be a light in those dark places.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
One of the things I love most about Fort Worth is how friendly people are. Also, I appreciate that it’s not a big town trying to get bigger, instead it’s a big town that feels like a small town which is hard to do! Our mayor Betsy Price is one of a kind, treats everyone with dignity and respect, and often a hug, and cares so much about our city.
Fort Worth is growing at a rapid pace yet there is general feel of collaboration over competition. This unspoken undertow of “there’s always room at the table” is what makes people like Jamey and I feel like we too can have a piece of the pie.
I am thankful to have seen recent progress and growth in our city’s stance against human trafficking. It happens everywhere so once a city acknowledges that it happens, only then can they effect change and protect their women and girls from this atrocity.
- Address: 2640 E Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth, TX 76103
- Website: TheNETfw.com
- Email: Serve@TheNETfw.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thenetfw
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNETFW