When just seventeen, Janet Davas wanted to change the world by helping people. She got off to a great start by choosing the University of Texas in Austin — progressive even then — and especially progressive for Texas. But she got off track one night after attending a college mixer of potential oil industry types and changed her major to Petroleum Land Management. She earned her BBA in 1979 with honors. Janet then managed to be the first woman hired by one of our major domestic oil companies in the role of Petroleum Landman. Janet’s detour lasted almost thirty years which she spent in the private energy sector in various project management and consulting positions. This work took her back and forth from Texas to Louisiana including several stops in New Orleans. Then Hurricane Katrina struck her beloved city of New Orleans and she chose to return and pick up the thread of helping people. She began as a volunteer at Café Reconcile, a food service-based mission for at-risk youth in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. After a short while, she went on payroll at Café Reconcile as Director of Development and was then named Interim CEO. By now she had been bitten by the bug of helping people and set out on her own to expand services to even more disconnected youth in New Orleans. As a result, Liberty’s Kitchen launched in 2009 at the corner of Tulane and Broad streets —also home to the Orleans Parish Prison and Criminal Courts complex. Not exactly a destination for an eatery, but certainly a symbolic one for the young people served by Liberty’s Kitchen — young people out of school, out of work and out of luck and often already involved in the criminal justice system.
However, Janet recognized their potential for their success despite the social injustices she witnessed on a daily basis at the corner of Tulane and Broad.”
Utilizing the business sense and skill set she acquired in the for-profit sector, Janet and Liberty’s Kitchen have now helped many, many young people since opening with those first two students in 2009. In just five short years of operation, Liberty’s Kitchen has touched the lives of over 300 young people who have participated in the Youth Development Program and served more than 2 million healthful meals to undernourished schoolchildren through its Healthy School Lunch Program.
To have provided so many children with nourishing meals is rewarding,” says Davas. “But it is personally more rewarding to have given so many young people a future and the opportunity for fulfilling and productive lives.”
With the success of its social enterprise, Liberty’s Kitchen quickly outgrew its facilities and is now poised to increase the impact of its dual missions with a new 10,000 square foot facility at New Orleans’ ReFresh Project, a unique community economic development project which repurposes a 60,000sf abandoned grocery store into a “Fresh Food Hub” that delivers fresh, healthy and affordable food to under-served communities. In addition to fulfilling her vision of Liberty’s Kitchen relocation to the ReFresh Project, Janet also forged an innovative partnership with their co-tenant — Whole Foods Market. Just like Janet, this groundbreaking production partnership combines the goals of for-profit and non-profit organizations — maximizing both economic and social outcomes for the community. Having accomplished her goal of launching Liberty’s Kitchen as a model social enterprise, Janet chose to step down as its Executive Director and begin her consulting firm, Hatch, LLC. “My goal in launching Hatch is to share with other like-minded social entrepreneurs what I have learned from my experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors — helping you help others.” Janet serves on the Tulane University Changemakers Institute Advisory Board, the National Advisory Board for Catalyst Kitchens and was honored when recently selected as a Coach/Mentor for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network Fellowship Program. Ms. Davas has also been invited to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative America again this year. She plans to continue helping people for many years to come.