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Jasmine Newman, Susan Jordison, Jennifer Walden and Lori Sliwa celebrate one year of fundraising with Noodle Nirvana. The restaurant helped raised $30,000 for the New Opportunity School for Women.

Every time you go out to eat, you don't know where the money you spent will go. But at Noodle Nirvana, you do. Each year, the restaurant helps to give back to their community by partnering with a local organization.

The New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW) focuses on improving the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low-income, middle-aged women in Kentucky and south central Appalachia by hosting a three-week program that focuses on self-esteem, self-care and goal setting. The program is a non-profit, which means it relies heavily on donor contributions.

So when Mae Suramek contacted NOSW about a partnership, Lori Sliwa, its executive director, was thrilled.

Noodle Nirvana came from Suramek's love of her childhood noodle bowls and her passion for helping her community. She worked as a non-profit director for 15 years before joining her loves together.

So, Suramek decided to open a restaurant that would share 25 percent of the proceeds from sales — tips are included for the whole year — one day each month over a 12-month period with an organization that would help to better our community.

The first organization Suramek reached out to was NOSW to team up to help give back to the community. Sliwa says they were beyond excited. When the first check came for a little more than $3,000, they didn't think it could get any better, but it did.

“Being a first time partner was such an honor, it was a perfect pairing,” Sliwa said.

Over the course of the year, Noodle Nirvana helped to raise more than $30,000 for NOSW, something Sliwa said the organization didn't take for granted. On average, it takes $5,000 to cover the cost of a woman for the programming, meaning those donations could help as many as six women.

“Everything is free, it costs the women nothing and that's why this funding is so important to us,” Sliwa said.

Jennifer Walden, an intern with NOSW, was once a student with the program. Walden was having trouble finding the motivation that would put her on the right path. Knowing she needed to find a job or decide to go back to school, she was given a brochure about the school but wasn't sure if it was the right thing for her.

“It was a life changing experience for me,” Walden said. “Once I went through the program, I then knew that I wanted to go back to school and do social work.”

Sliwa said she's inspired by the community of total strangers who came to eat every day at Noodle Nirvana. A humbling experience, Sliwa is glad to have made a friend in Suramek.

Madison County Backpack Program

While the year of fundraising is over for NOSW, Noodle Nirvana has chosen a new organization that greatly benefits the community — The Madison County Backpack Program.

The program packs backpacks with food, such as milk, cereal, ravioli and pop-tarts, for children who have been identified by teachers and counselors at school as kids who might have food inefficiency at home. The backpack program started in 2008 after a young girl passed out from lack of food, which brought the attention to teachers and people in the community that if one child is going hungry over the weekend, many more could be. Teachers were initially pulling resources from their own pockets, but eventually the need was greater than what they could handle.

Now, the program helps more than 2,200 kids a month, servicing 19 schools in the Madison County area.

For Mandy Agee, assistant director of Gods Outreach, the Madison County Food Bank, it couldn't be happier that Suramek picked them.

“We were so shocked and happy. We applied for it, had Mae come out and take a tour of the food bank and just waited anxiously to hear back,” Agee said.

The program also goes through the summer, with some of the schools still needing their help. Because of this program, Agee said, schools are noticing a higher rate of performance in students now that they're being fed.

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