Social Entrepreneur’s Glee Gum Products Going Nationwide

By Donita Naylor
The Providence Journal, R.I.

PROVIDENCE

To counter urban decay, Deborah Schimberg bought an abandoned house in South Providence, where she and her husband, Kevin Neel, raised three children.

To fight urban blight, she planted a garden in the vacant lot next door, then founded the Southside Community Land Trust in 1981.

To save the jobs of skilled forestry workers in Guatemala and help save the rainforest, Schimberg started a company in 1995 that created markets for natural chicle, the sap of the sapodilla tree, making the trees more valuable alive than cut for lumber.

To help immigrants arriving in the United States, she worked to open the International Charter School in a former bread factory in Pawtucket in 2001.

To keep the Providence Public Library from closing its nine branches, she helped form the Providence Community Library in 2009.

To keep summer swimming programs alive and persuade the city to reopen the closed Davey Lopes pool last year, she led a committee appointed by the Providence City Council to study pools and swim instruction.

She also served as executive director of Social Venture Partners of R.I., earned a master’s in education from Harvard and taught social entrepreneurship at Brown University.

Schimberg, now 58, says she likes to solve problems in sustainable ways.

Her company, Verve, markets no-artificial-anything products she developed: Make Your Own Candy Kits, Glee Gum and Glee Gum Pops, which are about to hit store shelves nationwide.

This spring her company, which employs eight people in Providence and just moved into a solar-powered, renovated former gas station in South Providence, won the U.S. Small Business Administration award for Rhode Island Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year.

As a young woman from Cincinnati who had just graduated from Brown in 1979 with a degree in comparative literature, she saw in South Providence “a huge amount of vacant land and vacant houses,” the result of real estate disinvestment and people walking away from properties, she said Friday.

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