We partnered with COOL HUNTING™ and Rémy Martin® to launch the #LiveThem Awards as a way of helping one reader start 2017 off the right way: by taking one of their many personal talents to an entirely new level. Over the last month, we’ve been overwhelmed by the number of thoughtful proposals that were submitted for the grant and are deeply appreciative of everyone who invested their time in filling out an application.

Today, we’re pleased to share our staff’s choices for the top five applications that stood out the most among a sea of great ideas. Only one is ultimately eligible for the grant, and over the coming weeks, we’ll be investigating each proposal in further detail and speaking to each applicant in order to select a final honoree. If you happen to be one of the finalists below, feel free to shoot us a note at [email protected] Otherwise, look out for a note from us shortly via the contact info you provided with your initial application.

Now, without further ado, here at the five #LiveThem Award finalists.

Becoming a Fried Chicken Champion

William Schwing is a native Angeleno, and, in his own words, “I’ve always been fascinated by new experiences, people, and places. That curiosity is a headfirst compulsion – when I wanted to learn a new language, I moved to Guatemala for a year. When I wanted to be a better rugby player, I went to New Zealand. I learned about Conflict and Reconciliation by studying South African apartheid in Capetown, and religious conflict in Northern Ireland. When I wanted to go into business, I started my own.” As the co-founder and creative director of a men’s leather footwear company, you’d think Will would be looking to expand his craft. But in his continued evolution, Will is ecstatic at the opportunity to use the #LiveThem Award to take his other feverish passion to new heights.

That passion? Fried Chicken. More than just the culture of food, Will has been working on perfecting a secret recipe in all the moments he’s not at work on his company. His plan is to compete in the famous Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival in May. The funds would be used to travel to the festival and for equipment, to further development of his blog, The Fryer’s Club, and to fund more recipe experimentation. Whether or not Will wins, I think we can all agree we’re anxious to try a bite.

My Next Short Film

Mark Kwak is originally from Portland and now lives in the Bay Area after schooling in Los Angeles. A self-professed life enthusiast, Kwak does it all: he motorcycles, crafts cocktails, podcasts, plays the saxophone; he’s avid audiophile, menswear enthusiast, and, most recently, a filmmaker. At his day job in Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, Mark evangelizes the well-known platform through key relationships, but filmmaking is where Mark intends to make his #LiveThem Awards mark.

Building on the momentum of his first short film — which involved 30 people and took months of time outside of his working hours to develop, and was screened to 200 viewers — Mark aims to use the award to bring to life his next short film in 2017, with principle photography aiming to begin in summer of 2017 based on a script he is co-writing with his brother. The funds would be used for production, paying skilled workers, festival entry fees, insurance and more.

Getting the Band Together

Emory Anderson has music in his blood. His father played for the Met Opera, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles. The desire to play music came late at the age of 10 for Emory, but he ultimately decided to pursue a different path and majored in Physics and Electrical Engineering in college before taking up a career in risk management. Still, he has found time now and again to put his musical background to good use. He and his friends actually produced a jazz-rock album in 2011 that became popular on college radio stations around the country and can still be heard in cities like New Orleans. After discovering the #LiveThem Awards, Emory called up his old bandmates and asked one simple question. “Can we make a follow-up album?”

If chosen, Emory would use the funds to book proper studio space required to record big band arrangements and to hire some professional horn players. The second record would be entitled “Dispatches from the Field” and incorporate sounds from ska, big band and rock.

Preserving the Art of Paper Making

May Babcock is a self-employed teaching artist and freelance graphic designer from Rhode Island. When she’s not employing her art skills for business purposes, May spends her time focused on her personal passion: paper making. Her artistic approach involves creating paper from foraged weeds and invasive plants, which she then uses to create prints and installations. In her eyes, it’s a form of art that also has the potential for strengthening the environmental impact and relevancy of handmade paper in the future. Rather than leverage the #LiveThem Award for purely personal gain, May would direct the funds towards creating a series of instructional videos and documentation that can teach other artists her process.

Sailing the Great American Loop

John Schrumpf hails from Indianapolis, where his day-to-day job is consulting for a large automotive group, but plies his hobbies and interests as an alpinist, adventurer and, most recently, as a newly ordained sailboat skipper. It is this last passion that John is eager to utilize the #LiveThem Award towards. His ultimate goal: to circumnavigate the eastern United States by sailboat — a voyage commonly known as the Great American Loop. An under-experienced adventure and one that sees fewer finishes than Mount Everest, sailing the loop is a 6,000-mile personal life goal for John. The funds would go to training in local bodies of water, patching up his own boat from the toils of the route and embarking on this all-American adventure.

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