Thursday, August 7, 2014

Three Things I've Learned After 15 Years of Social Entrepreneurship

I had the pleasure to present to a social enterprise gathering hosted by a fantastic new organization in our community, The Denver Institute for Faith and Work.

I've been meaning to write a post on this topic for awhile so it was timely to be able to present the following:
  • People don't like ex-offenders coming into their home
  • The social enterprise business needs to lead the mission
  • A lot of people enjoy talking about social enterprise but very few actual practitioners
  • (And a bonus point) Social enterprise is hard work
Be sure to check out the Denver Institute's website here.

Three Things I've Learned After 20 Years of Social Entrepreneurship - Jim Reiner from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Twenty Years and Counting

Later this fall, Belay Enterprises celebrates its 20th Anniversary of offering employment and job-training in its home improvement thrift store, Bud’s Warehouse and its five other employment training business start ups.

Over the years, Belay has served hundreds of individuals looking to rebuild their employability while dealing with addiction, homelessness or prison. The organization plans to mark this 20 year milestone by growing employment opportunities for the people it serves and by hosting an anniversary banquet.

Like any new social enterprise, the Belay story is one of ups and downs. In 1994, a group of Christian businessmen and urban pastors, all with a heart for urban Denver, began meeting under the leadership of Mile High Ministries. Out of these discussions grew Belay and its desire to impact the employment side of poverty. The organization's first project was Bud's Warehouse, a home improvement thrift store that recycled leftover construction and home improvement materials. Bud's main goal was to provide job training and employment for individuals rebuilding lives. In addition, profits from the business would be reinvested in the community by providing loans and technical assistance for entrepreneurial business startups.

As with many start-ups, Belay experienced a difficult road to profitability for Bud's Warehouse. The store struggled with attracting customers even while receiving fantastic building donations from the community. Lack of profits made Belay's business micro loan dreams difficult to sustain. In 1998, the micro lending program was suspended to focus energies on establishing Bud's Warehouse. The hope was to revisit business development activities after Bud's started to thrive.

God soon answered the organization's prayers. In February of 2000, Mark Koebrich, with the local NBC affiliate 9 News, did a sweeps week story on home improvement deals at Bud's Warehouse. The story aired on the night of a big snowstorm following the highest rated ER episode in NBC history. Overnight, Bud's became a smash hit with long lines people waiting to enter the store for the next few days. Like the bible story of Jesus multiplying the fish and loaves, God multiplied Bud's building materials to accommodate the store's new popularity. Bud's Warehouse was able to build on its popularity to increase the number of jobs for individuals rebuilding lives while developing resources for new ventures…an approach that continue today.

To build on Bud's success, Belay pursued an incubation model for future businesses and started Baby Bud's, a job-training program for single moms. A few years later, Belay incubated the Good Neighbor Garage and Freedom Cleaning Services. All three of these start ups were spun off from Belay after reaching self-sufficiency and continue to thrive as independent organizations.

Presently, Belay is growing two new faith venture enterprises:

  • Purple Door Coffee,which launched in May of 2013, employs formerly homeless young adults in partnership with Dry Bones Denver. The store opened to tremendous support from the Denver community as well as accolades from area coffee aficionados, but most of all, Belay is excited by the difference the project is making in the lives of young adults transitioning from homelessness.
  • New Beginnings Custom Woodworks, a custom cabinet employment program, provides quality cabinet-making training for individuals rebuilding lives. The project builds a line of solid-wood shaker cabinets that are becoming popular with Denver area customers desiring a high-quality kitchen cabinets. 
Over the years, God has given Belay a big vision for creating new employment opportunities for people rebuilding lives. But we are reminded that we can not run all of these projects on our own. We are always looking to partner with Christ-followers that have a heart to use their business talents or resources to create jobs for people with significant barriers to employment.

If you're interested in helping, give us a call at 303-296-3990 or consider supporting our new start-ups as they grow towards sustainability with a tax-deductible donation by visiting our online donation page here. And stay tuned for more details on our upcoming anniversary celebration this fall.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Book Argues that Entrepreneurship is Essential to Flourishing Communities

My friend Chris Horst is becoming a prolific writer with the publication of his newest book, "Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing," co-authored with Peter Greer.

This compact book provides an extremely powerful argument that business entrepreneurship enables human flourishing for the poor far better than charity. The book shares a mix of stories from entrepreneurs around the world making the case that business development creates opportunities for better lives.

I must admit I am a bit biased because the book focuses a few pages on our newest Belay Enterprises' project, Purple Door Coffee, lead by Madison Chandler and Mark Smesrud. It's fun to see their hard work and great results for homeless young adults get highlighted. Overall this book is perfect for individuals exploring entrepreneurship as a way to create opportunity for the disadvantaged.

Get your own copy of the book here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cultivate Holland Births Jobs for the Urban Poor Through Business Training

Graduates from a Cultivate Holland Class
Poverty fighting jobs are created by thriving businesses in disadvantaged communities. 

With that premise, Cultivate Holland, LLC, a Holland, Michigan faith-based non-profit organization, provides twelve-week classes for urban business people to help grow their ventures in order to create more jobs for disadvantaged individuals. As its website details:

Cultivate Holland, LLC is focused on providing the tools with which you can begin to grow or start your business and eliminate poverty in Holland and beyond.  Your success begins by attending a series of coaching and mentoring meetings designed for business owners and entrepreneurs.  Studies have shown that businesses can increase productivity by 26% when the ownership or management receives and implements proper training.  This increased productivity is achieved through training and mentoring without the expenditure of any capital.  With increased productivity comes increased job availability.  We encourage these newly created job providers to fill their new openings with unemployed persons from the core urban community in Holland.  As a non-profit agency, and with our association with Partners Worldwide, we are uniquely positioned to provide, for the first time, a proven strategy and curriculum to create and sustain new jobs.  
Visit here to learn more about this innovative poverty-fighting organization which is an affiliate of Partners Worldwide.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Self-Sabotage in Employment Training Businesses

In less than a month, the job-training participant is ready to graduate the six month program into a job in the community.

Over the last few months, he has been a model employee who achieved much on the job after not working for 5 years because of prison and addiction. All of the sudden, the problems start. He begins to be late for work after being consistently on time. He gets into an argument at home and misses work because of a day in jail. The list of troubles grows to the point where he is fired only weeks from a successful graduation.

Self sabotage. It's a discouraging reality in employment training businesses. And, unfortunately, it is not rare. Over the years, I have seen this pattern repeat causing introspection and a loss of confidence for leaders of such projects.

But while self-sabotage happens, there are steps a program can take to lessen its prevalence and its negative effects.

As a leader, one must never take it personally when self-sabotage occurs. In a crazy way, it's actually a sign of newfound health for individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness or prison. A person who self-sabotages is an individual who has rarely experienced success in their past. Suddenly, they start achieving positive results and fear of success becomes a powerful negative force. Getting in trouble or making bad choices becomes "rational" because they find an odd security in the resulting consequences. So self-sabotage means the program is making a positive impact on a participant's life.

A powerful way to lessen the odds of self-sabotage is to prepare clients for its possibility while developing an early warning system for it. In all of our employment training businesses, we focus heavily on one-on-one mentorship of our clients because life-on-life relationships are the best way to overcome the challenges facing people rebuilding lives. In the context of these meetings, it is important to start talking about what success looks like soon after someone joins the program. We have people write down their life story and what they would like to accomplish in the future. This gives our program staff the opportunity to identify patterns that could lead to self-sabotage. They discuss ways to avoid it in the future by reminding individuals of what they want to accomplish in their life. We talk about how important it is to finish strong in any job because even the best employee can slip into destructive "short-timer" disease when nearing the end of a job.

A temptation of employee-training programs is to lessen the one-on-one meetings with a client as they near graduation because of the mistaken belief that the individual needs less attention than someone new to the program and the desire to transition him into self-sufficiency. That is a mistake. Instead, projects need to increase support over the course of one's time in the program, particularly in one-on-one meetings and community gatherings, in order to fight the possibility of self-defeating behaviors.

Finally, self-sabotage doesn't always have to be a negative outcome. Even when it does happen, it can provide opportunities to make big positive impacts on someone's life. Personal growth is never a linear process, especially for individuals trying to overcome addiction. Mistakes often create growth in the future. If a faith-based employment training business is truly making an impact, slip-ups provide just enough pain that someone doesn't want to lose the positives they have been experiencing. So they then find strength to quickly change direction and return to moving forward with their life and career.

Over the years, we have story after story of individuals who ended their time with us badly only to return later to apologize and to share how they got back on track because of their faith and our program. In the end, it's truly a thing of beauty to watch how God pursues and helps lives to flourish even in the midst of our mistakes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rochester Furniture Manufacturing Business Employs the Chronically Homeless

Hope Initiatives in Rochester, New York, seeks to address the causes of poverty in its community by employing and job-training individuals with significant employability issues in a faith-based program.

The organization operates a manufacturing business that produces 20,000 pieces of furniture a year as well as a local moving and storage business.

                                                      Visit here to learn more.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Five Thoughts on Serving People Escaping Addiction in Colorado

Over the last week, all of us at Bud's Warehouse have been reminded how difficult it is to serve people rebuilding lives from addiction. Sometimes, sadly, drug abuse ends badly. And when it does, individuals who are dedicated to helping others often take it very hard. There's never easy answers when someone so very young with a lot of promise leaves behind two young children. 

A couple of thoughts:

Addiction is a terrible foe. It takes both individual choice and God's grace for someone to overcome the grip of drug abuse. 

It saddens me that at the same time deaths from drug abuse seem to be rising, my state, Colorado, is in the midst of a group celebration of the legalization of marijuana. While this drug may not be as dangerous as others, do not be fooled into believing that its legalization will not damage lives in Colorado. Some will try this drug who otherwise would not have and will slip into other types of abuse. People who use marijuana will get hurt on the job and will injure other people while driving. And who knows the long-term consequences of THC in terms of mental illness and cancers. I wonder how all the people jumping into the marijuana production industry sleep at night with the negative impacts they are causing? I guess that question answers itself. How else do we drug ourselves out of a conscious?

People who help others escape addiction also need to walk by God's grace. Every recovery is messy and will never be accomplished perfectly. The important thing is to keep trying. Individuals created in the image of God deserve our love and our caring efforts. 

And in the end it comes down to choice. People have to choose to want to be better. But when we reach out in love, when we support each other in community, and when we remind each other of the love of Christ that choice becomes easier to make and maintain.