Friday, August 28, 2009

Food Banking Challenges Creating Employment Opportunities for Individuals Rebuilding Lives

New opportunities often follow new challenges.

In today’s economy, food banks are facing new realities that make providing services more difficult. Increased efficiency at food production facilities and supermarkets is decreasing the supply of donated food from corporations to local food banks. At the same time, the current economy is increasing the demand for help from food banks. To further complicate this environment, the federal government is asking food banks to increase the nutritional quality of the food that they provide. These are significant challenges for the nonprofits that provide real help to families facing hunger. Yet, this very environment is creating an opportunity for a new faith venture to change the lives of individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness or prison…the very risk factors that lead to a need for food bank services.

Starting later this year, an innovative new partnership between Compa Ministries, Providence Network and Belay Enterprises will operate a canning facility to produce food supplies for area food banks. Compa Ministries will manage a new food line in its facility producing a healthy line of canned food products. Employees will be residents of the Providence Network transformational housing program. Belay Enterprises will employ these individuals in a staffing services project that will provide job and life skill training. This partnership will create seven paid production positions. This number is expected to triple over the next three years as the project expands. Employees in the program will work in the project for 6 months to one year and then transition into real world jobs in the community.

In addition to working with Compa, I’m excited to see how this project might expand beyond that initial relationship. Several years ago, a firm that was experiencing difficulty finding employees approached Belay. They were unable to hire individuals with past non-violent criminal issues because of corporate policy. This particular company was able to outsource those positions to another firm, allowing the hiring of individuals with criminal histories. At the time, Belay was not in a position to pursue a staffing company so we passed on the opportunity. But with the creation of the Compa canning business, we are looking for other manufacturing or warehousing businesses that might be interested in outsourcing to a staffing services project. This is an opportunity for businesses to positively impact the community while obtaining high-quality employees surrounded by comprehensive support services.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How Honesty Leads to Healing

Matthew 5:33-37

A lack of honesty hinders our walk with Jesus. It’s hard to read the Gospels and miss the importance of being brutally truthful about our own motivations and actions. Jesus teaches that it is dangerous to put on false appearances in the interest of appearing holy or respectable. It’s a lesson we all need whether we are dealing with an addiction, rebuilding a life after prison, or living in suburban success and respectability.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he teaches in Matthew 5:37 that we should let our “Yes be yes, and our no be no.” This seems simple but yet is oh so hard. If we honestly analyze our own actions, how often do we appeals to an external factor to cover up the truth. We may increasingly live in a culture where we don’t swear to God to make a point unless it is a negative one. But we all have subtle methods we employ to hide what’s really going on.

With the urban poor, addiction often lurks below the surface. One drink or one illicit smoke spirals uncontrollably into broken families and broken lives. Yet, a desire to hide the truth results in denial, in assurances that everything is ok. I’m in control of my life. As Jesus teaches, a real breakthrough only comes through brokenness and honesty…arriving at that point where everything is not ok and reaching out for help.

But that is the gift. The greater evil is the aura of respectability. How many individuals have the good job, the nice house, the 2.3 kids, and pull into their garage every night to lower the door on the intense brokenness that resides in their life. Maybe it’s a terrible relationship with a spouse or a long-simmering hatred of a parent. Or as happens too often today, an addiction to money, sex or power. But the greater evil is being in a place where one can’t cry out for help.

As followers of Christ, we need to shed light on our own lives with trusted friends in our community of faith. We need to seek out help in order to experience peace and wholeness. But then, instead of just resting in that peace, we need to build relationships with the community at large, offering others a chance to get real and experience God’s shalom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two Upcoming Business as Ministry Conferences

The 2009 Partners Worldwide Partnership Summit will take place October 8 - 10 in Grand Rapids, MI. The conference celebrates business as a calling and provides opportunities for business leaders to learn how to use their business skills to serve in a global context. Visit the conference web site for more information.

Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) is holding its annual Business as a Calling 2009 Event on November 5-8 in San Jose, California, U.S.A at the San Jose Marriott. The conference features several interesting business leaders exploring green energy and creation care issues as well as how to live one's faith in a business setting. Learn more by visiting here. Or watch the following video:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

God's Gentle Reminders: The Importance of Loving Others First

I have learned to love Eddie Askew’s prayers by reading the excellent blog of J.R. Woodward. I think the latest prayer bears republishing because it speaks so clearly to the importance of a proper relationship between loving others and our day-to-day activities in a faith venture.

I have discovered over the years, even the most well-intentioned business as ministry can lose sight of its essential mission serving people. The urgent starts overwhelming the important. The good supersedes what is best.

May we never lose our sensitivity to God’s gentle reminders of the importance of loving others first:

Lord, life’s a whirlpool.
So much to do.
I rush around, faster and faster,
intent on today,
this moment.
Never looking beyond the immediate.
My good intentions,
wet and waterlogged,
slide down the plug hole,

From Facing the Storm
By Eddie Askew

Out there,
on the blurred edge of vision,
people stand, beckon, call.
So indistinct I can pretend
I don’t see them,
except to myself.
But I rush on.
No time.
Scattering, perhaps,
a little largesse on the way.
Greasing the palm of charity.
My once bright conscience dulled
with tarnished generosity.
Encrusted rust, self-damaging.
My own collecting boxes
full of good intentions,
never cashed.
And yet, Lord,
there are moments
when I hear your voice.
Soft, yet insistent.
Your voice, coming,
not from some cloudy heaven
above, beyond,
but somehow centered
in the people I ignore.
And when I take my courage in both hands -
and doing that
means putting down my diary first -
and turn to them,
I find I’ve turned to you.
Among the lonely.
You are the neighbor I ignored.
The injured on the Jericho road.
And when I walk by,
on the other side,
I sidestep love,
and I’m the lonely one,
Self-exiled by my busyness.
Lord, help me try again.
Find time for others.
Find time for you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Check Your Motives

Why do you do what you do?

I think it's a good practice to ask that question. Frequently.

We all have reasons...maybe it's money, significance, success, or service. Everyone has motivations and some are better than others.

In a faith venture, where a business does ministry, one must be very careful with motivations. Business speaks the language of profits and efficiency while ministry seeks service and transformation. They are not mutually exclusive. Business is a great arena for ministry and ministry needs money to survive, but ministry sometimes can be harmed by decisions in the interest of efficiency. Check your motives. I've seen faith ventures lose their way because they were serving money and I've seen ministries close because they forgot about raising money. I've had ministry leaders tell me that they need a certain scale of success in order to effectively impact society.

Please be careful and check your motives.

If God took away success or significance but asked you to serve him in the same role, would you stay the course? If God wanted you to sell your possessions and serve the poor would you follow?

In a faith venture, you are using business to serve God. Profits are bigger than just money. Profits are the kind found in the kingdom.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reducing Recidivism: The Importance of Employment

If you were in charge of reducing the recidivism rate in your community, what factors would you point to as decreasing the odds of a former inmate returning to prison?

Since drug addiction is a major contributing factor to felony convictions, some might urge that enrollment in drug and addiction programs would reduce the rates of return to prison. Others might suggest that adult education classes or family services programs would decrease recidivism. Some might recommend the provision of mental health services.

In fact, a 1994 study of successful community corrections outcomes and 2 year recidivism rates for offenders leaving the Colorado penal system showed that all of these factors contributed to a decrease in return trips to prison. Individuals who successfully completed community corrections were older, educated, employed and participating in community programs. 75% of individuals who successfully completed community corrections remained crime free after two years. But one factor stood at the front of the pack. Employed offenders completed the program three times as often as those who were unemployed leading to the lower recidivism rate. In addition, employment after release from community corrections reduced recidivism rates further. Even so, few businesses will hire individuals with felony convictions.

This data shows that faith ventures are an important ingredient to reducing return trips to prison. By creating a business that employs individuals rebuilding lives from felony convictions, the faith venture creates opportunity for individuals that few businesses want to employ. And faith ventures are uniquely qualified to reduce the recidivism rate even further because they not only provide a job but also include programmatic and spiritual resources to their employees.

This is a call to action for followers of Christ interested in business and non-profit entrepreneurship. Faith ventures that offer employment and a full-spectrum of services make a positive difference in the lives of offenders and help them to achieve the life that God intends. Is God calling you to use your talents to build a better community in Christ’s name?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Brief History of Belay Enterprises

I like to think that I am in control. I've always felt that the right business plan with strong execution will result in success. My experience at Belay Enterprises has taught me otherwise. God is in control and, in many ways, I am just along for the ride.

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 Enterprises, an innovative organization that desired to impact the employment side of poverty. Belay'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 from addiction, prison, and poverty. 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, the dream crashed into reality with 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 organizations 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 lines of 50 or more people waiting to enter the store for the next few days. Like the bible story of Jesus multiplying the fish and loaves, it felt like God multiplied Bud's building materials to accommodate the store's new popularity. Bud's was able to build on its popularity to double the number of jobs for individuals rebuilding lives while developing resources for new ventures. To build on Bud's success, Belay decided to pursue an incubation model for future businesses and start Baby Bud's, a job-training program for single moms. A few years later, Belay started the Good Neighbor Garage and Freedom Cleaning Services. Over the years, 9News has continued to support Belay with occasional stories on our new start-ups and location changes.

With 10 years of experience in the crazy arena of faithventures, I now believe that we make plans but hold loosely to them. We pray and watch God move.

Belay Venture Partners Program Selects First Founder

I’m excited to announce that Belay Enterprises has chosen Brittany Marlett as our first participant in the Venture Partners Program. B...