First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who made 2016 a great year for ASSETS. We couldn’t have done this without you. We’d like you to help us celebrate some of our highlighted moments of 2016:
We opened the Women’s Business Center and hired Melisa Baez as the first director of the Center! The Women’s Business Center at ASSETS is developed in partnership with the Small Business Administration to assist small business owners who are starting or expanding their small business.
We have been talking a lot here at the ASSETS office about building an equitable economy. We have been talking about important building blocks needed for an equitable economy. Blocks like:
Customers, who are willing to make just, socially and environmentally choices in the goods and services they buy.
Business owners who are willing to pay their employees higher wages so that they can thrive, even if that means they don’t make as much of a profit as their competitor next door. They know that business as usual is getting us nowhere and they are committed to doing things differently.
Employees who, when offered meaningful employment, can build wealth and move themselves out of poverty.
Investors and donors, who are committed not just to a financial return but to a social return on investment.
We can’t build this new world without you.
By donating to ASSETS, you’re helping to provide resources, connections and support to small business.
By supporting the work of ASSETS, you’re helping us help local business owners create more good jobs in the community. By investing in ASSETS you’re investing in an avant garde idea that flips the traditional business model on its head. Because you know that the world needs new ways of doing things.
This matters because a good job is the surest path out of poverty. And locally owned businesses – especially those who intentionally measure and improve their business practices – create the most jobs and economic benefit in a community.
Will you help us build this new world by donating to ASSETS today?
A gift from you would mean that ASSETS could work with more people like Olayinka & Saba, the owners of Melanin Essentials and the winners of the 2016 Great Social Enterprise Pitch. They believe that by helping women of color transform the way that they treat their skin and hair, providing good jobs to single mothers and combating the environmental and bodily hazards of chemical ingredients, they are not only generating a profit for themselves, but also helping to change their community.
With you, we’ll have all the blocks we need to make our local economy more equitable for everyone.
ASSETS client and participant in the third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch, Will Kiefer of the Bench Mark Program, is making news!
When Will Kiefer took a study abroad trip to South America as a pre-med student at Franklin & Marshall College, he had no inkling that the trip would lead him to the unique idea to start his own business.
January marks the three-year anniversary for the Bench Mark Program, one of the more selfless and significant small businesses in the region. Kiefer and his staff provide long-lasting, positive support to at-risk youth who wouldn’t receive that support from anyone else.
Bench Mark uses a unique approach to provide an outlet for physical fitness, academic counseling and career coaching. Students received guidance for as long as is needed with the ultimate outcome being academic success, employment and mentorship opportunities.
“When I was in South America, I did research on the communities that I was involved with,” Kiefer said. “When I came back to Lancaster, I was looking for the community connection. I realized that I didn’t really know Lancaster at all. I started asking myself, what do I have to offer other people? I enjoy weightlifting and fitness.
“I asked some professors for their thoughts on what I could do,” Kiefer continued. “I thought that I could have a positive impact on high school students who had low self-esteem.”
A few connections later, Kiefer found himself working with at-risk youth and youth who had been incarcerated. That was the start of the Bench Mark Program. Rather than relying upon traditional therapy methods that have been used and reused over and over again, Bench Mark focuses its program around weightlifting and fitness as the bond to overcome adversity, and it creates a safe and positive environment that doesn’t exist on the streets.
Despite the program’s growing reputation, what Kiefer and his team do isn’t something that comes naturally, and it also isn’t easy to make connections with these kids.
“On the back of my business card it says two things: ‘Be who you are’ and ‘Figure out who you want to become.’ ” Kiefer said. “That philosophy has allowed us to build a connection that allows the young people to ask for help. They come in with low expectations — it’s just another program, it’s just another white guy who has the solution to all my problems.
“I allow them to explore the space, listen to music and they can work out if they want to, or not,” Kiefer went on. “I give them days, sometimes weeks, before I even ask them about what’s going on at home or if I can help them. Then we go through this period of confusion — What’s this guy trying to do? Is there a fee? Is there some work I have to do here? After that phase passes, then they let me in a little bit. They are refreshed when they come here and figure out that we don’t have an agenda.”
Many of the cases that are referred to Bench Mark are kids involved with selling drugs. Kiefer and his team know that being involved in the illegal drug trade is easy, and it’s lucrative for these kids. If Bench Mark doesn’t provide them with a viable alternative, those youth will not give Kiefer and his team the time of day. That’s why they move quickly to find jobs for these kids that keep them busy, safe and making money, so there is no reason to go back to selling drugs.
One of the most challenging aspects of Kiefer’s work is when he wears his hat as development director. As a nonprofit organization, Bench Mark essentially survived the first two years strictly off of private donations. Board members kicked in substantial funds, and then some corporate donors came on board. In year three, Kiefer now has all of the paperwork and documentation required to go back to foundations and other entities in order to create the funding that would make Bench Mark a sustainable business model — a model that Kiefer hopes to export to other communities.
“I was ready to pull the plug on this so many times,” Kiefer added. “A year and a half later, the kids are saying, ‘this has changed my life’ and ‘you are the dads that I didn’t have.’ We really hope this can be a sustainable program, and we are closer to that happening than ever before.”
When young people move into adulthood and out of home for the first time, there is a predictable response to the lack of structure that had previously been provided by parents.
For the newly unhindered, that freedom is exhilarating — all-night parties, new clothes and dinners purchased on that first credit card as well as a choice about whether to attend class or not.
With the possibility of massive deregulation, the Donald Trump political era is likely to bring some profound changes to our political and economic system.
For the newly unregulated, that could mean a level of freedom — and peril — similar to the example of the college freshman.
Case in point, if the cabinet nominees of the president-elect are confirmed, we will have a labor secretary who is an ardent and vocal opponent to workers’ rights and a head of the Environmental Protection Agency who is strongly aligned with oil, gas and coal interests and vehemently opposed to regulatory oversight.
Whether you love these choices or hate them, there is no denying that there will be deep and long-lasting effects of the desired policies — or lack thereof — that are being proposed.
As a business community, we are being “pushed out of the nest,” whether we like it or not.
Herein lies the challenge: if the regulations go away, are we going to act like the 18-year-old in his/her first semester at college?
If the EPA ceases to exist or at least decreases its environmental regulations, will Lancaster’s farms and production facilities allow our air, waterways and forests to be irreparably damaged by choosing short-term profits at the expense of long-term environmental stability?
If workers’ rights are subverted, will local businesses use that opportunity to exploit employees, further exacerbating poverty and economic inequality in our community?
Are we going to overindulge, or are we going to consider the full, long-term impact of our actions and business decisions?
If we enter a new era of an unfettered business rights and limited regulation with a short-term mindset —similar to that college freshman — we could very likely lose much of what makes Lancaster such a desirable place to live.
Our natural places and our water sources could be negatively impacted, and our air quality could continue to decline.
We may see more Lancastrians dealing with the reality of living in poverty and economic distress, which tends to result in more crime, higher incarceration and associated costs, and decreased educational attainment, among other outcomes.
Importantly for the businesses themselves, we also will see a community in which potential customers have less expendable income to spend in local businesses.
Our call to Lancaster’s businesses is to be the responsible college freshman who attends every class, studies hard and considers the future impact of their decisions.
Let’s make a decision, here and now, to protect our air quality, our waterways and our forests from degradation.
Let’s treat our employees with the respect and decency that we would want to be treated with ourselves, including ensuring them a livable wage.
Let’s not make the dwindling government programs or nonprofit sectors clean up our messes.
Let’s keep the messes from happening in the first place by considering the social and environmental impact of the business decisions we make.
More than 40 studies from sources including the Economist, Harvard Business Review and Deloitte all say that higher corporate standards around environment, social and governance practices reduce the company’s financial risk and create greater profitability.
The Trump economy is here for the next few years, so regardless of mandates from Washington, D.C., let’s continue to show this community, and the world, the long-term view, ethics and responsibility for which Lancaster businesses are known.
Evidence shows that this will have a positive return on investment for both our businesses and the community.
ASSETS client and participant in the third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch, Luis Miranda of BootCamp900, is making news!
If money was his only goal, Luis A. Miranda Jr. said, he wouldn’t have chosen southeast Lancaster city as the starting place for the fitness program he calls BootCamp900.
But the 31-year-old, who was born and raised here, saw a need and felt called to address it. Since 2012, the part-time business gained momentum.
This spring, at the urging of Fran Rodriguez — whose Latino Empowerment Project he graduated from — Miranda entered Lancaster’s third annual Great Social Enterprise Pitch and won second place.
He still has a day job at Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County, but hopes to expand BootCamp900 and hire its first employee in 2017.
How much did you win through the pitch?
I won $5,000 cash, was chosen as “crowd favorite,” and received $6,775 in pro-bono services (such as marketing and branding packages, legal services and accounting help). Also, during the crowdfunding phase of the pitch, I was able to raise over $6,000 from the Lancaster community.
Even more important, through this experience, the exposure I received and my growth as a person and a businessman, were huge. I do not think there can be a dollar figure attached to that!
What’s the most important thing you learned through the pitch program?
I learned that as a society we value profitability above everything else, but many times the biggest reward is serving others with our gifts and services, and profits simply follow. Socially responsible businesses flourish now more than ever as we seek greater meaning of life and our impact in a world that means more than money.
What does the name BootCamp900 mean?
BootCamp comes from the intensity of the training, very similar to a bootcamp. The 900 comes from the fact that if done correctly, the movements and intense training will help participants burn up to 900 calories within the hour.
Your pitch noted that you were in prison as a teen. Was it hard deciding whether to mention that?
The hardest part was determining whether that was going to create a stigma in the mind of the audience, wondering if people would automatically reject me and the venture.
That was an experience in my life that I cannot take back, and that I have learned from and have grown from tremendously.
I decided that regardless of how people reacted, I would prefer to be honest and live in the truth of who I am based on my experiences and life journey.
I would not let that experience define me any longer, but I will let it help others, therefore I had to mention it.
How did the pitch change your BootCamp900 strategy?
My original strategy was to focus on creating affordable access to health and wellness in the Southeast side of Lancaster City. I also hoped to help the youth that found themselves in the same position I found myself at the age of 17 by providing them a safe haven to learn life’s critical skills through a health and wellness platform.
As part of the pitch process, and the individuals that helped make this program successful, I was exposed to more opportunities for BootCamp900 to be an even greater social venture. I learned that you cannot do everything, but what you do choose to do, you must do well and with purpose.
My strategy grew from not just providing opportunities to one vulnerable population — youth — but now expanding the opportunity to previously incarcerated individuals.
What did you do before starting BootCamp900?
I worked at several jobs including a foundry, warehouses, etc. But I knew where my passion was all along, and that was health and wellness.
What’s the hardest decision you’ve faced with starting BootCamp900?
As an entrepreneur, the hardest thing is to believe in yourself when no one believes in you or your idea. That is the hardest decision; will I give this up now or push through this tough time?
A special commission that has spent the past year studying ways to help the poor in Lancaster has issued an ambitious, 15-year plan to lift at least half out of poverty and place 3,000 into good-paying jobs.
The Mayor’s Commission to Combat Poverty is also tapping a new, permanent coalition to lead the charge in halving the city’s poverty rate, which at 29 percent exceeds the rates for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, by 2032.
“Fifteen years and get rid of half of the poverty in Lancaster city? That’s a game change,” Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray said of the commission’s work. “I’m proud of what they did.”
Gray accepted the 87-page report, titled “One Good Job,” at a celebration Thursday night at Tec Centro as the 11-member volunteer panel completed its year-long assignment.
The commission spent $135,618, about half from the Lancaster County Community Foundation.
In its report, made public Thursday night, the commission is asking the newly created Lancaster Coalition to Combat Poverty to:
Move 3,000 heads of households to living-wage employment.
Make quality pre-kindergarten classes universally available in the city.
Help two-thirds of the workforce acquire a post-high school degree or certificate.
Create 60 units of affordable housing.
Help 100 city families become homeowners.
Hire 20 block captains.
Establish seven neighborhood groups.
The new coalition is asked to adopt nine strategies and 25 action items. It will oversee a sizable network that includes nonprofits, government and business leaders, and seven action teams, each working on a need such as housing, education or sustainable wages.
Also, a new nonprofit community development corporation will take on housing and workforce development initiatives.
“I think the level of relationship and trust that we’ve built has already changed the game,” said Dan Jurman, commission chair and CEO of the Community Action Partnership. “We’re not strangers to each other any more, and that means something when we start talking about the real work that we’re going to have to do together.”
Although progress will take money, the report is vague about finances. It asserts that “results will yield funding.”
“The challenge out there is on (potential funders) to embrace the commission’s report and invest in it,” said Carlos Graupera, a commission member and CEO of the Southeast Lancaster-based Spanish American Civic Association. “We can’t be expecting hundreds of millions of dollars to go into the downtown core, and the issues of poverty are to be resolved by selling subs.”
The poverty commission chose not to ask city council or the county commissioners to create a poverty chief or similar position funded by and accountable to elected officials. The new coalition will be accountable to itself and its funders.
“We know that people who live in poverty are at a much higher risk of experiencing homelessness,” said Koppel, who joined the poverty commission midyear to fill a vacancy. “I don’t have an answer as to how much (of my time) it’s going to take. I can’t lose focus on the homeless coalition.”
The new poverty coalition will adopt “collective impact” as its way forward, modeling the approach of the homeless coalition and United Way-funded collaboratives. Collective impact holds that entrenched social problems are best tackled by diverse organizations pulling together toward a shared goal.
The commission says its goals are achievable if “we come together and create broad systems change in a way unprecedented in our community’s history.”
Agencies working together to attack poverty is not a new concept here. For about a decade at the turn of the millennium, five nonprofits formed The Inner City Group to revitalize the South Duke Street corridor, an effort that expired after achieving some headway.
“It was flawed in some areas, but it did some important things,” said Graupera, who headed one of the five cooperating agencies. “It gave us a lot of things to learn from.”
The commission’s report offers comprehensive detail about how to help individual households overcome barriers to self-sufficiency. It says connecting the poor to living-wage employment “is at the core” of the commission’s recommendations.
“We’ll need your help to push back against these philosophies and policies, and set the south side of the city back on a path toward prosperity,” the report says.
Commission chair Jurman said the report is titled “One Good Job” for a reason.
“It’s about the difference that one good job makes, not just for the person’s income, but for the amount of time that they can spend with their family and the time that they can get engaged in the community,” Jurman said. “One good job clears up tons of symptoms of poverty that we no longer need nonprofits to artificially supplement.”
Drawing from an antipoverty initiative in Richmond, Virginia, the report recommends creating a workforce development agency that would be a more nimble and flexible alternative to the state-run CareerLink employment office.
The new initiative, for example, would hire “navigators” to work one-on-one with hard-to-hire workers, particularly single mothers, as they seek to overcome training, child care, transportation and other obstacles to employment. The Community Action Partnership already employs seven navigators.
Separately, the Community Action Partnership, working with the High companies and nonprofits, has assembled a crew of hard-to-hire workers into a construction/ landscaping team to work on projects in impoverished neighborhoods.
The workers get on-the-job training, earn living wages and receive social supports such as budgeting classes. Motivated team members can go on to better-paying positions with High or work with the nonprofit ASSETS to start a small business.
“They will earn enough to someday purchase the very homes they’re rehabilitating,” the report says.
Education initiatives include expanding the community school model to more city schools, strengthening after-school programs and aligning curriculum with workforce needs.
No silver bullet
Tom Baldrige, a commission member and president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said he entered the yearlong effort hoping for a unique, game-changing solution, but he learned the problem is too big for a silver bullet.
“What I think this report does is recognize the reality of the hard work and the broad level of engagement that’s going to be required to address the issue,” Baldrige said. “I think the report in that way is much more realistic and in the long term has much more impact.”
Graupera, who brought to the commission’s discussions decades of experience in trying to remake the inner city, said it will take all hands on deck to push the agenda forward.
“Regardless of what happened in the past,” he said, “we need to move forward with investment by schools, public officials, foundations, the private sector, and I think that’s where we need to position this effort.”
The Lancaster County Community Foundation contributed $65,000 to the commission’s work. Franklin & Marshall College gave $59,000 as part of its annual in-lieu-of-taxes payment. The city paid $11,681, said Patrick Hopkins, the city’s business administrator.
Did you know you are a builder? At ASSETS, every day we see the building blocks of an equitable economy
where EVERYONE has the opportunity to thrive.
Over our twenty years of doing this work, we’ve seen the crucial building blocks for this economy:
• Customers, who are willing to make social and environmental choices in the goods and services they buy.
• Business owners who are willing to pay higher wages so employees can thrive. They know that business as usual isn’t enough to address Lancaster’s rates of poverty and inequality and they are committed to doing things differently.
• Employees who, when offered meaningful employment, can build wealth and move themselves out of poverty.
And, in any building project, the most critical block of them all, is the cornerstone. A building can’t stand, (for very long, anyway), without it.
You are the cornerstone and we can’t grow this equitable economy without you.
By supporting the work of ASSETS, you’re helping us help local business owners create more good jobs in the community.
By investing in ASSETS you’re investing in ideas that flip traditional business models on their heads. Because you know that the world needs new ways of doing things.
This matters because a good job is the surest path out of poverty. And locally owned businesses – especially those who intentionally measure and improve their business practices – create the most jobs and economic benefit in a community.
Will you help us build this new economy by donating to ASSETS today?
A gift from you would mean that ASSETS could work with more people like Olayinka & Saba, the owners of Melanin Essentials and the winners of the 2016 Great Social Enterprise Pitch. They believe that by helping women of color transform the way that they treat their skin and hair, providing good jobs to single mothers and combating the environmental and bodily hazards of chemical ingredients, they are not only generating profits, but are helping to change their community.
With you, we have the building blocks we need to make our local economy more equitable for everyone.
Do you have a business plan that could use some help getting fleshed out? Want an opportunity to network with peers and connect with small business resource providers?
The Cultivate Lancaster Entrepreneurs Forum is your chance to present your big idea to a community of thinkers just like you! Presented by the Lancaster City Alliance and ASSETS, Cultivate Lancaster is a free workshop for budding entrepreneurs to connect with influential thinkers and doers and learn about the many resources and small business support services that are available in the community.
Since its debut in December 2015, the Cultivate Lancaster Entrepreneurs Forum has engaged more than 400 local entrepreneurs and resource providers across two forum events, offering a unique opportunity for budding innovators and existing small business owners to find the resources they need to get establish or grow their business.
Sign up for the Cultivate Lancaster newsletter to stay up to date on future event announcements and information on how you can connect with other local entrepreneurs while addressing and solving business challenges, brainstorming ideas and learning from one another!
More information and registration at www.cultivatelancaster.com