Picture a group of 10 Lancaster entrepreneurs starting or growing their businesses. They are a more diverse group than you often see in Lancaster—4 are African American, 3 are white, 2 are Latino and 1 is African. They all have one thing in common: They are entrepreneurs with a dream of improving their lives by starting a business of their own.
You know how risky starting a business can be. Imagine, then, the risk involved in not only being responsible for a loan of your own, but also guaranteeing the loans of 9 other individuals. But that’s what they did. Through ASSETS’ Lending Circle program, entrepreneurs support each other for a full year of business growth. They commit to each other’s success. They improve their credit and access traditional capital. They formalize their businesses and increase their income. They increase the diversity of Lancaster’s economy. And they do it together.
With your help, ASSETS supports businesses and helps to create thriving wage jobs. Through your generous support, ASSETS helps local businesses be a driving force for good. And it is not just the Lending Circles that are working.
Working with existing for-profit companies to Measure What Matters – to consider their social and environmental impact in the community in new ways—through restructuring businesses to offer employee ownership, diversifying leadership and management structures, adding more local women-owned or people-of-color owned businesses to their supply chains, and becoming certified B Corps.
Chelsea Zawisa has always worked in the food industry. “At times I wondered if I should get a job outside of the food industry, but saw no reason to, I love food.”
In High School, Chelsea worked in various restaurants and bakeries, building a passion for her own cooking. In 2011, she went to YTI for their pastry arts program and began to master baking. Once finished, she worked at bakeries and cafes, including Commonwealth on Queen. During this time, she began to think about owning her own business. “I feel like everyone in the restaurant industry wants to own their own business.” After planning and some research, Happy Belly Bakery was created in 2014.
However, the bakery was only a part-time business and Chelsea would only sell baked goods at the Lancaster East Side Market. An idea began to form inside her mind. For months, Chelsea had visited Philadelphia and saw the success a particular kind of bakery was having: bagel shops. “When we were in Philadelphia, I would walk into every bagel shop I could find and talk with the owners if I could.” After months of research and support from family and friends, Chelsea began planning the transition of her business to solely selling bagels and condiments with a focus on buying fresh, quality ingredients from the Lancaster community. The name would also be changed to the Harvest Moon Bagel Co.
While preparing for this transition, Chelsea knew the ASSETS Learning Circles was a perfect fit for her. While having a great deal of experience within the food industry, she still had only a smattering of experience and knowledge about owning a business. When the first Learning Circles was available, she immediately signed up. She was put into contact with professionals who had real experience and helped her immensely with multiple areas like marketing, the city’s laws, basic accounting, etc. Chelsea found ASSETS itself to be incredibly open and friendly. “I don’t think there is anything like this in many places.”
The owners of Commonwealth on Queen also helped her in starting her business by allowing her to use their oven to bake bagels and also help make the logo for her business. With the support of friends, family, ASSETS and Commonwealth, Chelsea finally officially opened the Harvest Moon Bagel Co. on Sunday, June 26th, 2016.
In the future, Chelsea wants to continue perfecting her bagels and experimenting with different flavors for her butter and cream cheese. She wants to have her own storefront in downtown Lancaster and also have the best bagels in the county while also providing a friendly, community-oriented atmosphere.
Meredith has, by many journalists standards, had a successful career. After attending Ithaca College, Meredith would land a job with WGAL News 8 in 2003 and has been there ever since. The creation of Life & Legacies, one of her proudest accomplishments, would emerge from one of the most tragic events in her life. The news that her Grandfather and Grandmother were both diagnosed with two different kinds of lung cancer rocked the family.
Meredith, along with her father, raced to Florida with a camera and she asked every question she could think of. “I was afraid that they were going to die and I wasn’t going to know everything I wanted to know.” For two hours, Meredith would learn about her grandparents lives and would have their stories forever. Four months later, her grandmother passed away.
Relieved that she could save their story, Meredith began forming an idea with her good friend Joe Mitton, a cameraman at WGAL. Meredith and Joe wanted to create a business centered around recording the stories of others, helping their customers create a legacy for friends and family. For seven years, their dream would be just that, a dream. It may have continued to be a dream if Meredith had not learned about the Great Social Enterprise Pitch from WGAL.
Realizing that she and Joe had a great idea for the Pitch, they attended one of the Learning Circles in preparation. Meredith says it was perfect for them. While they had the skills and ability to create their product, Meredith and Joe learned the details of how to run a business through the Learning Circles and the Pitch. “ASSETS was so great about the real nitty-gritty of being a business owner. What is your financial model, how can you make this a viable business? We were able to figure out all of this stuff out at the meetings for the Pitch.”
With a real business plan in place, they were blown away by the support shown by the community when the Pitch began the crowdfunding phase. While Meredith and Joe set the bar at 1,000 dollars, community members in Lancaster donated over 5,000 dollars.
With this money and their own capital, Meredith and Joe opened the doors to Life & Legacies in November 2015. “In seven years, we had done nothing with a great idea. In six months, we took that idea and went from 0 to 60 and finished the Pitch with a fully-formed business.” While running a business is challenging, Life & Legacies is growing faster than they had ever expected. Meredith knew that the business would take a great deal of work to maintain, but she didn’t realize how much it really took until the business was actually started. However, Meredith has loved the challenge and her passion for hearing more stories is what keeps her going. “I just want to interview more people, there’s more stories to tell! The greatest part of my business, is I get to hear all the stories.
Meredith takes great pride in creating the business. “I am a cancer survivor, a wife, a television journalist. And still, opening this business is one of my greatest accomplishments.” For anyone who has a dream or idea, she says “it is very scary, you have to push past the fear, have faith, and be as prepared as possible.” In the end, however, you’re going to have to make a leap of faith.
WITH HOLIDAY DEMAND ON THE UPSWING, The Stroopie Company went to two shifts in early November, allowing them to churn out up to 6,000 Dutch stroopwafels (cinnamon-y, carmel-y goodies best enjoyed with a hot beverage) a week. All six workers running the show at the company’s small production facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are refugees: three from Burma and three from Syria. Once a day, they sit down with the store manager, who is also a certified ESL teacher, for a half-hour English lesson.
As a certified B Corporation, The Stroopie Company measures its success by social and environmental standards in addition to the profit column – hence the language classes and $11-an-hour starting wage offered to refugees otherwise facing limited employment prospects. Alone, however, these commitments don’t solve the challenges of solvency and profitability facing any small business. To help meet them, The Stroopie Company has turned to ASSETS, a nonprofit that has worked to create economic opportunity and reduce poverty in and around Lancaster for more than 20 years.
One of the organization’s new programs, says executive director Jessica King ’96, is called the Great Social Enterprise Pitch, which offers a series of business-planning workshops to 10 entrepreneurs who prioritize social and environmental well-being. After the workshops, five participants pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and compete for more than $50,000 in cash and services.
“It gave us the confidence that we had a great idea going,” says Jennie Groff, one of the company’s owners. “We really feel like we’re poised to grow.”In 2015, The Stroopie Company won the competition, coming away with donated legal services, a free photo session for a new product catalog, and cash that it invested in new equipment.
Lancaster is a welcoming and generous community that resettles more refugees and gives, on average, more to charity than anywhere else in Pennsylvania. By integrating this philanthropic impulse into a workable business model, King says, “impact businesses” like The Stroopie Company are able to fund their own pursuit of a greater good.
“[The Stroopie Company] is a means to an end. The end is about helping their neighbors have better lives,” she says. “There are a lot of ways you can do that. Making cookies is their way of doing that.
“It’s amazing to see the kind of impact that [employers] can have on the lives of people around them, their neighbors and their employees, regardless of what their business is. It’s the spirit of ‘how’ they do it,” King continued. “It might not be all that bright and shiny, but it really matters to people. That’s what really gets me excited.”
Through its various programs, ASSETS provides training and lending to entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups as well as the impact businesses committed to social and environmental goals. During the most recent fiscal year, it supported the creation of 40 new businesses and more than 70 jobs, provided loans or long-term training to more than 150 entrepreneurs, and involved nearly 1,500 businesspeople and community members in other programs and events.
“We believe in the power of business to transform our communities for good,” says Tina Campbell ’99, director of development. “But we are also convinced that it must be equitable transformation – that all races, ethnicities and cultures must be included for true economic development to happen in our own communities.”
According to board member Kevin Ressler ’07, an important part of this vision has been ASSETS’ expanding focus over the past several years to supporting impact businesses in addition to entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups.
“This work breaks down the barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and begins to see that ‘we’ is our only hope moving forward to maintain a country full of communities that don’t just co-exist but co-create and thrive together.”
Since 2008, The Stroopie Company has employed 16 refugee women in its kitchen. Many have used it as both a landing and a launching pad, a welcoming place to build experience and improve their English before moving on to other things. Recently, when a TV news crew stopped by for an interview with one of the Syrian workers, Groff called in an employee who’d just left to provide some translation help. Watching from the sidelines, Groff was struck by the poise and fluency the former employee had developed, at least in part, right there in the stroopwafel kitchen.
“She came here hardly wanting to say anything. To be able to see how she’s leaving us – it just was hugely encouraging,” says Groff. “That is totally what motivates my husband and me. It is just so rewarding to see our refugee employees come in and gain confidence. You can just almost see it happening before your very eyes.”
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.
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.
A Lancaster County painting contractor received global recognition this week for using its for-profit business to make a positive social impact on its community.
Two Dudes Painting is now a certified B Corporation. It is a certification given by nonprofit organization B Lab to recognize companies around the world for using business to solve social and environmental problems.
Two Dudes started the application process about six months ago, which included going through rigorous analysis of its policies and procedures, according to Peter Barber, founder and owner of Two Dudes.
Not only did the company have to inform B Lab that it offers health insurance to all of its employees, it also had to provide to B Lab its employee census showing the percentage of employees actually enrolled in health insurance, as well as the percentage Two Dudes is paying towards that insurance, Barber said.
Barber said B Corp certification is rare in the construction industry. Most people don’t think of construction when they think of B Corp companies. More common are businesses in consumer products, such as food and cosmetics.
Although B Lab recognizes businesses in about 130 different industries, Two Dudes is the first painting contractor to earn the certification, a news release said.
B Lab’s website lists only nine other construction companies, mostly builders, as certified B Corps.
Two Dudes sought B Corp certification to show that any industry can make a positive social and environmental impact.
For example, the company supports fundraisers in Lancaster to fight racism and violence against women, to name a few. It has also helped to preserve historic buildings in the city and has undertaken numerous public mural projects, a news release said.
Founded nearly 30 years ago, Two Dudes employs 40 people at a 13,000-square-foot headquarters on Poplar Street in downtown Lancaster.
The Stroopie Co., which is a cookie bakery in Lancaster that employs refugees, and graphic design firm Modo Design Group in Lancaster City, are the only other B Corp companies in the county. There are 56 in Pennsylvania overall.
There are a little more than 1,800 B Corps worldwide.