Since our founding in 1993, ASSETS has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs and small business owners by providing access to the resources they need to succeed! We are excited to announce the addition of another tool to the ASSETS tool-belt—Lancaster Works at ASSETS, LLC.
LANCASTER WORKS is wholly-owned by ASSETS, and is Lancaster County’s first and only full-service pending B Corporation social enterprise employment agency. Our focus is to provide career placement and wrap-around support services for local residents who might otherwise struggle to find meaningful work that pays a livable wage. Our services enhance each worker’s ability to succeed in identifying and navigating a path towards their goals!
As valued service providers, employers and contributors to the local economy partnering with Lancaster Works will enable you to more effectively and efficiently meet your organizational goals, as well as the personal goals of the individuals you serve and employ. Additionally, you will be joining a powerful network that aims to not only to meet, but to exceed the challenge of the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Poverty—to reduce poverty by 50% in Lancaster City. The Lancaster Works model will prove to be a vital tool in far exceeding that goal. Replication of the Lancaster Works model will make it a powerful tool in transforming communities throughout the country.
As a social enterprise and pending B Corporation, our “Triple-Bottom-Line” approach will focus not only on Profits, but more importantly on People and Planet. We are making people a priority and creating a legacy that will benefit present and future generations!
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.
Congratulations to the eleven social enterprise idea teams that will move forward as part of the 2017 Great Social Enterprise Pitch!
These teams were selected by organizers from a pool of 36 applicants to participate in the free Idea Incubators involving a robust four-month learning program designed to develop the proposed social enterprise ideas. Applicant ideas were evaluated based on the clarity of problem the enterprise addresses, the enterprise’s proposed impact on that problem, the demand for the proposed products or services, the potential for profitability, and the leadership of the enterprise and its capacity to scale to address the problem. Preference was given to ideas that develop or support thriving wage jobs for people with barriers to employment.
Check out the 2017 Ideas:
Healthy, locally-sourced, prepared meals delivered to busy families and produced by employees who previously struggled to find a good job with good wages.
An event space in downtown Lancaster for underrepresented artists and entrepreneurs.
Green Matters Natural Dye Company
Bringing pollution-free color to the textile industry.
Languages Beyond Borders
Supplying the Lancaster community and neighboring communities with trained, professional interpreters hired from the local refugee population.
Empowering individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a farm-to-table café.
Mind, Body, Battle Incubator
Empowering the mind, fueling the body, and using athletics to strengthen the community.
An innovative cleaning service using environmentally-friendly products and ensuring a living wage for cleaners.
Nepali Spice Company
Customized Asian spice blends for restaurant, manufactured by Nepali refugee women.
A gourmet popcorn company that connects youth with jobs, mentor-ship, and entrepreneurship training.
A publication featuring local artists and writers who represent the entire community.
A restaurant serving food from countries that have recently been banned from entry into the United States and staffed by refugees.
The 11 teams will attend a four-month series of learning sessions led by ASSETS focused on feasibility and business planning. In September, they will each launch a crowdfunding campaign to generate awareness and dollars in support of their concept. Five concepts from the Idea Incubators will then be invited to pitch their ideas to a live audience for over $50,000 in cash prizes and pro-bono services at the LIVE Pitch.
We’re so excited to see these ideas grow, evolve, and blossom! Keep checking back for more information as we progress through the 2017 Great Social Enterprise Pitch! Also, follow us on social media to stay in the loop during the Incubator phase of the competition. Search #InsideTheIncubator on Facebook and Instagram to follow along the journey!
ASSETS client and participant in the 2015 Great Social Enterprise Pitch, NuLife, is making news!
A couple of months ago, Schirlyn Kamara stopped by the Nimble Thimble sewing shop in downtown Lancaster.
She runs NuLife, a social enterprise that teaches at-risk women to sew. They make items from recycled fabric — clothing, accessories and household goods — to sell online.
Kamara thought Nimble Thimble might have some leftover fabric or other supplies to donate. While there, she got to talking with Mort Nierenberg, who runs the shop at Central Market Mall with his wife, Ruth. The couple are in their late 80s.
“He jangled his keys at me … and said, ‘I think I’ve been waiting for you,’ ” Kamara recalled.
Sometime this spring, Kamara plans to move NuLife into Nimble Thimble’s location on the lower level of the mall at 45 N. Queen St.
The details are still being worked out, but NuLife is planning to have classroom and retail space there. Nierenberg, an expert sewing machine repairman, plans to continue doing repair work there while passing on his skills to a new generation.
He said the prospect of handing off the shop space to NuLife makes him “joyous.”
The Nierenbergs have owned and operated Nimble Thimble for about a half-century. They moved it into the mall when they bought the building in 1978, according to newspaper records. They subsequently sold the property, but remained as tenants.
“It’s a huge project,” said Howard Jones, a board member of Handz on Hope, the nonprofit organized by Kamara that is NuLife’s parent organization.
Kamara has plenty of help, thanks to two Millersville University professors and their students.
About 25 undergraduates in professor Minoo Ghoreishi’s service learning seminar have been visiting Nimble Thimble weekly this semester to take inventory and clean out decades of clutter.
Later on, the students will design and set up displays, create signage and complete other tasks. Last semester, they taught basic business classes to NuLife clients, and that will continue, Ghoreishi said.
Meanwhile, more than 65 students in classes taught by professor Lexi Hutto have been creating brochures, videos and a social media campaign for NuLife.
Future projects include a marketing plan, merchandising and fundraising. Hutto said she is seeking donations of displays and other supplies.
The two professors’ classes are independent of each other, though some students have been in both, including senior Juan Martinez.
The seminar, he said, “teaches us to teach other people,” as well as to identify community needs and take action.
“A lot of people who go to Millersville (University) plan on owning their own business,” senior Courtney Lynn said. The seminar gives students a realistic feel for what’s involved, she said, likening it to an apprenticeship.
Senior seminars are required in a number of MU majors; service learning is one of the options for business majors.
“We want students to be community oriented,” Ghoreishi said. “We really emphasize the ethical angle.”
Each year, participants enter a national competition sponsored by Enactus, a nonprofit devoted to using entrepreneurship to promote social welfare. MU has won the regional championship five times since 1998, Ghoreishi said.
Hutto and Ghoreishi have worked with other nonprofits. Students get hands-on experience, and cash-strapped organizations get assistance they could not otherwise obtain.
When students work for a real-life client, “I think they take it more seriously,” Hutto said. “It takes a lot more effort, but I think the rewards are worth it.”
Kamara said it’s been her dream to have a shop to sell NuLife goods.
Besides a retail area in the front room, there’s a workshop, a storage room, a back room where the classroom will be, and even a small kitchen: about 4,000 square feet in all.
ASSETS client and participant in the 2015 Great Social Enterprise Pitch, The Stroopie Co., is making news!
If you’ve ever heard of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you’re probably aware that it’s home to one of the biggest populations of Anabaptist religious sects, such as the Amish and Mennonites, in the United States. You may not know that it sits near the heart of Pennsylvania’s enormous sweets industry, just next door to the candy-making mecca of Hershey; and that the county accepts hundreds of refugee immigrants every year.
The Stroopie Co., a small Lancaster company that manufactures Dutch-style cookies, has a mission to hire and train refugee women as its workforce. The company’s hiring practices reflect its community’s history and spirit.
“We were looking for a really practical way to love our neighbor well,” says Jennie Groff, who co-owns “Stroopie” with her husband, Jonathan. She worships in an Anabaptist church that focuses on supporting refugees. “The company fits my roots,” she says.
Stroopie’s was started in 2008 by Ed McManness and Dan Perryman, who remain part-owners. The goal was always to provide “meaningful employment” to local refugees; McManness’s family had enjoyed Dutch “stroopwafels” — a cinnamon cookie made in a waffle iron with a layer of caramel inside. The circular cookies rest perfectly on the lip of a mug of steaming hot tea or coffee, which softens the caramel filling. The Stroopie Co. makes one version half-dipped in chocolate.
“They’re hard to find in the States. It gave us something we could market,” Jennie Groff says. “We knew if we were going to establish a social enterprise, we needed to provide a great product.”
The Groffs joined the enterprise in 2010, bringing with them Jonathan Groff’s lifetime of experience in his family’s candy-making business.
Today, Stroopie’s employs six refugee women — three from Myanmar and three from Syria. Another employee manages the staff and acts as an ESL teacher. Employees typically stay a year or two before moving on, Groff says.
“The refugee women we’re hiring, they’re super-motivated, thankful, great workers. Just a huge, huge asset to our company. I just can’t imagine taking our family and having to start over in a new place. We view it as a deepest privilege to provide a job with dignity.”
Mary Myint, an “expert Stroopmaker,” offers her testimonial on the Stroopies website: “I like my job because my schedule is nice for my children. When we lived in Myanmar and Malaysia, we were scared of the police. In the USA all the people are equal, so my family loves the USA.”
Workers start out making $11 an hour, Groff says, then move up to $12 an hour after training. The owners want to eventually pay a wage of $15 an hour, and perhaps even start giving the women part ownership of the company.
Getting to that point, however, requires that Stroopie’s take a big next step.
Filling Out the Mission
“We need to make a profit in a more sustainable way before we can consider granting ownership shares,” Groff says. “We are holding our own, we’ve been breaking even. … For a small company, that’s something to celebrate.”
In 2015 Stroopie’s won “The Great Social Enterprise Pitch,” a local competition meant to encourage businesses that “perform a social good while also making a profit.” The prize: In-kind products and services worth more than $25,000, meant to help the company grow. Stroopie’s used its winnings — along with money raised from Indiegogo as part of the competition — to open a retail storefront in Lancaster, where the cookies are made and sold directly to the public.
“The biggest thing — it gave us a platform to tell our story,” Groff says of the competition. “The community really rallied behind us.”
The company also distributes its product in nearly 70 stores across the United States and is pitching bigger retailers.
“We feel like we’re poised and ready to grow,” Groff says. “We’re still relatively small, but every year we gain momentum and get our story out there.”
Groff says she is confident the company will continue to grow, increasing profits and employing more refugees.
“Both have to be equally strong — you have to have passion for both things — or it’s not going to be sustainable, it’s not going to work,” Groff says.
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.
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.