For Stephanie Findley, the Adese Fellowship was an answer to her prayers – literally.
“I was praying and asking God, ‘How do I scale up this venture?’” recalls Findley, who owns a construction business in Milwaukee, Wis. “This opportunity dropped right in my lap as if God said, ‘Here you go.’”
Findley’s pastor suggested she apply for the emerging entrepreneurs program, launched by the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund in January. The yearlong fellowship challenges participants to apply theology to enterprise. The goal: eradicate poverty in their communities.
“The mission of the fellowship is everything I live on daily basis,” Findley says.
“My life's work has been around empowering, inspiring and uplifting everyone I come into contact with.”
Findley’s Midwest Construction, a commercial construction firm that specializes in concrete, flooring, painting and general labor, also trains people in the construction trades.
“The trades have suffered a lot due to retirements of individuals aging out of the workforce, but we failed to train a new generation of individuals in the trades,” explains Findley. “Trades can provide a living wage to take care of a family without having to take out additional debt to learn it.”
Like Findley, fellow Adese cohort member Meagan McLeod was also recommended by her pastor. He recognized that McLeod, also a minister, sought greater social enterprise opportunities.
But unlike Findley, who is scaling up her already established firm, McLeod is creating her venture from scratch: a Philadelphia wellness center for single mothers. She has help, though, thanks to Adese’s curriculum and its lead faculty member, Rabbi Elan Babchuck, who also serves as McLeod’s coach.
“Right now I’m working very intensely with my business coach that the fellowship gave me, which was wonderful. When you’re accepted into something new, you just don't know what to expect,” McLeod says.
Babchuck, who is also an entrepreneur, directs the innovation programs for Clal, a nonprofit that leverages Jewish wisdom for the common good. Last fall UCC leaders invited Babchuck to participate in a planning retreat for Adese. He wasn’t sure what would come of the session, but the trip felt worth his time. He was right.
“Everyone in the room blew me away,” he says. “I felt surrounded by wisdom and grace. People of really deep thought who know what it means to be a spiritual entrepreneur and understand this idea of building God’s economy.”
The Adese faculty boasts a broad array of knowledge, spanning the theological, legal and fiscal realms. Babchuck, by lending his business development expertise, will help McLeod from idea to implementation. Her goal: to combat poverty among minority single mothers through the Healing Streams Center. McLeod sees the future center as a resource to assist women in overcoming the physical and emotional challenges of poverty and single parenthood.
“There’s a narrative that they’re not enough — like a negative tape playing in their head. That they have to live moment to moment, and can’t plan for the future,” she says. “I know what it feels like and how hard it is to try to go beyond what you can see, and what you feel.”
While her goals are a tall order, McLeod says that Babchuck’s teaching and coaching help shift the task from towering to tangible.
“He’s really allowed me to break down the steps, and not just see it as a big mountain that I'll have to leap onto,” she says.
The issue is close to home for McLeod, who grew up in a single parent house.
“Being African-American and growing up in Philadelphia in an urban community, I was able to see firsthand just what poverty does to a family, to people, to a neighborhood — but especially to single mothers who are raising children by themselves,” she says.
Babchuck, for his part, can’t wait to see what McCleod and the other 13 fellows accomplish.
“I think what’s so unique about their ventures is when they talk about their ventures, they are all so zeroed in on the people impacted by them,” Babchuck says. “Every one of those entrepreneurs is really focused on serving their constituents, on positively impacting their lives.”
Babchuck, who founded and runs Clal’s Glean Incubator for spiritual entrepreneurs, is hopeful that Adese is part of a growing trend: That business can — and should — be a force for justice.
“There is something amazing happening right now,” Babchuck adds. “This is a courageous investment by the UCC, and what I’d love to see is Adese become a beacon of light for other denominations to follow.”