Monday, May 16, 2016

Wood Shop - Social Entrepreneurship, pt 2

We will continue discussing social entrepreneurship by looking at our wood shop.

The building that contains our wood shop, located at 1515 Newhouse, has quite the story. Originally, it housed a printing company. Starting in the 60's, G. W. Helbling and Sons moved in. They produced screens for silk screeners. It was a family business. One of the elder Helblings was well-known for being able to produce the smallest font size in the area, because at that time, lettering was hand cut.

The ghost sign from the original tenant of the building is still visible on the back wall.

In early 2009, we began walking the Hyde Park neighborhood, praying and picking up trash. Occasionally, we would meet people. We knew God had called us here, but we were certainly strangers. At the time, we would regularly pray and fast, asking God to lead us in what He was building. We were sewing and doing wood working at one of our homes in the suburbs. We didn't know what we would do as winter approached. So in November, we told God our concerns. We can't pick up trash when snow is covering the ground. There's no public restroom to use. We know we don't need facilities for ministry, but we don't know what to do.

A few days later we were back in the neighborhood, eating at the only restaurant in Hyde Park. Terry, our executive director, was explaining to the waitress how we were having trouble trying to build deck chairs in his garage when we didn't even have a work bench. About a week later, she called Terry and told him someone was selling some workbenches. Not long after, Terry drove up to 1515 Newhouse and met Tim Helbling for the first time.

How the Opportunity Center looked when we got it.

After some pleasantries, and realizing the work benches were far too large for us to use (they were constructed inside the shop), Tim asked Terry what he was up to. Terry told him about what Sun Ministries planned to do, living out the call of Isaiah 61, rebuilding ancient ruins. Tim remarked that Terry was the most optimistic person he knew, and offered to sell Terry his building. Before Terry could answer, Tim laughed and said he could either let it rot, or give it to someone who could use it. “If I give it to you, will you use it?” Of course. “And how about all these wood working tools?” Definitely.

But why were we doing woodworking to begin with? We were inspired by a man pastoring his community in Kigali, Rwanda. He was using sewing and woodworking to provide jobs for women and orphans, moving them from homelessness and sex trafficking to a steady livelihood. We learned early on while walking the streets that there is not a lack of Jesus being represented or preached. “I can get Jesus from my grandma,” remarked one kid. “I need a job.”

While we had planned to have social enterprises (businesses), this remark, and Eugene's work, solidified the goal to create businesses that could employ people with multiple obstacles and minister to their physical needs, while we proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel. The Good News is not simply about salvation. It is the Good News of the Kingdom where the poor and orphans are cared for, where humanity functions more like a living organism, and God's glory is like a light in a dark place. This is not done by words alone, but by sacrificial acts of love and service.

We started with basic wood products, buying lumber from big box stores. Eventually, we were convinced by one missionary's father to check out some pallets, and this transformed our wood shop. We now had free (although labor intensive) wood.
pallet smashing 101

So now that we had a woodshop, a few product designs, and free lumber, we still didn't quite have a business, and certainly didn't have full understanding of how to utilize it to bring opportunity. We tried a work re-entry program, partnering with another non-profit organization. That was eye opening, to say the least. After that, we were convinced that we needed to establish our foundation. We needed to create a work space, design specific products, develop training, and learn the skills ourselves.

Since then, the woodshop has seen a number of people come through. It has proven to be a difficult place to employ people. It requires math skills, intuition, and extreme attention and safety due to the dangerous power tools. It has also laid the groundwork for our maintenance services, as it gave us the environment to learn how to use saws, drills, hammers, etc.
our commercial table tops made from recycled pallet wood

The woodshop established us firmly in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Now that we had a work place, and work to do, we were here much more often, usually with the doors wide open. Eventually, we moved in to the upper level while we continued to look for housing, and then rehabilitated the house we finally did find. We have made numerous items for charitable auctions, fixed widows' stairs, installed cafe bar fronts, and of course, built all our own tables and chairs for Sun Cafe. Our commercial furniture can be seen in several local coffee shops, as well as some further out, as we've gotten customers from places like Kansas and Wisconsin.
tables and chairs in a local coffee shop

The woodshop continues to evolve. Having started from ground zero concerning both skill and tools, we've come a long way. We are developing and stabilizing product lines, exploring marketing, and continuing to transform the space into a safe, efficient, work environment.

To see examples of our past work, visit one of the posts below:

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sun Cafe – Social Entrepreneurship, pt 1

 Our previous blog discussed our perspective on Social Entrepreneurship. We will continue this through examining each of our social enterprises, starting with Sun Cafe.

The vision of Sun Cafe has been with us since we first began the Isaiah 61 Initiative in early 2009. Our plan was to have a coffee and ice cream shop that could employ people and provide hospitality. As we pursued that goal, it became clear that the cafe was not the business with which to start. Instead, we focused on our wood shop and sewing center, and began the never-ending work of understanding what God had called us to.

1435 Salisbury, the location of Sun Cafe, before work began on the building
However, the vision was still with us, and we knocked ideas around in the midst of all our other projects. Eventually, we were approached by a developer who offered us an amazing location at Blair and Salisbury, two blocks off I-70, in the first floor of a three-story commercial live-over. The building had been vacant for decades and was in terrible condition. When we first entered the space, we could look down through a hole in the floor and see the dirt of the basement, and look up and see blue sky.

This started a lengthy and convoluted process of really developing the nature and goals of the cafe. Starting a restaurant is not easy, and it is one of the riskier businesses to start from scratch. None of us had managed a restaurant, although most of us had food service experience.

We discussed the menu, which began as a simple list of some of our favorite foods, exploded into an international selection, and eventually settled down into something similar to most diners, but with a few house specialties thrown in (such as the Louie, cornmeal pancakes, and the dirty mug). Some of our own family recipes were even included. Of course, we had a full coffee menu, including espresso drinks and pour-over coffee. Desserts included ice cream and baked goods.

The d├ęcor was intended to represent the history and future of the neighborhood. We wanted to mix industrial and Victorian elements, with a color scheme that brought warmth and hearkened to our love of coffee. We put in a stage so that we could bring musicians and other artistic acts into the neighborhood. We left wall space for displaying visual arts.
1435 Salisbury in its (first) heyday

As I mentioned, the building itself needed a lot of work, and the blueprints saw numerous revisions. The rehab of the building took over two years and gave us time to develop the idea of the cafe, source equipment, and mature our existing projects. We finally opened in February of 2014, initially by simply taking down the paper on the windows (we had a “grand opening” a couple weeks later). We were assisted by equipment donations, flooring donations, some favors from friends and partners, and a lot of hard work. We finished out the space, including painting the walls, installing the flooring, building our bar, bakery case, and chairs, and putting finishing touches on the place.
our grand opening

However, these are all simply brick-and-mortar issues. The real story of Sun Cafe is in its very purpose. Sun Cafe exists to create a hub for connecting, serving, casting vision and providing hospitality. As mentioned in previous blogs, our businesses support the ministry as well as provide employment environments. However, each business also takes part in the rebuilding of Isaiah 61. Not only are buildings being renewed, but economy is being built up, and hope restored. We may be biased, but Sun Cafe is a nice space. We wanted to stand against the physical decay and negative attitudes over the area by making a beautiful and welcoming environment. The cafe brings people, and money, from outside the area into our neighborhood. We've hosted celebrations and discussions. We often have music to enjoy.

Sun Cafe definitely made the work of Sun Ministries very public. It has served as a connecting point with neighborhood residents, government officials, non-profits, churches, artists, police, and families. It certainly put us face to face with many people, and opened up opportunity to cast vision.

art displayed at Sun Cafe
The cafe has many challenges. It was our first business to have set hours. It is in very close quarters with the general public. The kitchen is always a stressful place. It contains lots of big equipment requiring regular maintenance. And like I said, we lacked restaurant management experience. Add all that on top of running four other businesses and trying to take on ministry projects, and you have quite the work load. While we've had our bumps, we are hopeful that the cafe can be a positive environment for our employees and customers. We plan to utilize its public nature to promote more community organization and progress. We host regular ServSafe certification courses for our employees and the public.

Besides offering food, coffee, and ice cream, Sun Cafe also does catering. We host meetings and parties. And we're open to other creative partnerships for utilizing our space and services.

You can learn more about Sun Cafe by visiting our website, or checking out our facebook and twitter  feeds. You can also visit the Isaiah 61 Initiative site to read some different perspective on the purpose of the cafe.

Read Social Entrepreneurship, part 2 - Wood Shop

Read Social Entrepreneurship, part 3 - Sewing Center

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pastoring the Community, pt. 3: Social Entrepreneurship

Social entreprenuership is generally defined as the use of business to address social problems. That is essentially what the Sun Ministries Opportunity Center does. We currently run 5 businesses which act as employment and training environments for people with obstacles. We are also using them to rebuild the economy of our neighborhood. They provide jobs, bring money and visitors into the area, and act as a tool to highlight the problems we face. Our customers are aware of the nature of our work, regardless of what business they're patronizing, and learn about the challenges people have and the immensity of the solutions necessary to overcome them.

We are creating opportunity for the oppressed with the work of our hands, instead of storing up wealth for ourselves. Our missionaries are not paid, and they live a modest lifestyle so that we can use most of our resources for the ministry. We can improve our businesses, provide steady hours and decent pay for our employees, and be involved in other ministry opportunities in the neighborhood.

We are utilizing all of our resources - money, labor, creativity, skills, materials – for the sake of the Kingdom. Our businesses provide skill and tools for ministry. We've used vehicles and tools to do community clean-ups. We've used our maintenance and construction skills to fix widows' homes. We've utilized our cafe for our employees' family gatherings, and for employee Christmas parties. This is simply taking the values of the Good News of the Kingdom and applying them to everything we do- not just to our own personal attitudes and actions, but also to our businesses. In living the Gospel, we can utilize all we have and do in outwardly-focused ministry opportunities. The Gospel of Jesus is always bigger than our selves and always sacrificial, and there's no reason that should not permeate our businesses.

This business model also fits in to the long-term, big picture view of Pastoring the Community. Rebuilding economy takes time. Reentering the workforce takes time. We have to be creative, patient, and always looking to solve problems.

We have learned that not all people can perform all tasks. Having multiple businesses gives us the ability to move people around. It also diversifies our income so that the ministry as a whole can continue to function, even if one of the businesses does poorly for a while.

Pastoring the Community also involves care, and we've already shared some examples of that. In restoring buildings, creating nice spaces, and stabilizing areas, we are caring for the neighborhood as a whole. Our restaurant, Sun Cafe, has especially played a role in being a meeting space for all sorts of businesses and organizations.

We've also found that when you set your intentions on following God's design, He builds something you didn't expect. We've already talked about the idea of a prepared work, which is spoken of in Ephesians 2:10. Besides the miraculous provision and planning that has come about, we've witnessed that the businesses God has built here function differently. They are places where ministry can occur, where pride can be challenged and yet esteem built up.

To learn more about the Opportunity Center and our businesses, visit our websites:

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 1 - Social Justice

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 2 - Urban Renewal