Grand Rapids Organization Launches Collaborative Campaign to Support Sustainable Innovation


Grand Rapids Organization Launches Collaborative Campaign to Support Sustainable Innovation

Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation hosts community fundraising event to expand space

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., September 17, 2018 Five local organizations are strategically joining together to form the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation (GRCCT) and expand its vital community center. To celebrate the tremendous community effort, the organizations are hosting a kickoff experiential fundraising event on Thursday, September 20 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the new location at 1530 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.

Together, NAACP GR, Grand Rapids Nehemiah Project, Building Bridges Professional Services, Rising Grinds Café, Bethany Christian Services’ Youth Services Department are partnering to form the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation as they begin building out a multi-use space that will be a hub for the community to ignite social innovation and entrepreneurship conducted with an economic and equity lens in the urban core of Grand Rapids. The final build-outs are planned for completion by February 2020.

The fundraising event will feature music, live art, self-guided tours, hors d’oeuvres, drinks and free valet parking. All money raised will go toward the building purchase, which is part of a larger $3.65 Million Collective Vision campaign, which focuses on purchasing, renovating, and growing funds for future programmatic expansion within the space. The center will eventually have a roof top deck, commercial kitchen and indoor/outdoor space for events, computer labs, professional and innovative workspaces. In total the space will maintain over 60 jobs in the community, with the creation of six to eight new positions in by campaign completion.

“This truly an amazing effort in which nonprofits and social enterprises are coming together to collectively raise money. We are thrilled to have created an authentic partnership with such influential organizations,” said Dr. Justin Beene, visionary behind the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation. “This event will help raise funds and awareness for the needed opportunities that this space will provide to the area. We hope that the growth of this center and its collaborative model will spark an increase in innovation and community involvement in 49507 while continuing to unite those working in Grand Rapids’ urban core.”

Annually, over 500 youth—ages 14-24, as well as thousands of community members will be impacted by this collaboration, through GED completion, leadership development, vocational training and credentialing in construction, landscaping, hospitality/customer service, housing support and mentorship. The event space will hold up to 300 people and become a sustainable model through the rental of the space for community meetings, weddings, local entrepreneurs, advocacy meetings and trainings, business pitches, and racial conciliation trainings.

GRCCT partners exist with a single mission, to create opportunities for transformation by addressing the lack of structured and consistent approaches to providing inter-agency and cross-sectoral opportunities for the community in a sustainable way.

Learn more at:

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Director of Programs

We are hiring a Director of Programs.

Location: Grand Rapids, MI

Hours: Full-time

Bethany Christian Services’ heart is for children. Our mission is to demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ by protecting children, empowering youth, and strengthening families through quality social services. Partnering with families for the well-being of children is our top priority.

Director of Programs is responsible for program oversight, administration, new program development and grant writing. This individual has the responsibility of carrying out the planning, overall leadership, and strategic planning responsibilities of Youth Services, ensuring their successful ongoing operations. The Director of Programs will ensure all Youth Services Department programs are compliant with any federal and state licensing standards and regulations. This individual will facilitate the annual budget process within the program supervisors and assure thoroughness, accuracy and submission in a timely fashion. This position is expected to function effectively with little to no supervision while following the guidelines given on procedures, along with agency, federal, and state regulatory requirements.
  1. Serve as a primary communicator, coordinator, and link between programs and operations.
  2. Represent the agency in responding to constituent concerns, interest and grievances.
  3. Ensure implementation of Bethany Administration and National Board Policies as it relates to program implementation.
  4. Consult with Grand Rapids Branch and National Office on a monthly and annual basis to assure quality standards, service, strategic objectives, budget and operational goals are achieved.
  5. Represent the agency to various community and professional organizations.
  6. Facilitate the annual budget process within the program supervisors and assure thoroughness, accuracy and submission in a timely fashion;
  7. Monitor the on-going budget performance to assure youth program budgets growth and performance. Maintain budget compliance and take corrective action as necessary;
  8. Complete on-site visits to programs sites on a regular and as-needed basis to ensure quality;
  9. Ensure an effective and efficient program staff culture, ensuring diversity and equity;
  10. Participate as an active member of the Leadership Team and lead programmatic leadership meetings;
  11. Ensure Youth Services Department programs are compliant with any federal and state licensing standards and regulations;
  12. Work in a collaborative role with Director of Youth Services and Director of Operations as well as any boards, advisory councils, etc. encouraging diversification and expansion of services within the GR Center for Community Transformation;
  13. Perform other duties as assigned.
  • May be required or asked to participate in a Bethany sponsored donor engagement event.


  1. Master’s level degree in Social Work or Master of Arts or Science in a human service related field or related field of study from an accredited college;
  2. At least 5 years of successful management, supervisory, program development and administrative experience, including budget management;
  3. Ability to assume complex administrative responsibilities over federal, state, local and foundation contracted programs;
  4. A commitment to the highest-level standards of professionalism;
  5. Excellent verbal and written communication skills;
  6. Experience in child/family welfare agency is a plus;
  7. Must be reliable with time sensitive deadlines and tasks;
  8. Exercise a high level of confidentiality and integrity;
  9. Work well under pressure and adaptable to change;
  10. Pass a criminal history screen, including state and local child protection agency registries;
  11. Subscription to and integration of the agency Statement of Faith, Mission Statement, and Cultural Diversity Commitment.
Physical Demands and Work Environment:
  1. Regularly required to talk and/or hear;
  2. Occasionally required to stand, walk, or sit; use hands to finger, handle or feel; reach with hands and arms; climb or balance; and stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl;
  3. Occasionally required to move or lift items up to 25 pounds in weight;
  4. Primarily office based, but may be required to travel occasionally to other offices and external parties;
  5. Routinely exposed to typical office noise levels and/or exposure to various weather conditions.



Men Making Moves in Grand Rapids Interview

Metro Health looks to make a bigger impact in Alger Heights with new facility

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Metro Health: University of Michigan Health is looking to expand its reach in the Alger Heights neighborhood as plans move forward for a new medical office.

The Wyoming-based local health system recently finalized its affiliation with the University of Michigan Health System this month.

The Wyoming-based hospital is becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ann Arbor’s university-owned health care system.

The new Alger Heights office will offer primary care, and is planning to develop a new building at 2550 Eastern Ave. SE on a two-acre property south of the Tabernacle Community Church.

Tabernacle Community Church acquired the property in 2007 when Evergreen Christian School moved out, said Pastor Artie Lindsay.

Shortly after that, the mechanical systems failed in the building at the corner of Eastern and Mahew Wood Drive — and it has been vacant since 2008. The building will be torn down.

“We’re excited for the opportunity for individuals to have access to healthcare right in their neighborhood and about the number of people it will bring to our community – about the opportunities it will afford for our business district and for the restaurants and stores in our community,” Lindsay said. “We think it’s going to be a great addition to the Alger Heights community.”

Proposed is a new, one-story, 15,800-gross-square-foot building that would mimic many of the existing features of the former school.

A 64-space parking lot is also proposed, with access only off of Eastern Avenue. Access to the property now off of Nevada Street will be closed off.

The new building would allow Metro Health to expand its reach in the Alger Heights neighborhood, as it is planning to move its existing operations from Alger Street into the new facility when it opens in 2018.

Staffing levels for the office have yet to be set in stone, but Metro Health officials anticipate there will be three to four doctors at the office with physician assistants and medical assistants as well.

Services will include primary care, physical therapy, lab and radiology service as well as some rotating specialists.

The new Alger Heights office may include different scheduling that’s more flexible and responsive to patient needs, according to Metro Health officials. That could include telemedicine capabilities and specialty consultant evaluations.

Metro Health is working with Pinnacle Ventures on the project. An existing playground will be relocated to the church property, and a community garden will remain.

The church is in the process of selling off the two-acre piece of the property to Pinnacle Construction, which will build the new office facility and rent it out to Metro Health.

The project was in front of the Grand Rapids Planning Commission this month with a rezoning request from low-density residential to a special district for neighborhood offices. The planning commission gave its approval, but a full City Commission vote is needed in order for it to take effect.

Metro Health has more than 500 doctors on staff and a 208-bed hospital, as well as a number of neighborhood outpatient centers and offices in West Michigan. It also has a community clinic for under-served populations as well as a student health clinic at Grand Valley State University.

Thinking and Rethinking Work: Spotlight on Grand Rapids Theological Seminary

At Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, we are nearing completion of two multi-year projects related to the work of the Oikonomia Network. These two projects have focused on helping students and local pastors develop a biblical theology of work and to pursue faithful approaches to economics and poverty.

Local Pastors and Churches

First, for local pastors and churches, we have developed a video-based curriculum for small groups entitled Everyday Works: Rethinking What You Do and Why It Matters for the Kingdom (releasing this month here). This study provides a series of video clips that engage topics like theology, vocation, business, economics, poverty, community development and more. Our panel of speakers include:

  • Rudy Carrasco, Partners Worldwide
  • Peter Greer, Hope International
  • Pastor Artie Lindsay, Tabernacle Community Church (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • Amy Sherman, Sagamore Institute
  • Michael Wittmer, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary

We had at least three major outcomes in mind as we developed this curriculum. First, we wanted to help people in the church (and the pastors leading them) rethink their understanding of “work” and begin to see their regular jobs as an avenue of both discipleship and mission. We want people to discover that even the most mundane jobs they endure are seen and blessed by God as expressions of meaningful love and service for others. Michael Wittmer and Amy Sherman provide a theological foundation for work and a vision for how we can steward our “everyday work” for the Kingdom of God.

Second, we wanted to help people take that theology of work and apply it to issues related to economics, poverty and community development. We wanted to challenge Christians to identify (and if necessary rethink) their assumptions about poverty and people who are poor. By reflecting on the economic systems we live in, we can develop an approach to poverty that is filled with equal parts compassion and justice. Rudy Carrasco, Artie Lindsay and Peter Greer explored practical wisdom on economics and how to think about poverty alleviation both locally and globally.

Integral to this discussion is the topics of race and racism, which efforts at poverty alleviation eventually confront. Our speakers waded into this conversation with grace and clarity. Race is a fraught topic for many, and churches in the majority culture can be tempted to avoid engaging the challenges, seeking instead to be generous from a distance. That disconnected approach is unnecessary. Churches from diverse settings have the opportunity to build relationships across cultural divides if we come with patience, humility, a priority on relationships (rather than immediate results) and a biblical theology of work and the imago dei. Our third goal with this curriculum was to provide basic insights for any follower of Christ or church to take next steps in this effort with grace, wisdom and empathy.

The format for the Everyday Works study is a series of sixteen short video clips that are taken from 45-60 minute presentations. These video clips provide groups with discussion points, and those who want to dig deeper can access the full presentations. Our video crew also teamed up with a local rapper and a sand artist who used their “everyday work” to capture the major themes of the curriculum verbally and visually.

Lastly, although this curriculum is written for small groups, we anticipate it will be useful in the classroom as well. Our undergrad faculty are reviewing the material for ways they can build it into the undergrad experience at Cornerstone University.

All of the Everyday Works material is available online for free here. Print and DVD copies are also available for purchase.

Seminary Students

Students at GRTS engage a theology of work in multiple places in the curriculum, including our Program Introduction Seminar and Systematic Theology sequence. These courses are required for all students. Alongside that curricular engagement, students in the Kern Scholar Program at GRTS participate in a co-curricular enhancement regarding discipleship, flourishing, and economics. This enhancement structure provides workshops each semester, attendance at Acton University and funding for a capstone project.

The capstone project, which students complete during their last year in seminary, is proving to be one of the more effective ways to help students move from theory to practice. Students submit proposals, outlining their project and requesting funds to cover related expenses. Fourteen students completed capstone projects in the Spring 2017 semester. These projects included:

  • A Sunday School class for young adults, piloting the Everyday Works curriculum
  • A teaching series and small group experience for InterVarsity students
  • Small group experiences using For the Life of the Worldand PovertyCure (from the Acton Institute)
  • A teaching series with a large high school youth group
  • A “Cross-Cultural Wisdom Workshop” at a local church, seeking to inspire and prepare people to serve refugees

The opportunity to design a project that fits their own context has helped students develop greater clarity and deeper conviction about the need for this movement. One student taught a Sunday School class using the Everyday Works curriculum and shared the following from his experience:

I learned from this project that this is generally an area of Christian theology and formation that is neglected. There is still a clear belief in congregations that pastors and missionaries are the people who are really serving God. The rest of the church is not as important in God’s eyes. However, I also learned that the integration of faith and work can be a very powerful aspect of Christian formation. For many of the participants, this was a very encouraging study because they began to see how their jobs provided them unique opportunities to love and serve other people. Previously, they had been overburdened, bored, or dissatisfied in their jobs. However, I began to see some of them change their thinking about their job in such a way that they recognized its importance to others, both directly and in the broader economy…I also realized how the church tends to treat the poor. I recognized in myself and many other participants acknowledged an intentional and purposeful desire to avoid the poor…I saw a big change in my own heart and in many participants to acknowledge that the poor have dignity and skill, which we often ignore. This study was very transformational in instilling the belief that all people have dignity and creative potential.

Another student, who intended to launch a poverty initiative from his project but discovered they weren’t ready, reflected on his experience this way:

It’s easier to think you know the answers than to realize you don’t have the answers. The community in need probably does, and it’s going to take much more of a long-term, committed process than most Western suburban churches are comfortable with. We want things that are efficient, quick, and have a lasting impact only long enough to be able to see it in the rear-view mirror as we drive back into the suburbs. Long lasting impact requires much more, and it first requires a realization that “it’s not about me.”

The pairing of classroom instruction and applied experience helps students see the need for this work and the potential fruit for real people in our churches. However, it also invites students to experience themselves the difficulties and barriers that make whole-life discipleship, compassion and justice challenging in the real world.

Thinking and Rethinking Work: Spotlight on Grand Rapids Theological Seminary

Construction supplier sees growth in urban development

A focus on being a one-stop shop for contractors has positioned a supplier of architectural products for growth in West Michigan.

Byron Center-based Double O Craftsmen Inc. serves both the commercial and residential construction industries, supplying and installing windows and doors, as well other interior items such as cabinets. Established in 1997, the company has found that by carving a few key niches for itself and sticking to its own guiding principles, it can grow its business even in tough economic conditions.

President Michael Otis told MiBiz that he aims to have the company serve as somewhat of a one-stop shop for contractors in the window and door space, particularly for commercial customers.

Lately, Double O has found itself with considerable work in both residential and commercial segments. The opportunity for Double O lies in its ability to both distribute and install products, which allows contractors to outsource that part of the job exclusively to one company rather than going through additional suppliers. That convenience factor, in turn, leads to repeat business for the company, particularly from larger contractors.

The strategy of becoming a one-stop provider for contractors allowed the company to maintain growth even during the downturn years, Otis said.

“An awful lot of competitors went out of business or left the state (during that time period),” Otis said. “We had every reason to believe we could be the last man standing.”

The company more actively seeks commercial work, despite becoming a favored contractor with developers doing downtown residential work in Grand Rapids, he said. Double O has completed several projects with developer Karl Chew from Midland-based Brookstone Capital LLC and with Grand Rapids-based 616 Development LLC.

Double O distributes primarily Jeld-Wen products, but also sells other brands.

By working with developers who are redeveloping older buildings, Double O has also made a name for itself by being skilled in “historic renovation,” Otis said. As an example, he pointed to work the company did for a project on Prospect Avenue in Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill neighborhood that involved removing, preserving and restoring historic stained glass windows.

 “Amazing craftsmanship went into those windows 100 years ago, and we wanted to preserve that,” Otis said.

Despite having a relatively steady pipeline of work at present, Double O often gets hampered by seasonal slowdowns like many companies in the construction industry, Otis said. Last summer and fall, the company had upwards of 60 employees (including temporary workers), but the headcount has dropped to 25 people currently. The seasonality of the business is bothersome for Otis as it means “bringing on people we know we can’t keep.”

Even after a fairly slow first quarter, Otis is optimistic for the remainder of 2014 and foresees a ramp up of business coming into the summer and fall months, just like last year.

The experience Double O had over the last couple of quarters is in line with current trends in the real estate and construction segments, according to local reports.

“Overall activity in the first quarter of 2014 was softer compared to the previous quarter due to the vacation season and poor winter conditions keeping many consumers and prospective tenants frozen, waiting until spring to make decisions,” wrote Colliers International in a recent report on the West Michigan retail segment. Similar conclusions were found in reports on both office and industrial segments. “In Kent County, the decrease in both sale (14) and lease (29) transactions from the previous quarter’s count (29, 34) offers proof that activity has slumped.”

Despite some periodic slumps, Otis is forecasting growth for the coming years. The company had sales of $5.2 million in 2013 and Otis said he foresees roughly the same for 2014, or possibly a small increase.

However, Double O has grown enough in recent years that the company is now in the market for a new facility. The firm is looking to move into an area that could specifically benefit from urban redevelopment and an influx of employment, he said. The company is currently looking at buildings around Grand Rapids’ southeast and southwest industrial areas.

“Our thinking is that we want to bring jobs to an area that needs (them),” Otis said. “I don’t want to build a new building. I’m bothered by the fact that we leave beautiful buildings and move to the suburbs.”

Rising from the ashes: Nonprofit café sets sights on rebuilding after devastating fire

Rising from the ashes: Nonprofit café sets sights on rebuilding after devastating fire

Leaders of nonprofits know hard work, they know toil and they know disappointment. Many of them face these on a daily basis as they struggle with very little resources to accomplish daunting tasks to support their community. Justin Beene, director of the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation, is no stranger to the nonprofit struggle, but was hit even harder a couple of weeks ago when his organization’s brain child, the Rising Grinds Café, burned to the ground.

A coffee shop that was two and a half years in the making and set to open at 1530 Madison Ave. in May of 2017, Rising Grinds was slated to be a place that would empower young adults with employment and training opportunities. Literally digging through the rubble in hopes of rebuilding, Beene and others behind the shop are still optimistic that the project is destined to get back on track and change lives in the Madison Square neighborhood by hiring disenfranchised youth from the neighborhood and other community members.

“We’re just trying to pick up the pieces,” Beene says following the fire at the café’s construction site on Nov. 19. With $15,000 invested in design and architectural drawings and another $10,000 of purchased plumbing, lighting, wood and windows, not to mention labor costs, Beene and his staff have a long road ahead of them.

“A partnership between businesses and nonprofit organizations to create opportunities for transformation through meaningful relationships, work, education, and community revitalization,” the GR Center for Community Transformation is a collaborative entity created by Bethany Christian Services, Tabernacle Community Church and Double O Supply & Craftsmen Inc. Focusing heavily on GR’s disempowered youth, Beene developed the café as a unique social enterprise in which young adult employees could thrive. “We want this business to impact the neighborhood and the people that were employed there,” he says.

We Will Rise Again – Rising Grinds Cafe from Dakota Riehl on Vimeo.

Instead of merely hiring anyone interested in a part-time position at the café, Beene would focus his recruitment efforts on individuals in foster care, as well as immigrants and refugees who are not generally afforded the social networking opportunities to obtain their first jobs. In addition to decent wages, employment at the café would also offer a slew of benefits, including a matched social worker to assist with housing and other issues, enrollment in the center’s GED program and training in customer service and construction. “The coffee shop itself is a social enterprise,” says Beene, whose aim is a self-sustaining business for the caféwithin three years of opening.

All of this is designed to engage the youth working there in all of the business aspects of the café. The bottom line: empowerment for the employees. “It doesn’t matter how you get to us; we will try to find something for you,” says Beene. Already employing two young adults that graduated from Bethany Christian’s Youth Build program (a seven-month program that provides a pre-apprentice instruction certificate and their GED, among other things) work in the coffee shop’s Madison Avenue incubation space, Beene involved them from the very beginning in the business planning and naming of the café. “It’s a different work environment. We have kind of this family atmosphere that we’ve created,” he says.

Area youth run the coffee shop, temporarily in the CCT’s offices. Utilizing a “little unique building” in the Madison Square neighborhood just 30 yards from the Center for Community Transformation’s incubation building and workspace, Beene and his staff decided, “let’s make this a coffee shop.” The new café was in the process of being renovated by youth from the YouthBuild program, an intensive program for low-income young adults as they completed their GED while simultaneously learning construction skills by building affordable housing or other community-based projects.

Engaging his two youth staff to manage the development for the space, Beene was already knee-deep in renovations and had announced an opening date of May 2017 when disaster struck. On the morning of Nov. 19, Beene received a text that read, “The coffee shop is on fire.” Devastated, “I rushed here and watched it burn,” he says.

Though no one was hurt in the early morning fire, the building was utterly destroyed, and the temperature of the blaze ran so high that all of the windows on the Center for Community Transformation’s main building cracked from the heat. In total, the space lost more than $50,000 worth of equipment and donated materials in the blaze. “It looks like a war zone,” says Beene.

“The site is unsalvageable, and the Grand Rapids Fire Department is still investigating the cause of the fire,” Bethany Christian Services writes in a press release. Seeking above all to recommit the community’s support for this unique and ambitious project, the center hosted a moment of blessing on the afternoon of Nov. 30. With more than 50 people in attendance, including three city commissioners and the president of the Michigan chapter of the NAACP, Beene felt the community’s support for the would-be café. “It was really encouraging to hear how people were feeling,” he says.

Still sorting through the issues like insurance, Beene and his staff are working step-by-step to get the Rising Grinds Café project back on track. Fully committed to programs like these that provide opportunities for residents, the center is full steam ahead on making it work for the youth and the community. “Everyone is committed to see this vision come to completion,” says Beene. “We’ve got to figure out what’s next.”

Grand Rapids non-profit holds rally after coffee shop fire

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. – A rally was held Wednesday night for a Grand Rapids non-profit. The Rising Grinds Cafe was destroyed in a fire just a few months before it was set to open.

“I watched it burn and it was like 3 years worth of hopes and dreams burning to the ground,” says Justin Beene the Director of the Center for Transformation.

The cafe would employ youth from the Madison Square Neighborhood. Beene says with the support of the community they will rebuild.

“You know it was one of our youth who named the cafe rising grinds and today, this idea of rising from the ashes means more than it ever did before,” says Beene.

Grand Rapids non-profit holds rally after coffee shop fire @ WZZM

SBRC ENTREPRENEUR SPOTLIGHT: Justin Beene, Bethany Christian Services and Building Bridges Professional Services

SBRC ENTREPRENEUR SPOTLIGHT: Justin Beene, Bethany Christian Services and Building Bridges Professional Services

Every day, we go to work.

We might work a 9-5, 5-9, or 9-9, but we spend the largest chunk of our time awake at work. That only increases as we get older.

It’s hard to ask questions about the nature of work when we’re swimming in it every day; what it’s for, what it means to us, and what it should mean. But if you start asking those questions, you can come to some interesting conclusions.

One person who asked those questions and came back with some very interesting answers is Justin Beene.

Beene grew up on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, near Wealthy and Diamond. Growing up with an African-American father, a Caucasian mom, and four siblings, he developed a keen awareness of the racial and economic gaps in our community. Through his education, he sought to learn how to bridge those gaps.

Beene began his college education at Western Michigan University in social work and then went on to earn a master’s in Social Work with an emphasis in Management of Human Services at the University of Michigan. He then combined this education in social work with a theological foundation, studying Urban Ministry Leadership at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Currently he’s working on a Doctorate of Entrepreneurial Transformational Leadership for the Global City.

While he was continuing his education at the University of Michigan in 2006, Grand Rapids was having a terrible summer. There was a rash of shootings, the victims of which were primarily of African-American men. This hit close to home for Beene, as many of the victims were connected to the caseload of his brother, Marques, a probation officer on the Southeast side.

In response, the Beene brothers realized was that the community needed more jobs for young people. So along with his brothers Marques and Nathan, Beene began employing area youth to pick up trash in their neighborhoods. It was simple enough work, but anyone with a job can tell you how transformative work can be, especially work that engages you in your own neighborhood.

After his graduation, Beene was hired as the Youth Program Supervisor for Bethany Christian Services here in Grand Rapids. One of his responsibilities was finding employment for about 30 kids in the program. As Beene explains:

“That was in 2007-2008, and that was pretty unthinkable to find 30 high-risk youth jobs. At one point, youth employment was 40% in certain neighborhoods. So I said to Bethany ‘Hey, I got this thing on the side that I’ve been doing with my brothers.’ And we slowly started trying to make the two things work, one providing social services but also conducting an enterprise where we wouldn’t just pick up trash but would cut grass, do landscaping, and provide fee-for-service to pay the students.”

This program, now called “Building Bridges Professional Services,” is a social enterprise that maintains over 400 properties in the Grand Rapids area. It has a quadruple bottom line; in addition to profits, his business concerns itself with social, spiritual, and environmental impact. It now occupies a 120-year-old building in the Madison Square neighborhood, which the youth in his program helped to renovate.

This facility, “The Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation,” houses not only the landscaping business, but also all of Bethany’s youth development programming: a pilot coffee shop called “Rising Grinds,” and “Youth Build,” which helps teach youth the construction trades. Justin’s team is even exploring creating more jobs through ethically-sourced products like coconut oil and coffee.

By any standard, the model is impressive. A total of almost 2,500 students have gone through the program since Beene started. This year, he expects to train an additional 400 kids, and another 50 in Detroit. On top of all that, “Building Bridges” turned a profit of $20,000 last year and shared some with its employees.

Beene cites the success of the hybrid model to his staff, especially his leadership staff:

“I think the biggest thing I can celebrate is that we have 5 leadership staff and none of them have left. We add one every year. One guy’s been with me for 8 years, one for 7 years. A lot of times, people don’t stay in the work for that long, and you lose that historical perspective, as well as the connections they’ve made with students and families. That’s made us very strong, to have that continuity.”

Beene also notes that what is most important is a culture of affirmation; that’s the biggest thing that our young people often lack, and the most important aspect of the model as a whole. As he goes on to explain:

“The biggest thing is that so many young people have not been affirmed in who they are. The way I see it, every person has extreme dignity, and they’ve been endowed by their Creator to have skills and great creative capacity. Different people have different innate skills, but I think the biggest thing for me is that we look at everything through a strength-based approach, saying ‘let’s look at what you have, let’s look at what you’re passionate about, and let’s affirm that.’ In that [kind of a] space, young people blossom.”

Beene has been educated in social work, theology, and business, but has found his calling by bridging the gaps among people, communities, businesses, nonprofits, and churches. In Madison Square, it might seem like he’s creating something wholly new. Instead, Beene explains:

“It goes back to the original question of ‘what is business for?’ I believe that business is for the common good. It was never designed to create wealth for only certain individuals or classes, but wealth is for the advancement of whole communities and nations. We see business and work as a transformative gift. People are designed to work, to be co-creators in shaping our universe—and that’s a good thing. Business helps build character and perseverance, it helps young people learn how to solve problems and get a reward for a job well done. When we’ve been robbed of that opportunity, or we don’t take advantage of an opportunity, then we miss a part of what we were originally designed for.”

Yet there are many wounds that still plague Grand Rapids, deep racial and economic injustice that go far beyond individual responsibility. Social enterprise is a mechanism to begin to heal those wounds. Beene has made it his life’s mission to further that kind of work. He is confronting those wounds head on, diving into the pain so that we might stop the transmission of those wounds and transform them into hope for the next generation.

As we work towards that change, Beene by no means suggests we stop giving. But he does suggest that we start hiring, training, and exploring cross-sectoral solutions that work to create equitable wealth and opportunity.

You can hire Building Bridges Professional Services through their website here

Global Social Impact

Global Social Impact | by Justin Beene

I recently spent 7 months in Guatemala City working alongside local businesses and nonprofits committed to the social and spiritual renewal of their city. Unfortunately, I quickly became infuriated with the thousands of short term missions teams who came to Guatemala with bright shirts that often said things like, “serving the least of these,” or “transforming Guatemala.” Despite the good intentions, many of the North American efforts undermined the local leadership and community driven efforts by providing goods and services for free that locals could have been buying locally to support their own economy.

As a young man who grew up in urban poverty in the US and was a recipient of good intentions gone wrong, I have become committed to exploring best practices to sustainably solving social problems—and I am convinced that God is raising up a generation of young leaders who also are exploring the intersection of non-profit and for profit models, their faith and their work, and their desire to see change both abroad and at home.

Increasingly, there is a need for transformative business models that are scalable, have measureable results, and strong biblical foundations so that they can be embraced by church/missions endeavors, as well as integrated into larger community development and economic development strategies. However, to date very few models have been specifically designed to simultaneously address: 1) the social, spiritual, environmental and economic needs of communities in a sustainable way, 2) Christian’s mandate to stand in solidarity with the poor; both locally and globally, and 3) have results that are measurable and scalable.

As Eggers and MacMillian (2014), state in The Solution Revolution, “private enterprise for public gain no longer need to be an oxymoron” (p. 7). Yet, foundations, businesses, and non-profits keep giving poor people material goods, or implementing new programs, or developing more non-profits, hoping that it solves poverty.

Large societal problems have to be more than opportunities for only compassion, charity, or even evangelism; the problems are actually a market opportunity. Not an opportunity to exploit, but an opportunity for transforming the way that society has recently thought about business and its role in the spiritual and social renewal of people and places.

Personally, I have been asking myself, how can we engage believers in utilizing their buying power to create long term sustainability both globally and locally? Is there a way to meaningfully engage mission sending agencies, churches, and short term missionaries upon their return in staying connected with the countries they spent time in? Is there a business model that could intentionally disrupt poverty in the US as well as in the developing world?

I call the model I am developing the Glocal Social Impact Model TM, and to further explore it a group of us started CocoWorks! a U.S. based for-profit company. Our commitment is to source coconut based products from a social entrepreneur in Guatemala also committed to impacting his local community. Once the products are in the U.S they will be packaged, labeled and distributed by low income community residents and high-risk youth in urban centers. Churches, short term missionaries, and coconut product lovers can now not only purchase a fantastic product, but will be aiding in wealth and job creation both in the developing world and in the U.S.