How do I use my gifts and skills to serve others? It’s a question many people often ask, and I found myself doing the same. Working in business in Grand Rapids, MI, I wondered how I could play a role in alleviating poverty.
As I was wrestling with this, I met Rudy Carrasco from Partners Worldwide. He soon connected me with Restorers Inc., a local community institution Partners Worldwide’s U.S. network.
Restorers is based in a Grand Rapids community suffering from high unemployment. They address this by providing entrepreneurs with training, mentoring, access to capital, and advocacy tools—with the hope of creating jobs and facilitating local economic growth.
Together with Restorers and Partners Worldwide, we started the Grand Rapids Business Affiliate team—a team of volunteer business mentors—in January of 2015.
We came together with a shared conviction: job creation can alleviate poverty.
The team has since grown from three mentors to twelve who serve based on their expertise. Since we started in 2015, we have served over 30 entrepreneurs with various business needs, ranging from finances to marketing, business planning, and more.
Like any start-up, the Business Affiliate team has experienced the growing pains of starting something new; yet the journey has been energizing, fulfilling, and joyful. This is especially true when the team shares stories of how God is moving.
Very few things can compare to witnessing God work in the lives of the entrepreneurs we serve, and in our own lives, too.
In addition to sharing my own perspective, I spoke with four of my fellow team members and asked them to reflect on their experience as a Business Affiliate.
Zena works for The Deb Williams Insurance Agency but sets aside time to mentor the business All Tied Up by Pat. Zena views mentoring as a critical part of her calling as a child of God.
“We are created for relationship with one another. As a Business Affiliate, I get to invest in others and walk in my purpose. We are responsible for feeding His sheep. Our gifts align us with our purpose.”
Craig is an expert in financial planning with 36 years of experience in retail merchandising and supply chain management with Family Christian Stores. Craig mentors two businesses: Martha’s International Market and Good Earth Tree Care.
“With each business I’ve mentored, we’ve learned together the power that comes from establishing clear and regular—even if simple—financial reporting. It’s so fun to see ‘the lights go on’ when we make a new discovery of what we can do better!”
Arlen is a consultant at Varnum Consulting and serves alongside Zena as a mentor for All Tied Up by Pat. He also mentors Cotton Top Tees and Creative Carvings. Arlen believes that we need each other to reach our full potential.
“A dream of many is to launch, build, and grow their own ideas into business ventures. Yet few have the support and expertise to build a sustainable, profitable organization. But through the work of Partners Worldwide and their local partners, those dreams have become profitable realities across West Michigan.”
Rachael is the owner of RE/MAX in Grand Rapids. Together, she and her husband mentor Ana Jose, owner of a rental property consulting business for investors. Rachael shares our belief that we can do more together than we can alone.
“My mentorship role with Partners Worldwide continues to reaffirm my belief that with clear plans, persistence, and real action steps even the most difficult situations can turn into great success. The key is surrounding yourself with others who want to invest in your success. It doesn’t matter whether you are starting out with an idea, or many years in the business. It is so important to find people you can learn from and who hold you accountable throughout your career.”
I’m a Sales Representative for West Michigan Tech Supply and the leader of the Grand Rapids Business Affiliate team. I also mentor Good Neighbor Lawn Care. I believe the core of mentoring is relationships:
“Mentoring is a time of sharing best practices and lessons learned from our own experiences, but it is foremost a relationship in which listening is one of the most important practices. As Christians, we are not only listening for the challenges entrepreneurs are facing but also the work of the Spirit throughout the entire process.”
The relationships we on the Business Affiliate team have formed with the entrepreneurs, and each other, are deeply enriching. Although the professional experience among the mentors varies—with some retired, others just starting out, and the rest somewhere in between—each mentor is affirmed by each other in the faithful use of their gifts.
In this, a multi-faceted joy pervades our work. One aspect of this is in the deep confirmation found in pursuing God’s good and holy work. Another aspect is encountering the image of God in every entrepreneur we work with.
Our work takes real time and commitment, but there is great joy in it and in being able to help every entrepreneur live more fully into their calling.
Volunteer mentors, called Business Affiliates, are a crucial part of our three-way partnership model. Business Affiliates are individuals who often have years of business experience, which they put to use mentoring and walking alongside the emerging entrepreneurs in our network.