Tag Archives: School for Leadership Formation

Christian educators gather for resourcing event

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

One participant makes a creation scene out of homemade scented play dough.
One participant makes a creation scene out of homemade scented play dough.

About 50 Sunday school teachers from Franconia and Eastern District conference churches gathered on August 12 in preparation for the new school year.

Teachers met with other teachers of the same age levels and were led through a sample lesson in the new Shine curriculum, which is co-published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.

Among the group was one person teaching for the first time, and two people who had taught for over 50 years.

The resourcing event was organized by the Franconia and Eastern District Conferences School for Leadership Formation. Perkiomenville (Pa.) congregation hosted the event and arranged logistics. Feedback from the day was very positive, and Christian educators in both conferences are looking forward to meeting again.

Jessica Hedrick, director of children’s ministry at Souderton (Pa.) congregation, offered a prayer at the event. It is printed here with permission, for all children as they begin a new year.

God, you took the children on your knee and blessed them when everyone else pushed them aside; help us to be fully present with the children in our homes, our churches, and our communities.

As we walk with the children on this journey of faith we know that you will give us everything we need.

Help us to see them with your eyes, so that we are not blind to their strengths or oblivious to their gifts.

Help us to love them with your heart, so that they may trust you more deeply and know you more fully.

Help us to listen to them with your ears, so that we may understand the significance of their thoughts and the value of their voices.

We are weak and imperfect, and we realize sometimes we may feel like we have failed.

Help us remember that you are a God who brings glory from the mess.

Help us to embrace the mess of our ministry.

When we do not have the answers, may the children be inspired by our faith.

When we make mistakes, may they see God’s grace at work in our lives.

When we feel too lost to lead, may they see our trust in your leading.

As we go into the rest or our evening, and then return home to our ministries, fill us with your Holy Spirit and renew our passion for your kingdom.

Surround us with your peace, love, and light so that we may shine brightly igniting the fire of your love in the hearts of the children.

May they see you in us and may we see you in them. 

To everything there is a season: Long-term director retires and microenterprise program ends

cycle-34-winter-2008-copy.jpgLora Steiner

ASSETS Montco, based in Norristown, Pa., began in the fall of 1996 as a project of Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) after a recognition that MEDA’s global work in developing small businesses could have a domestic impact. A pilot project began in Lancaster, Pa. in 1993. Currently, there are 19 ASSETS organizations in North America.

ASSETS is a “13-week business training for anyone who wants to start or expand their own business,” explains Jim Williams, founding executive director. The course meets two nights per week and covers everything from legal aspects and accounting to marketing and hiring employees.

Volunteer instructors help students ask questions about logistics—“Should I rent space or buy?” for example—and look at the core skills they need. Fees are based on a sliding scale, allowing everyone from home child care providers to doctors opening a practice to be a part. Persons with low to moderate income receive scholarships.

Ultimately, the goal is that each student will leave with a viable business plan.

Through 42 class cycles offered in English and Spanish, ASSETS Montco has helped start or expand more than 200 businesses, many of which are home-based. Most of the businesses —ranging from furniture restoration to lawn care to a resume writing service—are located in Norristown and across Montgomery County.

Williams sees a marked growth and transformation in students as they go through the course. ASSETS’ mission is economic development—giving skills and assistance to small business owners—but at the same time, ASSETS is very involved in community and personal development.

Tom Bishop, who served for several years on the board, says it was the ministry aspect that drew him to ASSETS. He saw it strengthening not only the entrepreneurs who participated but also the local community. Bishop also noticed that sometimes the program helped in a different way: some of those who’d planned to start a business would learn enough to realize they didn’t want to start a business, after all, and it stopped them before they started.

carmen-rodriguez-bulmaro-ol-copy.jpgBishop says the course was empowering, especially for those who hadn’t finished high school or accomplished major achievements in their lives.

“One thing I seemed to observe in everybody who went through that class,” he says, “was a really profound impact on their self-esteem.”

“Rather than just being another charity that gave away stuff, it was trying to build a skill in people so they could be more self-sufficient, not dependent, says Bishop. “ Jim [Williams] always referred to it as ‘a hand-up, not a hand-out.’”

Former board member Chad Lacher of the Souderton congregation says that in addition to being a big help to the students, “on a personal level it has helped crystallize the confidence that they can be successful.”

Peter Giesbrecht, a graduate of ASSETS, began his own remodeling business after the class and now has two employees. He says though he knew several business owners in his home congregation, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, one of the most valuable parts of the program was the opportunity to network and build connections.

“You think about starting a business but you really don’t understand what all goes into it. It’s not easy. You need people who help you along the way.”

Williams says that seeing how individuals grow and transform has been one of the most rewarding parts of his work.

“You see people grow personally and you see them strengthen the local communities by the contributions that they’re able to make, providing needed goods and services in underserved communities.”

One ASSETS graduate, for example, started a mini-market within walking distance of many homes in an area of Norristown where convenience or grocery stores do not exist.

Another graduate, who had already been in business for many years, says he wished the program had been around before he ever opened his doors.

Lacher joined the board because of his own experience in the business world, and the desire to invite others on that journey. He says that many people don’t always understand what nonprofit organizations like ASSETS do and how they relate to the community. ASSETS, he says, is about sustainability, and generating long-term jobs that don’t rely on outside money.

dr-yunus-copy.jpgLacher affirmed the time and energy that Williams and his wife, Sharon, have given to ASSETS, as well as the ministry and Christian witness they’ve brought to ASSETS and the broader community.

“[Jim] was willing to step out and begin the organization on a shoestring financially but also without knowing exactly where the resources were coming from,” said Lacher. “He and Sharon, his wife, were willing to take that step of faith. And he’s had to continue to live in faith with this organization over its life.”

Lacher says that as the state funding that helped run the program has dwindled, many people have worked diligently on and off the board to keep ASSETS alive, and he hopes that the work will someday continue in one form or another.

“There’s still a sense that the mission and ministry of ASSETS are not done . . . It’s not at the moment, it doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.”

“The irony is not lost on us. While solutions to the economic downturn have focused on job creation and business loans, microenterprise/small business training is not valued as an essential part of the solution. Who will create new jobs, if not new businesses?” said Williams. “Microenterprises and small businesses provide self-employment and jobs; they are the backbone of the local economy. Why is it that when times are hard, programs that empower the poor are hit the hardest?”

Williams, who will retire after the last class graduates on June 17, says he’ll find plenty to keep him busy after he leaves ASSETS Montco, with “ten thousand things to do, and not nearly enough time to do everything.”

Financial support is needed to support ASSETS’ last class, which starts March 25. Registration is also open. For more information, contact the ASSETS office at 610-275-3520; assetsmontco@bee.net.