Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yesterday afternoon I received a report from Panera Bread's corporate headquarters. What I read took me back for a few moments - but in an amazing sort of way. Here's the story. About 4 years ago we contacted the Panera Bread store located on Ireland Road to see if they would be willing for us to pick up their unsold baked goods at the end of the day. We had just started overseeing Ko-op 65 and wanted to create an atmosphere where guests felt welcomed and we wanted to add a little bit more to the Feed the Children boxes we were handing out.

The first time we arrived on Monday evening (food pantry was open on Tuesday mornings) we loaded up several bags of freshly baked breads and great tasting pastries. The guests loved the fresh pastries and a hot cup of coffee as well as the additional baked goods. We recreated our version of Panera Bread at 526 W. Western Avenue.

What was amazing was very quickly we realized what corporate America had realized. Create a coffee house environment and people will gather to share their life stories. Neighbors began to talk to each other and we began to get to know them. As more of the building became available this basic idea became the cornerstone of Monroe Circle Community Center and our cafe. People walk in to a cafe the looks more like it should be uptown.

One of the greatest compliments people tell me over and over is that when you walk by the smiling faces and laughter is so appealing that it literally draws you in. This is not the norm in a low income neighborhood.

So here I am reading the value of one stores contribution to transforming a community. One store that allowed us to pick up their unsold goods that were headed straight to the dumpster. The estimated value $27,000. (Add the value of goods donated by the Panera Bread/Main Street store and it is well over $40,000 each year!) To borrow a phrase from an advertising campaign "priceless!"

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is There Such a Thing as Business Grace?

Late this afternoon I had the chance to meet with the owner of MTI/Adams Engineering, Dan Adams and its human resource director, Laura Yak. Last September I talked about how their company was creating opportunities to hire men and women from the Monroe Circle neighborhood. They wanted to actively engage in helping break the cycle of generational poverty but not only creating a job but a career opportunity.

For six months everything seemed to be going along extremely well. Martin was not only loving the chance to learn but earn a good and steady income along with great benefits. The company was making an impact and changing the direct of someone's life and the legacy of his family. Then I received a phone call from Dan Adams on Wednesday afternoon. He shared the Martin had simply walked into the HR office, handed in his identification badge and walked out.

Six months of employment - out the door!

Time spent restructuring of one of MTI's departments - wasted!!

Two years of mentoring, learning, STARs program and training - spent!!!

Sharing the success story - was it no longer true?

Dan was great. He shared he was going to spend the next day digging into what exactly happened and I told Dan I would try to track down Martin and hear his side of the story. Truthfully, I hung up the phone with a splitting headache and telling myself this is hard, really, really hard - is this really worth the effort?

This afternoon I sat in an office with Dan, Laura and Martin and witnessed grace, kindness and compassion that would rival any church service on Sunday morning. In this economy, they could have had 25 resumes to choose from from people that would take this job - they held it for Martin. The way Martin left - the vast majority of companies would have simply said I what I said and move on - they told Martin they wanted him back, they believed in him, they were not going to let him fail. There were some expectations that needed to be met but Monday morning he was to report back to work.

As I walked out to my car, I could only smile and think Dan Adam's and his company have a kingdom of God mindset because without it Martin would not have had a job, I would have been very sad and the community would have been worse off. But God's plan looks so much more appealing.

Thanks Dan, you taught a church guy something today about grace and forgiveness!