HOPE comes to Harlem
Story by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
Photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer and QPHOTONYC
When John Hope Bryant was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, his first business venture was selling candy from his house. He proved to be quite the entrepreneur, earning an average of $300 a week.
But when he was 18, he made a bad business decision and lost all the money he’s saved.
“I was making stupid risks,” he said.
His missteps eventually led him to homelessness.
But he worked hard to recover his former fortune – and his well-being. Bryant sought out financial education, and was soon back on his feet, determined to help prevent others from making the same mistakes.
In 1992, Bryant founded Operation HOPE, which teaches financial literacy through a number of initiatives. It has served more than 2 million individuals and directed more than $1.5 billion in private capital to America’s low-wealth communities.
On Tues., Apr. 1st, the Operation HOPE celebrated the inauguration of “HOPE Inside,” its first physical location in New York State at Popular Community Bank at its 125th Street branch in Harlem.
“Operation HOPE is proud to join Popular Community Bank to celebrate the launch of the first HOPE Inside for the state of New York,” said Bryant, who serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Operation HOPE, Inc. “The HOPE Inside model is an important part of Project 5117, our national initiative to continue Dr. King’s work to bring economic justice to underserved communities.”
HOPE Inside will offer free comprehensive financial education to local residents, entrepreneurs and small business owners.
And while Tuesday’s festivities drew a large of Popular Community Bank and Operation HOPE officials, community leaders, and residents, the location has already proven a draw, providing assistance and education to participants since November 2013.
The partnership to develop the HOPE Inside program commenced late last year with a commitment of $300,000 from Popular Community Bank for four locations.
Moreover, workshops for entrepreneurs in which they focused on developing their business plans have been held at the Harlem location throughout February and March.
“We are thrilled to share the same commitment Operation HOPE has of helping others secure a brighter financial future,” said Brian Doran, New York Metro Region Executive, Popular Community Bank. “With small business employing over half of the country’s workforce, the support and growth of entrepreneurs and small business is critical in order to have a healthy community and robust local and national economy. We strive to provide the necessary tools, education, advocacy and guidance to the small business community.”
HOPE Inside will offer two programs, a private technical assistance program to help participants establish their goals, review their credit reports, develop a business plan, and provide assistance through referral programs. A separate 12-week entrepreneurial training course will help educate entrepreneurs and also feature a variety of guest speakers.
Bryant said it was not hard for the leadership of Popular Community Bank to come on board.
“They get it. They believe in the model, and they believe in the community,” he said.
“Today is a new chapter in the history of our commitment to the people of Harlem,” added Doran.
“This is a win-win. It’s great for the community and it’s great for the bank itself,” remarked Manuel Chinea, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Popular Community Bank.
Mary Hagerty Ehrsam, CEO, New York and Division President, HOPE Youth Empowerment Group within Operation HOPE, promised there would be more locations throughout the city.
“We’re going to open another and another—this is not a one-shot deal,” she said. She and Brant hope to open at least 20 locales throughout the city.
The next location will be on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx.
Mansur Abdus-Salaam and Chauntee Jackson are just two of Harlemites who have availed themselves of the HOPE Inside resources.
They are members of the 10th class of Operation HOPE NY’s Entrepreneurial Training Program.
Abdus-Salaam was inspired by his mother’s cooking.
“I always encouraged her to start a business,” said Abdus-Salaam. Unfortunately, his mother has passed on, but not before she inspired him to start his own business: Griffin’s Food Products, a line of organic, non-genetically modified hot sauces.
He was compelled to enter Popular Community Bank when he saw the HOPE Inside sign outside.
“How much is hope?” he joked about his first visits. “Are they selling hope? I want some hope!”
Together with partner Taneesha Woodyear, Jackson is in the process of co-founding a home cleaning service called Two Wives Cleaning.
She has a great slogan: “From wife to wife, I understand your life.”
Jackson already has a few customers, and is looking forward to growing the business with help from HOPE Inside.
“All I have is a dream, and I want my dream to come to fruition,” said Jackson. “This place gave us an opportunity to start.”
There are two options for participants offered through HOPE Inside at Popular Community Bank.
- The Technical Assistance Program
In a private consultation with a trained Operation HOPE Counselor, candidates are helped with establishing their goals and needs, review of their credit report, business plan and financials, and are provided assistance through referral programs.
- The Entrepreneurial Training Course
This is a 12-week program supplying entrepreneurs with simple, practical information to help them succeed, as well as feature a variety of guest speakers. Topics covered include evaluating feasibility, selecting a business name, conducting market research, advertising, securing startup money, types of distribution channels and where to access capital.
Popular Community Bank
231 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027
For more information, to sign up for the Small Business Development Program, or to speak with the Operation HOPE representative at the 125th Street Popular Community Bank Branch or call 917. 477.2800.