Church is probably not the first place people go for help starting or expanding a business.
First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, though, is stepping up to nurture and fund entrepreneurs and social-based ventures though their “Epiphany” initiative, which launched in 2018.
In their first round in 2019, the Midtown church awarded $250,000 to four projects, including a coffee company that provides job training to refugees and immigrants; a training center that prepares young men and women for jobs in the automotive repair business; a for-profit specialty food company started by Meals on Wheels Atlanta to generate revenue to provide more meals to seniors; and an affordable housing venture.
After a short hiatus due to COVID-19, the church is now accepting applications for its second round of funding.
“As a church we were looking for a way to have a bigger impact in the community around us as well as to better utilize the resources, gifts and talents of our congregation,” said Ellen Adair Wyche, a member of the congregation who first proposed the project after hearing about a similar program at a church in Houston.
Rather than simply giving money to various charities, the congregation wanted to invest in sustainable ventures that had long-term benefits to participants and the community, she said.
The church won’t own the businesses, “we want to come alongside them, help fund them and lend our expertise to help them launch or expand. It becomes a long-term partnership.”
The church aims to encourage, incubate and fund selected business projects designed to address social issues in Atlanta, such as homelessness, food insecurity, job training, affordable housing and social inequities. The selected ventures will receive business training and connections from the church’s members, as well as grant funding from a pool of $200,000. The deadline to apply is midnight Feb. 4.
A recipient during the first round was Larry Witherspoon Jr., CEO of the Automotive Training Center, who received $65,000.
Witherspoon combined his love of cars with his desire to help young men and women succeed in life, launching the Automotive Training Center in 2014. The venture works with students, ages 15 to 25, and includes an employment program for the automotive repair industry.
Participants have included refugees, homeless youth and people were formerly incarcerated.
The money enabled ATC, which was already in operation, to hire two instructors and to increase its existing program and start an advance level program.
“The Epiphany program was such a blessing to us,” said Witherspoon. “We would not have grown as fast as we have without the funding and training that they provide.”
To apply go to the church’s website at www.firstpresatl.org/epiphany.
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