Happy graduation day to the Fall 2012 program of LEAP for Ladies, also known as Ladies' Empowerment and Action Program, which trains aspiring entrepreneurs. Take a good look. Some of these women may be tomorrow's nonprofit entrepreneurs - and we should be glad.
The week before Thanksgiving, I was in the Homestead Women's Correctional Institution. No, I haven't been convicted of a felony; I was there to fulfill a pledge, and it has turned into a privilege. I was a guest lecturer for LEAP for Ladies, an entrepreneurship program that trains women inmates to start their own businesses.
This is the second time I've worked with a LEAP class, and I can tell you it's going on my permanent calendar. First of all, I could see myself in these inspiring women. They made dangerous, risky decisions when they were younger. They lacked the family support, mentorship, physical or emotional health or other resources to keep them safe. And they didn't have - or at least they didn't believe they had - alternatives. In my case, I made some pretty stupid and risky moves when I was young, although I had decent family and financial support. But when they discovered the disciplines of business, and the benefits that business leadership can offer, they came alive. And that's my story too.
For me, this may be the strongest thing that draws me to these women and this program. Business can free your leadership talents. It can take you out of your negative self-talk. And every one of these women sees their business ideas as a higher calling, not just an alternative to getting a conventional job, but as a way to give back. The students' eagerness to help, guide, and support one another and their prospective customers was wonderful.
Nonprofits are in sore need of staff members that understand entrepreneurship and bring a sense of mission and passion to their work. Wouldn't it be great if we could encourage some LEAP-ers to enter the not-for-profit sector? I spoke with at least one of the women who wants to do just that. Unfortunately, she is a lifer, but she's up for parole in a couple of years. Someone with her sympathies, experience, sensitivity to larger issues, and drive to help others, combined with good business fundamentals, could be a major asset to a social-services agency.
Like I said, I intend to keep on as a guest lecturer for future LEAP classes. And I'd like to encourage others out there to participate, especially if you can either teach business skills, or you're willing to act as a mentor or sounding board to the women who have already served their time and been released. I'd be particularly happy if some of you with nonprofit experience could visit with these women, to enlighten them about nonprofit entrepreneurial opportunities. Call me (305-935-6676); visit the LEAP website, or send email to the founder of LEAP, Gemma Betancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.