Remember that story about my grandfather I mentioned in my show at the end of last year? Basically, he had a benefactor who guaranteed his first loan at a time when poor black people in Jamaica simply Did. Not. Get. Loans. My grandfather was able to buy the land that he had been sharecropping, and that single act was instrumental in lifting my entire family from real poverty into the middle class. This guy gave my grandfather his shot—to use the Hamilton metaphor.
For Corners Outreach, and their CEO, Larry Campbell, this is their entire reason for being. In fact, they’ve started multiple businesses, just to give people a chance to provide a better life for themselves and their children. I’m sure you can imagine just how excited I was to have Larry and his banker of twenty-five years, Neil Stevens, CEO and President of Oconee State Bank, on the show. We were also joined by Caleb Stevens, who works as Larry’s Relationships Director and is Neil’s son. Clearly a fun show.
They had a lot to say – about important new trends in banking (Fintech, cyber currency), about creating a solid partnership with your clients and about building a great team. But, Corners Outreach’s mission and unique approach grabbed my attention. So, I want to discuss them in my article this week.
Attack the Problems Head On
Corners Outreach was started with a focus on education, increasing graduation rates to be specific. But, they quickly found that when parents are underemployed or the family unit is struggling financially, education gets shoved on to the back burner. Larry saw the need to expand Corners Outreach’s scope, if it was going to be effective in fulfilling its mission. As he wrote in a column for the Gwinnett Daily Post, this enterprise “has a unique multi-generational focus (that) works to go and see beyond the day-to-day struggles in academics. Living in poverty with a housing burden, no insurance, and food insecurity adds stress, which impedes learning and success towards reading goals, high school graduation, and belief in a good future.”
Larry is determined to “attack poverty cycles on all sides”. And, the justification is obvious. “Don’t just be about business,” he states, “be about making your community stronger. Be about the children. They are the future. They are our future workers, our future son-in-laws and daughters-in-law and it’s critical that we get to know them.”
To effect lasting change, Larry advises to focus on people’s abilities. “So often in business, we ask you, what’s your strength, and then we build on your strength. It’s a much better question to ask ‘what do you do well?’ than it is to ask ‘what do you need?’,” Campbell argues, and that’s why Corners Outreach is so special. They aren’t giving handouts. They are working from the ground up, sowing the seeds of future success by rebuilding the community infrastructure they serve.
It’s part of a three-pronged strategy that illustrates the organization’s commitment to a 100% graduation rate. By focusing on the children, the parents, and the community in general, their overall goal is to help people lift themselves and their families.
For Corners Outreach, the proof isn’t in the pudding, it’s in the statistics. A study by Northwestern University estimates that every high school dropout costs taxpayers close to $300K over the course of their lives. Citing local graduation rates, they calculate that millions are being lost to a lack of support for disenfranchised and at-risk kids, as well as their families.
Look for the Long-Term Solution
You know the old proverb – “give a man a fish and he eats for a day…teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” (Forgive me, I try to stay away from clichés, but I couldn’t resist). As we discussed with ADDO Worldwide Co-Founder Kevin Scott and his Manager of Partnership and Prospective Business, Jake Lacy when they were on the show, it’s about transferring skills and prepping the future workforce with the kind of values they are looking for.
Delta is doing something similar with its current partnership with Auburn University. From Legal and General Insurance, which used a volunteer program helping the visually-impaired to teach itself about HR issues revolving around such a disability, to GSK’s PULSE initiative, which matches up skilled employees with positions “out in the field,” it’s about plugging into the community and getting involved. It’s about establishing your values and then seeing them reflected back at you. It’s about bringing the outside in. Using it to foster and further your own values.
So, yes, it’s great to provide services and benefits for the community, but the last transformation comes by planting seeds in the community that will bear fruit in the years to come. Experts have a word for it – sustainability. When Neil Stevens discusses his work with Campbell as part of a partnership with Oconee State Bank, it’s clear he shares this vision.
“We want to help our community – bring back jobs, bring back profits, help the economy there by expanding and growing.” he states, and it’s a large part of the reason he and Campbell work so well together as partners. “Every company has to get a return on their investment,” he says, “that’s why they’re in business.” But for Neil, there has to be a purpose for all that money. “We feel that if we can use the profitability as a platform to make a difference and mark the lives of others, money will never be the issue.”
So, what are you waiting for? “We have volunteer opportunities, donor opportunities, sponsorship opportunities,” Campbell points out. “We need everyone to come together to make these opportunities greater.” Thanks to the like-minded vision of Oconee State Bank as a partner, and the goals shared by them both, the truth about using business as a force for good is proven again.
“Corners Outreach works to defeat barriers to successfully integrate families into our community, “Campbell says in his aforementioned column. “We believe these families will be assets to our towns, but certain barriers must be overcome. We employ the ABCD model (Asset Based Community Development). Thriving neighborhoods are built on the strengths of the people in their community. The question is not “What do you need?” but “What can you contribute?”
Corners Outreach is doing just that. It’s a company that’s in the business of creating more business – for itself, for the surrounding community, and for hardworking men and women—some just like my grandfather, waiting for their chance to change their future.