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Doing Good and Turning a Profit

Doing Good and Turning a Profit

For businessman James Reiner, hiring ex-cons is more than a mission of mercy. It's smart business.

Recidivism is an ungainly word for a disturbing reality: the proportion of people released from prison who are rearrested or returned to custody. In the United States, according to a recent study from the Pew Center on the States, 43.3 percent of convicts released in 2004 were back in prison three years later.

There are many reasons for this stubbornly high rate—it has barely budged in at least a decade—but high on the list is the difficulty former prisoners have in finding legitimate employment. Who wants to hire an ex-con?

In Denver, the answer is Belay Enterprises. Founded in 1995, Belay's mission is to partner with the church to create businesses that employ people rebuilding their lives after serving a prison sentence. Executive director James Reiner has been working for the company for over 13 years. "We create businesses for folks who have been excluded from the job market."

Belay combines entrepreneurialism with spiritual and vocational development. The group's first company, Bud's Warehouse, started as a supplier of secondhand and overstocked building materials. Male employees thrived in that environment, while women facing the challenges of life after prison plus single motherhood were the target employees of the next business, a secondhand children's clothing store called Baby Bud's. A cleaning service followed, with additional businesses in the works.

As a young entrepreneur, Reiner owned a marketing and public relations company. "Right before I came to work at Bud's, I had a strong feeling that I was supposed to do something different with my career." He did what many people do when they sense God's calling: he enrolled in seminary under the assumption that he would pursue pastoral ministry. "In the process of that, someone told me about this job that incorporates business and ministry to disadvantaged communities." He interviewed and was offered the job.

"I fell in love with the organization from day one," he said. "I've been here ever since. It's been such a neat thing to see that you can actually use your business talents here to build up the kingdom and minister." He never returned to seminary.

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Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

A Hermit

December 01, 2011  11:01pm

Doing good and turning a profit; notice which comes first in order and priority. "You cannot serve God and money." The God-centered goal of human work, is love and service- if a business meets a human need effectively and efficiently, its reward is profit. To place maximizing material gain as first priority is idolatrous. As to 'public sector tyranny' and 'redistributive schemes', many of these successful businesspeople were educated in PUBLIC schools, the result of taxes which redistributed wealth.

E Harris

November 29, 2011  4:50pm

Amen! We need Godly private sector solutions. And we need public sector tyranny and redistributive schemes (which do not promote morality or reality) to get out of the way.

WelcomeBack/Tarrant County

November 28, 2011  3:22pm

Thanks, we are considering this type avenue for the returning to Fort Worth, Tx. We see 2,200 retruning every year. And with felonies no one wants to take any chances.. also check out who is working at the fast food places..college grads, and others without felonies.

Roger D. McKinney

November 28, 2011  1:49pm

Nice article! Thanks! Anyone who creates jobs is doing good whether hiring ex cons or not!

Chris Horst

November 28, 2011  9:58am

It's unfortunate that everyone can't actually go to Bud's Warehouse to see the incredible work Jim and Andy and the rest of the Belay crew are doing. There's no hubris in this article; they are incredible!

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