Edina’s Colonial Church Funds Social Change

Colonial Church’s Innové project helps fight food insecurity, human trafficking.
Colonial Church volunteers fill students backpacks with nutritious meals for their families.

Kids need to eat healthy food in order to learn in school. But apples and carrots are scarce at Bethune Elementary School in North Minneapolis, which based on statistics from the 2012-13 school year,  boasts one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Minnesota. Thirty percent of the student body is homeless, and as a result, all but one student last year participated in the free or reduced-cost lunch program. For many, that was the only nutritious meal they were given all day.

Sheridan Story hopes to fill that nutrition void. The nonprofit partners with area churches to deliver food to students at Bethune and other schools in impoverished neighborhoods. Sheridan Story, named for the Sheridan School in Northeast Minneapolis, received a $35,000 grant earlier this year from Edina-based Colonial Church’s Innové project, which has allowed it to expand to seven schools-in-need in the Twin Cities.

Innové, which borrows from the French word meaning, “to have broken new ground,” awarded a total $250,000 in grants to six protégés that are launching social change initiatives or accelerating existing initiatives. Other projects that Colonial Church supported in 2013 include: MATTOO, which educates men and boys about the myths of sex trafficking; Twin Cities Mobile Market, which increases access to healthy food in low-income communities; Beyond Limits, which supports independent living in a Christian college setting for young adults with disabilities; the Helpery, which empowers people living in extreme poverty with every business transaction, and Exodus Lending, which provides stressed borrowers with a just pathway to financial stability.

The altruistic congregation does more than hand out money to these upstart organizations. Colonial Church teams up with Sheridan Story to deliver food to Bethune Elementary every Thursday or Friday, so students can take that food home over the weekend. The delivery feeds the hungry, but it also builds a bridge of compassion between Edina and North Minneapolis.

“Food is important, but we want an actual relationship with the school,” says Sheridan Story founder Rob Williams. “If we just drop off the food, we’re not building a relationship.” That’s why the Innové project is about more than handouts; it also provides protégés such as Sheridan Story with hands-on coaching, workshops and financial planning so it can continue to succeed and help the needy into the future.

“It’s one thing to say, here’s your money, it’s another to say, we’ll walk with you and provide you with skills you need,” says Brian Jones, minister of mission and outreach at Colonial Church. “We have many CEOs in our congregation. They have always said they want to use their business experience in a way that gives back to the community.”

Jones has heard from the protégés that the coaching and mentoring has been even more valuable than the startup money. The rigorous process through which the organizations were put during the competition helped them hone their message and goals. The Innové project initially received 139 submissions. Twenty organizations advanced as semifinalists and were subjected to an 8-week nonprofit boot camp, which required them to submit a detailed, 5-minute business pitch. From that, a panel of judges selected the six winners. “We put them through an incubation period, which is a fancy way of saying we continue to walk with them,” says Jones.

For more than 50 years, Colonial Church members have embraced a tradition of funding missions and outreach, both locally and around the world. Colonial Church views itself as a “place to grow in Christ and serve the world.” Christian entrepreneurship seeks opportunities where service or products may be used to help, heal, restore, redeem or bring hope. Colonial Church is holding a fundraising campaign within its congregation in hopes of being able to hold another Innové project and empower more socially conscious nonprofits next September.

“This church has long had a passion for missions, and lately we’ve had a passion to do more,” says Daniel Harrell, senior minister at Colonial Church. “This isn’t just about writing checks though. We will come alongside these social change entrepreneurs and provide them with coaching, mentoring, skills training, and a wide range of human capital resources, from incubation to the launch, and hopefully beyond.”

For Sheridan Story and the kids at Bethune Elementary, Colonial Church is having a clear impact. “Our nonprofit is capable of managing the expansion to other schools because of this funding, training and advice,” says Rob Williams. “It’s not just the grant process, but Colonial Church’s partnership alongside us.”