NRI Founder/CEO Theresa L. Jones, M-Psych.

NRI Founder/CEO Theresa L. Jones, M-Psych.

Caught in the crossfire between a global pandemic and the combustible fallout sparked by the senseless murder of George Floyd, minority small business owners are hard pressed to find a pathway to survival during these unprecedented times. For new or recently started business owners, getting valid answers to their pressing  questions is an urgent need. How do I  apply for the various stimulus package related programs that are available? Are there other resources available to help stabilize my current situation? I need some help in revising my business plan to better serve the community during this crisis – where can I get it?

The Watts-based Entrepreneur Educational Center, Inc. (EECI), in conjunction with partners from the U.S. Department of Small Business Administration (SBA), Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation and City of Compton Economic Development Department, has initiated a weekly EECI COVID-19 Response teleconference call aimed at giving the Certified Alumni of its Miracle’s Young Adult & Adult Entrepreneur Program (MYAEP), answers to those questions.

Ken Crawford, SBA-L.A. Economic Development Specialist notes, “We are pleased to partner with EECI to ensure that businesses in every part of Los Angeles, including the greater Watts/Willowbrook communities have access to SBA’s Stimulus programs. Every business is important to our recovery efforts and these calls will help participants meet the requirements to qualify,” Crawford said. The teleconferences also provide free technical assistance from seasoned business consultants to improve chances of sustaining the more than 20 small businesses or non-profit organizations launched by MYAEP grads in the past 4 years.

All these incubating businesses are serving the underserved communities of Watts, Willowbrook, Compton, Carson, and South-Central Los Angeles.

One small business owner who has benefited from EECI programs and workshops is Theresa L. Jones, a Watts native and Founder-CEO of New Reflections, Inc. (NRI), a non-profit organization operating in South Los Angeles that provides crisis/transitional housing, supportive services and re-entry programs for displaced or homeless women, (with or without children), divorced, escaping victimization or domestic violence, and ex-offenders.

Jones, who holds a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, began her relationship with EECI  after establishing New Reflections, Inc. (formerly known as A New Direction for You, Inc.) in 2013, when she attended a series of business certification workshops in 2016  sponsored by the Wattstar Entrepreneur Collaborative, a coalition comprised of the Watts Cinema and Education Center( an EECI project), the Black Business Association-Los Angeles, Pacific Coast Regional, the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation and Southland Partnership, Inc. (SPI).

Since then NRI has grown. “We now have over 80 plus beds combined within our two facilities both located to serve the Greater Los Angeles area,” Jones said. “With the help and support of our staff and volunteers, women and their children are able to find stability in a non-judgmental safe environment, and a place to learn and grow while working towards transitioning to permanent housing,” she added.  While NRI is open 365 days a year, COVID-19 has forced the organization, like small businesses across the country, to make major adjustments and seek stopgap support from the government and private sector.

NRI Participants & Staff Pose at Pre-COVID-19 Holiday Event

NRI Participants & Staff Pose at Pre-COVID-19 Holiday Event

”The agency had to adjust meal services because both adults and children were at the facility 24 hours every day,” Jones revealed.  “The parents and children are typically at school and at work, but during this time they could not leave the facility, so we had to provide additional meals for shelter participants. We also had to cancel onsite tutoring.  That required setting up of chrome books and additional wi-fi to ensure that the children were able to access their zoom classes online.” she said.

While many small business owners are still having problems, Jones says good fortune was on NRI’s side and she learned some valuable lessons about accessing emergency funds in times like these. “We received some of the additional funding that was offered by the SBA, Foundations, Corporations and other private donors allowing us to pay staff and continue to provide services to the population of homeless families that have been probably hit harder by this pandemic than any other population, “ Jones pointed out.

As far as lessons learned Jones added this tip on one of EECI’S COVID-19 Response Teleconference calls. “One of the reasons we were able to get the funding from the SBA and other organizations was because we made some organizational adjustments and had the payroll forms that were required and some other organizational factors in place.  Having proper components in place on the fiscal side will bring about a level viability for your business.

EECI Executive Director Barbara J. Stanton said in addition to hosting its weekly COVID-19 Response calls, EECI is putting together post coronavirus stay-at-home plans to continue its partnership with Los Angeles County “Parks After Dark” initiative. “We are looking forward to identifying and certifying young and adult entrepreneurs through our free MYAEP classes. Once we are given clearance, we will enroll students for summer 2020 classes to be held at the Ted Watkins Park Computer Center,” said Stanton.

PRE COVID-19 NRI Children & Parent participants reflect  their joy at being off the streets and into a haven while making the transition to permanent housing and a new start.

PRE COVID-19 NRI Children & Parent participants reflect their joy at being off the streets and into a haven while making the transition to permanent housing and a new start.

“COVID-19 might dictate that we make some adjustments but EECI is planning an extravaganza to reopen the Watts community and surrounding areas with positive business programs featuring products sold by EECI MYAEP Alumni, with full social distancing and “free masks for all attendees”.  Visit our website at www.entrepreneureducationalcenter.org for updates. We are all about building a better community, one small business at a time”.

EECI’s MYAEO COVID-19 Response Teleconference Series and Technical Support program is sponsored and supported by U.S. Small Business Association, L.A., L.A. Economic Development Corp., Los Angeles County, City of Compton, Economic Development Dept., Pacific Coast Regional, Black Business Association, Union Bank, Union Bank MUFG, Comerica Bank, Pacific Premier Bank, Pacific Western Bank, First Choice Bank, Cathay Bank, Farmers & Merchants Bank, American Business Bank, Thomas and Dorothy Leavy Foundation. Call 323-757-7506 for information.

-30-

CONTACT: Barbara J. Stanton, Executive Director, 323-757-7506, eeci2017@aol.com Ralph D. Sutton, PR/Media Consultant, 213-361-3790, ralphdsutton@earthlink.net