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The Power of Partnership: The Helius Foundation


At ReCity Network, we’re all about collaboration. We’re not just a coworking facility or event space, and we’re not just rewriting the story of our city—we’re doing all of this together. Continuing our series on the power of partnership, we turn our attention to The Helius Foundation and the many partnerships Executive Director Geraud Staton has formed within the ReCity Network.

The story of Helius and its partnerships illustrates how building a network within a network can power social entrepreneurship and community development. Helius provides free training, mentoring, and coaching for necessity-driven entrepreneurs (NDEs).

Officially, about 14 percent of entrepreneurs are NDEs, but this statistic only includes registered businesses. “Probably 90% of the people I’ve worked with don’t have registered businesses, so I suspect the numbers are much higher,” said Staton. “There are a surprising number of entrepreneurs in communities like Northeast Central Durham doing their ‘side hustle’ to supplement their income,” he said. Helius’ goal is to take what often starts as a side business and turn it into a fair living wage—or even more.

When people in underserved communities are asked what their community needs to thrive, the overwhelming answer is “jobs.” Most people are thinking in terms of a huge company moving into the community and bringing thousands of jobs, but Staton has a better solution. “People have ideas,” he said. “But they don’t even know that they can achieve their dreams, much less have the tools to know how. If we can help entrepreneurs dream big and achieve those dreams, they can also offer employment to the community and allow people to do something they love, something they believe in—more than just a job.”

Helius is just 18 months old and already working with 28 NDEs, but they’re not doing it alone. They’re currently partnering with three ReCity members: REAL Durham, StepUp Durham, and Partners for Youth Opportunity. Armed with the belief that non-profits are stronger together, Staton pointed out that trust is not always easy to come by with the communities that they serve. “People are naturally skeptical,” he said. “So, if I can partner with an organization that’s already built that trust, they’re able to transfer that trust to my organization, and vice versa.”

Helius serves as an ally to REAL Durham clients looking to become financially stable through entrepreneurship. Camryn Smith, program coordinator for Real Durham, sees Helius as a resource to help her clients get out of poverty through entrepreneurship, and Helius sees her as a source of credibility for its organization in the communities where Helius serves.

With StepUp Durham, Executive Director Syretta Hill and her team identify clients in their program who are better suited to becoming entrepreneurs than pursuing traditional employment—StepUp’s core mission—and refer them to Helius for a matching solution set.

With Partnership for Youth Opportunity, Staton has seen the benefits of working with other non-profit leaders to strengthen and stabilize Helius Foundation for a sustainable future in Durham. PYO Executive Director Julie Wells has served as a coach to Staton on operation issues for non-profits and has referred Helius a paid intern for this summer.

“All three of our ReCity partners—REAL Durham, StepUp Durham, and Partners for Youth Opportunity—have been crucial to our development at Helius, both with the clients we serve and internally with developing our operational integrity and long-term focus,” added Staton.

Building on this shared trust has allowed Helius to shore up and expand its programs. In addition to mentoring NDEs, they’re also offering micro loans to their clients, hosting business networking events, and working with children to instill the entrepreneurial spirit at an early age.

Staton’s advice to ReCity members is to fully take advantage of everything ReCity has to offer. With ReCity being at 100 percent capacity and soon to add more, there are a lot of resources available. “There are people to ask about practically everything. Just do it,” Staton said. “To fully take advantage of your ReCity membership, you have to fully take advantage of all the resources here, including the leaders of ReCity itself, Rob Shields and Tucker Stevens. Everyone here is great to work with as we build for a better future.”

For more information on Helius Foundation and its growing impact on necessity-driven entrepreneurs in Durham, visit their website at

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Race & the City: ReCity Network Hosts Forum with Sho Baraka, Durham Community Leaders

A packed house of nearly 150 attendees from many walks of life joined ReCity Network last Thursday for “Race & the City,” an intense, uplifting evening discussing race relations in Durham and the nation. The event featured a diverse panel of community leaders, including: Perry Tankard, associate pastor of Grace Park Church; Reynolds Chapman, executive director of DurhamCares; Camryn Smith, program coordinator for REAL Durham; and Miriam Valle, director of operations at Partners for Youth Opportunity. Maliek Blade, diversity coordinator for event sponsor Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, led the panel in discussion.

A visual presentation set the stage for the evening’s events, hitting attendees squarely with a variety of statistics illustrating disparate treatment and outcomes among racial communities in Durham and the United States:

  • In Durham, if you are black, you are 4.5x more likely to be searched after a traffic violation than if you are white.

  • White applicants with a felony conviction are more likely to be hired than a black applicant with no criminal history.

  • White families hold 90% of the national wealth. Latinos hold 2.3%. Black families hold 2.6%.

The evening kicked off with local minister and DJ Perry Tankard interviewing influential Christian hip-hop artist and panelist, Sho Baraka. During the interview, Baraka walked the crowd through his own spiritual journey and coming-of-age story as an activist for both the black community and the evangelical church in America. “I never wanted to be a Christian rapper,” said Baraka. “But the Lord gifted me in the area of communication, so I used it to reach people like me with an identity crisis.”

The panel engaged in a deep discussion of the issues of oppression and experiencing what Martin Luther King called the “beloved community.” From a white perspective, panelist Reynolds Chapman pointed out, “It’s easy for white people to not have to deal with issues like politics and race. But we’re the ones doing the oppressing. If we don’t have conversations, oppression will continue.” The sentiment was echoed by panelist Perry Tankard with, “A lot of oppression happens without people even realizing it. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, a lot of the problems can break down.”

Some of the more powerful testimony of the evening came from a pair of women on the panel, Miriam Valle and Camryn Smith. As a Mexican-American who came to the U.S. at age four, Valle remarked on how surprised she was to learn from Sho how similar they are. “I felt invisible so many times,” said Valle. “Sometimes people ask offensive questions due to lack of knowledge.” Fighting back tears, Valle eloquently described the social effort required by state of “otherness” felt by Hispanic-Americans in 2017 by saying, “I’ve learned to talk to people so they can learn who I am, what my culture represents.”

Smith issued an emphatic call, rousing the crowd to action, saying, “Relationships ain’t gonna cut it.” She eloquently summarized the emotion of the evening by reminding the crowd that “We are all created in the image of God. Until we can begin to have shared analysis and transfer of power, nothing will change.”

The ReCity Network thanks our panelists, community members, and our special guest, Sho Baraka, for contributing to a game-changing event in our city. The evening’s discussion served as a powerful reminder of ReCity’s mission to develop trust, learn each other’s stories, and collaborate to rewrite the story of our city.

Be sure to check out WRAL's coverage of our event as well.

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