stepup durham

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

Subscribe to the ReCity Blog!

* indicates required

The Power of Partnership: Partners for Youth Opportunity and StepUp Durham

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. This is the first of many stories we’re telling on our blog about ReCity members coming together to face challenges in our community. These stories demonstrate the power of partnering with other ReCity members to provide layered services and have a deeper impact on the people of Durham.

Partners for Youth Opportunity (PYO) and StepUp Durham are two ReCity partner organizations that came here with the right mindset of being collaborative and seeing how they could make a bigger impact on their clients through working together. They’ve also found that, by partnering together, they can help their donors make a bigger impact with their money. Every dollar that a donor gives goes further, impacting the missions of multiple organizations. Working as partners doesn’t dilute the impact of donor dollars, it actually makes that impact grow. “StepUp Durham has only been around for 18 months, but we wanted to have a collective impact quickly,” said Syretta Hill, executive director of StepUp Durham. “ReCity helps us do that. We’re able to build relationships and deepen partnerships organically and in an authentic way.”

The problems that our partners are trying to solve are all intertwined—housing, food, employment, education. Any one of them alone is big. PYO and StepUp have made a conscious effort to keep their scope small and serve, say, 100 people well rather than 500 poorly. By keeping their scope small, they’re able to tackle solving several big problems. Providing people with multiple layers of support allows them to become more self-sufficient and grow into a positive contributor to the community. Every win that organizations create together turns into a give-back to the community.

Partnership also has a positive impact on the organizations themselves. By being as effective as possible, even with a limited number of clients, the executive directors are able to firm up their programming, stabilize their organizations, and focus on bringing in donations to sustain and hopefully grow their missions. “We can achieve better results and have a deeper impact if we’re hyper-focused,” said Julie Wells, executive director of PYO. “When we provide comprehensive services through our partnerships, we can solve several issues for our clients.”

PYO and StepUp now have multiple programs they’re working on together. One is the Career Academy, a two-week work training program. Previously, StepUp had targeted this program toward their adult population, but they’ve now translated the program and are delivering training to PYO’s youth population as well. Another partnership program they’re providing is called Step2—a longer, nine-month program focused on helping people develop stability in many areas of their lives. This program is similar to PYO’s comprehensive model, but is tailored for adults. The two organizations are also currently working on other joint initiatives, including a program to tackle the effects of incarceration on family members—a common problem in Durham and many other cities.

Both Julie and Syretta agreed that for ReCity partners to get the most out of their membership, they need to be partnering with other organizations. Their advice is to know yourself well enough to know your gaps and look for ways to collaborate authentically with others. Partnering with other organizations can make you look unique and different, and you should be leveraging that. If you’ve been here a number of months and haven’t formed any partnerships, it’s time to get started!

Subscribe to the ReCity Blog!

* indicates required