The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Transforming neighborhoods, one entrepreneur at a time

When it comes to boasting and passing out the goodies, most of Chicago treats its West Side like a wayward stepchild.

The West Side has problems. Its schools have all but fallen apart. It lacks affordable housing. During the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, businesses and manufacturing fled to the suburbs, leaving behind a workforce ill-prepared to compete in the 21st-century’s technological economy.

But the West Side also has thousands of determined people — individuals, churches, community organizations — who are out to change all that. They are building better lives for themselves and the image of life on the West Side of the country’s third largest city.

They include people like Mikica Riley and Janet Ford and organizations like Bethel New Life. Riley and Ford, owners of new West Side businesses, got started with the help and training of a 12-week entrepreneurship program launched two years ago by Bethel New Life’s Small Business Development Center.

Bethel New Life was created in 1979 by members of Bethel Lutheran Church to develop affordable housing in its West Side neighborhood, West Garfield Park. Today its mission has expanded to meet more community needs, with its focus spilling into adjoining neighborhoods of low income and high unemployment.

The entrepreneurship program is one of several aimed at reviving the local economy. It embraces small business development, workforce training, and attracting new and existing businesses and advanced manufacturing to the West Side.

“The mission of Bethel New Life is to transform the West Side,” said Ed Coleman, vice president, community economic development.

Accessories business

Riley conveys that same sense of mission when she talks about her goals for Accessory Me, the business she launched after graduating from Bethel’s first entrepreneurial training class.

Accessory Me (www.accessoryme.com) is a wholesaler of fashion accessories with a showroom in a Bethel-owned building at a busy city intersection. Riley has been selling fashion accessories and costume jewelry for 12 years, mostly working on weekends and carrying her wares from beauty salon to beauty salon. Having her own business, she said, “is my life’s dream, my goal. This is how I survive.”

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