Program Report: The Helius Foundation – Geraud Staton

President Todd Taylor celebrated “Jewish Awareness Day”, as a tribute to Rotary’s ecumenicism, and Vince Simonetti’s as the best (and possibly only) tuba museum in the world. (Peter Morcombe won the raffle, the fourth time in two years. Investigations are continuing…)

Geraud Staton, President of the HELIUS Foundation, with his wife as a guest, was introduced to a full Rotary house by Julie Wells.

HELIUS was founded in 2015 as a new way to help poor black entrepreneurs in Durham.  Durham has a history of black affluence. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city had the highest number of black millionaires per capita in the country. But now 22% of African Americans in Durham live below the poverty line. (Not that these two numbers are incompatible, as the current debate on income inequality shows.) 

HELIUS aims to help poor people who are already engaged in some entrepreneurial activity to expand and consolidate it.  The aim is to encourage social mobility in a region where it is low.  There are many reasons that Durham lags. Redlining and intentional racism are two. But perhaps more important is the effect of repeated setbacks. Geraud told the story of psychologist Martin Seligman and his poor dogs, severely shocked into “learned helplessness” — not that we need suffering canines to know that repeated failure can deter.

HELIUS is successfully countering these bad effects.  They begin with a ten-week program for all, followed by individualized help. HELIUS has a 91% success rate; 64% end the program earning a fair living wage. HELIUS has worked with small enterprises like the teashop Jeddah’s Tea to improve business practice and reduce debt.

In answer to questions, Geraud responded:

Q: What do you think about reparations because of the wealth difference between whites and blacks A: It could work if done properly. Q: How do you choose clients? Poor people, already engaged in “potentially legal” business of some sort. Q: Where does capital from. A: Do not borrow if possible. better to start small. “Kiva Trustee” gives small loans $2-19K. Q: How do you get clients? Almost always by referral. HELIUS is funded by donations: foundations; most now are from corporations – who hire many of our clients. Q: Do you have a list of good ideas? Yes! Q: What is your oldest business? A: 7-year-old company, floundering at first, now OK. Our participants range in age from 14-71 (the latter an artist).

Submitted by JS

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