When looking for community partners, Hancock Whitney searches for entities whose mission, purpose and guiding principles align with or complement our own. So it is no surprise that in our Houston market, we support the work of BakerRipley time and again.
An organization that truly serves the lifespan of Houston residents, BakerRipley’s impact can be traced back to the immigration movement of the 1900s said Ebony Fleming, director of communications for the organization. “We can trace our work back to the time of the settlement house movement. We opened our doors and worked with the Houston community to be a welcoming place for immigrants looking to start their lives in America,” said Fleming. Since those early efforts, BakerRipley has not slowed down, continually evolving to meet their region’s most pressing issues.
Currently, BakerRipley works to strengthen community engagement, improve financial well-being and increase educational opportunities through their early Head Start programs, Promise Charter School, immigration legal services, Entrepreneur Connection program and more. The organization also provides direct services such as disaster relief and since the start of COVID-19, pandemic relief in the forms of meal distributions and utility assistance services.
Fleming said that while there is a focus on low-income communities, BakerRipley is there for all individuals who need extra support, serving upwards of 600,000 people in the Greater Houston area annually. “We try to come in and fill the gaps, and hope that people realize there is a better life—that there is more to life than struggling or trying to navigate obstacles that come with pursuing dreams. We aim to come in and provide those support services that hit on each part of someone’s life. No matter where they are, that’s where we meet them,” shared Fleming.
Growth in entrepreneurship
One area that Hancock Whitney is proud to continually support through grants and donations is BakerRipley’s efforts to help small businesses open, grow and thrive. BakerRipley’s Entrepreneur Connection provides resources, education and connection to capital to start-ups and established small businesses in the form of workshops on business plan development, marketing and social media guidance, as well as Spanish-language courses on growth strategies and more. The business team also provides coaching and support services for business planning and loan application preparation. BakerRipley’s annual business pitch competition also speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Houston region.
Fleming recalled one of the first Entrepreneur Connection success stories she witnessed after joining BakerRipley in 2019. “A business owner was able to open a second location, and it was made possible by the incredibly hard work of the owner, but also through the guidance and support of our small business team,” said Fleming. “Listening to the owner’s story about how BakerRipley was able to come in and provide the coaching on how to start and run a business was inspiring, speaking to what our small business team does on a daily basis.” Fleming also believes their work reinforces many of their corporate partnerships. “I believe it truly aligns with our partners like Hancock Whitney, our missions and visions to help our community members reach their goals,” said Fleming.
Serving through uncertainty
Like so many community organizations, this year of uncertainty has challenged BakerRipley, but they have persevered to help the most vulnerable in Houston.
Fleming described how even before the pandemic the organization understood there were thousands of people struggling with inequities, but the pandemic really exacerbated those issues, obstacles and challenges. “We anticipated seeing more people seeking out our services but we are honored to be in a position to be able to serve our community,” shared Fleming.
BakerRipley has helped combat food insecurity by serving over one million pounds of food between March and October and preparing more than 200,000 meals for the senior and elderly population. They have also provided rental assistance to the community and continued to support small businesses.
“Beginning in late March and early April, we knew small businesses were going to be impacted significantly with the pandemic, and I’m proud to say our team was really instrumental in supporting small businesses at the start of this pandemic helping them figure out what is the best way forward,” said Fleming. She estimates that BakerRipley has served over 1200 entrepreneurs through webinars, workshops and technical assistance since the beginning of the pandemic.
Fleming also attributes part of their success in facing the increase in need from their community to their supportive donors. Hancock Whitney recently presented a donation to BakerRipley for their grant program for small businesses and entrepreneurs in an effort to support owners as they work to sustain their businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. “We’ve seen an outpouring of support from those individuals and partners who can help, which really speaks to the nature of our work. Everyone realizes that without collaboration and partnership that we can’t get it done,” said Fleming.
Regardless of what the remainder of 2020 brings, Fleming is confident BakerRipley, along with their partners will continue changing lives in the Greater Houston area. “When we can find partners who see the value of the work that we do, like Hancock Whitney, it means so much more because we are not in this alone,” said Fleming. “Our partners know the work we do is important. It literally changes lives, and I’m sure in some cases that we may never know about, it has even saved lives.”