Operation HOPE Volunteer Puts Business Skills to Work

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After Hurricane Katrina, retired businessman Bill Groome wanted to help rebuild New Orleans, his home of 30 years, but knew his best talents were not in the carpentry or construction field. Operation HOPE provided him with the opportunity to put his extraordinary business skills to good use.

Bill was happily retired, teaching at Dillard College when Katrina blew into town, taking much of the school and robbing him of his position as adjunct professor. No stranger to volunteering, Bill wanted to be a part of the rebuild, but in a way that would make the most use of his skills.

A friend told him about Operation HOPE and Bill thought it was a good way to get involved. Holding a business degree from the Wharton School of Business and Advanced Management Program from Harvard Business School, Bill brought skills to the table a nonprofit couldn’t pay to hire, so he volunteered!

Bill has become one of Operation HOPE’s most formidable HOPE Corps volunteers, conducting workshops and providing one-on-one counseling to renewing and emerging businesses throughout New Orleans parish. Bill has helped clients with everything from business proposals to marketing plans and he’s made a big impact doing it.

Bill has changed lives and says, “the best is watching them blossom. They come back and share their success stories. When they get a big contract, or a grant comes in, they include me in their celebrations.”

A couple of the businesses he’s helped stood out as particularly inspiring. Linda Felo had been a longtime cook and her baking was legendary. She had a dream of opening her own business and after Katrina she thought, “It’s now or never”, she came to HOPE for help. Bill remembers, “We sat down with Linda and figured out all the associated costs from sugar and flour to rent and payroll, and came up with a solid business plan. In her case we were able indentify a $10K grant from the City of New Orleans and we helped her get it.” Today La Jaes Catering is a thriving business. Customers come from all over New Orleans to eat her mouth-watering crawfish pasta and 7-Up cake.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Kathleen Wilkin owned a printing sales business called Safeguard Business Systems. In her case Katrina didn’t destroy her facility, but it did put nearly 45% of her customers out of business. Her business was suffering and she knew she was in trouble. About a year after Katrina she came to HOPE looking for ways to buoy her sales. Bill recounted the story, “after studying her profile, we sat down and developed a strategy. We looked for ways to maximize business from her existing clients and to create incentives for her staff for bringing on new clients. By identifying a few key strategies and determining how to implement them, we were able to bring her business back to the one million dollar range she was in before Katrina hit.”

Bill admits, “It’s a pretty nice feeling. I really like the people at HOPE that connect me with the opportunities to volunteer and apply my business skills,” he emphasizes, “They’re half of why I do it and why there’s such a feeling of reward at the end of the day. When you feel appreciated, you can’t help but want to do more. I think I’ve actually gotten more out of volunteering than the people I’ve helped!”

Bill says he’s found real fulfillment in helping people – help themselves.

To learn more about Operation HOPE and volunteers like Bill, visit www.operationHOPE.org, or keyword search: "business" "consulting" "pro bono."

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