Helping young entrepreneurs build a foundation

SDOP Trailblazer Karen Brown helps shape futures

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Karen Brown, a member of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, has helped young entrepreneurs start new businesses. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE — Karen Brown has a passion for helping people start new businesses. The Baltimore native grew up in the Presbyterian church and quickly found her niche in ministry.

“Three of us went to General Assembly in Hartford, Connecticut, as observers and sat up in the nosebleed section and that was all I needed,” she said. “I was hooked at my first experience with the national church at that assembly. We came back from that and organized youth advisory delegates in Baltimore.”

Long before joining the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP), the music education major began working at a local Presbyterian church, with an emphasis on young people.

Upon her graduation from Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, she came back to Baltimore and served as associate at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church for 15 years. It was during that time, that Brown says she heard about Self-Development of People.

“Our young people came up with the idea of starting a greeting card company and we began selling Christmas and Kwanzaa cards. We did this for six consecutive years and sold 50,000 boxes of cards every year and made $150,000,” she said. “One of the funding sources we received was SDOP. We also received funding from presbytery and synod levels.”

Brown says she was very involved in urban ministry in Baltimore, running the church’s outreach center, which served 150 people a day.

Karen Brown speaks to Youth in Business owners at a business retreat. (Photo provided)

For the past five years, she’s been working as a grant writer for another nonprofit in Baltimore called Intersection of Change.

“A group of young people have started a business selling T-shirts, jewelry and tote bags. They submitted a grant request to Baltimore Presbytery’s SDOP Committee and received funding for two consecutive years,” said Brown. “Another is an urban farm called ‘Strength to Love,’ managed by returning citizens. It received funding from the national SDOP as well as the local SDOP two or three years ago. So I’m back in the role again of promoting the work of SDOP.”

Brown says these types of success stories motivate her to keep working.

“I know the impact, having worked with underserved populations as part of my ministry for the last 25 years, coming across one barrier after another,” she said. “We’re opening this up to very disenfranchised individuals and organizations that cannot get traditional funding. They are doing good grassroots work and never get acknowledged by foundations.”

Brown says she loves being able to share SDOP with people who see so many doors closed.

Strength to Love Farm was recently awarded funding from SDOP. (Photo by Karen Brown)

“They are shocked that there is a place where groups can potentially get funding to do their work. There so many good people doing this grassroots, boots-on-the-ground work,” she said. “Because they don’t have strong financials or a strong board, they can’t get funding. They don’t have the money or they won’t get selected by some of these potential sponsors.”

Brown, who has served on the national SDOP committee for a year, says she and other committee members are simply doing what God has taught them to do.

“I see my God as a God of the oppressed, and so when I see God’s work and magical hand telling his children it’s going to be all right, that what we’re doing is good, it is amazing,” she said. “One penny or one dollar has a rippling effect that is changing lives and communities.”

Brown says she maintains contacts with a number of the businesses, including the youth that ran the greeting card business many years ago. The young entrepreneurs are in their 30s and 40s now, and talk about how the business shaped them as adults.

“You really raise generations. If you are in church long enough, you might see two or three generations of children and they grow up and they have children,” she said. “It’s important to love, nurture and provide opportunities for young people and they will become the adults that God has created them to be.”


Self-Development of People is able to transform the lives of people because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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