One of the values of our community is generosity. We partner with God’s work in our world by selflessly serving with our time and energy, and extravagantly giving of our resources in response to God’s grace (Matthew 6: 19-33). Forefront NYC partners with at least ten non-profits and community organizations where we serve and give throughout the year, and there are many more leaders and volunteers in our community who serve, give and work for causes they believe in deeply.

This is the second post in a blog series that will unfold over the coming year (see the first post on Nomi Network here) where we’ll interview an organization and/or a volunteer who serves or gives generously within our community, helping us all learn just exactly...why we’re generous.


Jen: Our country has spent a lot of time talking about incarceration rates in our society lately. The problems are overwhelming. One congressional study showed that more than 650,000 people are released from Federal and State prison every year and over two-thirds will be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years.  Another study shows that one year after their release from prison, 60% percent of incarcerated individuals are still not employed, and if you have a parent in prison, you have a 70% chance of following in his or her footsteps in your lifetime (see here for more stats and facts). The statistics feel hopeless, but there’s one organization right here in NYC that is providing a hope. Catherine, tell us about Defy Ventures.

Catherine: Defy Ventures is a NYC-based entrepreneurship, employment, and character training program that recognizes that many former drug dealers and gang leaders can become successful, legal entrepreneurs. We “transform the hustle” of our formerly incarcerated Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) by offering intensive leadership development, Shark Tank-style business plan competitions, executive mentoring, financial investment, and startup incubation. We intentionally build life giving, authentic community between EITs and our executive volunteers as they bond in their humanity. I founded Defy in 2010 after being given my own second chance to lead. Since then Defy has incubated and financed 71 of its graduates’ companies. Grads have reported a 94% increase in income and achieved an 87% employment rate. Our recidivism rate is less than 5%. We recently had a story done on us for Pix11 News that sums it all up. Check it out here.

Jen: You and your husband are regular attenders at Forefront Manhattan. You actually shared your personal story of grace and redemption that led you to starting Defy during our 2014 Lent series at Forefront NYC. (Listen to it here) Can you tell me more about how your personal values on generosity and service shape Defy?

Catherine: Many people consider Defy to be “second chance work.” We love second chances. I’m grateful for the second chances I’ve been given in my own life. Our gratitude for the grace we’ve received makes us lovers of redemption and underdogs. But Defy is often in the business of creating legitimate first chances. I wish more of us would ask ourselves,“What would it be like if I was only known for the worst thing I’ve done?” Moved by empathy, maybe we’d recognize people for who they are today and not for the mistakes they made yesterday. Millions with criminal histories would unlock their potential.  At Defy, we believe that caring for the outcast, rejected, and neglected of society is an essential part of our faith. Service and generosity allow us to humble ourselves, which can cultivate deeper spirituality and sharper emotional intelligence. Service is also an outward manifestation of love. At Defy, love means we strive to act in the best interest of others, even when it’s inconvenient, annoying, expensive, or exhausting. We endure the hard stuff to break through to the amazing. This is why my husband Charles and I love being a part of the Forefront community ourselves. Forefront recognizes the need to serve others as an integral part of acting out our faith. The leadership and the community nurtures and inspires us to live a life of service.

Jen: And in turn you create great opportunities for members of our community to serve as well. Can you tell us how Forefronters can take action with Defy Ventures?

 Catherine (right) at a Mocktail competition in 2013

Catherine (right) at a Mocktail competition in 2013

Catherine: There are several ways you can get involved with Defy! If someone is a business professional or entrepreneur, they could consider volunteering as a resume coach or a mentor. Mentorship is critical to our program’s success. Mentors provide the individual attention and guidance our Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) need to successfully plan and launch their business ideas. I think serving our EITs is spiritually rewarding too. Defy Ventures takes some of society's biggest “outcasts”—formerly incarcerated men and women—and through holistic training and entrepreneurship/business incubation, we’re raising up a new army of people who become successful (legal!) entrepreneurs, role models, and community leaders. As men become better fathers, Defy breaks generational legacies of poverty, incarceration, violence, and drug use. We would love to have your talents, creativity and support in making this happen. 

Jen: Do you have any events coming up that you want us to know about?

Catherine: Yes, people might be interested in coming to our next Mocktail Competition/Sales Expo on March 26th, which is open to anyone and everyone (even kids!). Business professionals can apply for an invitation to attend our Business Coaching Night events. Our next coaching nights will be March 18th and April 20th. To get involved in any of these events or service opportunities, now or in the future, you can email our Executive Relations Assistant Annie Brown at annie@defventures.org.

 Chuma (center) celebrating with some of the guys 

Chuma (center) celebrating with some of the guys 

Jen: One of the members of our Manhattan community who is putting his faith into action with Defy Ventures is Chuma Orakwusi. I asked him to share with me why he chooses to serve and this is what he said...

Chuma: After listening to Catherine tell her story at Forefront, her background, and the work that Defy aimed to do, it spoke to me on a deeper level. I heard the guys (EIT's) talk, and I said to myself, "I could've been any of these guys." Regardless of the struggles I go through in America, for obvious reasons, I have an education, prospects, and my future isn't hampered by a felony hanging over my head. However, some of these guys are way smarter than I am, and by some accident of fate, and personal responsibility of course, they ended up in situations that crippled their chances for future employment. Something had to be done. I'm glad to say I've been able to help given my business background. And i've learned a lot from the guys about tenacity, staying positive through adversity, and the value of good ole hustle. I love what Defy does. It truly benefits us all as a society. And being Christians, it should strike at the core of our compassion.

To learn more about getting involved with Defy Ventures or any of the non-profits we partner with see the serve page of the Forefront NYC website here.