We bought a piece of American Soil!
We are SO excited to announce that Arise Africa has purchased a building in America! We cannot wait to have our own offices that accommodate the functionality of our ministry perfectly. With our growth, we have had major issues with the tiny 300 square foot room we currently reside in.
So, let's answer a few questions you have about this:
1. Did the money I donate to children in Zambia go to buying a building in America? NO! We went to a handful of donors who have been with us for many years and support our vision and our philosophy on growth. We asked them to help fund the purchase of the building. Unless you were contacted by us about this building and you donated, your money has not gone to, and will never go to the costs associated with this building. Your money is going to those precious kids in Zambia!
2. Why buy a building and not just rent? This is a really good question.
There are many reasons for this:
REASON NUMERO UNO: As Arise Africa has grown, we strive to make sure that the maximum amount of every donor's dollar goes to the children in Zambia. Right now, when you donate only seven cents out of every dollar goes to our operating expenses and overhead. That is REALLY low for non profits, and we love that! In order for that number to stay low, we must keep our operating expenses low. As we have grown, I am constantly looking at our operating expenses and trying to figure out how to keep them in check, but at the same time, still enable us to be a solid and effective ministry. One of the first big steps we took to help save money in the long run was to build the Complex in Zambia.
The complex in Zambia helps us logistically and makes Arise much more efficient financially.
We always try to put the Zambia side first in our growth, because they operate in a third world country. Zambia needs should always come first! Once again, we went to select donors to help fund the complex and asked them to support our vision. When it was finally finished, we were able to eliminate our rent expense for office space. We also had a massive garage for all our supplies which saved us additional rental expense. The complex in Zambia helps us logistically and makes Arise much more efficient financially. The complex became a tool we could use to grow and eliminate much of the concern about long-term leases and the risk of theft. We had a safe place to store cars at night and didn't have to pay to park them overnight in a "car park", wondering if our vehicles would be damaged or broken into the next day. We didn't need to worry about our Country Director in Zambia having to deal with rising rents at her apartment, or our American staff coming over and struggling to find lodging. We could install expensive back up power options like solar and generators. We estimate that the complex in Zambia saves Arise around $30,000 per year in operating expenses. Now growing pains don't hurt as much! We have the infrastructure and capacity to handle it.
You want to know another really cool thing about the Complex? It MAKES the ministry money. We rent out rooms for most of the year (aside of summer months when we have mission trips there). To date, with the Complex being open for only 6 months and no marketing, we have made over $10,000 USD in rental income from leasing rooms. The complex fully pays for itself, it pays for the staff that work at the Complex, and even covers small capital expenditures. We are already making some improvements to it with those extra funds and eventually, once the complex is 100% complete, profit on the complex will be able to go to the kids we serve, too. So the Complex was a MAJOR win in all areas.
Now it is time for the USA side! We have been patient and always want to get Zambia squared away first, but words cannot tell you how eager we are to leave our current office. When I started looking at renting more space in Fort Worth, I realized we would have to pay more in rent to move, which would drive our operating expenses up. I estimated American rent alone would require about 20% of our total current operating budget right now. I didn't like that at all. By purchasing a building, you pay more up front, but in the long run, you don't have a rental expense. This keeps the operating expenses very low (especially when you consider property taxes for non-profits). So I wondered if I could get others on board with this vision for Arise. Luckily by the blessing of the Lord we had a group of generous donors who agreed this was a great idea and helped fund the building. This makes our ministry so much stronger now, and in many years to come.
REASON NUMERO DOS: We are a registered non-profit in Texas. This means we don't have to pay property taxes. When considering the option of renting versus buying, when you rent, in many cases the landlord passes the cost of paying property taxes down to the tenant. So by renting, we are losing out on those savings. This also means that owning a building without property taxes makes the annual costs very low to keep it going.
REASON NUMERO TRES: Arise Africa is unique in many special ways (ha ha, for better or worse)! We need a space that is tailor made for us, which is hard to find in most buildings. We need a work space, a space to meet with donors, a space for all our interns, and a large space for our donations and storage. We need a garage door that provides vehicles access to the storage area so we can collect or ship donations and supplies. We have 400 kids in the child sponsorship program and we collect Christmas bags for every single on of them in America. We have collected over 3,000 pounds of children's books in the last 6 months and shipped them to Zambia. We pack over 60 bags weighing 50 pounds each for mission trippers to take to Zambia annually. We must have a space for all of that.
When looking for rental space, I struggled to find anything that would accommodate all of our needs. We didn't like the idea of spending money improving someone else's property, either.
Right now, all those donations, bags and other things were being stored in my personal garage at our home. We had no room for any of our personal items. My husband, Asher, who is a saint, but also very "Type A" was chomping at the bit to get his garage back!
I am pregnant and we are expecting our first child in July. So all of a sudden, we have boxes and boxes of baby clothes, car seats, swings, and more from our family which makes us look like hoarders. We needed to reclaim our garage, and for the sake of my marriage I need to let my husband organize it. In fact, as soon as we closed, Asher was already loading his truck full of stuff from our garage.
Below is a photo of Asher waving from the new storage area of the office building after we have unloaded a truck full of Arise supplies. Neither rain nor cold could keep him from taking multiple loads over there this past weekend. I have never seen my husband more excited about the "new" Arise garage. Asher needed this to happen. A man needs his garage!
REASON NUMERO CUATRO: We are growing, and I was scared to lock into a contract on rental property when there was a good chance we would outgrow it and need to move again. Or, what if the economy takes a turn for the worse? What if somehow we don't receive the generous donations we do now, and we are stuck in a space that we can't afford? I would be so angry at myself if that happened and suddenly we were spending money in America that really needed to be going to Zambia for the kids.
3. OKAY, OKAY, Tell us about the building!!
Remember how I said we were a "special" ministry?!! ;) Well, we found ourselves a very special and unique building that matches our personality. After searching for over a year with fantastic commercial real estate agents, a building was found in the Fairmount Historical District of Fort Worth, Texas. This part of town area is booming with restaurants, coffee shops, restored old houses, and lots of character. This part of Fort Worth has experienced major investment and redevelopment and is changing daily.
Our building was built in 1912 (they don't build 'em like this anymore!) and was a corner grocery store for many years. It is 3,500 square feet (plenty of room to grow!). Through it's lifetime it has had many owners and been a photo studio, sound studio, mechanics shop, and was converted into a "house" in the 1970's! Faith has done more research on this property (and made friends with all the homeless people staying warm in the Fort Worth public library) than anyone, and can tell you the story of every owner and all the details about it's history.
It needs some love, we acknowledge that! Luckily, we have a good chunk of change left over from the purchase to start on some renovations. First, I would like to get some windows put back where they originally were, which should excite the historical society (fingers crossed). We need to do some work on the brick walls to help keep moisture out as well. There is also a wall down the center of the building (shown in the photo above) we would like to ultimately remove to create a large open space, but it appears to be load bearing and that will take time for architects and contractors to come up with a plan. Luckily, all of this can happen over time and in phases. It is going to need a lot of work to get it to where we ultimately want it, but we also could move in tomorrow and be just fine.
4. What are you (Alissa) most excited about?
A really cool thing has happened over the past two years when I first moved to Fort Worth. I now have incredible interns working with Arise that have changed my life. Faith and I are the only full time employees in America, but we have a handful of amazing TCU students that do a ton of work with us. Some of these interns come multiple times a week and others at random times between studying and class. We are so blessed by the presence of these young women and I can't even begin to tell you how much they save us in man hours (USA salaries are expensive!). Those millennials are smart and capable, but they sure do drink a lot of coffee! They edit sponsorship reports, do our social media, organize donations and projects we have happening and much more. They are becoming a MAJOR part of Arise.
I now have incredible interns working with Arise that have changed my life.
But as much as we love to help Zambian kids, we also suddenly have a community in America. There is something more impactful happening with our interns than I understood at first. These kids are hungry for the Lord and want fellowship and time with other believers. I believe TCU (although the word "Christian" is in the name) can be a hard university to attend if you are a Christian and seeking others who walk with the Lord (this is just my observation!). These kids are looking for a place to come and serve the Lord and also hang out. Sometimes when I arrive at the office in the mornings, one of them is already there studying. They come by to go grab lunch with us and ask me for advice (which I have told them numerous times that is a BAD idea). But in our shoebox, there's not always room for them, and we have to turn them away. God is doing something with these interns, and I want to enable that to happen. I want a designated intern desks for them. I want enough work space for them help on larger projects. I want a couch and some chairs so they can sit and study and not feel run off after they have just given precious hours for free for the ministry. I want them to come to a space that they feel a part of Arise and the Lord's work and welcome to hang out in. I want fellowship to happen in our working environment.
For years I ran the USA side of Arise Africa by myself. It was just me and Ella, my chocolate lab. At my house in Dallas, where Arise started, Ella would lay on her bed next to my desk as I typed emails or talked on the phone to the Zambia side. Then when we were big enough for a space outside my home, we expanded to a dedicated office space in Dallas and she would come to the Dallas office to be by my side.
Then when I got married, we loaded up and moved to Fort Worth, and she still comes to the office everyday, but now we have more company. Ella and I are excited to have others with us now! Although Ella is the most every loyal friend you can have (I cannot go to the bathroom by myself because she is always by my side), we love these interns and Faith. In fact, when I am not coming in to the office, the interns of Faith come and get Ella and take her because they miss her. We are ready for space for all of us. Ella is ready for her bed to not be crammed in the corner next to the filing cabinet.
God is doing awesome work in Zambia and for the kids through Arise. We see it and hear the stories coming from our staff everyday. But I want to tell you, He is also do amazing work in America through our interns too. I want to be there for them in a bigger way, and I want that relationship to grow within our ministry. We can serve kids in Zambia, grow closer in the Lord, and lead others to Him while serving in the USA too! Both sides of the pond can make an impact, and I want TCU kids to know Arise is a place for them to come and serve and be poured into as well. That takes more than 300 square feet.
5. Did you (Alissa) come up with all of this on your own?
Ha ha it is crazy enough and a massive project for it to be fitting for me to decide to take this on. My answer is yes and no. I have always dreamed and prayed of a larger and fitting space for the ministry in America but thought it would never happen because rent in America is just too expensive. It would blow our operating costs and the importance of getting your dollar to go as much to Zambia as possible was just too crucial. I came up with the idea to purchase a building and then went to a few donors who are commercial real estate investors and have been very successful. I threw out the dream and they confirmed that it was wise from an investment and stability point of view. We looked at the growth in Texas and real estate in Fort Worth in particular. Then our board heard the crazy dream and they too agreed, if we could get some of our donors who are open to funding our visions like this, than let's try. We prayed abut it for a while and then we went to those donors and asked what they thought. When almost all of them said they agreed it was great idea and they would give to the project, we started looking for a property. It took over a year of searching to find anything within our price range and checked off all the boxes. Commercial real estate is very very hard to find in our area! So yes, it was my idea at first but many wiser and more experienced people then directed my vision and dream and made it happen. It was a team effort for sure with the Lord orchestrating it.
6. When are you officially moving in?
Please don't even ask this for a long time! ;) We need many things to happen first. I am currently meeting with contractors, architects, and all sorts of other people to come up with our "master plan" of renovating the space. We have a good amount of money to complete some big changes now, but some of these changes can happen over time and as funding allows. We have no move-in date set, right now. Our current plan is to get the front of the building restored with windows and a front door that is more original to the building. We want to get all the walls and other things structurally sound in the building. We also want a bathroom that is ADA compliant and doesn't have a massive cast iron bathtub in it (don't worry we are selling that bad boy to make some extra bucks for the reno!). Then, we will move in! If we have a enough money left over, we just might start knocking out some walls. That could take while, but would be totally worth it. We have to get approved by the City, the historic district, and I am sure a whole list of other people before we can do certain things. So, I am going to take our time to do it right and make sure we complete this project economically.
7. I want to know more!
Sure! Email me or call me, I can talk you ear off about it!
8. Can I donate to the USA office building?
We appreciate everyone's support throughout this. The whole goal of this building project is to ensure that we maximize every cent of a donor's dollar that goes to the kids in Zambia. But we aren't going to stop you from giving to this project! You can make a donation, and please designate in the "notes" section you desire for it to go to the USA office building.
In closing, words cannot describe how the Lord has been at work through this project, even though we are just getting started. Finding a building on a small budget in one of the fastest growing cities in America, and in one of the hottest areas of that city is not easy. The contract and closing phase of this project were not easy and many things had to fall in place for this to happen. Our board and many other wise real estate donors have had to spend time and help us research this. Multiple sponsors who are attorneys have given precious time to read over all of the documents needed to make this happen. We feel so blessed by the Lord providing the building. Please pray with us as we start to take the next steps in planning and construction.