By: Patricia Trutescu
The popular quote from Proverbs 23, verse 7 in The Holy Bible reads, “As man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This proverb has helped many through their hardships and struggles; but for Deloris S. Thomas – the vice president of the Joseph Center; board member of the United States Small Business Administration; and owner of Sterling Thomas LLC – this proverb has influenced the mission and model of the small business development program that she fostered and operates. This program is called The Joseph Center.
In 1998, Dr. Bill Winston, a pastor from Chicago asked Ms. Thomas and her husband to develop a program that would train and develop entrepreneurs. Ms. Thomas claims:
“As a volunteer for our church, we [my husband and I] designed a 9-month training program that was based on an Ohio State University program called P.A.C.E. – Program for Acquiring Competency and Entrepreneurship. In our program, we focus on teaching entrepreneurs business plan development, financial literacy, marketing, operations and basic leadership training.”
The Joseph Center’s mission statement reads “To empower, inspire and encourage those that desire to improve themselves…having them see themselves as God sees them.” Ms. Thomas explains the meaning of the mission statement.
“The greatest weapon for anyone is the power of thought. If we can get people to think that they can accomplish what they want, then they feel empowered.” Ms. Thomas adds, “When an individual is born, they see the world as something they can easily conquer and believe they can do anything. As they get older, they’re often told of what they cannot do, and so, slowly they become discouraged and see fewer possibilities of their dreams becoming a reality.
“We find that many people don’t perform well in their life or endeavors because they were frequently told ‘you’re not good enough.’ In addition, many individuals never received attention or encouragement for their ideas. We talk with people and try to see what God has implanted in them and encourage them to eliminate those negative thoughts.
“We’ve met people who were on welfare or came from broken homes who thought they couldn’t get out of a situation. They couldn’t read financial statements let alone fully understand “The Wall Street Journal.” To help them, we demystified financial statements by explaining the basic math and fundamental financial and economic concepts at a level they can understand. We also explained the basics of a business plan and showed individuals that they can create one too.”
Ms. Thomas wants to show everyone who comes to the Joseph Center for help that, “it is possible to educate your children, own a home, operate a business, and live the life of your dreams.”
As a result, The Joseph Center has created several success stories. One of them is Debra Glanton, a woman, who upon graduating from the Joseph Business School in March 2008, learned that the Illinois Welding School was being sold by the owner. In October of that year, Ms. Glanton became the owner, president and CEO of the Illinois Welding School.
In a video testimonial, she states, “Here I am, a woman who had no money, no capital, and truly didn’t even know what welding was about.
“Although I do know welding now, I have a heart for my students and for people who otherwise may have not had a chance. One gentleman in particular, when he came in, did not have a very good attitude, and I am particular about who is allowed into Illinois Welding School because I like camaraderie on the floor. But I still gave him a chance, and at the end of his training he was so humble. It was so wonderful to see somebody who actually had their life transformed.”
Prior to this success story, the District Director of the Chicago area U.S. Small Business administration heard about the quality of work by The Joseph Center and paid the organization a visit. The District Director observed Ms. Thomas’s interest in entrepreneurship. The District Director also noticed how Ms. Thomas was able to operate The Joseph Center while heading her own company, Sterling Thomas LLC, and recommended her to be a board member for the Small Business Administration. Soon, Ms. Thomas was appointed to the National Advisory Board for Small Business Development Centers.
“I continue to work with The Joseph Center, and I established 12 other Joseph Center programs around the world. Some of these places include India, South Africa, Brazil, Belgium and more. I also manage my own consulting firm, Sterling Thomas LLC.
“On the SBA, I sit on the National Board for Small Business Development Centers. My role, which is mandated and appointed, by the United States Congress, involves advising the administrator on policies for small businesses.”
Growing up in Somerton, St. James, a town in Jamaica, Ms. Thomas understood the importance of small business from an early age. She claims:
“Whether it was someone selling chewing gum on the streets, or someone running a large corporation, I learned that strong communities are based on healthy business growth and development. You find that most economies, especially during tough times, are driven by entrepreneurship and small business.”
Entrepreneurial and economic development has been Ms. Thomas’s calling since she was a student. She attended Mount Alvernia High School in Montego Bay and completed her high school education at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ms. Thomas earned her undergraduate degree from Bentley College. Later, she received her MBA from Harvard University.
As she completed her education and entered the business world, Ms. Thomas believed that the power of worship helped even the most successful entrepreneurs through the toughest times. She explains why:
“My source of strength comes from a God.” Ms. Thomas adds, “Faith is evidence of all that is not seen. What you see is temporal and what you don’t see is eternal.
“When you pass through hard times in your life, you find yourself making it through. You can look back on your past situations and see how God’s power helped you work through a problem you had no natural answers for, and this gives you strength. No matter how hard something appears, with faith, you can make it through…It’s something you have to believe.”
One can only ask how Ms. Thomas can run two businesses, start several others abroad and sit on the National Board of SBDC. Ms. Thomas honestly and openly responds:
“I find the time by finding really good people. I also have clear priorities and expectations and I set very challenging but realistic goals. To do this, you really have great time-management skills and the ability to delegate.” She adds, “I surround myself with capable people who can get things done. I also leave myself open to feedback from others, and in turn, empower others to fulfill their potential.”
Real empowerment and the ability to believe in others require true faith in God’s provision. But what inspires Ms. Thomas to constantly dedicate herself to helping others achieve their full potential and change their lives? She talks about her own influences and her past experience in the large corporate world.
“Oprah, for example,” Ms. Thomas explains, “came from a broken home and ran away from it; but she had a gift. She used that gift; the gift made room for her and for others, and has also changed lives for millions. I believe if we can help entrepreneurs develop and perfect their own gift, they can generate a significant amount of wealth and in return help others transform their lives.
“Also,” she adds, “You get to a certain point, working at a fortune 500 companies and realize it’s very rare for someone to create generational wealth by solely being an employee. You can create more change and impact generational wealth by creating jobs for others through entrepreneurship.
“Every person is given a gift by God and that gift will make room for you, as The Bible says in Proverbs 18 verse 16. I’ve seen entrepreneurs that have started with nothing, but through using their gift and developing it; I’ve seen them shift their circumstances and create a lasting positive change.”