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FPU Transformation Center Helps ‘Launch’ Central Valley Businesses
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Shown, from left, Carlos Huerta, Matthew Blackwood and Doug Davidian at a Launch Central Valley event. Photo By Jocelyn Marquez

Keshawna Nelson wants to brew coffee and serve a caffeinated jolt to Fresno’s future. She’s an entrepreneur with a new business: The Java Bar. Her vision is to share knowledge, experience—and yes, profits—so others can build generational wealth where perhaps none existed before. The effect—multiplied by like-minded entrepreneurs—could be a stronger community with less poverty, increased education and greater economic vitality.

Nelson, an accountant, boosted her efforts by participating in the fall of 2020 in a new program developed by the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, part of Fresno Pacific University. Its focus: helping people in underserved communities successfully launch small businesses.

“We feel we can have an impact helping people turn a side hustle into their main gig, and at the same time helping families generate more income and move up the economic ladder,” says Carlos Huerta (BA ’13 MBA ’20), associate director at CCT.

The new program is called Launch Central Valley, and it offers nine sessions over as many weeks covering topics like marketing, sales, loans and how to deal with attorneys, accountants and government officials.

“These are the tough things in starting a business that a lot of folks don’t know about or need a little hand-holding to get through,” Huerta says.

The next Launch Central Valley program starts Jan. 26, 2021. Get more information and register at

Nelson and 11 others in Launch Central Valley’s first cohort graduated in November, and others will follow. Over the next five years, CCT plans to take 300 more entrepreneurs through the program. Their participation will be underwritten, in part, by grant money awarded to CCT by the Lilly Endowment, one of the world’s largest private philanthropic foundations. CCT recently received a nearly $1 million Lilly grant, which will used for several faith-based initiatives in the next five years.

In Launch Central Valley, Nelson’s most important lesson centered on achieving and maintaining a good credit record.

“When I first started on this journey, that was an issue with everything I was trying to do.”

She also learned the importance of sticking to a budget as well as knowing her customers’ need for quick service.

The Java Bar is in a business park near Fresno Yosemite International Airport and specializes in coffees from around the world. It opened in early December but only for takeout in the morning because of COVID restrictions.

The link between successful small businesses and markers of community progress like higher literacy rates is important.

“Flourishing families contribute to flourishing communities and a host of positive social indicators,” says Randy White, D.Min., executive director of CCT, and associate professor at Fresno Pacific. “When we seek the financial peace of the family, we experience the benefits of that peace.”

White says CCT plans to begin several other new programs financed by the grant from the Lilly Endowment.

Fresno Pacific University is the only accredited Christian university founded in the Central Valley. FPU connects every student’s untapped potential with unlimited opportunity for professional, personal and ethical growth. FPU offers undergraduate, graduate and seminary programs that stress solid academic preparation and a strong ethical foundation to about 4,000 traditional and adult students on the main campus in southeast Fresno and regional campuses in North Fresno, Visalia, Bakersfield and Merced as well as online. The university also reaches about 8,000 students through professional development studies.


This article was contributed by Doug Hoagland of Fresno Pacific University.