Transforming a community through education

Rev. Dr. Chandra Soans of Grace-Trinity United Church of Christ is particularly proud of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, a funded project through the Cornerstone Fund. With the help of his wife Betsy, Grace-Trinity UCC, and other ministries in the area, this funded project has helped to revitalize and strengthen one of Philadelphia’s most economically-challenged neighborhoods.

Initially, Grace-Trinity UCC funded their projects through traditional lending corporations in order to support several church and community projects. However, when the idea for building a school in one of the city’s toughest areas, Dr. Soans knew that he wanted to move in a different direction. Building and running a school, a massive undertaking, required a better financial plan than what the bank had originally offered.

The Cornerstone Fund provided Rev. Dr. Soans and the Grace-Trinity UCC $1.5 million in financing—a 30-year-loan, guaranteed fixed rate for five years followed by an adjustable rate based on the market index for the duration of the loan. With the loan, Grace-Trinity UCC was able to pay off the original bank loan, in addition to completing the school’s infrastructure, provide several quality jobs to educators, and include resources like books and after-school programs for its 160 students.

Responsible investing with the Cornerstone Fund

“We went with the Cornerstone Fund over the commercial bank because the Cornerstone Fund reinvests in churches and non-profit organizations. Money being repurposed for schools, churches, and orphanages is responsible investing.”  While supporting the Cornerstone Fund’s investment practices, Soans appreciates that “the Cornerstone Fund is an organization that is dedicated to improving the community. The loans provide funds to bless the people, not to harm the people.” Soans is also thankful for the Cornerstone Fund’s “great discount and interest rates, too.”

In the years since Grace Neighborhood Academy has opened its doors, the community has witnessed a 20% increase in high school graduation rates. For Soans, this is the very reason why he got into ministry in the first place. “Although there is still more work to be done, it is a blessing to see how a commitment to investing Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods has paid off. Education has been the driving force behind this community’s remarkable transformation.”

Soans recalls one specific family that is near and dear to Grace Neighborhood Academy School. “They walked into my office– a grandmother, mother, and teenage daughter. The girl arrived with a miniature American eagle. She had just recently come from a visit from the White House with then, President Barack Obama. When I asked her to describe the symbolism behind the eagle, the young girl said that it represented freedom and perseverance. She wanted me to have it because she credited Grace Neighborhood Academy with ‘laying the foundation for success and providing the strength and resilience needed to thrive in an academic setting.’

Dr. Soans also vividly remembers a special invitation to an area high school graduation in which the valedictorian was a former Grace Neighborhood Academy student. The student thanked Soans in an honorary speech, citing Dr. Soans interest in education as a motivating factor for his educational success. From Grace Academy to Drexel University to study pre-medicine—Soans couldn’t be “prouder.”

Fulfilling a destiny

Without hesitation, Rev. Dr. Soans highly recommends loan assistance from the Cornerstone Fund. “The funding from the Cornerstone Fund has helped Grace-Trinity to fulfill its destiny of helping others in need. We still need to make more progress in zip code 19124. However, based on the success of Grace Neighborhood Academy School, I’m certain that we will.”

Special note: Dr. Chandra Soans now serves on the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund’s Board of Directors (as of 2018).