Terry Givens has a powerful story.
Now, he has a platform where he can share it.
Deeply shaken by the deaths of his parents when he was a teenager, Givens’ story includes painful loss and, for a while, poor choices.
“There I was at the age of 19 with no mother or father and no one else to turn to for help or guidance,” Givens recalled. “The streets became my family. I began hanging around a crew who would introduce me to cocaine and sold me on the idea of how much money I could make selling it.”
It was fast money. And a lot of it. But it didn’t take long for Givens to recognize the toll his choices would take.
Drugs often go hand-in-hand with violence. Givens was constantly looking over his shoulder. He was never really safe.
The prospect of landing in jail weighed on his mind. And he was haunted by the knowledge that what he was selling had the power to ruin lives. But the allure of quick cash was too strong.
Until things began to change.
“Then there came a time when I had kids. And I saw how they looked at me,” Givens said. “I wanted better for my kids. I wanted better for myself, for my whole family.”
He also endured the loss of a close friend who was gunned down by violence.
Givens knew his own lifestyle meant he could be next.
“I wanted to live,” Givens explained. “I wanted to see my kids grow and transition into the successful adults they are destined to be. And I didn’t want to see it from prison or six feet under. So I started to change.”
He found a legitimate job, forsaking the fast cash of selling drugs in exchange for an honest paycheck.
He made less money. But no longer was he constantly looking over his shoulder. No longer did he fear for his safety. No longer were his children at risk of losing their father to the hazards of his lifestyle.
No longer was he peddling a product that ruined lives.
Now, instead, Terry Givens is launching a new business – one built on changing lives. The business is his platform for reaching at-risk youth and helping them avoid the mistakes he made for years.
Givens’ business – formally launched on New Year’s Day 2017 – is called Life Changing Motivational Services. While maintaining his full-time job, Givens is spending his free time nurturing his startup company and reaching out to Jacksonville-area community centers, churches, schools and other locations where, though his new business, he can share his story with adolescents and young adults – and help steer them away from the streets.
“Overcoming the drug background gives me a viewpoint a lot of speakers don’t have,” Givens explained. “I’m in a unique position to help people understand why they shouldn’t travel down that road. I’ve seen where that road goes. It leads to imprisonment. It leads to death.”
Givens’ experience has shown him why youth outreach is so important. But, at first, he didn’t have the knowledge he needed to formally establish his business and begin connecting with the community.
He needed to learn how to register his company. He needed a formal business plan. He needed to organize the company’s finances. He needed something to get him from having an idea to having a company that could truly impact the youth he desired to reach.
Then, he found HOPE.
“Operation HOPE gave me an opportunity to look inside myself and examine what I wanted to do in business,” Givens said. “They helped me put everything on paper and develop a roadmap of how to get where I wanted to be. They explained the different types of business options and how to launch them successfully.”
And, as Givens pointed out, Operation HOPE did this – for free.
Operation HOPE is a nonprofit financial dignity organization that has a global impact. Its Small Business Empowerment Program is geared toward people who have a vision for a successful business, but no method of turning that vision into reality. Program participants complete a 12-week entrepreneurial training program that emphasizes topics such as credit and money management, accounting, marketing, business plan development and more.
In Jacksonville, Operation HOPE’s Small Business Empowerment Program is now based in a “HOPE Inside” office provided by Regions Bank. Specifically, a HOPE financial wellbeing coach is stationed at Regions’ downtown branch at the corner of W. Bay Street and N. Laura Street. The coach meets with aspiring business owners and empowers them with skills and training to get their businesses up and running.
Operation HOPE can offer HOPE Inside services at no cost because of financial support it receives from Regions and other partners nationwide.
“You’ll never find this opportunity anywhere else,” Givens said. “Everywhere else, you’ll have to pay a large sum of money or travel to receive this education. Here, they walk you through from beginning to end how to open your business.”
While the program is making a difference for Givens, it is not limited to entrepreneurs and prospective business owners.
Anyone looking to improve his or her personal finances can visit the HOPE Inside office and sign up for individual credit-score coaching as well. The program has a long track record of helping people improve their credit scores, pursue homeownership and achieve a variety of other long-term financial goals.
Franklin Danley, City President for Regions Bank, said the bank’s decision to partner with Operation HOPE was simple.
“We have seen the incredible impact Operation HOPE is having on people, communities and small businesses across the country,” Danley said. “This is about reaching people who have the vision, passion and commitment to succeed; they simply need the right coaching to improve their personal finances, to get a business started or to help their existing business succeed. This is about leveling the playing field and supporting individuals and entrepreneurs who are working to make Jacksonville an even better place to live.”
Operation HOPE was founded in 1992 by John Hope Bryant, who recognized a need to empower the underserved, the struggling middle class and the working poor through financial education and resources. The organization’s HOPE Inside initiative, where personal and business financial counseling are provided by HOPE’s certified coaches in office space provided by corporate partners, is a recognized model of innovation in community support.
“Over the last several years, we have worked with thousands of people in cities across the country who have gone on to lead successful companies and have a profound impact on their communities,” said Shurnell James, Area Vice President of the Southeast Region for Operation HOPE. “We are excited to grow the HOPE Inside program in Jacksonville with Regions Bank. And we welcome participants from all walks of life. If you’re an entrepreneur seeking to serve the people of this community, or if you are an individual seeking to improve your personal finances, we are here to help you reach the next level.”
Terry Givens’ vision of the next level is connecting with teens and young adults on a larger scale, in a way that’s powerful and productive.
“I try to be as transparent as possible when I’m speaking with groups,” he said. “Because the young people I yearn to reach the most will only learn about an experience from someone who has actually been through it – and overcame it.”
With the training he has received through Operation HOPE, Givens’ platform now has a greater chance of making an even greater impact.
“Anything can be done as long as you put your mind to it,” Givens reminds at-risk youth. “Life throws things at us. It’s how we react to it that determines where we go.”