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The Business of Body and Soul

by Fr. John Rausch

   On the back sidewall, jojoba shampoo shares a shelf with natural hand lotions and faces 25 different essential oils across the aisle. Falafel and humus prominently trumpet the vegetarian fare in the next section, while herbs and spices, vitamins and herbal teas pack the other sidewall.

Decorative candles to soothe the spirit are displayed by the cooler holding fruit drinks, healthy snacks and locally produced eggs. The book section offers reading about reflexology, homeopathic and herbal medicines, plus massage, vitamin and aroma therapies. The Body and Soul Health Emporium sells products to promote, as its motto suggests, "wellness for the new millennium."

Susan Holt and Esther White opened Body and Soul in May 1997, after completing a twelve week, 36 hour program with the Women’s Initiative Networking Groups, Inc. (WINGS.) The program teaches entrepreneurial skills to modest and low-income folks in Appalachia to promote community development and empower women. Over 100 women have graduated from the program establishing 55 businesses ranging from traditional efforts like crafts and housecleaning to unique work like manufacturing saws for the timber industry and producing training material for midwives.

Working on their business plan while surviving on food stamps and part-time jobs, Susan and Esther found their biggest obstacle to be financing. Single parents with few resources have little leverage even with sympathetic lenders. Their application was rejected by a local community loan fund because they lacked collateral and their business plan needed greater diversity. The loan fund suggested strengthening their plan by adding food products to encourage frequent repeat customers. Finally after refinancing Susan and Ester’s home and securing personal loans from friends, Body and Soul opened its doors infused with the heart and spirit of the founders.

The story of Body and Soul reflects the struggle of entrepreneurial ventures. Although four of five businesses fail within five years, small businesses promise the renewal of small towns and the future sustainable development of an area. While the marketplace induces entrepreneurs with the potential of financial rewards, for women like Susan and Esther social and ethical reasons preceded the rush to riches.

During a marriage that eventually failed, Ester recognized women have few economic options. She and Susan met while working at a natural food store supporting their families on slightly above minimum wage. To move from their town meant leaving their relatives and support systems. To stay and work in a factory added the burdensome cost of childcare, and possibly lost work when a child gets sick. The two women wrote their business plan to blend family with livelihood.

Their vision of Body and Soul nurtures the whole person—body, mind and spirit. By promoting holistic health they spare some customers costly medical bills, especially those lacking health insurance. Their alternative health philosophy emphasizes the body most times heals itself. While herbal medicines and natural therapies find a skeptical reception from mainstream physicians, Body and Soul avoids fads and the frivolous. Body wrapping to lose weight and tanning beds for year-round tans could improve their cash flow, but the long-term effects of the treatments remain questionable. Instead Susan and Esther concentrate on educational sessions about nutrition and health skills.

Susan and Ester’s plain words capture a frequently ignored aspect of the marketplace: "We went into business to make a contribution to the community and to create a livelihood for ourselves." While global economics worships profit frequently to the detriment of workers, communities and the environment, small businesses like Body and Soul build a sustainable future by emphasizing high ethical standards and service to the community.

Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the August 1999 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue. Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky. His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours beginning this month, courtesy of the Friends of the Good News. When you purchase books, videos, etc. from Amazon.com this site, we receive a referral fee from them that support the work of the Friends of the Good News.