Building Entrepreneurs for Success in Tennessee (BEST)

BEST seeks to better equip incarcerated men and women with personal skills and business/entrepreneur

Host Jeremy C. Park talks with Dr. Gretchen Wolfe, Executive Director of Building Entrepreneurs for Success in Tennessee (BEST), along with Mrs. Karen Vander Molen, Founder of BEST, former Executive Director, retired president of the Board of Directors, and former graduate services director, who both highlight the nonprofit and their 4-phase program focused on reducing recidivism and helping incarcerated men and women build brighter futures for themselves, their families, and the communities.

During the interview, Dr. Wolfe and Mrs. Vander Molen share some of the history for the organization, discuss the 4 phases and what makes them effective, talk about the power and importance of volunteers, share success stories and how the community can support their efforts.

BEST provides a community of support in 4 phases.

Phases 1, 2, and 3 are delivered as a 24 week (6-months) self-contained class of 20 persons at the Debra K Johnson Rehabilitation Center. Other Phase 3 programming is available as open sessions to the general populace at the prison and features weekly topics in business, wellness, mental health, and community-building. In Phase 4, BEST community support is available for returned citizens via virtual and in-person events year round.

Phase One – Understanding Self and Others. BEST seeks to empower individuals with self-knowledge, strengths-based assessments, and weekly programming from expert facilitators in Non-violent Communication (NVC), Houses of Healing (HOH), and Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Ten (10) character development values form a framework that ties together
* guest speakers in mental health/substance and alcohol recovery;
* the Movies that Matter weekly series that is unique to BEST’s peer support community;
* personal and career goal-setting for Re-entry

Phase Two – Personal Entrepreneurship. Guest speakers and BEST instructors deliver career-focused education in support of student goals. This is a client-based model of teaching small business, financial literacy, and entrepreneurial skills. A range of communication opportunities span Toastmasters International Gavel Club to simulated virtual communication skills in social media, blogging, and virtual marketing.

Phase Three – Preparing for Re-entry. Guest speakers from career, housing, and recovery organizations partner with BEST instructors for peer and mentor support. After graduation, BEST students have the opportunity to participate in weekly topic series that is most relevant to their needs for Re-entry. These sessions run concurrently with the 6-month classroom program and is open to any justice involved individual at the prison location.

Phase Four – The BEST Community. Upon release, each returning citizen can tap into the network of BEST partners as they return to the community ready to be a contributing member of society as an employee or business owner. BEST’s Facebook and Instagram contains the most-up-to-date news and “resource swapping” within the BEST virtual community. We are blessed that members of the BEST volunteer pool partner with transitional/halfway houses to deliver client-centered programming. Please reach out to to link arms with BEST to ensure a community of ongoing support!


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