Tess Reynolds serves as the CEO of New Door Ventures, a thriving non-profit organization having a major impact on disadvantaged youth ages 16-21 in San Francisco. Helping the disadvantaged, however, was not how Reynolds envisioned her career when she graduated with an MBA from Santa Clara University. She was on a fast track in brand management and high technology before personal tragedy and guidance from God caused her to change her priorities and career.
Reynolds launched her career with Procter & Gamble, the king of brand management. Later she helped turn around the Coca Cola brand in the Philippines. After she immigrated to the U.S., she worked in marketing at the Crocker Bank and then The Flecto Company. In 1985, she transitioned to high technology where she worked for 7 years managing a large business unit of Software Publishing Corporation, a leading Silicon Valley company at the time.
In spite of her obvious business success, however, Reynolds did not feel fulfilled. This is what she says about her early career:
I pressured myself to be “somebody” in the world. Because graduate schools cared about GPA’s and GMAT’s, I did too. I took a job at Procter & Gamble probably because it was one of the most difficult places to get a job. I learned the art of moving up and did quite well. In my 20’s I helped build a software product that became a global market leader. Accomplishments are fine, but I had a problem. The more “somebody” I became in the world, the more I lost track of who I was.
A Change of Priorities
A setback caused her to reconsider her priorities. In her 30’s, she experienced a devastating second trimester miscarriage. A card she received during this period of grief got her attention. It read, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth.” Reynolds comments,
These words made me realize that my first source of help had not been God, but me – my skills, my hard work, my connections. I turned to God when I ran out of options. My system wasn’t working. I admitted that the life I wanted wasn’t the life I was living, so I began making changes.
Reynolds joined a Bible study, as well as a small group of working women who struggled with balancing faith and family. She remarks, “Over the next few years my faith became alive and my life became fuller.”
It was at this point that Reynolds mustered the courage to leave her lucrative career in high tech and start a consulting company as a way to better manage her schedule and commitments. Success came again. She garnered an enviable list of clients, including Adobe, AMD, Hewlett-Packard, IBM as well as venture funded technology companies. She started earning even more money than she had in the past.
A Personal Tragedy
Five years into running her consulting business, a life changing event happened. This is how she describes it:
All of us have had dark clouds in our lives, but sometimes life brings a hurricane. My hurricane came in July 1998. My 6-year old son, Matthew, came home from basketball camp with a limp. I took him to the doctor. Several tests later we found out he had bone cancer.
Matthew had an amputation and over the next year spent 38 weeks in the hospital for treatment. But just when we thought he was cured, his cancer came back aggressively. Matthew had to endure more surgery, chemo therapy and other experimental drugs. In the end cancer won. Matthew died in 2000 at the age of 8.
Reynolds says that Matthew was an example of faith to the whole family, especially during the final months of his life. She recalls that in his final hours, Matthew spoke of heaven and angels singing the Hallelujah chorus. “There is no doubt in my mind,” says Reynolds, “that heaven exists and that is where my son is and where I am going.” She comments further,
Without a doubt, the cancer years were the worst of my life. Yet in some strange way they were the sweetest years as well. I had fear, questions, anger, and pain. So did other members of my family. Psychotherapy helped, but in the end I found that there was no place to turn but to God. I scoured the pages of scripture for answers. Nowhere did I find God promising to exempt His followers from pain and suffering. What I did find was His promise never to leave or forsake me, His promise that nothing could separate me from His love – not death or cancer – and His promise that His grace would be sufficient for me. Indeed, His grace was generously sufficient.
Discerning God’s Will
Following Matthew’s death, Reynolds felt restless about her work. “The cancer world was both high tech and high touch,” she says, “but my consulting practice was just high tech. I longed for a way to impact people more than products and profits.” She began a long process of praying and discerning what God wanted her to do next. Two years later, Reynolds was approached by a recruiter to consider the CEO position of what became New Door Ventures (formerly Golden Gate Community, Inc.). After much deliberation, Reynolds took the job in 2003. She comments, “This was a huge change, but also seemed like a clear call from God. I left the world of business to work in a ministry that is also a business – we run two businesses and partner with other businesses to serve as job training centers for disconnected youth.”
New Door Ventures
In the 10 years Reynolds has led New Door, the lives of approximately 1,000 broken young people have been healed. Most have histories of homelessness, foster care, crime, or use of drugs and alcohol. Many have experienced some form of abuse and all live below poverty level. New Door helps prepare these young people for work and life through a paid job internship, skill-building workshops, educational support, and most importantly, deep and individualized support. It is in this last ingredient where New Door’s faith values come alive – their “secret sauce” as Reynolds sometimes calls it. As a result, 83% of their graduates move on to regular jobs, further education or both. Over 94% of youth with a criminal background do not reoffend, and 100% of youth remain in stable housing at the six-month follow up.
“God has been visibly at work in powerful ways,” Reynolds reflects. “He has done more than we could ever ask or imagine.” Today, New Door is the proud recipient of several awards, including the Bank of America Neighborhood Builder’s Award (granted to only two nonprofits in the San Francisco region annually) and the Tipping Point award. In 2012, New Door was invited into the PropelNext program of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic supporters of youth development organizations in the U.S. Most recently, New Door has purchased a new 14,000 square foot building to accommodate plans to provide 2,000 jobs for youth in this decade.
“I’ve grown so much by helping others to grow,” Reynolds ends with a big smile. “I couldn’t be more excited about the future!”
More information on New Door Ventures can be found at www.newdoor.org.
For a related story see: Google Awards New Door Ventures a $100k Grant