Traditional banks considered us a startup making it hard to get a loan. When we spoke with National Cooperative Bank, they said yes and they have funded every store since. I’m honored to be their Celebrity this year. In fact, it is NCB’s commitment to volunteering and underserved communities that deserves our applause.
Gina Schaefer and her fellow cruiser husband Marc Friedman own 11 local ACE hardware stores in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia, but it is her commitment to her community and her employees that makes Gina a true Community Celebrity. Gina’s business strategy centers around two questions that distinguish how she runs her business: How can I make a difference? How can I improve a life?
The merit of Gina’s accomplishments is not in the number of stores she has opened or the number of jobs she has created – although that’s impressive since she and her husband started with few assests. The true merit comes from her contributions to the community in which she lives. Gina’s selfless work is visible through her numerous philanthropic contributions, both monetary and voluntary, including countless fundraisers for Children’s National Medical Center and DC’s local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She serves on the board of directors for House of Ruth, which focuses on ending homelessness and life-long abuse in the DC area and serves on the Corporate Advisory Board at Jubilee Jobs, which provides second chance employment and job training for those that have been turned away due to unemployment, former incarceration or alcohol/substance abuse. She also serves on the board for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
“Volunteering is just part of my DNA. I want the business to help the community connect, not just turn a profit,” said Gina. “I think it’s important for everybody to connect in a community. As humans we all need connection and volunteering offers an easy way to connect.”
Gina’s joy juice is refreshing. From the Midwest, she started her work life in Washington D.C. at the Children’s Defense fund and several years later moved to a ‘fringe’ neighborhood that didn’t have the kind of store that would help her tackle repairs on her new ‘fixer-upper’ home.
Why not give the community what it needed? She was attracted to the co-op purchasing model of ACE that also comes with the resources to learn about running a hardware store. She hasn’t looked back, nor does she forget to give back as she and her husband expand ownership of other stores in unlikely neighborhoods around the Metro DC area. As an active member of the ‘next generation’ of ACE store owners, she is championing ACE and the power of the coop to focus on the value of local and using your business to create a better tomorrow for the entire community.
While Gina is the face of her ACE programs, we’ll be honoring her husband and business partner Marc as Celebrity on the cruise as well.