Business owner Sarian Bouma spent one year on welfare, and she says that was more than enough.
She has since used her business acumen to help others move from dependence to independence. And for her efforts, Bouma has been named a national winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration 1998 Welfare to Work Entrepreneur award.
As founder and chief executive of Capitol Hill Building Maintenance Inc., a janitorial services company based in St. Mary's County with offices in Prince George's County and Norfolk, Va., Bouma has hired the homeless, poor, elderly and even people on work-release. The company specializes in cleaning federal buildings. It employs 155 full- and part-time employees.
"Businesses usually win awards because they make a lot of profit," said Bouma, 42. "But I'm in business to help people, and that's why I won this award."
Some of those whom she has helped nominated her for the SBA award.
Bouma and the other 12 local SBA winners, including Small Business Person of the Year Drew Sandberg of Colosseum Gym & Fitness in Columbia, are being honored this morning at the 14th annual Mary-land Small Business Awards Breakfast at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel.
Bouma was the only local winner to also win on the national level. President Clinton is scheduled to present all national winners with their awards at the White House during National Small Business Week during the first week of June.
A panel of business leaders selected Bouma as the statewide winner because "she's an extremely inspirational person," said Allan A. Stephenson, director of the SBA's Baltimore district.
"Not only has she pulled herself up and developed a successful business, but she is pulling others up as well," Stephenson said.
To be named local winners, candidates must have demonstrated staying power, growth in employment, increase in sales, innovation, response to adversity and contributions to the community, Stephenson said.
Bouma went on to compete on the regional level and was selected from among 10 finalists to win the national award, Stephenson said.
In 1974, Bouma left her native Sierra Leone and settled in Washington to attend college. She never graduated and ended up on welfare in 1977 -- but only for a year.
"That was plenty," Bouma said. "Those memories still haunt me quite a bit."
A decade later -- after accumulating skills from evening classes and rising to the managerial level at several jobs -- she secured a $20,000 loan to buy a janitorial franchise. After operating the franchise out of the basement of her house for three years, she left to start her own janitorial services business. "It required low capital and I know how to clean," said Bouma, a married mother of four children, ages 20, 14, 9 and 5.
After paying back the initial loan from the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority, which provides minority and small business owners with state loans, she received a $75,000 SBA loan for working capital.
The support from SBA helped her to secure a line of credit with the Suburban Bank of Maryland, Bouma said.
The financial security has not spoiled her. Every now and then when the company needs an extra body, she has readily donned a smock and started cleaning.
"If I was an attorney, I'd have to go in the courtroom," Bouma said. "This is the same thing."
Rosalina Rivera is another member of the company's management team who will go out into the field to clean buildings. She is now the company's accounting clerk, but she joined the company in 1992 as a cleaner.
"Ms. Bouma has taught me much more about accounting than I ever knew," said Rivera, who now handles the company's books. "Not many people would do that."
Hersey Evans, 71, is another longtime employee. He retired from Washington's Howard University as a landscaper in 1986 at age 59. A year after looking for another job, Evans became one of Bouma's first employees. He works every weekday for four hours.
"Ms. Bouma has a clear vision, and the SBA award is well-deserved," said Tamika Hill, the company's administrative assistant and a former welfare recipient.
"She wants to help others achieve the same success she has," Hill said.
This morning's Maryland Small Business Awards Breakfast has been moved to the Maryland Ballroom of the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, at 202 E. Pratt St.
Pub Date: 5/01/98