He invested it in human potential.
“I’m empowering these people to think they can do something better than what they are doing,” explains Mondaine, who is senior pastor at Celebration Tabernacle church in North Portland. “Empowerment is the cure to oppression.”

Mondaine (pronounced Mon-DIN-ay) says all of this while sitting in Fridays, the business he helped open in early June. It’s actually three businesses in one: a secretarial service, a wrap-and-mail packaging service and a coffeehouse.

Eleven people — eight women and three men — work here. Six of the women are on welfare; one man, 18-year-old Robin Gordon Jr., is a student at Northwest Christian College in Eugene who says he never would have been a college student if Mondaine hadn’t persuaded him to make something of himself.

None of the employees draws a paycheck. Not yet. Money is tight, and Mondaine persuaded everybody to defer until year’s end.
“We need to get some momentum going,” says Mondaine, a large man who sports a goatee on his often-smiling face. “We have to see how things are going to go.”

The hope, of course, is that things will go great — so great that eventually the existing staff will move on to bigger and better jobs, leaving openings for other needy individuals. Right now, Mondaine estimates that the program affects 50 folks — including workers and their children — and that 200 people could benefit by year’s end. “I want them to see a bigger brass ring and move toward it,” he says.

That’s what Mondaine did. As a child growing up in a St. Louis housing project, he learned to play piano on a brick windowsill. No kidding. Hearing the music in his head, he’d play along on the brick “keyboard.”

Later, in his preteen years, Mondaine tells of breaking into the Baptist church across the street so he could play a real piano. He two-fingered it at first, but soon played with both hands. At age 14, he was headed for the high life, playing and singing and drinking in St. Louis nightclubs.

“I wanted to be a star so bad,” says Mondaine, who grew up attending church every Sunday. “But I realized it was crazy. It seemed silly to me all of a sudden.
“I knew I needed to go back and do what God wanted me to do.”
In his 20s, Mondaine worked as director of music for several St. Louis churches, and in 1982, he was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister. He moved to Portland in 1985, and three years later he started Celebration Tabernacle in the building that now houses Fridays. DRR Construction Co., which moved in after the church relocated last year, is subletting the building to Mondaine for free.
Celebration Tabernacle has about 100 members and is the founding body of the True Believer’s Assembly of Non-Denominational Churches of America; five other churches in the nation are affiliated, Mondaine says.

A church member inspired the idea to start Fridays and, as Mondaine puts it, “empower the powerless.” Several months ago, the church member told him that she wanted to run the church kitchen. Mondaine suggested she write an analysis of the proposed job.

“She did just that,” he says. “It was so professional. And it just got me thinking about how many women we have in our congregation who are single parents and on public assistance — and who have a lot of unused talent.”
Launching the businesses became a church project. Women sewed the cotton purple curtains that frame windows at Fridays, and men scouted junkyards for countertops. Mondaine spent a lot of time at liquidation stores trying to get something for nothing.

“He came in needing this and needing that but not having a whole lot of money,” says Greg Fieseler, former City Liquidators manager who moseyed into Fridays recently to visit and sip an espresso.
“He’s a real go-getter,” Fieseler says, looking across the room at Mondaine, behind the counter making coffee drinks for other customers. “Finances are real tight, but I think if he keeps plugging away, this could be a real success.”

Rolysha A. Douglas hopes so. The 22-year-old mother of two was unemployed before beginning work as a secretary at Fridays.
“I couldn’t find a job that paid well enough,” explains Douglas, who had been unemployed for 18 months. “Now I have day care provided through the church. It’s not free — I have to pay them when I get paid. “But this is a good plan. It’s what the church is all about — helping people.”

It’s also about helping the community. Mondaine believes that Fridays sets an example for the community at large — and hopes it will inspire other churches to launch similar businesses.
“I applaud Elbert Mondaine for what he’s done,” says Curtis F. Scott, program coordinator of the male and female responsibility program for the Urban League of Portland. “It’s a wonderful testimony for the community, that we basically can do anything we can do if we put our minds to it.”

Of course, endeavors such as Fridays are not without sacrifices. Just ask Mondaine’s fiancee, Bernadette Dorsey, who may be honeymooning at home. She doesn’t seem to mind. “I think human investment is always the best investment we can make,” says Dorsey. “The returns and dividends are beyond anything in the whole world. “I’ve already told him that as long as I can be with him, I don’t care where we end up.”