Sometimes planning for the future can spur big changes in the present. That was the case for Elaine T. Jones and her daughter, Chanda Jones.

Elaine, a retired teacher and author, has been a member of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia for more than 50 years. “We came when my children were really small. The church has been real supportive of our entire family,” she said.

Chanda, the third of Elaine’s four daughters, remembers growing up in the church and singing in the choir. “It’s like home,” she said.

Elaine, 79, never thought she had much to pass on to her children or her church. Her perspective shifted after she met Yvonne Lembo, a regional gift planner for the ELCA Foundation.

The catalyst for change

One Sunday, Lembo led a workshop at St. Peter on planning a legacy. “Elaine came up afterward and said, ‘I really don’t have anything to work with,’ ” Lembo said. “You can see and feel right away that ‘legacy’ is like Elaine’s middle name. I said, ‘Elaine, you have a rich legacy.’ We were able to identify key areas where she wanted to leave a legacy.”

Afterward, Elaine called her family together to discuss that legacy.

At the time, Chanda and her son, Justice, were talking about going into business together. Chanda had been a barber for nearly 30 years and once owned her own shop. Justice wanted to become a barber, too, but his mother had reservations about this path.

That family conversation about Elaine’s legacy, however, was the catalyst for change. The three realized that “maybe now is a good time for us all to join forces,” Chanda said.

That Monday, Lembo received a call from Elaine: her family had decided the barbershop would be part of their future.

Going forward, they worked on a plan for Elaine’s legacy that included her church, her daughters and the school where they were educated. Chanda and Justice also got to work on plans for their business.

Planning for the future

Gift planning is provided free to ELCA congregations, Lembo said. She calls it a unique approach to a financial legacy, through faith and family.

“You don’t have to be rich to leave a legacy,” she said. “No matter how modest your means, it’s still possible to create a plan that matches your interests and your assets.”

It starts with discovery: gift planners interview individuals and their families to find out who should be included in a gift plan.

“You don’t have to be rich to leave a legacy. No matter how modest your means, it’s still possible to create a plan that matches your interests and your assets.”

“The second part is the faith journey and the third part is the financial inventory,” Lembo said.

The inventory means taking stock of assets like real estate, retirement accounts, life insurance and other investments that can be distributed “once you go to heaven and all your expenses are paid,” she said. If the giver has a will, the gift plan takes into account what will pass through the will, as well as what will be distributed directly through beneficiary designations apart from the will.

“In many cases, a plan can be as simple as a beneficiary designation,” she said. “Taxes are considered. Each plan is customized. If a family has a financial planner, I encourage them to take that back to their planner.”

Lembo worked with the Jones family on a plan that fit their interests and assets.

A new venture

“[Elaine’s] plan is from the heart. In this case, it became a catalyst for all those other expressions of legacy,” Lembo said, referring to the barbershop.

Backstage Barbers opened in 2016 and now has four full-time barbers. Chanda and Justice manage the growing business; Elaine works the front desk.

“Barbershops were always a hub for information and community gathering. … It’s really about community first, family friendly,” Chanda said. “I really look at the barbershop as a ministry. Fortunately, my family feels the same way.”

Elaine said working with Lembo has given her the comfort of knowing her legacy is secure. “It takes me back to thinking about my mother,” she said of her gift plan. “I can see her smiling down from heaven and saying, ‘You’re all getting it right.’ ”

And to keep it right, Lembo keeps in touch in case Elaine needs to make changes. Lembo said gift plans can always be revised as needed—they are a “living, breathing thing.”

About ELCA gift plans

A gift plan is a document that shows how you want your assets distributed after you die.

Meeting with an ELCA gift planner to create a gift plan usually takes two meetings, at no cost to the givers. (The ELCA Foundation and its regional partners fund the church’s gift planning program on behalf of ELCA families, congregations and organizations.)

An ELCA gift planner works closely with you to determine how to strategically distribute your assets to provide maximum benefit for the people and causes you love.

Once created, you share your plan with your legal and financial advisers and make updates as needed.

For more information, visit

Phyllis Mensing
Mensing is a writer and ELCA member based in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

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