Why a Wall Street veteran gave up retirement for holistic generosity

“This is so joyful that it’s contagious.” These are the words NCF Giver Helen Young Hayes uses to describe her life after Wall Street. Having built a successful, storied, 20-year career in the financial industry, Helen felt God’s call to deploy her “trophies” for such a time as this. What came next was a life transformed from financial generosity into holistic generosity. And this time around, it’s for the glory of God’s kingdom. 

A royal position – for more than retirement

When they were recently out of college, newlyweds Helen and Matt joined a small group with some Christian friends. This was the first small group either one had ever joined. Together they read Richard Foster’s book, Money, Sex and Power. They dug into how these three gifts (money, sex, power) from God can become dangerous if too much importance is placed on them and how they can be beneficial and beautiful if used properly. While Helen had grown up reading the Bible, she had never studied practical theology or learned to unpack the Bible. This challenged Helen and Matt at a time when they had no money and a lot of student loan debt. It laid the foundational belief that caring for the poor in a sacrificial, intentional, and consistent manner would be part of their family theology. For the 30 years that followed, obedience looked like compartmentalized financial generosity –  supporting ministries that served the poor, creating scholarship funds, writing checks. 

Years later after retiring from a very successful Wall Street career, Helen found herself in the middle of a study on the book of Esther – a study she’d completed before. This time around, Mordecai’s words to Esther seized Helen and wouldn’t let go: And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14). She knew this was God’s way of telling her He had more in store for her than retirement. 

Helen felt she had “come to a royal position” with wealth, prestige, and favor in every aspect of her life and had “trophies” to show for it: a blessed childhood, a strong marriage, wonderful children, and financial and career success. She was being called to deploy all of her trophies for the kingdom and for such a time as this. She instinctively knew it would be an outworking of her commitment to loving and serving the poor and marginalized – God’s “least of these.”

Sharing the joy of transformation through holistic generosity

Helen asked the Lord to reveal to her what was next concerning the words He placed on her heart. She knew she wanted to incorporate her business acumen into her quest to serve the poor, but it wasn’t clear what that could or should look like. 

Around this time, she was invited to join a brainstorm with other Denver-based Christian business leaders about how to lift individuals in their community out of poverty into flourishing provision. She heard the story of a business owner that trains, develops, and hires women through Hope House. Hope House is a ministry that provides free self-sufficiency programs to parenting teen moms, including Residential, High School and GED, and College and Career Programs. Helen saw the joy and love this leader had in serving these underserved young ladies. She now knew what God had next for her: to replicate this employment model on a larger scale and bring other business owners the joy of watching an individual’s life change forever. 

“I began to focus on how I could help business owners become the generous employers that I know God wants us to be, and how I could help companies provide people with opportunities to flourish and participate fully in the economy,” Helen remembers. She began researching the workforce- solutions industry, discovering three gaps that she could fill:

  1. Closing the gap between job seekers and jobs: Equipping driven, smart people with tools to connect with and succeed in full-time, full-benefit careers
  2. Bridging ministries serving those experiencing poverty with for-profit businesses: Rejecting  the mindset that the poor will always stay poor and instead pursuing self-sufficiency and economic flourishing for others
  3. Connecting inherent potential to realized success: Bringing out the potential of people who want to secure economic mobility through access, training, and the dignity of work

From here, Helen’s life moved from financial giving to what she calls “holistic giving.” In 2016, she founded Activate Work Inc, a non-profit employer-centric and people-focused recruiting and coaching firm that helps people from underrepresented communities thrive in full-time, full-benefit careers. Activate also provides tuition-free IT training through ActivateIT, helping to make the IT industry accessible to all. Activate’s goal is a hopeful, vibrant future for both employees and employers through creating an economy of shared opportunity and shared prosperity. “We are shooting for long-term success and lasting, holistic transformation,” Helen says. Helen believes the solution is more than giving people a better income. It’s providing economic freedom that allows individuals to make better decisions for themselves and their families, like acquiring high-quality childcare or living in a safe neighborhood.

The inconvenienced life of holistic generosity

Holistic generosity is more than philanthropy for Helen; it’s her life and career focus. “I believe Kingdom work should not be limited to writing checks, which is what we did before. Don’t get me wrong – organizations need financial generosity to serve their populations, and my husband and I are committed to our NCF Giving Strategy,” Helen says. 

“Everything I do now is about helping to bring the kingdom of God here on earth to people, systems, and ecosystems that need to see believers co-creating with God,” she says. It’s actively building “a more beautiful, whole, and dignifying existence for our neighbors.” 

Helen says the joy she experiences from helping people realize their full potential for the Lord’s glory feels like holy work. It’s a powerful way for her to live out her faith. She’s so passionate about it that she doesn’t think she’ll ever truly retire – and her husband Matt agrees.   

In the second half of her life, the season most people spend enjoying retirement, Helen views her purpose differently through the story of the Good Samaritan. Before her work with Activate, Helen could go about her days never crossing paths with those who are suffering, simply because of her zip code. She could easily have lived that insulated life forever. 

The Good Samaritan looked for those who were hurting. “When we witness the needs of others, when we share proximity, God puts it on our hearts to respond,” Helen says. “The Good Samaritan not only gave financially, but he massively inconvenienced himself. He got down off of his donkey, traded places with someone in need, and then returned to ensure the person’s transformation. He made his life harder to serve another. It was more than transactional; it was relational.”

“That’s holistic generosity at its finest.”