By Shreya Shukla Thornton
Jamie Lombardi Ortiz (SBL, 2020) knows what it means to fight for your future. She refused to drop out of her graduate business program when she lost her job in 2017, or had to move into hotels with her two children, or when she had to go to public libraries with them to work on assignments. She even refused to give up when her children went with their father and she became homeless.
Ortiz remembers getting onto the bus in March 2019 with 10 cents left on her debit card. Her destination was Newark Penn Station, which she knew to be a safe haven, having spent some time there in October 2018. For the next six months, she would live at the station, sleeping from 4 to 6 a.m. every morning, when the seating area was opened to the unhoused. “I would carry my book bag and my cart, and I had my Bible and my computer, and I was like, ‘I just have to get this done. I’ve got to get this done, for God did not bring me this far for me to be defeated and quit,’” she says.
By God’s grace, she persevered. In May 2020, in a virtual commencement ceremony, Ortiz officially walked – graduating with a Master of Business Administration degree from Regent University’s School of Business & Leadership (SBL).
“He brought me into this university and this program for a reason – and as I lived out the reason, I didn’t understand until I saw the need,” she wrote in a letter to SBL Dean Doris Gomez and SBL faculty.
“This program means more to me than just an MBA,” added Ortiz, “It is a key to help those who are on the streets. It is a key to give inspiration and hope to those who never thought it would be possible to overcome such seemingly impossible situations.”
Mustering unthinkable tenacity, Ortiz says she “refused to conform to her environment.” And now, she is continuing her steps toward building a ministry that will help to empower others. The vision is to develop transitional communities in neighborhoods that have a chronic homeless population, high crime rates or teen pregnancies. Ortiz’s goal is for these communities to address housing needs as well as to offer counseling, education, and business development skills.
The ministry is named RISE, a word that has greater resonance because of the founder’s valley experience.
The Vision and the Journey
It was around 2014-15 that God gave Ortiz the vision for RISE ministry, she says. In September 2017, she started the MBA program in Regent University. Her pastor at Agape Family Worship Center got his Doctor of Strategic Leadership degree at Regent, a connection she recalled when she came across the university during online searches.
But two months into the program, Ortiz lost her job at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. She was a manager in the cardiac catheterization lab department (non-clinical) and had been employed with the RWJBarnabas Health system since 2006. She faced the hurdle with grit, pursuing the business program full time, working toward building an online RISE ministry and a company.
But by January 2018, Ortiz had no permanent address. Divorced and with two children, aged 4 and 5, she started living in hotels and then moved to her brother’s house. Through it all, she continued working on her MBA. When her computer stopped working, she started going to the public library to do her homework, taking her children with her.
Ortiz pushed through even when the storm intensified and she had to live in the train station in October 2018 and then in 2019. She did her best to stay active in her children’s lives – spending time with them daily for homework and after camp hours. At the same time, she worked on RISE ministry’s online community and content, and on developing Rise Community Consultants. This is a consultancy agency designed to equip “individuals, businesses, organizations, and communities to reach their fullest potential,” a statement you’ll find on the website risecommunityconsultants.com.
“God is intentional,” says Ortiz, “so I just follow the Lord. It’s not what we go through, it’s how we go through it.”
During the day, she would go to places where she could access Wi-Fi, like Starbucks, Whole Foods Market or the public library, to do her homework. “The Lord took care of me every single day,” says Ortiz, with people coming by to buy her meals or bless her. God kept equipping her in advance for her courses, giving her words and ideas to work on. She would flesh these out, not realizing that they were actually material for class assignments that would be assigned months later. “God had me ahead the whole time because he wasn’t going to let me go under,” she shares.
Ortiz kept her predicament a private matter – withholding it from her advisor and professors till near the end of the program, when she had to enroll in a Kingdom Business class to graduate. She is quick to note that “Dean Gomez was incredibly supportive.” It was also during this time that Ortiz found temporary housing through a family at church who helped her with rent for a couple of months. Following this stint, a friend gave her the keys to his apartment when he left for Los Angeles. Here, Ortiz completed the program, got the rest she needed, and is able to spend time with her children every day.
Ortiz is passionate about ministry and social entrepreneurship. She is continuing to develop content and programs for her online RISE ministry, which was built on Facebook and links to her website and Instagram page. The programs, which focus on the areas of growth and development, include Saturday Morning Counseling and Mind Shift Minute. At present, Ortiz is praying for partnership with a ministry that will acquire RISE and utilize its content and capabilities.
She is also passionate about social entrepreneurship and is continuing her journey toward building RISE Community – transitional homes that she hopes will serve as a solution to high-risk neighborhoods. These communities will be designed to “break the bonds of poverty, destroy generational cycles of lack, and stimulate economic growth in urban communities,” she says. “My desire, as given to me by the Lord, is to see their chains of bondage broken, their minds set free, their lives restored, and (them becoming) brand new by the transformative power of Christ.”
Ortiz cherishes the time she gets to spend with her children. While their father and stepmother play an important role in their care, Ortiz is able to spend time with them daily and be a part of their lives. At the same time, she continues to work toward generating multiple streams of income so that she can take care of her children.
The time spent in the valley has strengthened Ortiz. Today, she is excited about helping to empower others – so that they too can rise.
As Ortiz puts it, “the greatest success one can have is not seeing defeat as their end result. The greatest defeat one can face is not seeing success as theirs to begin with. It is all about perspective. RISE from where you have fallen, stand where you have been placed, walk into the moment, and run with all your might to learn how to fly. This is how you RISE.”