For Danny Ludeman, God’s call came in the form of a letter.

In the fall of 2013, Ludeman, then 56, announced he would step down after 15 years as CEO of St. Louis–based Wells Fargo Advisors. In a subsequent interview with the local press, he mentioned that after leaving Wells, he wanted to spend 100% of his time “helping other people,” perhaps by running a nonprofit organization. As you might expect, his mailbox was flooded with offers. But one in particular caught his eye.

“I don’t know, there was something about the letter, the way it was written, and the case it made—it just called out to me,” he remembers.

The letter came from Candace O’Connor, a professional writer and the volunteer president of Project Cope, a five-person nonprofit group in St. Louis dedicated to helping ex-convicts adapt to life after prison. O’Connor’s letter carried a suggestion: “Why not head a small organization that does tremendous good—on a very lean budget, for an underserved population—and help it move to a larger sphere where it can help even more people?”

Ludeman was intrigued. He felt that working with Project Cope could dovetail nicely with the main activity he planned to pursue after leaving Wells: obtaining a Master of Divinity degree from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. “That was very much my retirement plan,” Ludeman says. “Learn to love God with all my heart and soul, and learn to love my neighbor as myself.”

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