Even small gifts change lives

Pay It Forward

Martial Arts Studio Provides Power and Positivity

When life presents a series of trials and tribulations, The Art Martial Arts Studio aims to equip its students with an outlet to cope. But when the need to expand the studio – to further fulfill their mission – meant greater expense, the owners didn’t know if it was possible.

“We always tell everybody, once you walk through our doors, you are now a martial artist. You are not sick. You’re not a guy – you’re not a girl. You’re not a race, you’re not a religion … you become like this superhero.” – Jake Erling, owner of The Arts Martial Arts Studio

Bell Employee

Kim Foley, SVP/commercial lender

White Bear Lake, Minn.



The Arts Martial Arts Studio

Saint Paul, Minn.


The Need

Whether it’s as trivial as spilling coffee on the way to work or as complex as managing grief or mental illness, life comes with no shortage of trials and tribulations. The Arts Martial Arts Studio’s mission is to provide an outlet that helps people cope with these everyday struggles.

Owners Jake and Natalia Erling believe martial arts is not only a sport, but a way of life. While they officially launched their business in 2012, the two have been teaching the age-old practice for more than 20 years.

“At our studio, we are so much about positivity, motivation,” Jake explains. “People come in – we’re hugging and high-fiving. It’s a good environment.”

Working with children and adults with special needs – or anyone who is less sure of themselves – the Erlings help instill confidence in each student, building bonds along the way.

“They look for your discipline. They look for your love. They look for your motivation, because maybe they’re not getting it anywhere else,” Jake says. “We always tell everybody, once you walk through our doors, you are now a martial artist. You are not sick. You’re not a guy – you’re not a girl. You’re not a race, you’re not a religion … you become like this superhero.”

With the couple’s income coming from studio profits alone, large expenses can’t always be factored into the budget. So, when the owners were looking to relocate to a larger space, they found they didn’t have the funds for new (and additional) mats and equipment for their students in need.


The Impact

When SVP/commercial lender Kim Foley’s 9-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter joined the studio and met Jake and Natalia, they fell in love with the owners immediately. “They really make it feel like you’re part of their family which, as kids, that’s great for them,” Kim says.

Witnessing Jake work with other students in the studio, Kim was blown away by Jake’s knack for engaging students.

“He makes them feel empowered, and they’re not thinking about how sick they are,” Kim says. “I can’t imagine having a more fulfilling job …”

When Kim heard about the Erlings’ need for new equipment, she reached out to her co-workers to see if anyone else would consider donating their Pay It Forward funds.

“When Kim came with the check and said, ‘Bell Bank is doing this,’ it was just overwhelming,” Jake recalls. “It was really too much to take in, and then, when she told us the amount that she was giving us, that even floored us more.”

With 5 employees contributing, The Arts Martial Arts Studio received a surprise $4,250 in donations.

“It presented all kinds of other possibilities for us,” Natalia says. “We were able to get the mats and offer some free classes to students that were otherwise unable to attend.”

Able to double the mat space in the studio, the Erlings were humbled by the gift.

“They’re the epitome of a small business owner, and for Bell to even help a little bit makes such a huge impact on some students that I don’t know, and you don’t know and Bell Bank doesn’t know,” Kim says. “But it’s like, how many degrees out can you help? In this situation, we probably helped a lot.”

In the end, the donation did more than buy new equipment for the studio, it allowed Jake and Natalia to continue in their mission to help students fight through life’s every day struggles.

“You’ll take that empowerment to your job, or to school or to when you feel down,” Jake says. “… That’s what martial arts did for me.”

Through the Pay It Forward program, Bell gives employees money each year to donate to people and causes they care about.