Easter Seals TriState
Building Value, a creative social enterprise of Easter Seals TriState, diverts thousands of tons of usable building material from area landfills through deconstruction projects, private materials donations, retail and recycling projects. Simultaneously it has trained hundreds of individuals for jobs in the community in retail and construction.
Building Value is Renovating Lives
With its decades of experience in helping people with disabilities and un/underemployed individuals to find dignity and hope through employment, it’s not surprising that Easter Seals TriState was a finalist in the 2004 Yale-Goldman Sachs National Business Plan competition for nonprofits. At it, Easter Seals proposed an earned income venture that would involve salvaging in two senses. “We throw away so much “stuff” without seeing its potential. Basically our model is employing people with unrecognized potential to salvage and sell materials that are in the same condition,” explains Pam Green, President and CEO. In the process, the venture helps the planet by reducing waste in landfills, helps the hard-to-employ by providing hands-on training and marketable skills, and helps the nonprofit by generating revenue.
They call it Building Value. It operates both a retail re-use outlet open to the public and professional deconstruction services (manual removal of materials before a building is remodeled, demolished or rebuilt). Salvaged materials are brought to the store by the deconstruction team. The store is open to the public and sells some architectural treasures from older Cincinnati homes like antique window sashes and door hardware. Easter Seals explored this particular business niche based on local market research from Partners for a Competitive Workforce that found construction is a career sector with growth opportunity and relative ease of entry. Additional research indicated that deconstruction services could be a solid market opportunity given the high number of abandoned homes in the city.
About 20 people at a time can participate in the job training program. Green says their emphasis is deliberately on transitional employment. “Our goal is to train people for mainstream jobs in the community,” Green says. They deliberately pay just over minimum wage (roughly $8/hour). This keeps costs down and encourages participants to view the program as a temporary stepping stone to a better-paying job. “We’ve found that between four and half and seven months is the ‘sweet spot,’” Green reports. This is the amount of time that enables participants to gain the soft and hard skills needed in the industry. “We have employment partners, like Messer Construction, that keep coming to us again and again for employee referrals.”
Initially Easter Seals ran the program at their own facility, by carving out about 15,000 square feet of space. Eventually they raised sufficient funds to purchase a former car dealership in the Northside neighborhood. This provided both a 29,000 square foot facility and plenty of parking for the Building Value store. In 2012, the enterprise generated nearly $1 million in revenue (roughly 8 percent of the nonprofit’s budget), and 86 percent of its program graduates obtained jobs with benefits at an average starting salary of around $11.50/hour.