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United Way to offer $50,000 to entice agencies to start new ‘social enterprise’ programs. (File)

United Way to offer $50,000 to entice agencies to start new ‘social enterprise’ programs. (File)

The United Way of Yavapai County is entrusted by donors to invest money with charities the agency has vetted to make certain those dollars make a measurable impact on people’s lives.

Its leaders want to go a step farther.

They want to help charities go beyond asking for an annual grant. They want to give seed money to help these non-profits develop a “social enterprise program” that enables them to provide employment and job training to their clientele

at the same time they collect revenues to help them sustain their mission.

In the spring of 2018, the United Way is setting aside $50,000 that can be divided into $10,000 increments for up to five non-profit agencies interested in launching a new, social enterprise program, announced Executive Director Annette Olson this week. This program is in addition to the United Way’s traditional annual campaign that distributes dollars to non-profits that offer programs that match up with the agency’s mission to finance programs that promote health, education and financial stability in a community’s most vulnerable populations.

Through Dec. 22, the United Way is accepting applications from area nonprofit agencies to share in some $60,000 worth of grants. Those awards will be announced in January.

United Way leaders say “social enterprise programs” are nothing new to some agencies in the county. There are several that have created small business models so as to employ their clients and generate revenue.

The United Way leadership simply wants to see this grow and expand into new ventures.

At this time, the most typical non-profit enterprises are thrift stores and culinary programs.

Stepping Stones Agencies in Prescott Valley, a non-profit organization that provides support and shelter to victims of domestic violence, operates a coffee shop and thrift store; Yavapai Exceptional Industries’ clientele builds and sells furniture and other products, including their own brand of bird seed, with the proceeds reinvested in their programs. U.S. VETS Initiative operates a culinary program that has been able to place formerly

homeless veterans into jobs working at restaurants and other commercial dining facilities.

New United Way board member James Elphick wants to encourage new workforce development ventures that might be unique to a particular charity. Some of his ideas: a community garden and food co-op operation; boutiques that specializes in recycled products; affordable day care.

In Elphick’s mind, there are unlimited possibilities to offer job benefits to an agency clients while at the same time reinforcing their financial coffers. His theory is rooted in the notion of “working with what you have.”

“We can make a difference right here and now,” Elphick said. “We work together in ways that are beneficial to those in the county who are struggling.”

United Way Board Chairman Mary Ann Suttles sees this as an embodiment of the Chinese proverb that goes suggests rather than just give someone a fish to eat they give them a pole so they can catch enough to host their own fish fry.

“We want to give them (area non-profit agencies) a pole and let them loose,” Suttles said of her agency’s mission of helping charities provide for their own.

“I’m excited to see where it goes,” Suttles said.

Coalition for Compassion and Justice Executive Director Paul Mitchell is a proponent, and potential applicant, for the new program.

“We recognize the essential element of employment, and employment readiness, for the clients we serve,” said Mitchell whose agency already operates a thrift store and hires homeless clients to manage its Stagger Straight shelter on Madison Avenue. “We need enterprises that will employ people on a permanent, or sustaining basis, but also for

job readiness and on-the-job training.”

This region has a lot of retail and service jobs that CCJ’s clients could do, but they may need to be reminded of the importance of such things as punctuality and behaving independently in a work setting, Mitchell said.

“I’m just glad it’s different, and worth a try,” Olson said.

Grant recipients will be required to take courses through the agency’ Center for Nonprofit Excellence related to such issues as business planning and barriers to employment. Agencies will then need to participate in “milestone” meetings throughout the year.

The agencies will still be eligible to participate in the traditional United Way grant process, she noted.

The program will be rolled out to area nonprofit agencies in February “to see who want to tackle something like this,” Olson said.

“Maybe, if it’s really successful, we’ll do it again,” she said.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2041.

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