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Social enterprise: business with a mission

fr socialenterpriseWhat began as a vision to convert a shutdown state prison in Waynesville into a halfway house, homeless shelter and soup kitchen has spiraled into a larger vision of transforming society one life at a time.

It’s being fueled by an outpouring of community members willing to give their time and energy to help those in need, said Patsy Dowling, director of Mountain Projects, a human services agency.

Under the name Haywood Helps, more people are joining the effort, bringing a wide array of skill sets to the table in a response that Dowling said is overwhelming.

“The beauty is we have so many retired people who are giving us their time and expertise, and they are moving 100 miles a hour,” Dowling said. “It is amazing when you put a group of people at a table what kinds of ideas you can come up with. All sorts of things have taken off. Our dream is coming true at a fast pace.”

Haywood Helps began as a support organization to help a trio of Christian ministries turn the old state prison in Hazelwood into a center housing a soup kitchen, homeless shelter and halfway house for people newly released from jail or prison. The group is calling itself Haywood Pathways Center and consists of Haywood Christian Emergency Center, which currently runs a homeless shelter that is operational for half of the year; Open Door Ministries, which operates a soup kitchen in Frog Level and Next Step Ministries, a fledgling organization looking for ways to help people recently released from jail or prison re-enter society. All three groups would get to expand their service to the community by operating the Hazelwood campus together. 

But Haywood Helps evolved into an explosion of subcommittees tackling affordable housing, a living wage, job and vocational training, life skills, faith ministry, substance abuse counseling and more.

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Marty Bowen, a retired banker, is part of the volunteer network. Bowen and her husband retired to Haywood County from south Florida in 2010.

“Our dream was to live out our lives and play golf and travel,” Bowen said.

But her husband died from cancer eight months after moving here, and her son died from cancer two years later.

“I have really been trying to find a focus, something else to focus on,” Bowen said. 

She tried going back to work selling insurance, but it didn’t fill the emptiness she felt inside. On a whim, she came to a Haywood Helps meeting a few months ago after seeing an announcement for it. 

“I was so impressed and amazed with the number of people here that are interested in helping others,” Bowen said.

But volunteers only go so far. The effort also needs money — and more than just the estimated $300,000 that’s needed to renovate the old prison site.

“What we’re trying to do right now is to not only raise  money to remodel the prison and move in, but we’re going to need long-term money to sustain the operations,” said Nick Honerkamp, founder and director of Haywood Christian Emergency Center, one of the organizations looking to occupy the old prison. “The easiest time to raise money is when something is brand new. What do you do two years from now when people move on to another project?”

Enter the concept of social enterprise.

“That is creative ways to build a community, create jobs and fund our human service efforts,” Dowling said.

Social enterprise pursues a business plan or moneymaking venture to generate profits for a social mission. If the enterprise can employ people learning life skills on the journey to becoming productive members of society, all the better.

“So far, a number of ideas are being explored, including setting up a day labor operation where those who are living in the halfway house or staying at the shelter can fulfill their obligation to either work or volunteer time in return for a place to stay,” said Vicki Hyatt, editor of The Mountaineer and chair of the social enterprise committee. 

Bowen joined the social enterprise committee of Haywood Helps and is now spearheading a project to sell bottled water as a sustainable revenue stream.

Initially, the idea was to create a bottled-water production facility, tapping the stellar drinking water of Waynesville’s city water supply.

Proceeds from the water bottling operation would fund charity work and also give people escaping poverty, or getting back on their feet after incarceration, a place to work. 

“We believe one of the greatest problems Haywood County faces is providing jobs with a livable wage,” Honerkamp said. On top of that, “It’s hard for those getting out of jail or prison to make a livable wage.” 

But the start-up costs of a bottled water production line were insurmountable in the short-term, Bowen found.

For now, the project will purchase wholesale bottles of water from Mountain Valley Water company in Asheville, whose spring water originates from Macon County and is trucked in tanks to a purification and bottling plant in Asheville. Those bottles would come with a Haywood Helps label.

It costs about $3,000 for an order 5,000 bottles of custom-labeled water. If the bottles are sold by volunteers for $1.50 each, that’s about $3,500 in profits off each order, Bowen calculated.

The Waynesville town board approved a request for $3,000 as seed money to help the group get started. It will fund the first order of 5,000 bottles. Each order will then be used to leverage the next order, she explained.

“It is for a wonderful cause,” Bowen said. “One goal is to make money, and two is to teach others how to make money.”

Haywood Helps water will start turning up for sale at Haywood County festivals and events for $1.50 per bottle.  The sales will also help spread the word about Haywood Helps, hopefully inspiring more people to get involved.

“There’s tremendous community buy-in right now,” Honerkamp said.


Want to help?

The next meeting of the social enterprise committee of Haywood Helps will be held at 3 p.m. Monday, July 7, at the Haywood County Senior Resources Center at 81 Elmwood Way in Waynesville. 


Lend your support online

Haywood Pathways Center is gunning for $50,000 and help from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host Ty Pennington to flip the old Hazelwood prison. The group is at the head of a pack of 50 semi-finalists in an online voting contest, but it needs votes to keep it there until the round closes July 8. The top six vote-getters will then move on to the final round of voting July 15-29. 

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