A social enterprise explosion is brewing in Haywood

By Vicki Hyatt | Jun 05, 2014

For the past several months, groups of community volunteers have been studiously seeking ways Haywood County can lift itself out of poverty by creating a network of social enterprises.

This type of business can either be a for-profit or a non-profit, but either way, the mission of the enterprise is to serve the common good.

The move was sparked by the project to convert the former Hazelwood prison into 1) a halfway house for those just released from prison but have no place to go, 2) a year-around emergency shelter and 3) a soup kitchen for those in the community who may not have enough food to last the month.

The effort is a partnership between the  faith community, nonprofit organizations in the county and local governments. One of the requirements for those staying at the shelter for more than a few days or at the halfway house is to work on a set of goals to improve their life. A second requirement is that no one will be allowed to hang out at the facilities during the day. All will need to be pursuing educational goals, working or volunteering.

This is where social enterprise comes in. Those with a felony record of a history of homelessness aren't necessarily going to rise to the top of a group of resumes for businesses looking to hire. That means there will need to be other options. Social enterprises across the nation have a strong record of starting training programs and businesses that can fill this need.

The social enterprise committee of Haywood Helps — the name of the loose-knit organization that's addressing poverty issues in the county — has already developed several ideas that will fit nicely into that purpose.

One is a day labor project that can start as soon as the facilities open. The effort won't be a social enterprise, per se, since the idea is for the area to be more of a gathering place where those who want to work can hook up with those who need help. The laborers will be encouraged to self-organize and those who might need help with anything from moving to grounds maintenance to semi-skilled workers will be the ones who decide who they will take to a job site and pay at the end of the day.

Committee members hope individuals or business owners will find good workers who they can possibly hire on a more regular basis through the program, and that those working at different jobs will find an area where they are skilled and can enjoy the work.

A second effort involves value-added agriculture, something seen as a good fit in a rural area where crops and vegetables grow well. Developing a seed-to-table food operation that involves everything from planting gardens (including growing hydroponically in the winter) to tending and harvesting the produce and then preserving it for sale is the model currently being pursued.

At this week's meeting, we heard from an individual who moved to the community with expertise in building small truss housing. His vision is to make units available in the $200 to $300 a month range, something that is realistically affordable in this community.

He doesn't want any profit out of the venture, and has pledged anything earned will go back into making more houses available. The program creates wonderful opportunities for on-the-job training as well, which makes it a "triple bottom line" effort in the lingo of social enterprise. That's because first, it  fills a need for housing, second it provides training and third, it generates profit to be plowed back into the mission.

These are just a few examples of ideas discussed at the social enterprise committee meetings. There is room for plenty of others to join in to help change the complexion of Haywood County for the better.

The next meeting is at 3 p.m. July 7 at the Haywood County Senior Resource Center at 81 Elmwood Way in Waynesville.

If you have an idea you would like a group of people help you explore that will fill a unique and unmet need in the county, or if you would like to help others work on the above-mentioned or other ideas, please join us.

If your idea is a burning one you want to start working on right now, give me a call and perhaps we can get others who will join in so your group can be ready to report back on July 7.


Vicki Hyatt is the editor at Mountaineer Publishing, Inc. She can be reached at 452-0661 or via email at news@themountaineer.com.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jun 05, 2014 20:12

"an individual who moved to the community with expertise in building small truss housing" -- Is this what's known as "micro homes"?  Homes that are tiny like 200 square feet?  Wouldn't that be fascinating to see as a trendy way to get affordable housing?

Posted by: Bruce and Carole Larivee | Jun 07, 2014 10:01

What a wonderful place is Haywood County!  What a win-win-win-win--fill unmet needs with products, help people pull themselves up out of poverty, reduce crime, and save taxpayer money by reducing prison recidivism.  The spirit of Haywood Helps could change the world.

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