2019 ASPIRE Award

Nature’s Touch Landscaping and Lawn Care is an Alvis-operated landscaping/lawn care enterprise, which was recently nominated for the 2019 Aspire Award. The award is, as Ramona Wheeler, Managing Director of Social Enterprises at Alvis, puts it, “kind of like the Emmy’s of social enterprise.”

The Aspire Awards are organized by Metropreneur and SocialVentures, online organizations that promote social enterprise and nonprofits in Central Ohio. The ceremony, set to happen September 18th, will honor social enterprises that are perceived to be impactful in these communities.

Wheeler believes that the nomination has helped validate the work that nonprofit employees do, which usually goes unrecognized. As a 14-year Alvis veteran, she feels a bit of that validation herself. “Personally, it means that Alvis has taken a big step in a new direction [in] the social enterprise initiative,” she says. “To have the buy in, even from our board, to endeavor in this space, and then to fast-forward to today being a finalist for social enterprise of the year, it’s amazing.”

In 2015, Alvis was one of only ten nonprofits that went through a process with the Better Business Bureau and SocialVentures to establish a credential for social enterprise. The thought process was that building credibility would help the community efficiently measure Alvis’s social impact.

Another focus for Wheeler’s team was recruitment. She wanted to emphasize finding candidates from residential pools who were ready to represent the organization’s goals and purpose. “Any human resources professional knows that a business cannot exist without its biggest asset, which is its people,” she says.

With this in mind, Nature’s Touch offers a competitive $11.85 hourly wage as a base pay because, as Wheeler puts it, it puts the company in competition with others in the landscaping industry and promotes the value of the worker and the organization.

But Alvis’s goal for social enterprise isn’t just about getting clients into the workforce. It is also about creating a community. “A lot of our clients while they are in our program, may still have some personal issues and some trepidation about being ready for work,” Wheeler says. “We are like a baby step. So, [employees] have work that has to be accomplished… but at the same time, when life gets hard, we are still part of Alvis.”

Wheeler calls this a holistic approach to employment. “We try to be a part of their progress so that even when they are out of our residential program, we make sure they are still connected and we are still there for them.”

As Columbus becomes a growing hub of social enterprise, entrepreneurs are finding ways to promote good. On September 18th at 6 pm, the Roosevelt Coffee House (a social enterprise business itself), will host a panel discussion of independent entrepreneurs who employ those who have been in the incarcerated, those with disabilities, and those working through rehabilitation programs.

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