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Sep 9, 2016

September’s Social Impact Feature: Alvis’ Social Enterprise, Nature’s Touch Landscaping & Lawn Care

Individuals who have recenNature's Touch logotly been released from prison face a multitude of challenges. From housing and employment to transportation, multi-offenders struggle to access the necessary resources for day-to-day survival, let alone self-sufficiency, outside prison walls. While this narrative rings true throughout the United States, Columbus’ Alvis, Inc. has been dedicated to this sector for nearly 50 years in Central Ohio and provides highly effective reentry treatment programs for individuals who have spent time in the criminal justice system.

“Social enterprise is the fastest (and frequently the only) option our clients have when it comes to a fresh start to develop job skills and a post-criminal employment record,” said Ramona Swayne, Managing Director of Alvis’ Natures Touch Landscaping & Lawn Care social enterprise. “Other employment options for convicted felons often yield minimum wage, or low-wage jobs, far too little to carve out a living for an individual, let alone support a family.”

In 2015, Alvis launched Nature’s Touch Landscaping, a pilot program to address these issues. With the support of the board and community partnerships with local supporters, such as Tim Horton’s, the Center for Social Enterprise Development and City of Columbus’ Blueprint Columbus workforce development initiative, the pilot program included a six-week training in green infrastructure landscaping at Columbus State Community College (CSCC).

Participants learn the basics of green infrastructure construction and maintenance during 72 hours of classroom instruction, experience in the lab, and hands-on field training. Upon successful completion of the training program, graduates receive an OSHA Construction Safety Awareness card and a certificate in Green Infrastructure Construction/Maintenance. The City of Columbus will recognize this certificate as equivalent to past experience when reviewing contractor bids on green infrastructure construction and maintenance projects. Deb Knapke, Professor in the Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning department at CSCC instructs the Green Infrastructure Workforce Development (GIWD) program. Alvis selected six clients for the pilot, who graduated, resulting in the launch of Alvis’ social enterprise, Nature’s Touch Landscaping and Lawn Care.

Nature's Touch Employees
Nature’s Touch Employees

“At the conclusion of the pilot, two of the six gained full-time employment, one got a job at a fast food restaurant (nights) while landscaping during the day,” continued Swayne. “One inherited a landscaping business from his father, who passed away. Another worked with a local landscape firm on special projects. It quickly became clear that our pilot had serious potential, and we’re now positioned to grow this social enterprise. In 2016, a second GIWD cohort landscaped Alvis’ office building to demonstrate their capabilities to potential landscape customers. “We recently launched our website and we are building our pipeline of customers and clients at a quick pace.”

Alvis also provides reentry services to residential and nonresidential clients, including GED training, resume writing support and by providing employment referrals.

“One of Alvis’ greatest success stories—we had a client who had children. At first, the dad wouldn’t visit, wouldn’t allow her children to visit. Over time, Alvis staff convinced him to bring the children to visit. This progressed to the children visiting their mom without supervision, as he witnessed her transformation, and learned more about our program. During some point after her release, ultimately, the family was reunited. More than 90% of the individuals who have completed the Alvis residential reentry program (and lived in the community for at least a year) did not return to the criminal justice system. Our emphasis on mending relationships and reintegrating these individuals is proven, and our social enterprise is just one crucial piece of a very complex puzzle in making this happen.”

Alvis serves nearly 8,000 men, women, young adults and families in Ohio each year. One in 25 Ohioans is under some form of correctional supervision. More than 96% of those in prison will be released and return to communities throughout the state. One in every 28 children has a parent in jail or prison. These children are five times more likely to be expelled from school than other children and they are also more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system. With these staggering statistics, there is much more work to be done to support this sector.

natures-touch-residential-landscape-projectFrom mowing and edging to weeding and planting, Nature’s Touch offers a variety of services for homeowners and businesses. You can be a part of this important transformation by supporting this social enterprise with your business. Contact Ramona Swayne to learn more by calling 614-600-7414 or by visiting the website to see samples of their work.



Central Ohio’s social enterprises dedicated to education and job training

CSED maintains a directory of social enterprises throughout Central Ohio. We are in the process of developing at-a-glance profiles for each social enterprise, intended to inform consumers, funders, impact investors and individual donors of investment-worthy causes. Here are the social enterprises we’ve identified to date, with special focus on education and job training. We encourage you to learn more, consider supporting these organizations, or inform us of additional social enterprises that share this focus. Connect with the Center for Social Enterprise Development on Facebook and Twitter to follow all the latest updates on more than 85 local social enterprises throughout Central Ohio.