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Working for Families in Transition, Rich Garon of Epsom takes out the office trash at Dyn Monday in Manchester. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

Families in Transition takes new look at entrepreneurship

MANCHESTER --- Needs are up in the human services field, and revenue sources, such as government grants and foundation funding, are down. Tight revenue has prompted one Manchester-based nonprofit organization to make an almost antithetical decision — it launched a business.

As of late last year, Families in Transition has been in the cleaning business. It has been quietly hiring out its five-person cleaning crew with the hopes it will eventually generate profits. The privately operated charity would then roll those dollars back into its mission, which is to get homeless women and families on their feet.

Last October, Families in Transition launched FIT Cleaning Solutions. The crew, whose primary job is to clean FIT apartment buildings and shelters, has done temporary jobs. It also has one ongoing client, high-tech company Dyn Inc., which is in the Millyard.

Nonprofit organizations started embracing entrepreneurship more than a decade ago, first on the West Coast, said Mary Ellen Jackson, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Non-Profits.

Then, it was met with hostility by traditional nonprofit leaders, whose comfort with profit-generation stopped at museum gift shops or Goodwill thrift stores. But now, charitable organizations are looking to see what businesses it can match up with the services it provides, Jackson said.

&#';We've grown to understand that nonprofits are businesses that are charities, and they need to be creative in their income production,&#'; Jackson said.

Families in Transition saw FIT Cleaning Solutions as a natural outgrowth of its organization, said Michele Talwani, director of marketing and economic development.

The organization owns 14 buildings and manages nearly 180 units, including shelters, supportive living arrangements and apartments. For the last 15 years, it's employed its own crew to clean them, so it wasn't much of a step to hire the crew out, Talwani said.

&#';It's an awesome project; we're really satisfied,&#'; said Gray Chynoweth, chief operating officer of Dyn Inc., an Internet infrastructure company.

Chynoweth said the FIT workers are reliable and don't have a language barrier.

&#';You get, I think, a higher caliber level of employee as a result of their approach to hiring and retaining staff,&#'; said Chynoweth, who sits on the FIT board.

He also likes that the service he pays for is helping out a good cause.

&#';That makes me feel really good as a business owner,&#'; Chynoweth said.

&#';They're very fair,&#'; said Epsom resident Rich Garon, who recently started working with FIT Cleaning Solutions. He said he quit his previous job because FIT offered day hours.

In the meantime, Garon said, the pay is better and he has benefits with FIT.

Talwani said FIT starts the crew at $9.50 an hour. All five work full time, and all receive the same benefits package that she and other FIT workers receive, including health care, dental, sick days, paid holidays and vacation.

The cleaning service represents the second entrepreneurial endeavor for FIT.

In 2002, it launched OutFITters Thrift Store, in part to do something with all the donations of used clothing left on its doorstep. It expanded the store to a second operation in Concord three years ago.

&#';We've been entrepreneurial for many years. We've always been looking for ways for sustainable revenue sources,&#'; Talwani said.

The thrift stores generated $150,000 of FIT's $3.98 million revenue stream last year. She did not share revenue expectations for the cleaning service, but she said FIT hopes to have five clients by the end of this year.

Talwani said FIT can also use the thrift shop and cleaning service as a job-training opportunity for its clients.

The majority of homeless women have suffered from physical abuse and need support programs that include job training, Talwani said.

But she said the women don't usually end up working at the thrift shop or cleaning service. FIT already has a clinician-patient relationship and a landlord-tenant relationship with its clients, adding an employer-employee relationship makes it murky, Talwani said.

&#';It's not out of the question,&#'; she said, &#';but it's not the model we have.&#';

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Mark Hayward may be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.

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