How Social Enterprise has helped Flowercart achieve their mission while continuing to grow.

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We recently had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Kelly of the Flowercart about the important work that has been taking place in New Minas, Nova Scotia for more then 40 years. Yes, you read this correctly: more than 40 years! It is impressive how a couple of adult day vocational programs (Flowercart and Wolfville Workshop) have grown to be nominated for Annapolis Valley’s “Outstanding Large Business” award by the Valley’s Chambers of Commerce.

The programs started in 1970 to support people with intellectual disabilities as “adult day vocational programs”. Jeff explained that the two programs decided to amalgamate in 1972 and the organization was officially incorporated in 1973 as the Flowercart. Currently operating out of three locations (two in New Minas and one in Waterville), with a staff of 25 employees (23 full-time and 2 part-time) and a 13-member volunteer board of directors has giving the Flowercart a recipe for both success and growth. Flowercart owns two locations in New Minas, NS. The first Flowercart location at 9412 Commercial Street, offers prevocational (developmental services area) and vocational day programs. The second locale at 8736 Commercial Street, offers Community Employment Services (CES). The third site is located at the Michelin Tire plant in Waterville, NS which supports Flowercart’s MCW program. All three locations support each other creating what Jeff referred to as “a continuum of services that we provide to individuals based on their goals and aspirations”.

You could hear the passion in Jeff’s voice as he described how each of the above initiatives supports the others and has lead to a sustainable business model. Jeff alluded to 9412 Commercial Street being “the main location”. This location can be seen as the center point of Flowercart’s mission to “provide support and training for adults with intellectual disabilities or barriers to employment”, through their prevocational programming (developmental services) and vocational services. A visit to their website (http://flowercart.ca/client-programs/) described their services in more detail: “The prevocational programteaches the work skills associated with various packaging and assembly contracts. The program’s emphasis; however, is on providing participants with training and counseling to enhance their personal growth. The vocational program provides job-specific training and training in work-related attitudes, habits, and interpersonal skills.”

“The vocational program is comprised of two operations: Baker’s Choice Fine Foods and Used Clothing/Woodworking. Baker’s Choice Fine Foods sells home-style bread products. Used Clothing collects, processes, and sells used clothing to used clothing retailers and wholesalers. Woodworking makes kindling and other wooden items, such as picnic tables, for retail and wholesale sales.” CES offers a wide range of opportunities for supported training and employment in the community. CES employees provide one-to-one support to clients who get competitive jobs.

Jeff went on to speak about the magnificent partnership between the Flowercart and Michelin Tire Plant (Waterville, NS). The Michelin contract is in its 18th year and Jeff mentioned it has “significantly grown from 1998 when it first started with four contract positions. The site has grown to contract as many as 67 contract position at one time and currently contracts” 39. He was excited to add that two contract workers have recently moved into “unsupported” positions within the plant which were their individual goals and aspirations coming into to Flowercart.

We touched on how the services that Flowercart offers the public also provides value to the business community and not just their clients. Flowercart clients and staff have solid experience working with local food producers, Jeff added “we have a reputation for producing quality products, to exact specifications, on time”. In fact, the quality services that the Flowercart offers to local entrepreneurs could be considered second to none. Brent Larsen, Steep Hill Solutions Inc., Manufacturers of Omega Crunch, and who work with the Flowercart, said this about them in a statement we found online (http://flowercart.ca/services-to-employers/what-employers-are-saying/): “Flowercart has allowed our business to expand at a rapid pace. It is a great partnership and we appreciate them! A win-win.” However, this type of work does not come without its challenges. An integral piece of the work is providing a support person in the working environments to support their client’s placements. Jeff went on to explain “when you look at bringing in new customers or partners, it is important to make the business case along with the social argument of why it makes sense to partner with an organization like us”. He also spoke to the challenge of achieving their mission while maintaining a strong business case. He expressed the importance in having a sustainable business model and how “social enterprise” has become a major tool to assist in this regard.

Last but not least we spoke about the expectations for the Buy Social Canada certification that Flowercart has recently achieved. Jeff insisted he sees it as another tool to help communicate with the public what it is that Flowercart does. As mentioned above, one of the ongoing challenges the Flowercart encounters is making a business case to convince organizations to partner with them to create employment opportunities for their clients. Jeff explained he would like to see the Buy Social certification become a marketing tool that offers value to their business case and encourages others to get involved with the social sectors at all levels of the spectrum. From supplying to purchasing and everything else in between, such as encouraging feasible partnerships that allow organizations to “achieve their mission while continuing to grow”.