After 27 years of making an impact, non-profit Rebuilding Together Central Ohio is turning to social enterprise to ensure they can continue helping individuals live in safe and healthy homes for the next 27 years and beyond.
Since its inception, RTCO has helped neighbors in need through home repair and maintenance programs. The new social enterprise, Mod Squad, will extend those specialities to young professionals, busy families, the DIY-averse, seniors and more through for-fee services that will help subsidize grants for the low-income seniors RTCO primarily serves.
The non-profit traces its beginnings back to 1991 when its maintenance services were concentrated into a one-day event. Rebuilding a Healthy Neighborhood mobilized volunteers to in-need neighborhoods to help area seniors make repairs and modifications to help them age in place.
Executive Director Julie Smith says the organization quickly realized that one day a year wasn’t enough. To help low-income seniors and homeowners with disabilities live comfortably and safely in their residences, RTCO launched Safe at Home in 2003. Through the program, skilled volunteers and professional contractors provide free emergency repairs and home modifications to qualifying homeowners year-round. Services range from adding grab bars and handrails, to plumbing and electrical work.
The new social enterprise builds on what RTCO is already know for, but appeals to a wider audience, which will, in turn, further the non-profit’s impact.
Mod Squad’s home maintenance specialists fill a niche in the world of contracting, focusing on smaller repairs and modifications.
“We’re really looking for people to just recognize that they want to maintain their homes and may have more modest needs,” Smith says.
Mod squad won’t dabble in full remodels, but instead perform services like putting in a new tub surround, installing grab bars or handrails, hanging blinds, fixing small roof leaks and replacing faucets or doorknobs.
“Our mission is very, very, simple,” Smith says. “We want everyone to live in a safe and healthy home.” By working with individuals with the means to pay for maintenance and modification services, they can pay it forward to low-income seniors that don’t have the means to help themselves.
The reason Smith says they decided to explore a for-profit venture is simple.
“It’s just getting harder and harder to fund housing,” she says. There’s a growing need, too, with an aging population and housing stock.
In balancing RTCO’s workload they also discovered it was difficult to find maintenance contractors to work on small jobs that might be out of a homeowner’s wheelhouse but aren’t extensive remodels. To fill that niche, RTCO focused on versatility for Mod Squad’s maintenance specialists.
The non-profit had help developing their concept from both SocialVentures and C-Biz, a public-private partnership between Columbus City Council and The Ohio State University.
Mod Squad participated in SocialVentures’ SE Catalyst program, an immersive eight-month training experience designed to help nonprofits build social enterprises. Smith says it’s where they learned to think like a for-profit. When Smith entered the non-profit realm, deals were made on handshakes. She knows shifting their mindset will give RTCO a more professional and productive edge. Their core values of delivering a high-quality product and doing a job right the first time also translate well into the for-profit world.
RTCO’s Mod Squad was one of two businesses selected for the C-Biz program which connects the organizations with OSU students to provide consulting and analytical services.
The program’s students were critical in validating one of the most important aspects of any business.
“The first challenge in starting a social enterprise is to determine if there is a market for the product,” Smith says “The students did the market research to determine the audience and also made recommendations for marketing the product.”
Smith credits the students with providing a valuable perspective that helped shift the focus of the social enterprise.
“Students ask tricky questions- ones that made us sit back and reflect on who we are serving- we broadened our base because of their questions- not only serving seniors and physically challenged homeowners, but anyone needing home maintenance,” she says.
RTCO’s Mod Squad is already outpacing their expectations. Smith says they are getting enough calls to keep their tech busy and will be able to bring him on full-time and hire another individual sooner than expected. While they’re busy, Smith welcomes being even busier. As Mod Squad grows, more individuals all around will find themselves in safe and healthy homes.
For more information, visit rtcentralohio.org/modsquad.