Green Opportunities: September’s Small Biz of the Month

September 13, 2018

When Green Opportunities (GO) first hired Joseph “J” Hackett to be their next Student Development Director, J was finishing up time in federal custody. Though he was thrilled to join the team, he also worried about the ways others would receive him, and whether or not he’d be given a second chance to thrive.

“Like so many marginalized people, I had skills but didn’t know if there was a place to let them shine,” said J, who was promoted to serve as GO’s Executive Director in 2017.

“Instead of seeing me as a black sheep, GO welcomed me into the family. What could have looked like a strike against the agency was, in fact, a badge of honor…because GO owns its story all the way across the agency, and meets people where they are.”

Since its 2008 inception as a community-based non-profit, GO has provided more than 600 youth and adults with pathways to sustainable employment in the culinary, construction, and carpentry industries. Their programming focuses on chipping away employment barriers for people who are marginalized, live in poverty, have limited childcare and transportation access, are re-entering from the criminal justice system, or face other systemic issues.

“Even when the unemployment rate is low and businesses are scrambling for workers, people continue to walk through our doors in need of employment services,” said Gwen Hill, the communications manager of GO. “It’s important work to help the people who are left behind, those who often slip through the cracks.”

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, GO has come a long way since founders Dan Leroy and DeWayne Barton first cultivated the idea. In early phases, the founders operated out of a gas station, a flooded garage, and a housing authority apartment.

Now, GO has established headquarters at the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center, a building that was an African-American grade school until 1970 and is located in the historically African-American Southside neighborhood. The building was renovated and restored by GO students in 2011.

“We’re grateful to have this space in the community and keep its historical legacy alive,” said Hill.

Over the years, the non-profit has also diversified their funding model, creating three social enterprises that have helped to broaden traditional funding streams of grants and fundraisers.

The enterprises include Southside Kitchen Catering (a catering and contract food production program), Southside Woodworks (a wooden housewares and furniture producer), and UpStaff Personnel (a staffing agency that provides temp services to WNC).

“Whenever dollars are donated to GO, the effect is multiplied because we are more sustainable,” said Hackett. “We are proud of the fact that we are able to create businesses that create jobs for more people.”

In addition to these enterprises, GO has recently opened a new cafe at Givens Gerber Park where advanced students can work and prepare breakfast and lunch. They’re also developing a Peer Support Specialist pathway that trains resilient mentors, as well as partnering with the Buncombe Partnership for Children to develop more training for early childhood educators.

“We’re doing this all with community in mind,” said Hackett, who said he will continue to explore new partnerships, pathways, and businesses.

“Together, the partners and the people connect to make our community better,” said Hackett. “The financial benefit is second to the real revenue, which is economic opportunity for everyone involved.”