In 2009, Carriage House Community Table was a small non profit organization providing day shelter and meals to adults experiencing homelessness in Boulder. The small, but mighty, staff and Board of Directors at the time wanted to grow and deepen the organization’s impact. They sought out the expertise and financial resources of Social Venture Partners (SVP), a local non profit, whose mission is to support the development of non profits through consulting and grant making. That same year, CHCT became and an investee with SVP and embarked on a series of projects to help build infrastructure, develop a strategic vision, and to develop a new brand for the organization which would ultimately be renamed Bridge House.
In 2011, staff determined a need for employment services for adults experiencing homelessness. More than 80% of day shelter clients were unemployed and many lacked the stability and tools to find and keep a job. When faced with a dearth of employment resources for clients, the organization’s leadership led by Joy Redstone and George Epp, sought support from SVP to determine the feasibility of employment services specifically designed for adults experiencing homelessness in Boulder.
Isabel McDevitt, then an SVP partner, volunteered to assist CHTC to develop a program model to provide employment services for clients. With more than a decade of experience in workforce development and homeless services, Isabel was very familiar with potential models and helped form a group to explore the feasibility of a work-first model to provide paid jobs and case management services in Boulder. The program, now known as Ready to Work, was developed based on the Ready, Willing & Able model in New York City where Isabel had held a leadership role for 10 years.
Over the spring and summer of 2011, based on the experience of the advisory team, the model identified was to offer paid employment in a social enterprise coupled with case management support for 6 months as a stepping stone to mainstream employment for clients capable of working but in need of support. The advisory committee performed due diligence to determine the interest of the City of Boulder to hire work crews to perform maintenance and clean up services; it outreached donors to determine their interest in funding the project; it communicated with other service providers to assess if they would help through referrals; and it confirmed the interest of potential clients who were not only interested in, but seeking, a program of this kind.
After the Bridge House Board of Directors voted to approve the plan, Ready to Work raised $75k in seed funding to proceed. Isabel took the lead in a consulting capacity to launch the pilot and Chad Carbone was hired as the first Ready to Work supervisor.
In December, just prior to launch, five clients were identified as people in need of jobs, training, and stability in order to eventually transition to mainstream jobs. Trainees were oriented to program expectations and provided with uniforms and gear. All services were provided out of the Bridge House’s carriage house day shelter location and no housing was provided.
Officially launched as a pilot in January 2012, Ready to Work had obtained permission from the City of Boulder to provide clean up services on Pearl Street and on the Boulder Creek path. The agreement specified that Ready to Work would provide a crew of five trainees and would cover all of the costs of the program for six months. The City agreed, if the crew was successful , that they would consider a paid contract. The crew worked 20 hours a week and engaged in supportive services for an additional 5 hours a week. Trainees were paid minimum wage and provided with meals, showers, clothing and bus fare. Link to original camera article
After a successful first 6 months, the City of Boulder was so impressed by the quality of work of the Ready to Work crew that RTW obtained a paid contract of $40k and the RTW outdoor crew was born as a revenue generating social enterprise. Also in June 2012, Tim Arnold was hired as the program’s first full-time employment specialist and case manager.
Isabel had become Executive Director of Bridge House in March 2012 and had more capacity to invest in Ready to Work. Additionally, the Bridge House Board of Directors excited by the early success of Ready to Work, encouraged the Ready to Work team to seek additional customers to grow the social enterprise.
In the fall of 2012, impressed by the model and early results, a local philanthropist granted Bridge House with a sizable grant to develop a commercial kitchen to combine Bridge House’s mission to provide meals to low income, homeless and hungry individuals with the Ready to Work job training and earned revenue model. The result would be Community Table Kitchen.
In 2013, RTW negotiated a larger contract with the City of Boulder to include cleaning parking garages and initiated a relationship with Boulder Housing Partners for exterior clean up. With a year-round contract from the City of Boulder for clean-up services for the outdoor crew, Ready to Work hired its second supervisor, Dennis Fee, who was a member of the inaugural crew and early graduate of Ready to Work. The crew also took on new projects including services for the Boulder County Farmer’s market and other customers.
With the opening of Community Table Kitchen in September 2013 and the addition of culinary arts job training, Ready to Work expanded its capacity from 5 to 16 trainee positions. Ready to Work also deepened the impact of the program by partnering with the Addiction Recovery Center for sobriety support services.
Understanding that growth of Ready to Work would be impossible without offering housing, Bridge House leadership embarked on search for housing for program trainees. To round out the program model to include work, supportive services and housing, Ready to Work had a clear vision for the type of housing required to stabilize program trainees that would be practical, affordable and promote the culture of Ready to Work.
In March 2014, Bridge House went under contract to purchase 4747 Table Mesa Drive. This 14,000 square foot office building would be converted into congregate, transitional living for 44 Ready to Work trainees. Bridge House raised $4.3 million for the project. $2 million through government sources including the City of Boulder, Boulder County and the State of Colorado and $2.3 million from private individuals. In September 2014, the purchase was complete making Ready to Work House one of the fastest and most cost effective housing initiatives in Boulder.
Meanwhile, in 2014, the Ready to Work outdoor crew took on new contracts with City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks and Community Table Kitchen launched its catering and commissary offerings creating more training and job placement opportunities. In 2014, Bridge House earned $232k through social enterprise to support Ready to Work (nearly double the amount earned in 2013) and graduated 19 people.
The renovation of Ready to Work House and Employment Center lasted from February to August 2015. During renovation, the Ready to Work team expanded to include a robust team of case managers, house managers, and crew supervisors to prepare to triple program capacity. Widd Medford was hired at Ready to Work Program Director given his tremendous experience in residential and substance abuse treatment programming. The team welcomed the first cohort of residents on August 12, 2015.
Literally, overnight, Ready to Work House and Employment Center became the true epicenter of the Ready to Work culture of opportunity. Program participants were not only safe and off the streets, they were able to form a community, go to work each day, build a resume, save money, build a rental history, stay sober, address barriers to employment and housing, and be empowered to succeed all in one place. Link to road map
In the summer of 2015, with program expansion to 44 trainees, the outdoor crew piloted a project with Boulder County Farmers to create jobs and training in agriculture. Ready to Work case management services also expanded to include more group recovery options, onsite medical care, financial management and community building.
In 2016 the Ready to Work team grew into its new size and home constantly adding, improving, and refining the program model. Ready to Work once again partnered with the City of Boulder on a new pilot – TreeOpp – to teach trainees wood working skills and to develop a new contract option as the Boulder Reservoir. Programmatically, Ready to Work added debt relief, onsite dental care, and mentoring services for trainees to take advantage of onsite at Ready to Work House and Employment Center. Additionally, aftercare services were launched to provide formal post-graduation support to graduates to ensure long-term success in employment and housing.
In 2016, Ready to Work graduated 43 people into full-time jobs and permanent housing with a success rate of 77%. Also in 2016, Ready to Work won the prestigious Eagle Award for Innovation in housing.
In 2017, Ready to Work continued to lead the region in workforce programming and services for adults experiencing homelessness. In 2017, 49 people graduated from Ready to Work and over $700k was earned through social enterprise.
Additionally, through the support of private foundations and a strategic partnership with the City of Aurora, Ready to Work announced expansion plans for the development of a second Ready to Work House in the metro Denver region which will bring the total capacity for Ready to Work to 94!
As of April 2018, Ready to Work Aurora has become a reality. Renovations are underway for a new 50 bed Ready to Work House and Employment Center in Aurora. Ready to Work Boulder will maintain its flagship status and will drive innovation for the model.