Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Changing Lives Through Jobs

The esteemed Los Angeles-based Chrysalis Enterprises has a fascinating "chicken or the egg" origin story. In this case, the philanthropy, not the business, came first. On this blog I have profiled a variety of small businesses that have embraced giving in various forms, but here we have a vital, successful philanthropic organization that only later spawned a business wing.

The infamous downtown Skid Row here in LA, my own proud hometown, represents one of the most challenging hotbeds of homelessness and crime in America, but that's where Chrysalis was born in 1984, founded by John Dillon, then only twenty-two years old. The organization began as a modest food and clothing distribution center serving the denizens of Skid Row, but soon blossomed into an agency designed to help homeless men and women secure jobs, tackle substance abuse and re-enter society. Offering a wide range of job readiness training - resume writing, job search strategy, computer training, counseling and case management - Chrysalis has helped thousands of clients escape poverty. Today the organization runs its original downtown offices, plus satellite operations in Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley.

In recent years, however, it has spawned a business division, Chrysalis Enterprises, consisting of three sub-divisions. Chrysalis Staffing is a full-service agency assisting with temp and work-for-hire job placements. Chrysalis Works is a cleaning and street maintenance organization that contracts with the city and regularly maintains many of the city's most-trafficked streets. Finally, Chrysalis Recycling collects recyclables from businesses, offices and schools.

Predictably, demand increased with the onset of the recession, but Chrysalis rose to the occasion. 400 clients a day received assistance at their three centers. In 2009 alone, 1,500 men and women were placed in new jobs, making, on average, significantly higher than the state's minimum wage.

Best, Chrysalis Enterprises, as you might guess, organically feeds off and yet nourishes the larger umbrella organization. The three businesses provide job opportunities for those whom the parent organization assists, and then their profits, in turn, cover 60% of the annual multimillion-dollar operating budget for Chrysalis. This award-winning model is a durable and innovative one, underscoring the effective way in which a philanthropy and its business can support one another in a symbiosis.

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