Kirsten Ham (shown here) is a dynamic and engaging young woman who graduated from TCU not long ago. She is now on a mission to change the landscape of Fort Worth by tackling homelessness. Kirsten heads up Clean Slate, a social enterprise program housed within Presbyterian Night Shelter (PNS). Clean Slate’s mission is twofold. First, it works to create jobs that empower PNS clients to have their own homes. Second, it generates revenue to help fund the shelter.
Clean Slate was among the first winners of KERNEL social innovation grants awarded by United Way at a live pitch event last November. KERNEL was created to encourage creative solutions to critical social issues.Clean Slate received $10,000. It also earned the Fort Worth Weekly People’s Choice Award, based on audience voting after all of the finalists presented.
Since November, Clean Slate has created six full-time jobs and three part-time positions for homeless individuals. “We have one client who has been with me since the beginning,” said Kirsten. “She is not hirable in the eyes of a lot of companies because of her background, but she is young, she is a great worker, and a great person. She is willing to do anything and everything. She just needed to be given a chance.
“She started out working for our janitorial service part time, and when the city contract for litter pickup came in, she started picking up litter. Now she is working full time for the litter service, she has a car, and she is moving out into her own home. She also has healthcare and paid time off. She stuck with it and worked hard. It is really awesome to see all of this happening for her.”
Not only has Clean Slate been successful at creating jobs, it has also been successful at earning revenue. “We just passed our first $100k hurdle in continuous revenue. What that means is we have more than $100k in contracts coming in annually,” Kirsten said. “Knowing that we are fulfilling our social mission is awesome, but from a business standpoint we have hit our first revenue goal within the first six months. That is great too.”
The social enterprise sector is growing, but some people are not familiar with the concept of social enterprise. “If there is one thing I would tell those people, it would be that we are a business that operates in the way that all other businesses operate,” said Kirsten. “We are just like any other janitorial service or kitchen rental. We provide contracts and bids, and we are committed to customer service. We just have a social mission that is equally important to us as generating revenue. I want people to understand that when they hire Clean Slate and give us their contracts, they are directly investing in Tarrant County.”
Once someone becomes homeless, they typically face a long road back to self-sufficiency. “It is difficult to understand the magnitude of the problems they face and the obstacles they have to overcome,” Kirsten said. “The moment that I have been most proud of and that excited me the most was the day that I had our first round of paychecks to hand out. That was an awesome Friday. That day I felt like, this is real, this is happening.” Those checks help to change the lives of Clean Slate’s clients.
A 2017 KERNEL applicant information meeting is scheduled for June 1, with the live pitch event to follow this fall. “I would tell future participants to go for it. It is definitely worthwhile,” said Kirsten. “I would encourage them to do all of their research and have their business plan nailed down before they enter the competition. You need to have a solid plan that you can take before the judges, rather than just an idea, and then have the intent to act on it.
“I learned a lot from KERNEL. I learned a lot about the social enterprise scene, and I learned that it is a growing field. During the intermission of the [live pitch] show, I had so many people come up to me and tell me about the social enterprises that they wanted to start but didn’t know where to begin. The growing awareness about social innovation and the momentum it is gaining is awesome to see.”