A new Cambridge landscaping company has a larger goal in mind than offering expertly manicured lawns and freshly mulched flowerbeds.
In Our Backyard is giving graduates of the Cambridge shelter system meaningful employment, a clear path to a better future and an opportunity to give back to the community and organization that supported them through some of their darkest days.
Accompanied by a certified crew lead, a team of trained shelter graduates will be employed through In Our Backyard to offer garden and yard maintenance services starting May 1.
All proceeds will be used to pay their staff and provide leadership and career development opportunities.
Profits from the enterprise will be reinvested into Cambridge Shelter programs supporting individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
"What really excites me about it is the opportunity to change the narrative," says director of In Our Backyard Justin Chan, who was eager to partner with Cambridge Shelter Corp. on the project when they reached out to Chan's organization last year.
Chan has made a name for himself in Guelph since founding The Community Company in 2018, a certified B Corporation that helps people overcome adversity by partnering with charities on sustainable social enterprises.
Among the similar projects Chan has helped launch through The Community Company is The Better Food Co, a partnership with Guelph's HOPE House that makes ready-to-go meals with proceeds from their sale going back to HOPE House.
Cambridge Shelter Corp. executive director Wayne Paddick similarly wanted to help the people they support find employment with a goal of permanently breaking the cycle of homelessness.
Over the past year Chan and his team interviewed dozens of Cambridge Shelter clients who shared their struggle to find employers willing to take on someone who has been living in the shelter system.
Paddick said one of the biggest obstacles shelter clients face is finding an employer who is empathetic to their situation.
Shelter clients are significantly less likely to re-enter the system if they've secured a job and have an established day-to-day routine, but they often struggle to find work.
It's one of the main reasons the cycle of homelessness continues with so many, Chan says. Without a steady income to supplement government supports, people who've recently graduated from the shelter system can easily relapse and fall back into old ways.
Paddick hopes In Our Backyard becomes the stepping stone to get past those obstacles and prove the naysayers wrong.
"Our community has been very tough on The Bridges and the tents outside of the shelter don't help," Paddick admits. "But what a great narrative to having these folks come back into the community to clean it up."
“We're excited to be part of the solution to homelessness in the Waterloo Region. I've sat with many of the clients in our shelter and I know that this project will change lives. Our clients want to positively contribute to our community and this is an opportunity to find that purpose.
"For the community, this is a way to welcome motivated crew members into our backyards and help our clients get back on their feet."
Chan says Cambridge Shelter is the perfect organization to lead this important work because they journey with their clients.
"Over the past two years, they've housed over 200 people from their shelter and have maintained many of those relationships."
Not only is In Our Backyard striving to provide social change, it's taking an ecological approach to its landscaping services by offering an all-electric fleet of equipment to reduce pollution as well as loud yard noise.
Additionally, they specialize in garden naturalization and lawn alternatives while still providing typical "softscaping" services such as lawn mowing and tidying.
They are also Landscape Ontario certified and are a fully insured business.
“With our ecological focus, staff can rebuild connections with our urban ecosystems and find healing through gardening. From our morning work routine, team debriefs, to our uniforms, we've created a first class experience for our shelter clients," said Zoe Miller, In Our Backyard crew lead.
Clients can book services through www.inourbackyard.ca or by calling 226-753-1415.