Helping People

How a Broward nonprofit boosted its revenues and created jobs — and did a lot of good

Daniel Diedrick, 22, a student at Arc Tech, works to safely dispose of hard drives in a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale. Arc Tech, one of three social enterprises of Arc Broward, uses its hard drive disposal fees to support people with disabilities.
Daniel Diedrick, 22, a student at Arc Tech, works to safely dispose of hard drives in a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale. Arc Tech, one of three social enterprises of Arc Broward, uses its hard drive disposal fees to support people with disabilities.

For a peek into what’s possible in the world of social enterprise for the greater good, check out what the 63-year-old Arc Broward is doing.

The nonprofit organization that supports individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities began building social enterprises 16 years ago and now has three: Arc Tech, Arc Culinary and Arc Educates.

In each case, revenue generated helps fund the mission of Arc Broward while providing on-the-job training and in some cases jobs for Arc Broward’s clients with disabilities. Already, the three growing social enterprises fund 11 percent of Arc Broward’s $17 million annual budget.

Dennis Haas, president and CEO of Arc Broward, said before the first social enterprise, Arc Tech, was launched in 2002, Broward Arc was nearly 100 percent dependent on a couple of government programs to fund its expanding array of education, social service and job programs.

“We began talking about mission-based social enterprises at a time when it wasn’t at the forefront of thinking in the nonprofit world,” Haas said. “We made a bold move to begin our first social enterprise in the electronics recycling arena.”

For the first dozen years, the social enterprise now known as Arc Tech was Broward County’s exclusive recycler.

“We saw it as an opportunity for individuals with developmental disabilities to learn how to work in a light industrial setting as material handlers,” Haas said.

Now, the enterprise does so much more. Step inside the 25,000-square-foot warehouse near Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and you won’t think you are in a nonprofit. There are workers inventorying incoming equipment while others wipe down hard drives; others are taking apart computer equipment, salvaging parts that could be resold and readying other parts for safe disposal. (Fun fact: Those dinosaur computers actually have the most valuable metals to harvest and sell.)

Still others are managing Arc Tech’s e-commerce department, where they sell refurbished goods on eBay. All together, that’s 30,000 pounds of IT equipment processed weekly.

“We work hard, we sweat hard, it is all for a great cause. It’s all beautiful,” said Tomas Leon, an Arc Tech supervisor.

Today, Arc Tech is an IT asset distribution business. Services include secure information destruction, certified safe disposal of hazardous waste, and reselling (yes, laptops are top sellers but retro boom boxes, reel-to-reel players and old cameras get snatched up too, Leon said).

Arc Tech serves corporate clients including Nova Southeastern University, JM Family, Spirit Air, AutoNation and others. It brings in roughly $1 million annually – dollars that power Broward Arc’s extensive programs.

“Today we are taking end-of-life computers and other electronics. Some of that is relatively young equipment. We will maximize value, destroy information, certify it, and then generate revenue to pay for the mission part of it. Sometimes we share the revenue with [the companies] so they are incentivized to properly dispose of their equipment,” said Haas. “It’s a win-win all around.”

Arc Tech employs about 15 people as drivers, IT processors, sales people and quality assurance, and at any given time a few students may be working too. That’s because Arc Tech also houses after-school programs and it developed a certificate program for material handling.

When a student graduates, Broward Arc gives them resume building, financial literacy, mentorship and interview skills, Haas said.

“We will stay with them forever to help them to find and keep a job and, more importantly, we are now talking about career paths for them,” he added.

Arc Broward saw another opportunity to build a social enterprise for the culinary industry in 2006 when it noted that its commercial kitchen on its headquarters campus was an underutilized asset. The first iteration of the social enterprise — a campus cafeteria that also served other companies in the area — failed financially.

Broward Arc almost shut it down but then pivoted to a catering business. It was a hit. Today, Arc Culinary’s customers are people and organizations doing weddings, parties and corporate events.

Arc Culinary also manages the City of Sunrise’s Grand Ballroom. It handles food orders for all of Arc’s programs, and contracts with some charter schools and assisted living facilities to do their food service. That’s 550 contracted meals every week.

Along with that, Arc Culinary developed a curriculum for a 16-week entry level culinary arts certificate program. In the classes is a mixture of people with disabilities and without, much like the real world. They also include veterans, and Arc Culinary is looking to serve kids aging out of foster care.

But the catering business reached capacity and now Arc Broward is building a new, larger state of the art catering and teaching kitchen facility on its campus, Haas said.

“Emeril Lagasse’s company will be helping with cooking classes and teaching curriculum, and Moss Construction donated their entire construction fee,” Haas said.

Early on and continuing today, Arc Culinary began hosting monthly pop-up suppers, called Traveling Plates – Michelle Bernstein was one of its earliest guest chefs. Delish is an annual culinary event Arc Culinary hosts. Arc Culinary is also bringing in nearly $1 million in revenues and Haas expects that to double within a few of years.

In 2017, Arc Culinary graduated 20 students and expects to eventually bring that up to 100 with the expansion, Haas said.

The third social enterprise, Arc Educates, grew out of an internal need for training. Arc Broward has more than 400 employees and many of those jobs are in human services, education and transportation, which often require training and certifications.

Turns out a lot of other agencies and corporations need that training too. Arc Educates now offers courses on everything from CPR to van driver training to continuing education and more than 20 certificate programs for Arc Broward and other organizations.

“Our intent is to continue to add certificate programs, including a certificate aimed at professionalizing people in supportive roles in adult day programs and group homes,” said Haas. “When individuals graduate they have a certificate to make them more marketable. In our organization, they earn an extra dollar an hour.”

While Arc Broward was once 100 percent dependent on government funding, today that is down to about 60 percent. That’s significant, Haas said. The social enterprises have helped enable Arc Broward to support 127 individuals with disabilities who are currently working around South Florida and earning an average hourly rate of $9.42.

Before the post-secondary education and other training provided through its mission-based enterprises, Arc Broward supported about 50 individuals earning about $8.42, Haas added.

“It has also allowed us to add a whole new dimension to our services. Instead of simply helping people find work, today the enterprises have allowed us to add credibility and capability to the individuals we are helping with real career paths.”