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Socially minded landscaping firm gives struggling Clevelanders a second chance

Rich Alvarez of New Life Landscaping

Rich Alvarez is a firm believer in second chances, an outlook shaped by 15 years in the police force and a firearms accident that nearly killed him.
 
Alvarez's experiences led him to create New Life Landscaping, a Northeast Ohio social enterprise that hires Greater Cleveland residents facing barriers to employment. New Life services include weekly landscaping maintenance, weed removal and installation of patios and decks. The ultimate goal is to train employees for franchise ownership, with newly minted entrepreneurs eventually hiring others in similarly challenged situations.
 
"When people are given a second chance, they really appreciate the opportunity," says Alvarez, a North Olmstead resident.
 
New Life currently has two employees and is seeking seasonal help for the summer. While some new hires may come from Craig's List, Alvarez is hoping to find workers through local ministries as well as nonprofits like Oriana House, a Cleveland area chemical dependency treatment center and community corrections agency.
 
Every New Life employee has a background that would likely make them unemployable elsewhere, Alvarez says. Ex-offenders, military veterans and destitute individuals are all job candidates at the landscaping company.
 
Alvarez, 46, met his share of underserved offenders during a long police career in Lakewood and with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA).   
 
"I noticed the same people coming back over and over," he says. "They'd say they couldn't find a job. It was easier to for them to spend time in jail where they'd get fed and have a roof over their heads."
 
A near-death experience involving an accidentally discharged firearm further pushed the ex-policeman into social entrepreneurship. Alvarez, who ran his own landscaping business while with the force, and his partner came up with the idea in 2014 when both were volunteering for a prison ministry. 
 
Now that New Life is off the ground, the next step is finding a qualified franchisee. New Life will front $30,000 to launch a prospective business, with the franchisee paying back the initial investment over time. New Life's model is based on ventures like Columbus-based Clean Turn, which trains the formerly incarcerated in an array of supportive services.
 
Alvarez aims to create employment opportunities for those who will eventually populate a growing and skilled workforce. It's a goal he think fits well in Cleveland.
 
"There's lots of parallels between the city of Cleveland and people here who are facing barriers," says Alvarez. "This is a Rust Belt town on the rebound that's reinventing itself. We're giving people left behind by society a chance to rebuild themselves as well." 

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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