Dust, vacuum, scrub: JFCS mixes business and social service

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Two Chinese women walk into a Jewish home. This isn’t the beginning of a bad joke, but an actual intersection of two different cultures taking place because of Cleanerific, a new “social enterprise” Jewish Family and Children’s Services is running in the Bay Area.

Twice a month, Sonja Hyams has a cleaning crew come to her house to dust, vacuum and scrub, and though the interaction is limited between Hyams and the Chinese crew, the scene is evidence of JFCS’ determination to have a positive impact on local employment.

Over the last year, the JFCS-backed cleaning service has been creating jobs for employees in underserved parts of the community.

It has picked up almost 200 commercial and residential customers in the process. But the service, conceived by Anita Friedman, executive director of JFCS, is concerned with more than just fiscal performance: It is based on a cutting-edge social enterprise model, emphasizing a “double bottom line” — meaning that the focus is on both financial and social impact.

“We looked at what the need was in the community,” says Friedman. “We saw that a lot of people would benefit from help cleaning, along with the other services we provide. We also saw that there was a need for more jobs — people who need opportunities to enter the workforce. [So] this was a way to address a number of needs.”

The workers come through Jewish Vocational Services, which runs a program to retrain garment workers, many of whom have lost work due to the relocation of factories to other continents.

“When we took a look at some of the workers who were unemployed, a number of people had lost their work due to globalization,” says Friedman.

Whereas a typical janitorial service goes out and competes in the private sector, JFCS hires employees from underserved parts of the community, provides them living wages and medical benefits — “unheard of in the industry,” says Cleanerific director Michael Berke. The agency also has case managers who work with staff in issues of childcare and transportation.

Cleanerific is not JFCS’ first social-enterprise venture. Extending back to 1941, the agency has run a Utility Workshop program in order to assist refugees — Holocaust victims, originally — who need work and English training. Cleanerific was intended to complement that program by helping not only refugees but other Bay Area residents as well.

The agency’s decision to offer cleaning services in particular stemmed from its own research into what kind of business would be competitive in the market, could easily train its workers, and provide a service needed by its clients — many of whom are seniors terrified by the thought of letting strangers into their house. By backing the service with JFCS’ reputation, clients are given peace of mind.

Other clients are motivated by the social cause their money supports.

Hyams has been using the service since its inception and says that it makes her happy to support a socially responsible business.

“I learned about it from an email I received a year ago and wanted to be supportive of it because it was JFCS,” she says. “It was perfect timing because I needed to have my house cleaned, so I decided to give them a try. For my first cleaning I had the whole crew come out and they did a nice job, so I decided to have them on a regular basis.”

Hyams now has Cleanerific come to her home twice each month. “I trust them totally” to do an excellent job, she says.

Though the social bottom line is an added incentive for customers like Hyams to choose Cleanerific over other companies, the quality of the work, Friedman says, is what makes the service worthwhile. “It’s not just a social service,” she says. “It’s a very high-quality cleaning service.”

And Hyams would agree: “I have heartily recommended it to my Jewish friends.”

Cleanerific‘s services range in price. For contact information and a free estimate, call (415) 820-7230 or visit www.cleanerific.org.