The Power Of Service Learning Programs
The University of Missouri's Service-Learning Program (SLPs) played a key role in developing a start-up grower-retail operation in Columbia, Mo. SLPs can help you, as well.
December 22, 2010
Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprise (CMSE) is a sheltered workshop that has provided employment for developmentally disabled adults for 40 years. CMSE subcontracts assembly work for dozens of manufacturers in central Missouri, like 3M, Quaker Oats, Square D, ABC Labs, plus hospitals and publishers. It had flourished until last year, when several clients cut back due to the economy and outsourcing overseas.
Executive Director Bruce Young was devastated. He would have to find more sources to keep 130 people employed. He sought help at his local Rotary Club meeting of business friends. Member Bill Regan answered the call: "Build a greenhouse!"
So they did.
A greenhouse with 5,400 square feet was built adjacent to CMSE's facility. Regan brought many skills to the new enterprise. He has a master's degree in horticulture, 35 years of experience propagating geranium cuttings and he has garden center experience as an owner. He is not retiring soon.
A seasonal staff member and a new employee adapted quickly to retrain and supervise the 20 employees who needed to learn new skills like planting plugs and plant maintenance. Crops included a wide variety of annuals, perennials, herbs, hanging baskets, produce and ground covers.
With crops maturing, a marketing plan was needed. CMSE reconnected with the University of Missouri's Service-Learning Program (SLP), which had helped initiate a capital campaign in 1999.
Missouri's SLP gives college students the opportunity to use the skills they learn in class and apply them in the real world of business. Plus, it is a wonderful resource for non-profits and businesses in the community that need help.
CMSE recruited eight students from the journalism school's Strategic Communications Department. The students evaluated CMSE's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and economic threats. They researched the consumer gardening market locally and across the state, plus retail competition.
Then, they recommended a plan. The goal was to promote awareness to their target audience and establish a loyal customer base. The theme the students developed was "Let's Grow Together."
The SLP team submitted a dozen possible names for the greenhouse. Staff and employees checked them out and voted to select "Giving Gardens." Employees said it would tell the community they were giving good jobs. The staff says it was giving beauty and plants to the gardener.
The SLP developed a website at CMSEgivinggardens.com. It created a logo and ads to use in selected local newspapers and magazines, and generated extensive stories on radio and TV.
In addition, the program created brochures and door hangers and developed special events with children handing out sunflower seeds at a children's baseball game. The grand opening made headlines with the mayor cutting the ribbon. The efforts have been very successful in creating loyal shoppers.
About Service-Learning Programs
More than 300 colleges offer Service Learning Programs. Not just for non-profits but for large and small businesses. Check your local college for help with your business and marketing needs.
In Columbia, Mo., businesses have colorful landscapes, and the town was recognized by America in Bloom in 2009. The downtown streets have eye-catching planters. There are "Adopt A Spots" planted with flowers at intersections and maintained by businesses and volunteers.
Few sheltered workshops jump into horticulture, although Greenleaf Industries in Eugene, Ore., has been successful and has national distribution. Recently, another workshop in Missouri expressed interest and contacted Giving Gardens.
Mary Lu Parks is a freelance writer based in Columbia, Mo. She can be reached at email@example.com.