What began as a place to access affordable laundry services has become an essential hub for the community. The Community Laundry Co-op also connects its members to counselling services, volunteer opportunities, skills development, jobs and more. On its 20th anniversary, we reflect on the Co-op’s incredible journey with support from two organizations whose missions are to help others thrive.
From laundry services to community hub
In 1999, the Ottawa Community Laundry Co-op opened its doors in response to a local need for affordable laundry services. The Co-op soon evolved into an important hub of support for vulnerable members of the community. On-site counselling was added, and volunteers joined the Co-op gaining meaningful job skills through its contract laundry social enterprise—a way to tackle provincial cuts to social programs.
Since then, the Co-op has served as much more than a place to do laundry, lifting community members out of isolation and hardship.
Last year, it counted over 4000 loads of laundry washed by member families, an impressive number overshadowed only by the hours—close to 600—of counselling time provided. Responsibility for that feat lay mostly with Yaneth Molano, co-ordinator and counsellor. At the Co-op’s annual general meeting this year, many people in attendance paid tribute.
“Yaneth always makes sure you have everything you need and always shows compassion to what you are going through in life,” one member remarked. Another added, “[Yaneth] always gives off the energy that you are important, and she proves it every single day.”
Considered the heart and soul of the Community Laundry Co-op, Yaneth has helped countless members with mental health issues, addiction and physical disabilities to break through and succeed. She also plays an important role in connecting members to vital services provided by other agencies in the community.
For her part, Yaneth sees the Co-op as a big family, where getting laundry done leads to genuine human connection.
“When we do laundry, we have time to chat, have fun and even enjoy a delicious coffee,” she explains. “We support each other. We accept ourselves as we are, but we also improve our lives by counselling each other. This is what the Co-op represents.”
A new business model and a new way forward
The positive impact of the Co-op on the community and its residents, particularly newcomers, was clear, but so was the challenge to raise funds to support its operations. Towards the end of 2018, the organization was facing its impending closure as funding concerns grew. Its contract laundry social enterprise was operating and while potential for growth was clear, the organization lacked the in-house expertise and resources to expand it.
Margaret Fallis, who has served on the Co-op’s board of directors since inception, recalls the moment they realized they needed help. “We knew that expanding the social enterprise was our best opportunity to survive but had not been able to secure the resources to move ahead with it,” says Margaret.
Contending with a lack of staff and funding challenges, the Co-op sought our advice and support. The Centre for Social Enterprise Development (CSED) was also instrumental in helping to reshape the Co-op’s business model.
In late November 2018, we met with Margaret to discuss the Co-op’s options in moving forward. Our advice centered on building on their work and strengthening their business for the long term. We helped them craft a three-year plan to expand the contract laundry social enterprise, improve its fundraising capacity and pursue more partnership opportunities.
Margaret also completed the Accelerator program at CSED. Through the program, she learned how to improve their social enterprise’s business model. However, they still needed short-term funding to keep the doors open and resources to execute a long-term plan. We engaged with one of our anonymous donors and was able to provide critical support for the Co-op’s daily operations so that it could begin executing its new strategy for sustainability.
They also received multi-year support through our Community Grants Program as well as a social enterprise-specific grant in partnership with CSED’s UNCAPPED program.
Now with renewed energy, a solid business model and strong partnerships, the Laundry Co-op is much more certain about its future. Len Fardella recently joined their small team as their new business manager who will implement a plan to secure the vital role it plays in the community.
“We still have a long way to go,” Margaret admits. “But the strong support of our funders, the progress we have already made and having Len’s expertise moving the project forward makes me very optimistic about the future of the Co-op.”
On November 22nd, staff, board members and volunteers of the Ottawa Community Laundry Co-op will be joined by its members, friends, and supporters to celebrate 20 years of operation. They’ll reflect on memories from the past but the real celebration will be about the future.