Open for Business Impact – Ethos Rehabilitation

Written By: Madison Wellman, Business Opportunity Specialist

Background: Jimmy Kakouris is a trained physical therapist from Boylston, Massachusetts. After years of experience in the field, Mr. Kakouris decided to open his own physical therapy practice, Ethos Rehabilitation. He approached Workers’ Credit Union – a partner in RCAP’s Open for Business Program – for start-up financing, but the business loan officers at the credit union did not have confidence in his plan. Instead of simply denying Mr. Kakouris financing, they referred him to RCAP to refine his business model.

The Challenge: Rural communities across the United States share a sense of underdeveloped entrepreneurial capacity. Lack of educational opportunities, poor connectivity infrastructure and a general absence of human capital capable of providing mentorship and expertise in the community all contribute to the high business failure rate in our nations small towns and villages. RCAP is striving to surmount these obstacles by delivering the absent human capital to rural communities in a cost-effective manner. In meeting this challenge, RCAP is building permanent entrepreneurial capacity in rural America.

The Approach & Solution: To rise to the challenge, RCAP launched the Open for Business program. The program delivers business expertise to rural communities through webinars, online workshops and one-on-one business consultations made available to entrepreneurs at no cost. All services are delivered remotely to reduce cost and maximize geographic reach. Jimmy Kakouris utilized this program to receive free guidance from RCAP’s experienced consultants. The RCAP consulting team worked with Mr. Kakouris to develop his business plan and financial projections to model his path to success. At the time of this writing, Mr. Kakouris received twenty-two hours of one-on-one consulting assistance.

Impact: RCAP’s professional consulting team was able to determine through financial modeling that Mr. Kakouris’ initial plan was not feasible. Specifically, the space that Mr. Kakouris wanted to lease for his physical therapy practice, while well-suited to the purpose, was far too expensive. Using IBUS data, the RCAP consulting team was able to model the revenues that Mr. Kakouris’ practice could expect in his market area. This financial model determined that Mr. Kakouris’ business would become insolvent in a matter of months – just as his lender feared. Once the initial plan was cast aside, Mr. Kakouris was able to work with the RCAP consulting team to develop a new strategy.

Today, Mr. Kakouris has a business plan that will provide a return on his investment, a budget for leased space that is appropriate for the Boylston, Massachusetts area, data-driven projections for his lenders and a professional marketing strategy – all of which cost him nothing but his time. If not for RCAP’s Open for Business Program, Mr. Kakouris would have never received financing, or worse, taken on debt for a plan that would have only succeeded in bankrupting him. In the case of Jimmy Kakouris and many other entrepreneurs around the country, bringing human capital to bear meant the difference between failure and success.

Testimonial – Borough of Midland, Pennsylvania

Check out this testimonial from the Borough of Midland, Pennsylvania!

Our team in the Keystone State has been working this community to improve their water and sewer infrastructure through GIS mapping, application assistance for funding programs, and more.

Midland is a small, rural community located on the edge of western Pennsylvania. A former manufacturing giant, the borough has been attempting to drive small businesses back to the area in the wake of their steel mill’s closure, which once played a major part in Midland’s economy and workforce.

The consultant for the authority, Brigid Darbut, has been working with RCAP Solutions as well as several other community organizations and leaders to introduce revitalization efforts in the town, not only through improved water infrastructure, but through economic development, shared services, and more.

Five-Year Coral Bay Watershed Management Plan Released

The Coral Bay Community Council (CBCC), a non-profit organization which helps communities in the U.S. Virgin Islands with environmental issues, recently released their 2021 Watershed Management Plan, a detailed 5-year outline for the future management of their stormwater and drinking water supply.

The plan is the result of over two years of work by Watershed Consulting Associates, CBCC, local residents, government agencies, and various other community development organizations.

In the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the residents of Coral Bay will benefit from this plan, which incorporates professional analysis and stakeholder input to create a shared vision to address threats to water quality in and around the area.

The full plan can be viewed bewlow or at www.coralbaycommunitycouncil.org, along with an accompanying shorter, “Community Handbook” version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information, check out CBCC’s press release, here.

RCAP Solutions is a long-time collaborator of CBCC. In addition to contributions made to support this plan, our team in the Caribbean has a extensive history of partnering with the council to provide vital education to industry professionals as well as residents surrounding drinking water, wastewater, and solid waste management.

RCAP Solutions Hires Business Opportunity Specialist

RCAP Solutions is pleased to announce the addition of Madison Wellman as Business Opportunity Specialist, managing the Open for Business program, a new economic development initiative providing support to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Mr. Wellman comes to RCAP Solutions with a diverse background in economic development, nonprofit management, sales, research, and communications. He has experience working in the political arena, as well as with small business startups, which provides him with a unique understanding of diverse business and community challenges.

Wellman served as the Regional Representative for Congressman Antonio Delgado in Oneonta, NY and Delhi, NY, where he worked closely with constituents from diverse backgrounds, including both nonprofit and for-profit enterprises, and municipal government officials. In this role, he met with project stakeholders to discuss issues such as funding resources, grant opportunities, small business concerns, and agricultural issues. He also has experience launching new offices with Bright Drive Healthcare Solutions, where he identified suitable offices spaces, negotiated with realtors and property owners, and addressed other logistical start up challenges. Prior to this, he managed economic development projects at the town and county level for both Schoharie County and the Town of Schoharie, NY. Wellman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business and Economics from Canisius College of Buffalo, NY.

The Open for Business program is funded by Wells Fargo and offers self-guided online workshops, monthly webinars, and one-on-one consulting. This program offers education on a wide-variety of business concepts and caters to the specific needs of many rural, disadvantaged, and minority-owned small businesses. Topics include business law, business planning, marketing, financing, and accounting. These services are provided at no cost, in both English and Spanish, and are coordinated by our national affiliate, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), to provide services to small businesses across the country. RCAP Solutions services the Northeast and Caribbean regions.

“Mr. Wellman is a great complement to our team,” said Jenna Day, RCAP Solutions Director of Community Resources. “His understanding of rural community needs, paired with his legislative work and small business experience makes him the ideal person to support the small business community. The addition of the Open for Business program to our suite of services further expands our ability to support the economic development needs of rural communities in the northeast and Caribbean regions. The wide variety of resources, customized to cater to small business entrepreneurs, provides tremendous opportunity for underserved communities, and those who live and work there, to grow, thrive and cultivate stronger communities.”

RCAP Solutions’ Community Resources staff works hand in hand with community leaders and homeowners to incorporate the best tools and resources suited to protect public health and the environment while progressing towards financial sustainability and improved quality of life.

For additional information about the Open for Business Program, please contact Madison Wellman, Business Opportunity Specialist at: (774) 239-9783, mwellman@rcapsolutions.org or visit: www.rcapsolutions.org/open-for-business/.

About RCAP Solutions:
RCAP Solutions is an integrated community development corporation working with a multi-faceted suite of services in communities throughout the northeastern part of the U.S. and the Caribbean. Established in 1969, RCAP Solutions’ mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families, and the communities in which they live. For more information, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org.

Fail to Plan; Plan to Fail

By Kathy Rodgers, State Lead Maine

Providing Assistance with No Back-Up Plan Puts Everyone at Risk.

Emphasis must be placed on ensuring staff are cross-trained and appropriate documentation is available for continuity in operations.

A town manager in Maine, who found himself suddenly in charge of a small community water system, had quite the harrowing experience recently. Unfortunately, this avoidable story is not uncommon.  The small town’s water operator had suddenly taken ill and was hospitalized.  The back-up operator had passed away six months ago.  The community was quite remote, and the town manager was in desperate need of an operator who could help keep their two treatment plants operational.  The system had several treatment phases including pre-chlorination, filtration, aeration, and fluoridation that needed to be monitored and maintained.  After several days and several frantic calls later, they were connected to a licensed contract operator who was willing to drive two hours to investigate the situation.

Upon arrival, the contract operator was greeted by a very green public works employee who was set to be cross trained in the water department but had no working knowledge of the plants.  The public works employee confessed the regular operator, now hospitalized, had told him that all the information was “all up here” as he pointed to his temple.  It seemed the hospitalized operator had always felt his job was threatened and closely guarded operational information. That fear, which is often shared by undervalued operators, is unfortunate as it created a stressful situation for everyone left in his wake.

By the end of day one, the contract operator and the public works employee were able to determine where the maintenance logs and the test kits were located.  The seasoned contract operator was successfully able to show the public works employee how to run the daily test and record the meter readings.  Then the contract operator began searching for the operation and maintenance (O&M) manual or any standard operating procedures (SOPs), to figure out how the system worked, but to no avail.  There were no clear procedures found to follow to ensure the system was running properly.   Under stacks of unfiled paperwork, the contract operator was able to find an emergency response plan that hadn’t been updated in 18 years, which is recommended to be updated annually, but it was with very little detail and of little help.  With the assistance of contract operator’s administrative office, they were able to piece together clues as to how the facilities operated through state records and other pieces of information.

The alarms started sounding by day two.  Not that anyone really knew that alarms were sounding, as the hospitalized operator was the only one getting the notifications.  It was upon arrival to the plant that the public work employee observed the chlorine tank had run dry.  The proper ratio to prepare the chlorine solution was unknown.  The fluoride pump appeared to be unplugged.  Who knows why?  The public works employee was untrained in how to properly handle these dangerous chemicals. The contract operator stepped in again to help batch the chemicals and get the chemical feeds pumping.  The contract operator best recourse and advice was to encourage the town manager and the public works employee to reach out to their regular operator, while in the hospital, to get guidance.   Not an ideal situation for anyone.

This emergency could have all been avoided and continuity in service could have easily been maintained by having an O&M manual readily available.  The O&M manual serves not only as a tool for the operating and maintenance of the facilities for the personnel of the plant; but it also serves as road map for those who must step in when the primary operations’ crew is unavailable.   For the manual to be effective, vital information must be easy to find, quickly and efficiently.  The O&M manual is designed to give treatment system personnel and the back-up operator the proper understanding of techniques and references protocols necessary to efficiently operate their facilities.   Having an O&M manual which includes well written SOPs, and an emergency response plan will ensure that operations will be able continue in a situation when new or temporary staff must be trained quickly.

Moving forward the contract operator has been retained as the town’s back-up operator. His crew has already begun planning to assist with development of a functional O&M manual to eliminate this situation in the future.  The grateful town manager is now keenly aware of the need to document and to have a back-up plan in place.

When developing an O&M manual ask yourself:

  • What do I do on a daily and weekly basis to maintain my water or wastewater treatment system?
  • Do these activities or pieces of equipment that need maintenance involve SOPs, manufacturer’s specifications, or record keeping logs?
  • Do I have the right tools?
  • What documents or logs do I need to develop?

“Thank you so much for the help you guys have provided. You have been wonderful to work with. We will certainly be in touch.” – Town Manager of a Little Town, Anywhere, USA

Shared Solutions Bring Small Victories in Regional Collaboration

By Derik Dressler, PA Regionalization Specialist

As a system operator, manager, or board member you can be overwhelmed by the challenges that your small system routinely faces. While large challenges often demand more complex solutions, I would like to offer some small victories in regional collaboration that have proven to ease the challenges small system’s face. RCAP Solutions has assisted with establishing partnerships among several communities in the last number of years to lessen the burden on the system’s responsibilities. In these systems, the operators work with other operators in times of need whether in an urgent situation or a more routine basis. I would like to present a few real-world examples that led to solving some of these challenges. In one case, the new operator of a small system had no previous operating experience. The operator needed significant guidance and help to proficiently operate the system. In working with the system, RCAP was able to find the operator the help they needed from a neighboring system’s operator. This partnership eventually led to an ongoing working relationship that has proved to be very beneficial to the inexperienced operator. In another part of Pennsylvania, a small rural system needed a certified operator for the small filter plant that served their customers. The owners of the system were burdened by this task and did not know how to make this happen. RCAP was able to provide a list of operators in the area that were willing to operate the system and assist in reaching out to the certified operators. Within a few weeks the system obtained the services of a certified operator alleviating the non-compliance of the system. One other small rural system in Pennsylvania was experiencing significant water loss but was unaware of the exact location of the leak.

The system does not have sufficient leak detecting equipment or the experience needed to operate the equipment effectively. In consultation with RCAP, assistance was found from a neighboring system. The leak was located quickly, and the repair was completed within two days of noticing the water loss. All three examples show how regional collaboration can be effective. Even though the examples are a very small scale of what regional collaboration can be it is important to note the significant impact it had on each community. It is difficult to determine exactly how much impact each of these seemingly insignificant or small collaborative measures may have had. If the operator had not reached out to a more experienced operator for advice on important issues, where could they be now? If the second system did not collaborate with a certified operator to operate the system and continue in violation, what would that have meant for the system? If in fact, the system in the third example did not reach out to find help on the major leak could have it dewatered the system or impacted other portions of the system? While often large challenges demand large solutions, the truth is that we often do not fully comprehend the value in the small victories in collaborating with one another.

As a manager, operator, or board member of a small water system, what are some challenges your utility will face this year? How might partnerships help meet these challenges? RCAP offers free training and assistance in regional collaboration and offers partnership tools to help facilitate your regional collaboration efforts. If this sounds interesting to you, please reach out to Derik Dressler, Regional Collaboration Specialist at ddressler@rcapsolutions.org or 814-571-0727.

RCAP Solutions Hires Residential Loan Fund Manager

RCAP Solutions is pleased to announce the addition of Ashur Gurbuz as Residential Loan Fund Manager, providing Home Modification Loan Program services to residents in the Central Massachusetts region. Mr. Gurbuz comes to RCAP Solutions with a diverse background in lending, banking, real estate, customer service, and management gives him a solid understanding of this critical housing program and the challenges that his clients may face.

Gurbuz served as a Loan Officer for JG Wentworth Home Lending, where he provided a variety of housing loans to his customers, providing step by step guidance and customer service throughout the entire process of the loan. He also has experience as a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, where he assisted customers in buying or selling real estate, acted as a trusted resource for answers about the real estate process and supported customers through the closing process. Prior to this, he was a Branch Manager at Santander Bank where he received the “Top Performer Award” for customer satisfaction, and Assistant Vice President at Bank of America, where he was ranked nationally for his sales and relationship management skills.

The Home Modification Loan Program distributes financing to disabled persons and their families, to make structural and accessibility improvements to homes, allowing individuals to remain safely independent. Funds are delivered through a state-funded loan program of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission in collaboration with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC). RCAP Solutions is the direct administrator of this program for all of Worcester County and parts of Norfolk and Middlesex Counties.

“Mr. Gurbuz is a great complement to the Home Modification Loan Program,” said Lovette Chislom, RCAP Solutions Director of Housing Counseling & Financial Services. “I believe it is critical for our lending staff to be able to draw on their experience to help ensure the satisfaction of our clients. This program has experienced a high volume of interest this year as caregiving families would like to keep their loved ones at home due to concerns around the pandemic. Ashur’s compassionate and engaging personality will help our clients to feel at ease and supported during this difficult time.”

Ashur Gurbuz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Assumption College in Worcester. Mr. Gurbuz is a licensed Real Estate Agent, a HUD Certified Housing Counselor, and a holds a Mortgage License, which makes him well qualified to handle a variety of homeownership issues that may arise during the lending and construction phases of the program.

The Home Modification Loan Program is part of The RCAP Solutions Housing Consumer Education Center, the organization’s front door to the public for all housing and emergency assistance programs. This includes financial and economic assistance programs such as Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA), and HomeBASE. There are also education and training programs, such as first-time home buyer and financial empowerment classes, and counseling support including pre and post homebuyer services and landlord/tenant assistance.

For additional information about the Home Modification Loan Program, please contact Ashur Gurbuz, Residential Loan Fund Manager at: (978) 630-6725, agurbuz@rcapsolutions.org or visit: https://www.rcapsolutions.org/home-modification-loan-program.

About RCAP Solutions:
RCAP Solutions is a thriving integrated community development corporation working with a multi-faceted suite of services and opportunities. Established in 1969, RCAP Solutions’ mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families, and the communities in which they live. For more information, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org.

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Imagine a Day Without Water: Commit to a sustainable water future for all

This year, our country faced an enormous public health crisis from the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout this emergency, water and wastewater systems kept the water flowing in homes, hospitals, and essential businesses. This crisis demonstrated the critical role that water and wastewater systems play in their communities, protecting public health, safeguarding the environment, and making a healthy economy possible. It is easy to imagine how much worse the pandemic would have been without widespread access to water infrastructure. Without reliable drinking water and sanitation, Americans would be unable to stay safe and limit the spread. In communities with inadequate water and wastewater infrastructure, the public health consequences have been dire.

Today, we Imagine a Day Without Water. It’s a day to pause and notice the way that water systems impact our lives and communities, and commit to ensuring a sustainable water future for generations to come. What would your day be like if you couldn’t turn on the tap and get clean drinking water, or if you flushed the toilet and wastewater didn’t go anywhere? What would happen to restaurants, hospitals, firefighters, farms, breweries, or the hundreds of industries that depend on water?

Millions of Americans take water service for granted every day. Turn on the tap, and clean water flows out. Flush the toilet, and dirty water goes away. Washing our hands regularly is one of the most important steps to take to limit the spread of coronavirus, and we usually don’t stop to think about the impressive infrastructure and treatment required to make sure the water comes out when you open the tap, or safely returns water to the environment from your sink. But the truth is, our water and wastewater systems are getting older – some were installed a century ago – and everyone should be concerned with the vulnerability of those systems.

While we continue to enjoy high quality and reliable water service now, maintaining that level of service is going to be harder and harder as America’s water infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Meanwhile, new threats from record rainfalls, flooding, toxic algae, drought and wildfires threaten our critical water systems. There are even communities, especially in many rural places across the country, that have never had access to infrastructure in the first place.

As we look at ways to help lift our economy out of the recession, investing in water infrastructure is a winning solution. Investing in water creates cascading economic benefits, strengthening American competitiveness, raising GDP, creating jobs and increasing wages. Investing in water provides a path to economic recovery. Imagine a Day Without Water is an opportunity for everyone to get educated about our local water systems and raise awareness with our elected leaders. We need leadership at every level to work together to ensure a reliable water future for generations to come. Investing in water is investing in a future where no American will have to imagine a day without water.

Virtual Math Training

Rebekah Novak, Water Compliance Specialist for Massachusetts, Online Tech Team Lead

Since COVID-19 hit in the early months of 2020, almost all businesses, schools, and government departments were impacted in a very big way; we could not meet face to face anymore. Every business was affected differently. But the show had to go on for essential workers like highway and construction workers, medical field staff, food industry, drinking water operations and wastewater operations. For many of these fields, people must earn contact hours/credits/education credits for the license they hold by taking classes to stay educated and informed. But with the limitations on in-person meetings, and how many people are allowed in a room, how are these license holders supposed to get the training they need to maintain their licenses? A little leeway was given for those people who had to renew their drivers license, but are Wastewater Operators allowed to to lapse in credits? No. License holders waited to see if they would be given extensions on earning credits but decision makers did not loosen up on the rules. Every person with a Wastewater License in the State of Massachusetts still had to earn 20 Total Contact Hours (TCHs) by the same deadline as before COVID.

For the first few months of the “lock-down” people just figured they had a whole year ahead of them to earn credits, but as the months passed, the clock kept counting down, yet the states did not open up. Luckily, some organizations adapted and learned a new platform: virtual training. RCAP Solutions was one of those organizations that jumped right into virtual training as soon as they saw there was no end it sight to the shutdowns. Wanting to keep their staff members as well as the public safe at home or in the office, RCAP Solutions decided if they couldn’t bring people to their training, they would bring their training to the people, virtually.
Once the virtual platform was learned, the PowerPoint presentations were then altered to a friendlier format for virtual learning. The first session to go online was Basic Math for Operators. This course is intended to help both existing operators brush up on their math skills, (while earning credits) but also to help future operators prepare to pass the exam, by learning about the basic math concepts that are applied every day on the job (and it the exam).

Teaching Math in person is not all that easy but teaching it virtually made for some additional difficulties. RCAP does not typically use webcams because most clients/attendees do not have a strong internet connection and the webcams use too much bandwidth. So how do you know if your attendees are understanding the concepts you are teaching without being able to SEE them? There are several tools to use to make sure the attendees are paying attention and keeping up with you on the other side of that computer screen:

1. PowerPoint/Presentation visuals:
a. use more animation than in person slides to make the slides more interesting. The attendees have little else to look at and many distractions within an arm’s reach.
b. Use less words on each slide. Too much reading on a computer screen is tiresome, so add more pictures to convey the ideas that are discussed.

2. Virtual Interactive tools:
a. Polls: gather information or beliefs about attendees. ASK how the pace of the class is, or if they understand the topic at hand.
b. Tests: quiz attendees on covered topics to keep them engaged, and to get an idea of how well they understand that topic.
c. Virtual hand raising: ask yes/no questions or invite attendees to ask questions
d. Virtual group work: create a sense of community and work together to complete an activity
e. Chat box: ask attendees to answer your questions in the chat box. Ask them to ask questions of their own in the chat box. Get people comfortable with the chat box right away, ask icebreaker questions to get them warmed up to it.
f. Evaluation: break your evaluations down by topic, so they can be rated individually. Ask attendees to rate the platform, or each of the tools separately to see how effective they were. Ask for suggestions to make the training session better.

3. Voice:
a. Inflection: Work on your presentation voice. Try to use inflections, making your voice pitch go up and down to signify important words, grammar, or the end of sentences. Monotone voices are hard to listen to for long periods of time.
b. Quality: Be sure the quality of your audio is good. Use a headset or a microphone so your audience only hears your voice. Tinny or muffled voices are hard to understand.

4. Technical assistance: One of the most important tools to have ready is technical assistance. Some people run into issues and if they have never used online training before, they will need some help to navigate, or else, they will most likely give up and sign off. Have an extra person or two who can help individuals solve their technical issues, like connecting to audio in the beginning of a training.
Are you a License holder looking for more virtual training? Sign up for the email lists of your local associations or memberships. Express your interest in learning about a certain topic to a virtual trainer that puts on multiple sessions a year.

Are you a committee member/government official/association looking to present topics to a certain audience but do not have a way to do so? Talk to someone who recently put on a training to see if they will host your topics. Or see if they know of others who simply “host” presentations on their platform license.

Virtual trainings and presentations can be intimidating, but with the right tools and a little preparation, they can be as effective as a face to face meeting. As an added bonus, they are incredibly attractive for busy people, cut down on travel time and expenses, and promote safe learning and communications during this challenging time.

Today is Giving Tuesday – Give Today and Build Healthy Communities.

RCAP Solutions is an integrated community development organization with 50 years of experience building strong communities throughout the northeast and Caribbean Islands. Your support helps communities to become economically sustainable.

This includes:

  • Safe and affordable housing and homelessness prevention
  • Clean drinking water, wastewater and infrastructure programs
  • Rural economic and workforce development
  • Disaster preparedness, recovery and relief
  • Education and training programs
  • Access to programs and services that promote individual and community empowerment

Please give.

With your help we can assist individuals and communities in need.

Visit: http://bit.ly/RCAPGiveTue2019

 

P.S. We have added a new option: Give Where You Live!

Choose an optional designation and scroll down to an area of interest including your individual state.