Electronics, lives find new purpose via nonprofit
There's something almost eerily symbolic about what RecycleForce Columbus does.
It employs people for whom society doesn't have much use to recycle electronics people no longer want.
The nonprofit "social enterprise," which began operating in September 2012, was co-founded by Eliah G. Thomas of Clintonville and Lexington, Ky., entrepreneur Robert G. "Bobby" Clark.
The concept -- giving jobs and job skills to ex-convicts who take apart and recycle obsolete electronics -- has struck a chord in central Ohio, Clark and Thomas said last week.
So much so, they added, that they are seeking a larger space for the operations than the current location in a warehouse at 2038 Britains Lane off Cleveland Avenue in north Columbus.
"We've grown out of our space and are looking for additional space, which is just phenomenal," Thomas said.
The new location should be between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet -- and it must be close to a bus line, because that's how the workers get around, Clark said.
It also should have a loading dock, Thomas added.
Thomas has a long background in working to reintegrate men and women into society after they have served prison terms. She currently serves as the community coordinator for the Pathways for Women Demonstration Project at the Franklin County Office of Homeland Security and Justice Programs, and since January 2011, has been employment and education subcommittee chairwoman with the Franklin County Reentry Task Force.
Clark, too, said he is interested in working with men and women who have been incarcerated, and has developed programs to help them find jobs and develop work skills.
The two of them, Clark said, learned about the existence of RecycleForce in Indianapolis and were intrigued.
"After launching in 2006, RecycleForce, formerly known as Workforce Inc., has gone from two workers and 600,000 pounds of processed materials to more than 75 employees and 6 million pounds of processed recyclables annually," according to the website of the Indianapolis operation.
Thomas and Clark decided to try something similar in Columbus where she resides.
When the first weekend collection brought in more than 5,000 pounds of electronics to be recycled, Clark said they knew there were onto something.
"It was shocking to me ... that we could fill a semi in four hours with electronics, and every single person who dropped off something said, 'Oh, thank goodness, we had no idea what to do with this.' It was an epiphany," Thomas said.
"We're excited to provide solutions," Clark said.
The Britains Lane warehouse is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays to accept e-waste.
"We can recycle anything with a cord," the website of RecycleForce Columbus states. "We also accept household recycling, cardboard and bikes and bicycle accessories."
There is no charge for recycling, except for old televisions and CRT monitors.
RecycleForce Columbus will participate in the next Northland Community Council Shredding Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at the Franklin County Early Voting Center, 1700 Morse Road.
While most people might simply be glad RecycleForce Columbus exists so they can get rid of stuff they don't want, Thomas and Clark said they are pleased to be doing something to help give ex-convicts a better shot at starting over.
"Many or most find it very difficult to get a job when released," Clark said.
"They're imprisoned when they get out by not being able to get housing or employment or whatever else they need," Thomas said.
"We're an employer who understands the barriers," Clark added.
Thomas said she gets lots of letters from ex-offenders who say the programs in which she is involved, including RecycleForce Columbus, helped change their lives.
"All the long hours or any of the frustration or any of the manual labor just fades away," she said.