FAU honors student Ben Arsali, center, with Diana Stanley,
CEO of The Lord’s Place, left, and Jeremy Morse, vice president
of social enterprise at The Lord’s Place.
By Paula Detwiller
When you’re a college kid, getting a text message from your mom isn’t always a big thrill.
But the message 19-year-old Benjamin Arsali of Hypoluxo Island received from his mom on Feb. 3 made his day — and probably his year, he says.
“Congratulations!” it read. “You’ve won the $15,000!”
The news meant that Arsali, a business major at FAU Jupiter’s Wilkes Honors College, won the top prize in a scholarship competition among his fellow classmates: $15,000 in seed money to start a new business.
But not just any business. Students competing for the Kenan Social Engagement Scholarship wrote business plans for a “social enterprise” — a business that addresses a pressing social need — as part of a class in social entrepreneurship.
Their assignment was to design a viable business that could be implemented at The Lord’s Place, a West Palm Beach organization that provides supportive housing, job training and other services to homeless individuals and families.
“When I visited The Lord’s Place and sat in the cafeteria with volunteers, staff and homeless clients, I could not tell who was who,” Arsali says. “Homeless people are just like you and me. I asked them, what are your needs? They all said, ‘We want jobs.’ ”
He went home and thought about it. What kind of low-startup-cost business could provide steady employment for formerly homeless people? He did some research and hit upon an idea.
“Currently in Palm Beach County alone, there are thousands of foreclosed and bank-owned homes,” Arsali says. “Banks hire out companies to paint, pressure-wash, cut the grass at these vacant homes — simple tasks.
“Meanwhile, you have 3,200 people sleeping on our streets any given night in Palm Beach County. They’ve lost their jobs or become unable to work, so they’ve got no employment history, and some have criminal records.
Now they can’t find a job. This is where my company, Maintenance Magicians, will come in,” he says.
Under the guidance of Jeremy Morse, vice president of social enterprise at The Lord’s Place, Arsali is starting to set up the business.
First, he says, he will purchase equipment and train a small “starter group” of Lord’s Place clients; they’ll learn the ropes by doing basic maintenance on the organization’s own buildings. Next, Arsali will appeal to local banks’ sense of corporate responsibility, pitching them on the merits of hiring Maintenance Magicians to keep up appearances at their foreclosed properties.
Morse, who participated in the judging, says he chose Arsali’s plan because it could be implemented right away, and replicated in other areas if successful.
One of Arsali’s FAU professors, Dr. Christopher Strain, says the best social entrepreneurs are the ones who don’t allow their dreams to become crushed.
“That’s Ben,” Strain says. “If he wants to, he certainly has the skills and energy to further this project and take it in new directions.”