01/23/2013 09:12 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

A New Approach to Job Creation

Helping those with the biggest barriers to employment succeed in a job requires first -- above all -- a job to succeed in, somewhere to create value and to be valued. Fostering success in work is what Challenge's mission is all about and we've been doing just that for more than 45 years. Supported by state and other government funding, we've created work environments for those facing severe disabilities and provided the extra support needed for the people we serve to succeed in jobs in the community. This model relies on government support to create jobs and provide supports for those facing barriers. It's this model that's broken.

Despite our history of success, the world around us is changing as the social service funding that has supported our work is being cut year after year. We don't have the luxury of creating subsidized work places for those facing the largest barriers to employment, especially as the world around us grows more and more competitive for even the most highly skilled workers. To continue to create job opportunities we have no choice but to change with the times. We must move ahead of cuts in funding to create financially viable businesses that create opportunity for workers from a diverse background of skill levels. Doing so takes a shift in thinking and a shift in resources that doesn't happen overnight.

We're working hard to create our own jobs by building businesses like the Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub. The Food Hub is a central collection point for local food connected to our existing network of distributors and grocery store partners. The jobs we create will be focused on adding value to fresh produce by washing, chopping, storing and packaging wholesome local food. To make this work it helps that we started in the food business seven years ago growing our own hydroponic produce year round in the cold of Ithaca, New York. Doing so has helped us build a brand trusted across New York and into New England as a source of local high-quality produce. It has also helped us build the critical partnerships with big distributors and grocery stores that will help us scale and build a viable business.

With the help of donors across the country through our JobRaising website we can prove that this model of local food collection, processing, and distribution can work in communities across the country. Near as we can tell no one has tried this model at the scale and with the connections we're bringing to bear to solve the problem in a sustainable way. The Food Hub is more than a collection of farmers, and it reaches more tables across our region than any home delivery model could possibly reach. The equipment we're raising funds for is needed to add value to our products and is key to creating the jobs and sustaining the profits we need to continue to serve our mission.

Social service agencies providing job opportunities for the disabled and others facing barriers to employment can't afford to wait for funding to be cut. Every year it seems that more and more non-profits are competing for fewer and fewer government dollars and the same limited donations from every corner of their own small community. By reaching out across the country and maybe around the world, we hope to change that. We want to show that with the right kind of broad community investment, smart planning, and connections, we can continue to create quality jobs for everyone in our community for years to come.