Options Mississauga Print and Office Services is a not-for-profit charity. We have operated in Port Credit since 1993. Our mission is to prepare individuals who have an intellectual disability with the skills necessary to obtain meaningful employment in the community. Our primary service is printing, but we also offer many other business services. As a social purpose enterprise, we provide employment and training in a community environment for people who are often left behind. At Options, customers and individuals with disabilities interact in a unique, integrated setting.
The people we serve through our social mission are often left behind by other organizations as there are few employment opportunities for them in the traditional labour market. Our retail store operates in Port Credit community in Mississauga, where both our clients and the people we support live. We deliver training in a community environment. At Options, individuals with intellectual disability and customers have a chance to interact in a real, integrated setting.
In 1990s, the parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities noticed that there were few opportunities for their children to stay active after they finished school. The parents got involved in fundraising bingo to raise the money for a place where individuals with disabilities could go to and do something in the community.
At the beginning, it was a small retail print shop with one employee and ten people we supported. We rented a small space, bought equipment, and hired a manager to oversee the store. The parents incorporated the organization as a charity and established a Board of Directors. Many parents also contributed their expertise: for example, one had experience in the photocopy business and another set up our accounting system.
The biggest milestone happened ten years ago when a person who joined our Board of Director brought a vision for our future. He had an adult son with intellectual disability and had been involved with the Special Olympics. His background in commercial real estate has been greatly beneficial for our organization. Becoming our President, he wanted to expand operations beyond just running a photocopier and a fax machine, motivating our shop to develop a more diverse product and service offering. For example, we became a Purolator shipping agent, added T-shirt printing, and introduced graphic design services. Over the last ten-year period, we increased our annual sales from $30,000 to approximately $200,000. We now have six employees and support about 35 people with disabilities.
Twenty years ago, a majority of our revenue came from charity bingo, which raised about $60,000 a year. Over time bingo funding decreased, but we received some grants to buy new equipment and hire employees for our expansion. As the business grew, we started earning more money from sales rather than relying on grants. Two-third of our revenue is now internally generated through sales and donations.
Originally a small printing shop, Options Mississauga Print and Office Services has increased its offering over the years. Our current primary service is printing, which includes colour and black & white copies, digital or offset printing for business cards, postcards, flyers, brochures, and large format printing. In addition, we offer many other business services such as internet café and faxing, digital archiving, and mail merge and mass mailing, personalized memorabilia, word processing and design, and mailbox rentals. We also earn some income as Purolator’s authorized shipping agent, receiving payments for each package picked up from our store.
Our customer base is mixed, consisting mostly of small local retail businesses and organizations such as churches. We have some large contracts that earn several thousand dollars (for example, we do mailing for the Ontario government), but most sales are of small scale (a few hundred dollars per order).
Financial sustainability is hard to achieve in a retail business because increasing sales requires higher staff costs. As grants go away, we look for ways to fill the gap. Since the industry evolves and customers change, we also need to constantly reinvent ourselves.
Another challenge is to ensure we constantly pay attention to our social mission. Because we operate the shop every day, the business takes a lot of effort and time away from people we are here to support.
We have also been searching for new opportunities for some people we support, who have nowhere else to go. Our team is trying to develop another social enterprise to accommodate their needs.
Each population has different challenges: choose the type of business that fits needs of the people you are supporting. Have a clear focus on what you are trying to get the people to do (e.g. learn a new skill and/or engage in community). Establishing a clear screening process helps in bringing the right people into your programs. Have a good business model. The print industry has worked for us because there is a demand for such services, and the business provides an opportunity for our people to learn transferable skills. The Board of Directors with diverse talents can help grow the social enterprise. Our BOD members contribute their expertise in marketing, print business, human resources, etc. Make sure that there is quality in what you do. Keep your products and approach fresh—improve continuously.
We are a small charity that cannot afford to hire many employees. Unlike some bigger organizations who can hire professional grant writers, we do not have that kind of luxury. Having ongoing funding would be helpful.
Options Mississauga Print and Office Services is a charity with a Board of Directors. We are a stand-alone organization with our own infrastructure. Our staff is divided into two streams: program support and the store manager.
Options Mississauga Print and Office Services has received grant funding from the following organizations:
- Community Living Mississauga Foundation
- Community Foundation of Mississauga
- The United Way of Peel Region
- Canada Summer Jobs
- Government of Ontario, Ministry of Community and Social Services
- Ontario Trillium Foundation
Without this funding, Options simply could not have developed the thriving business and successful social mission we currently enjoy.
We also have positive relationships with customers and businesses that benefit our business. For example, being a Purolator shipping agent has helped draw people to come to our shop.
Impacts & Outcomes Objectives
We operate a retail storefront in the Port Credit area of Mississauga. Individuals who have an intellectual disability work alongside other employees in a fully integrated environment – a unique, exciting model which has demonstrated success. We offer a “real” business environment for the individuals we support to learn in – there is nothing contrived or artificial about our training program.
Options provides employment training for individuals who have an intellectual disability. We offer several types of training:
- Our core program is targeted at people who have finished school, have the specific goal of gaining employment in the community and need skills to realize this goal.
- A co-op program for students still enrolled in high school so they can gain positive experience in a work environment and broaden their horizons as to potential post-education opportunities.
Each person who is accepted into Options has an individualized training program set up for them which is tailored to the employment goals they set. The program is designed to be 12 months in duration, but flexible according to the individual.
After involvement with Options, the people we support are better prepared to move on to other endeavours, which may or may not include community employment. We occasionally support people who may not realistically move on to competitively paid community employment but can demonstrably benefit from experience at Options.
Perhaps most importantly, these individuals are exposed to the community in a fully integrated, supportive atmosphere. And conversely, our customers see people who have an intellectual disability in a positive and productive light.
People enrolled in our programs learn general employment skills such as business etiquette, answering phones, serving customers, meeting production quotas and deadlines, dealing with cash, and other skills they can use in competitive employment in the community. They also learn specific skills such as faxing, photocopying, use of computer programs, operation of an electronic cash register and much more. Of great importance is the feeling of accomplishment and confidence which can help in many areas of life.
Vision for the Future
Our long-term goal is to be self-supporting and not require any grant funding to operate, and we are steadily making progress towards that goal. We are also currently in the beginning stage of developing a second social enterprise, exploring ideas and industries that could accommodate the needs of the people we support.
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