My parents are nuts. Good nuts. But nuts. When I was in high school, my parents got really involved with a women’s shelter in Ephrata, PA. They supported the shelter financially and offered free babysitting, mentoring, transportation, and general encouragement to some of the ladies living there with their young children. One woman my mom helped was having trouble with citizenship papers, and my parents helped fund her immigration lawyer. Another woman was struggling to obtain a PFA from her recently-released baby daddy — in stepped Sandra and Sheldon. Annually, they threw a fancy dinner party for these moms to show them that they’re loved and deserving of nice things now and again, despite how hard things were for them.
After a few years of this, my Dad had a literal coming to Jesus moment and honestly, he hasn’t been the same guy since. He quit his super fancy fortune 500 c-suite job and took a much smaller position at a less stressful company closer to our home. Then — and this is the “nuts” thing I alluded to earlier — my parents purchased a number of homes in and around Ephrata to rent to moms coming out of the women’s shelter in Ephrata.
Their logic was that many of the moms get to a point where they don’t need all the hand-holding of a women’s shelter anymore, but there are still considerable hurdles to resuming life as usual. For example, first and last month’s rent is a steep ask. Furniture is really expensive. Utilities may not be included in rent, either. Given these hurdles and the need for space between a shelter and a standard apartment situation, my parents rent out homes to moms coming out of the shelter under market value and do a lot of hands-on work supporting these moms on their own.
One of the biggest areas where my parents are able to support in addition to simply providing a place to sleep is childcare. In south-central PA, fair market rent and quality daycare are approximately the same. Sandra, my blessed white mother, has been a stay-at-home mom since I, her oldest child, was born in ‘94, so taking care of children for other moms who are trying to work was always a “yes of course” for her. Many of the moms who are finally getting off their feet literally couldn’t do it without the reliable, flexible, and zero-dollar childcare my mom provides. Mom feeds, teaches, transports, and plays with the children to help break the cycle of poverty.
The main problem is that “Sandra Offering Free Childcare Because She Loves Kids And Moms” isn’t a scalable model at all, and it doesn’t account for times my mom isn’t available, like when she’s sick or on vacation or taking one of my siblings to college.
So for both the sake of my mom’s sanity and Catholic guilt and for the sake of these moms who need to work but also need child care in order to work, I came up with the idea of The Laundry Ladies.
When I was in college, I had a house with a washer and dryer hookup and would happily take clothes for my friends since I was going to be home doing homework anyways. When I lived in Ghana, the housekeepers in the hostel where I lived would take laundry from us Americans who were not keen on washing their clothes in a bucket and charge us by how much our hampers weighed.
The moms that my parents serve need remote work more desperately than the moms who are able to take advantage of it now. White-collar moms with degrees have seen such improvements in their careers, quality of life, and ability to have it all with the advent of remote and flexible work. Freakonomics noted that the main culprit of the gender wage gap is the exorbitant cost of time flexibility, and remote work is helping to fix that in a major way.
So I blended all these ideas together and got a business plan: A fluff-and-fold laundry service that employs economically-insecure moms so they can make extra money without having to pay for childcare. It’s along the lines of “Uber for Laundry” but it’s much more than that. It’s a way to help end the childhood trauma caused by poverty and help moms.
I applied to be a part of Assets’ Great Social Enterprise Pitch, which has helped launch some of Lancaster’s proudest businesses including The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe, The Common Wheel (which I sit on the board of), and Bridge, among others. I was accepted along with 9 other visionary social entrepreneurs, some of whom had their business up and running, and others who, like me, just had an idea they weren’t even sure would work.
Over the summer, we took weekly business classes to learn about the basics of entrepreneurship, business planning, and the mission of our social enterprise. We came up with pricing models, studied our markets, and fine-tuned our ideas.
And now, we’re reaching out to our networks to ask for funding for the next step.
For my business, I’m only looking for $500. My model is bare-bones by design. Unlike Uber, which requires participants to have a license, a car, and insurance, any mom with a washing machine can participate in The Laundry Ladies and make money to help raise their families.
It’s not that I’m particularly passionate about laundry. I hate matching socks as much as you do. But I am passionate about feminism for everyone and bringing remote work to the moms who really need it.
I’m very very booked with the election right now (I do communications for Jess King for Congress), but our plan is to get rolling this coming winter collecting laundry, bringing it to moms, and getting them work in the doldrums of winter.
Please, hit me up with any questions. You can use my contact page here or find me on facebook.