Cleanslate, social enterprise of Cara, expands into the 27th Ward
March 8, 2018

By Eva Hofmann

At a recent community kickoff event, Alderman Walter Burnett introduced the Cleanslate program’s expansion into the 27th Ward. Cleanslate, which provides jobs in neighborhood beautification, is part of Cara, a non-profit agency dedicated to strengthening communities while helping people break the cycles of homelessness and poverty.

“Cleanslate’s support will provide a much needed pathway of hope and opportunity for dozens of our residents every year,” said Burnett.

Cleanslate’s move into the 27th Ward signals a three-year investment of more than $300,000 in the ward, made possible by donations from the Habitat Company, Waterton Properties, and the Owens Foundation.

“While there is no formal contract, our sponsors have agreed to support the project for three years,” said Brady Gott, Cleanslate’s managing director. According to Gott, the Cleanslate staff regularly provides status reports to sponsors to demonstrate the social return on their investment. “We know that employment reduces violence in our neighborhoods,” he said.

Sponsorships range from $50,000 to $200,000 annually. “The greater the investment, the more jobs and services we can provide,” Gott saiod.

Over the coming three years, officials expect Cleanslate will create more than 60 new jobs for community residents. “We hope to have additional partners join this effort that will allow us to create more jobs for residents of the 27th Ward,” said Gott.  “I hope we are just getting started and that many more supporters will see the benefit and the transformation that is happening.”

Cleanslate’s 27th Ward involvement began late in 2017. The move deepens its mission of beautifying Chicago neighborhoods by cleaning up streets and parkways and changing the neighborhood landscape by building safer, more vibrant communities.

Early results

“We’ve been hard at work for a few weeks now,” said Gott. “We are seeing some great results and receiving positive feedback from the community.” He noted residents are curious about the program and its opportunities for them. Business owners and pedestrians who run across crew members have expressed gratitude at seeing the neighborhood cleaned up. Also, as residents begin to work for Cleanslate, they can take their “hard-earned paychecks and proudly shop” the businesses in the 27th Ward, thereby multiplying the economic effects of the program, Gott said.

“It is my hope that this innovative approach of pairing business leaders with social enterprise services will spread like wildfire through other wards in our city to help build more vibrant communities,” said Burnett. “I look forward to seeing our residents’ lives and our community invigorated with a new infusion of hope and commitment to such meaningful change.”

On the street, 27th Ward residents are seeing the crew cleaning the public way, picking up garbage, and sorting recyclables. “There is also an intense focus on developing self-presentation and customer service skills,” said Gott. “Each crew member is required to greet at least 100 people per day.”

Crew members also can provide information about the Cleanslate program to anyone who asks. “We…teach them that it’s less about the trash,” said Gott. “The trash is simply a means to an end. It’s not really about picking up trash, but about picking up integrity, discipline, self-confidence, and other positive traits.” 

Gott said even more is happening as workers integrate into services through Cara. “They will engage with Cara staff to develop core competencies that not only aid them in finding a job but help them stick to and stay on that job,” he said. “We know that when people are employed that is only the start of something good. Staying with a company results in pay increases, promotions, and further skill development. That is where you see the real transformation magic begin to happen as mothers get their children back or formerly homeless people move into their first apartment.

“Through Cara, each crew member receives job preparedness training, attends workshops on soft skills, practices interview skills, and becomes ‘send-out eligible’ for employment opportunities,” Gott added.

Since its inception in 2005, Cleanslate crews have filled up more than 750,000 bags of trash and more than 250,000 bags of recycling in 33 Chicago neighborhoods and suburban communities. The program focuses primarily on exterior maintenance, landscaping, and snow removal, with an emphasis on sustainability. Nearly 2,200 Cara participants have worked in 2,349 transitional jobs through Cleanslate, with 920 people securing permanent or long-term employment through their involvement.

The job of the Cleanslate crew is “to make the 27th Ward immaculate, so the ward’s ‘customers—local residents, business owners, and the new people that the ward seeks to attract to the community—keep coming back.” Gott said.

For more information on Cleanslate, go to  To learn about joining a Cleanslate crew, call (312) 798-3300. Any individual or business seeking to help Cleanslate grow through sponsorship can contact Gott at (312) 798-6772.