May 14, 2021

Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset on the Path to Recovery

By: Sarah Williamson



Judy Raper never saw herself as someone whose entrepreneurial mindset would make an impact on her community. She might have pointed to her younger sister, a CEO, as the mover and shaker in the family. 

Then Raper learned a new definition of entrepreneurship as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. She realized that by creating value for others, we empower ourselves.

She realized that the Ice House training she was attending could have a much broader application in her community; beyond integrating into her work as the Associate Dean of Community Engagement at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Mass.

“Ice House is much more far-reaching than if you want to build a business or teach a class,” Raper said. “You can use this in your day-to-day life and your workplace. It even had implications for my personal life’s work, which is sobriety.”

A transformative training

Raper attended the Ice House facilitator training with her colleague Michelle Barthelemy, a Business and Information Technology Department professor. Together, they chose a project to apply what they had learned. They are bringing the Ice House model into correctional facilities, starting in Hampshire County near their college in western Massachusetts. 

“I have lived experience in recovery,” Raper said, “and most people who are incarcerated have substance abuse challenges. I brought that piece, and my partner brought the knowledge of entrepreneurship.” 

“We did a mini Ice House course at Bridge to the Future House last fall that was unbelievably well received,” Raper said. “A lot of the individuals had been in and out of jail and had been exposed to a lot of classes, and the feedback we got was that this was the best class they’d taken.”

Raper also integrated Ice House content into a course she teaches for prospective GCC students recovering from drug abuse. The local opioid task force sponsors the program, and if students complete it, they receive a $1,000 scholarship. Raper had the students read the book Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, and she was surprised to hear them describe it as life-changing. “They are all in early recovery, and they felt like the concepts the ‘Ice House’ book introduced were applicable to their journey to sobriety,” she said. “It was a real gift.”

For example, one of the students in that course is now working with the local opioid task force and other partners to realize her vision of creating a sober house for women and children. “A couple of years ago, she didn’t have custody of her child, her health was at serious risk, she had no plans to go to college – and now she has this compelling goal,” Raper marveled. 

Spreading the message to local leaders

After seeing these and other successes, Raper applied for a grant “to get as many leaders as possible trained in the Ice House so we can infiltrate the region with this thinking.” As of April 2021, fourteen had completed the Entrepreneurial Mindset Facilitator Certification Training from industries as diverse as banking, municipal government, recovery, and social services.

“In addition to creating a course for vulnerable populations, those who took the course are finding ways to integrate the content into their organizations,” she said. For example, one participant runs an after-school enrichment program for kids. The program is part of an intergenerational foster care community with seniors over 55 and foster families. This participant will infuse Ice House into their programming. 

Raper has also reached out to potential partners, which has yielded promising results. For example, there’s a grant in progress to create an alternative high school; one for those who have dropped out or are at increased risk. Ice House would help students build resiliency and develop goals to make it worthwhile for them to finish school. A drop-in center for at-risk youth will use Ice House in its programs next year. And the Pioneer Valley Leadership Institute is working on a proposal to incorporate Ice House content to address intractable problems in the region.

Rural innovation with an entrepreneurial mindset

Raper is particularly excited about the upcoming Rural Innovation Center in downtown Greenfield. The Center has chosen the Ice House model as the philosophical foundation for its entrepreneurship program. 

“People pigeonhole entrepreneurship into tech and business development. We forget it can be part of recovery or helping foster kids reconnect with themselves or starting your own bike shop,” said Hannah Rechtschaffen. To clarify, Rechtschaffen is the Director of Placemaking for the land management and real estate development company W.D. Cowls and a board member of the Rural Innovation Center.

Rechtschaffen was part of a team from the Leadership Pioneer Valley program helping Raper expand her program offerings. They worked to develop marketing plans and identify audience segments for the Ice House component of the Rural Innovation Center. She says, “because we are all coming from different communities and we are trying to bring different groups to the table, we really feel alignment with the idea that Ice House is for everyone and we can apply it in different ways.”

It would seem Raper feels that alignment too. “My goal is to get this into as many spaces as possible, particularly to reach our vulnerable populations,” she said. While she acknowledges that many of the plans are in the early stages, many of the pilot programs Raper’s team has done indicate the Ice House approach is working.

Multiplying impacts

“Some of the impact is hard to measure because if you infuse this type of thinking into a region, there are ripple effects that are hard to quantify,” Raper said. “If you get trained, that’s one experience. When you work for someone, who has been through training, that’s another experience that you may not be able to quantify. If you teach a class, if you take a class, or if you become part of our Rural Innovation Center, that will be another impact.”

Raper marvels that she had no idea any of this was even possible before she took the training. “The content wasn’t totally new, but the delivery of the training was transformative for me. Ice House offered me the realization that I just needed to look at my job differently,” she said. It gave her the confidence that she could handle new challenges after 32 years in the world of student affairs.

“I never saw myself doing something like this,” Raper said. “What this tells me is that this is a program that can work for anyone and can have a real impact on organizational change.”