One Ice House Facilitator sets out to infiltrate her region with an entrepreneurial mindset.
When Judy Raper and a colleague from Greenfield Community College (GCC) attended Entrepreneurial Mindset Facilitator Training in the summer of 2020, she was less than two years into a new role at the college after 32 years in student affairs. The Community Engagement role still felt like a new world—and Raper was unsure if she would succeed within it.
“Entrepreneurship was a big part of my work, and I couldn’t even spell it,” she recalled with a laugh. “Ice House offered me the realization that I just needed to look at my job differently. While the material itself wasn’t new, the delivery of it was transformative for me.”
Raper and her colleague Michelle Barthelemy, a professor in the Business and Information Technology Department, had an inkling that the life lessons from the Ice House program could benefit others in their area too. Their first project was to implement an Ice House class into a correctional facility in their community.
“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 exposed to a lot of classes. 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 in recovery from drug abuse. The local opioid task force sponsors the course, 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 introduced in the ‘Ice House’ book applied to their journey to sobriety,” she said. “It was a real gift.”
To build on the promising start, Raper set out to share The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s definition of entrepreneurship – the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others – with as many people in her community as she could “to infiltrate the region with this thinking.”
Raper applied for a grant to get local leaders trained in the Ice House model. Currently, there are 14 and counting, including people in banking, municipal government, recovery, community action, and more. “Collectively, they make up some of the most credible leaders in our region,” she said.
She also started reaching out to partner organizations. “My goal is to get this into as many spaces as possible, particularly to reach our vulnerable populations,” she said. Proposals and grants are in process for leadership groups, foster care settings, and community centers for at-risk youth. Also, an alternative high school and an entrepreneurship center within the Rural Innovation Center that’s under development in downtown Greenville.
“Entrepreneurship gets so pigeonholed into tech and business development that we forget it can be part of recovery. Or, helping foster kids reconnect with themselves or starting your own bike shop,” said Hannah Rechtschaffen.
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. She was part of a team from Leadership Pioneer Valley that helped Raper develop marketing plans and identify audience segments for the Ice House component of the Rural Innovation Center. “Because we were all coming from different communities and we were trying to bring different groups to the table, we really felt alignment with the idea that Ice House is for everyone and applicable in different ways,” she said.
Many of the plans are still coming to fruition, but Raper is optimistic. “We’ve done some pilots that tell me this is working,” she said.
“Some of the impact is hard to measure because if you infuse this kind of thinking into a region, there are ripple effects that are hard to quantify,” Raper explained. For example, she said, “If you attend the training, that’s one experience. If you work for someone who has been trained, 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.”
She continued, “The Ice House is much more far-reaching than building a business or teaching a class. You can use it in your day-to-day life or your workplace. It has even had implications for my personal life’s work, which is sobriety.”
Finally, Raper described the journey of a former student working with the local opioid task force. They, and other groups, are helping to realize her vision, creating a sober house to support recovery for women and children in their region of Massachusetts. “A couple of years ago, she didn’t have custody of her child, her health was at serious risk, and she had no plans to go to college. Now, here she is with this compelling goal.”