Location: Roanoke, Virginia
Service area: Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida
Services provided: Financial support for water projects, housing rehabilitation, training, technical assistance, and more to individuals, businesses, and municipalities
Revenue in 2019: $6.14 million
Founding date: 1969
The belief that “water is life” is the foundation for SERCAP’s work of improving health outcomes by providing clean drinking water and safe wastewater disposal in low-income communities.
But behind that simple slogan lies a complicated (and often expensive) reality. SERCAP works to address the complexity of ensuring successful long-term infrastructure projects. They do this by offering technical expertise, training, grant funding, loans, and other services to elected officials, utility leaders, board members, and community stakeholders.
Over its 51-year history, the nonprofit’s role has grown significantly. They support economic development, housing, education, and employment opportunities in its predominantly rural service area. This area spans seven states in the southeastern U.S.
Access to clean and affordable water is just one of many basic daily needs for residents in the communities SERCAP serves. In addition, individuals with low and moderate incomes frequently face multiple challenges to self-sufficiency, including a lack of structurally sound housing, health concerns, low levels of education, and economic disparities.
“A lot of the individuals we work with haven’t had the best cards dealt to them,” said Britni Arrington, a special projects manager at SERCAP. That’s why the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program and its focus on empowering economic underdogs resonated with the SERCAP team. “We recognize the advantage of seeing opportunities in what other people would call obstacles,” Arrington said.
In addition, SERCAP’s sizeable geographic footprint—and the diversity of communities within it—requires an innovative approach.
SERCAP recently established a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative to offer a training program that will build individuals’ knowledge, skills, and connections to improve their economic self-sufficiency and establish entrepreneurial opportunities in their communities.
“Through the SERCAP ELI Program, we’re building an entrepreneurial mindset program that utilizes the Ice House curriculum and training course and is really designed with our clients in mind,” said Arrington, who will lead the new program. In addition, because every participant will focus on their personal mission, each experience will be unique. “We can tell anyone they can benefit from this,” she said.
In its first year, the program has grant funding to train 330 people across Virginia. Those who complete the program will receive follow-up entrepreneurial services. It’s an ambitious goal, but Arrington explained that the intake process would be structured to help the SERCAP ELI team identify clients’ challenges and mitigate them before they arise. That way, the clients may focus on their goals without the barriers they might have encountered otherwise.
SERCAP President and CEO Hope Cupit first connected with ELI nearly a decade ago. But, this is the first time that her team has incorporated the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program into the organization’s programming. However, Arrington said Cupit’s passion for the Ice House message hasn’t waned during those years—it’s still contagious and inspiring.
“I truly appreciated the book, Who Owns the Ice House: 8 Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, and reading about the failures that others faced, what they learned from those failures, and how they persisted despite them,” said Cupit. “Nothing is quick. It takes time, but persistence pays off in the end. “In fact, I think ELI is doing an amazing job of encouraging us to think about solving problems. Right now, people are seeking a quick fix and want solutions fast. So rather than encouraging our children to say ‘Google it,’ I think we should start saying “ELI it.’ Let’s encourage our children to be problem solvers.”
Arrington expects the first participants to complete the 8-week SERCAP ELI development training by the fall of 2021. SERCAP and its partners believe that the program will eventually lead to economic development and establish new small businesses. First, however, they embrace ELI’s definition of entrepreneurship as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others.
With that in mind, Arrington explained, the critical outcome SERCAP hopes to see among participants is a shift toward the entrepreneurial mindset that lies at the heart of the Ice House approach. “We really want this to be a comprehensive program that encapsulates whatever it is that the clients hope to accomplish.”