Bringing it All Back Home – Frank Ricceri, Division Director, Growing Grounds

For close to 30 years Frank Ricceri has worked at  Transitions-Mental Health Association, where he directs their social enterprises, the Growing Grounds, which employ people with severe and persistent mental health issues. Located in San Luis Obispo, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Ricceri says, “I felt like we’ve been isolated, like under a rock, but incubating and doing great work.”

It’s only in the last year-and-a-half that Ricceri learned about REDF and its national efforts to build capacity around social enterprises. “Connecting with my colleagues here in the cohort has been huge for understanding what’s going on with social enterprise in the world, and that there is a movement I can tap into,” he says. “We’re all doing the same work at various levels—directors, executive directors, managers, people that are on the front lines. REDF has allowed our organization to tap into this energy that’s flowing around social enterprise. I can bring that energy back to my managers, who have been with me for 10 or more years.”

One of the biggest benefits Ricceri gets from the Accelerator is the opportunity to take what he’s learned at an Accelerator session and try it out on his colleagues once he gets back home. Following the first Accelerator session held in San Francisco, Ricceri returned to Growing Grounds to do a deep dive around the customer experience. Once Ricceri realized the managers of the three social enterprises run by Transitions-Mental Health Association had limited line of sight into how the other businesses operated, Ricceri implemented his own mini workshop based on what he had learned at the Accelerator.

“We talked about what it was like to experience the job from the consumer’s point of view: Here’s what a person experiences that comes to work in our retail store. Here’s what a person experiences when they work at our farm in Santa Maria. Here’s what job seekers supported by our employment specialists that go out into the community experience. We shared our stories. It was really something that should’ve happened 20 years ago, and it was all inspired by my experience with the Accelerator. It was a seminal moment.”

Ricceri learned that one of the businesses, the Growing Grounds Downtown retail store, was so challenged operationally that they often had new transitional employees sweeping the small back patio repeatedly, instead of helping customers out front. The transitional employee was not receiving the full benefit of retail training. Meanwhile the store staff felt as if they were letting the transitional employee down. “During our retreat,” Ricceri recalled, “the Growing Grounds Nursery manager offered to pay the wages of a current transitional nursery employee out of his budget.”

“As a result,” he says, “we started a mentorship position at the downtown store.” The store manager assigned a dedicated trainer to accompany new transitional staff for their first several shifts, until they were able to navigate the store, assist customers, and get the full benefit of training without requiring constant attention from a store staffer. Meantime, a graduating employee could transition to a new position after obtaining all of the training available at the wholesale nursery.

“The store budget wasn’t affected by paying the wages,” Ricceri says, “Even better, the nursery is able to move a transitional employee to a new job and offer them a new experience for their resume. All parties benefited!”

About Frank Ricceri
Frank Ricceri earned a BS in Business at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo before beginning his professional career in social enterprise as a farmer at the Growing Grounds Farm in 1988. Six years later, Frank was promoted to manager at the wholesale nursery and vegetable farm. In 2001 he became a director at Transitions–Mental Health Association. Today Frank combines his business background and mental health credentials learned working along-side people at the Farm to direct Transitions-Mental Association’s three social enterprises, as well as its Supported Employment program, its housing programs in Santa Barbara County, along with the family advocacy efforts and two Recovery Learning Communities.

About Growing Grounds
Growing Grounds’ programs serve as a link for the Supported Employment Program’s participants to employment within the community. Growing Grounds Farms and Store offer a variety of real world work experiences where participants work hard doing a variety of farming and nursery tasks, learn retail sales skills, develop jobs skills, build confidence as well as engage in life skills classes, build a resume, learn computers, office skills and more, all needed to move into career entry-level employment.

About Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA)
TMHA is a nonprofit organization serving San Luis Obispo and North Santa Barbara Counties. TMHA is dedicated to eliminating stigma and promoting recovery and wellness for people with mental illness through work, housing, community and family support services.