Kevin McCracken: Creating the Same Opportunities that Saved His Life

First and foremost, I am a husband, a father, and a positive member of my community.  I am also the co-founder of a company called Social Imprints. We are a social enterprise – a business with purpose – and our purpose is to provide higher paying professional jobs to individuals who need a second chance, while at the same time running a competitive screen printing business. Not that long ago, I was a potential employee of the company I now own.

Twenty years ago, I was a homeless heroin addict living in San Francisco.  Given where I am today, it’s hard to believe I was the same person. I spent two years living on the streets, and then served an 18-month jail sentence before entering a long-term drug treatment facility.  Looking for a job with a felony record and spotty work history was a huge challenge, and my chances of landing a job were slim.  I was determined to change my life, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

Social enterprise didn’t just change my life, it saved my life. When I was looking for work at the end of treatment, I found a posting for a job with an organization called Golden Gate Community, Inc.  They were looking to hire a driver to deliver souvenirs to their retail stores in City Hall and other locations.  I applied and interviewed with Randy Newcomb. He saw something in me, and recommended me to work as an administrative assistant at their other business, a screen printing shop called Ashbury Images.  When I got that job, everything changed.  Over the past 20 years, I went from a 20-hour-a-week administrative assistant to a sales manager, to the general manager, to co-founder at one of the country’s most successful social enterprises.

REDF played a key role in that transformation.  At the time I was looking for work, there were very few social enterprises and even less funding for them.  George Roberts saw this need and had a vision. He created REDF to help people who were striving to overcome employment barriers find a job and ultimately find hope.  Both of which I needed, desperately.

Ashbury Images was part of REDF’s portfolio.  It was not a money-making venture, and it relied on the investment and advice from REDF to survive.  With the stewardship of people like Mr. Roberts, Jed Emerson, Randy Newcomb, and my now business partner Jeff Sheinbein, I was given an opportunity, and more importantly a place to learn and be supported. I had potential, just like the millions of people out there today who are striving to create a better life. Without the vision of REDF, none of this would be possible.  And what is possible?

Today I am paying it forward. The seeds of Social Imprints were planted in those early days of REDF.  I realized, after working in a non-profit, that I wanted to create a work environment that encouraged ownership-level dedication, and we have accomplished that.  Today, Social Imprints generates over 10 million in revenue. We have 35 dedicated, full-time employees, and 85% of them come from an at-risk background.

Miguel is just one great example of an employee who overcame formidable challenges in life. I began working with him when I was General Manager at Ashbury Images. He came to us as a former gang member and addict, looking for a chance.  Just as Randy saw something in me, I recognized that Miguel had so much potential.  After our lead printer failed to show up, I showed Miguel how to run the press. That was 15 years ago. Today Miguel is Social Imprints’ Production Manager, he has adopted and supports his nephew, and he is training our next generation of social entrepreneurs.

That’s the ripple effect of social enterprise. It’s an approach that has changed tens of thousands of lives, with the potential to do so much more. I am living proof of that.