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Community Spotlight Q&A: Clean Decisions

The mission of Clean Decisions is to provide those returning from time in the criminal justice system with the ability to work productively in a caring setting. This breaks negative cycles and helps employees build a path to personal achievement. In addition, Clean Decisions connects staff members with free counseling services and opportunities for community involvement. 

For this month’s spotlight, we spoke with Will Avila, CEO, about Clean Decisions and the services they offer in and to the DC community.

What is the story behind Clean Decisions?

I founded Clean Decisions in 2014 after being in and out of prison through my teens and early 20's.  I realized I needed a new path, and wanted to provide others the same second chance. To start the company, I worked overnight for free learning how to clean restaurant hood vents and grills, and then we started doing the dirtiest jobs that no one else wanted to do in order to build our business.  Over time, we began to learn the events trade, and then teamed up with an expert on landscaping to teach us this work and ultimately expand our businesses.

You can see through this business progression our constant focus on learning, training, and mentoring because our goal is to provide people coming out of prison an opportunity, and if they work hard something that can lead to a career.  We founded this as a business and not a charity because we want our staff to know that they won't be given anything.  Customers give us a first chance out of kindness and for our social mission, which we are grateful for, but we only expect them to keep hiring us if we do a good job, and we emphasize that with our team.  That idea of earning our success builds pride on our team, and ultimately leads to the building of an ownership mentality- in our work, in one's future, and as being part of the fabric of the community.  That is our goal- providing high quality service to our customers while also providing training, mentorship, and ultimately personal and professional growth to our staff.

Tell us about the services you offer in the District.

Clean Decisions offers three services:

  • Landscaping and General Contractor Services-  We provide mowing, weeding, edging, mulching, etc. for residents across Capitol Hill and Hill East, as well as improvement services such as patio and handyman support.
  • Event Staffing, Security, and Clean Up- From Events DC to the largest food festival in DC, Taste of DC (held at RFK this year!), Clean Decisions provides event staffing, security, and clean up for events across the DMV.
  • Commercial Kitchen Cleaning and Hood Vent Cleaning-  We work with restaurants across DC to provide commercial kitchen cleaning as well as quarterly hood vent cleaning.

You can reach us at cleandecisionsdc@gmail.com. 

How are staff members trained?

Different business lines are trained separately, but the general theme is an expert provides support and guidance, and we complement that with soft skill training.  For instance, in landscaping a retired botanist works with the team to teach them about plants and then the foreman of the team teaches on techniques and the equipment.  A staff member is then the junior person on the team, and earns into leadership.  We're looking at adding a profit-sharing component to our staffing if we're able to build out our landscaping and event businesses in order to take this training and sense of ownership to the next level 

How does Clean Decisions break negative patterns?

We break these patterns by rewiring what we're taught to believe.  In the neighborhoods I and most of our staff come from we are taught that violence makes you a man, that seeing women as objects is what you're supposed to do, that your community doesn't care about you so why should you care about your community or care at all about throwing a piece of trash on the ground or street harassing someone, and that we're going to die soon anyway so what does it matter if we spend our little money at the corner store or eat unhealthy or engage in risky behaviors.  That's our frame many times coming in, combined with a wariness of any outsider and a feeling of we have life figured out.  Our team breaks these patterns by showing there is another way.  By showing that unconditional love means people have your back no matter what, not just if you're violent alongside of them or rob with them or whatever else.  We provide a family-like atmosphere of love, combined with an emphasis on "conditional support."  That means that you're always part of the Clean Decisions family, but we're going to invest more training in you, our time in mentoring you, provide you promotions, etc. only if you earn them and are working hard.  That's how we break negative patterns- give people the infrastructure to change thinking and succeed, but emphasize to them they have to earn it.

Share with us some client feedback.

Well I guess I can't use Events DC since ya'll are interviewing us, but know we love working with you!  On the Events side, I want to rep a couple local businesses.  One Eight Distillery was one of our first clients, and three years later we still work with them to this day, and I think I can safely say there's a mutual love there for their support of us early on and I think on their part for consistent high quality work across the years.  Neighborhood Restaurant Group was also one of our first clients, and we still work with them to this day, including Saturday at Snallygaster, and their head of events even joined our sister non-profit's board.

On the landscaping side, we're blessed to work with about 45 Capitol Hill and Hill East residents.  Nicole Harkin has been a longtime friend of ours, and as a thank you it was fun to even put up a little free library for her recently just as we have at our house at 18th and A St SE (as well as a native plant garden alongside it).  I think the most meaningful piece of feedback I ever received though was when a client wrote us a handwritten note saying she hired us in essence to be nice, but the attention to detail and pride in which our staff did our work was truly best in class and moved her.  That's exactly what we hope for- showing people our social mission, but then impressing them with our quality.

How can I support the work you’re doing?

Thank you for asking!  As a small business we don't have a large marketing budget, but the greater our sales the more people we can give a second chance opportunity.  You can reach me directly at Will@cleandecisions.com[ST2] , but to hire us for landscaping or event services (or if you own a restaurant and need hood vent or commercial cleaning) you can reach our main email at cleandecisionsdc@gmail.com[ST3] .  For more information on us, you can also visit us at cleandecisions.com

Thank you for the opportunity to connect in this interview, and for Events DC's support in hiring us to clean the RFK area and Hill East neighborhood.  We're grateful to have you as a partner and grateful to have you in our neighborhood.