With an unshakeable faith in God and a vision to help others as well as the environment, Wanda and Bennie Lee opened the Greener Cleaners on Northside Drive in December. What may appear as just a cleaners with a twist - environmentally friendly - to those who pass by, it is much more than that to the Lees.
Owners of the New Beginnings Recovery Residences in Statesboro, two drug and alcohol rehabilitation homes for men, the Lees said starting a business to provide jobs for those in recovery was necessary because jobs are scarce.
"This is where we were having difficulty," Wanda Lee said. "Jobs are hard to find right now, and they are particularly hard for these men. So, we felt like we needed to have a business where they could work and contribute. After months of research and soul searching, we decided to open the Greener Cleaners."
The Lees considered a number of different businesses for their Northside Drive location before settling on opening another dry cleaning business there.
"This building became vacant last June," Lee said. "My husband, I, our two sons Ben and John, and the men living in the residences looked at a number of different businesses for this building, and we just kept coming back to opening a dry cleaners, because the building was already designed for that."
The Lees said they knew that their dry cleaners would need to bring something new to the marketplace, and that is where the "greener" aspect came into play.
"There are a lot of dry cleaners in Statesboro," Bennie Lee said. "We are the first to use an environmentally friendly process. The GreenEarth process cleans with pure liquid silicone, whereas most dry cleaners used a petroleum-based solvent. The clothes we clean have no "dry cleaning" smell, and the whites don't yellow, and the colors don't fade."
Right now, the cleaning operation is able to employ six of the men from the recovery residences.
"I love working there," said Eric Cook, a New Beginnings resident. "This is an opportunity to change my life. I have done a lot of extraordinary jobs, and lived the high life, so-to-speak. It is very humbling to clean someone else's clothes, and that is what I need."
The business has quickly developed a dedicated customer base that loves the service and the environmentally friendly cleaning process.
"I saw the sign out front and decided to try it out," said Patty Dickey, owner of Sew Much Fun in Statesboro. "I really like the service, and the way my clothes look and smell. I have met three different people there, and they all have been very, very nice."
Bennie Lee retired recently from a career with the Georgia Department of Transportation. Wanda Lee worked in the Georgia public school system for 30 years before retiring - first as a teacher and later a middle school principal. It was a calling that brought them out of retirement to become first time entrepreneurs.
"I never thought that there would be a time that I wouldn't miss being a teacher," Wanda Lee said. "Since we began this journey with the recovery residences, and now the cleaners, I really haven't. This has been so incredibly fulfilling."
"We researched many drug and alcohol addiction recovery programs before opening New Beginnings Recovery Residences in 2008," Wanda Lee said. "We asked ourselves throughout the process, if God designed a program, what would it look like?"
Using a faith based approach as the underlying tenant to their program, the Lees have created a recovery protocol that involves three very distinct and required aspects.
The residents must go to church on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings and participate in a Bible study and prayer group during the week. They must enroll in a 12-step program, attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, and get a sponsor. Finally, they must each become financially responsible.
"If we expect these men to be successful, and support themselves, then they have to work," Bennie Lee said. "With a lot of support, we have been able to put that piece into place. It is our goal to provide every resident that needs it, a place to work as they get their lives back in order."
The business as become a family affair as the Lee's niece and son Ben work there.
"I wouldn't give up working with my family for anything," Ben Lee said. "It's the best job in the world, and I am very proud of what my parents have been able to do."