Bill Morris is the co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Recyclers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit social enterprise. The company recycles electronics to create jobs for people with disabilities. Eleven years ago Bill met four men, with autism, who had talent and innate skills to do the work, but they didn’t have a job. He built Blue Star Recycling to help put these men to work.
jbCM: Bill, what motivated you to get Blue Star Recycling started?
Bill: I really didn’t know anything about electronics recycling and I didn’t know anything about employing people with disabilities. I saw the these four young men who had talent and I knew that it was going to be very difficult for them to go to an employer and ask for a job. Instead, we built Blue Star around them. We built Blue Star on the hunch that they had the ability to do great work and they’ve done that and more.
jbCM: What did you do before Blue Star?
Bill: I was in the Telecom industry for a little over 25 years, on the wireless side. I was with Motorola, US West, Nextel and a few other carriers. I’m really an old two-way radio guy. When I was laid off in the early 2000’s I was really at a place where it was time to do something different and this (Blue Star) sort of serendipitously came together.
jbCM: How did you meet the guys you first hired?
Bill: Initially, in 2008, I met the four young men in a day program. If you have a disability you’ll likely be assigned to a service provider and you’ll be put into a program where you receive services. Some folks are only able to come to the facility and stay there, some will go out into the community.
These four young men were able to stay busy doing tasks, so they gave them electronics to take apart. They weren’t being paid and there wasn’t really a vocational goal to the thing, it was just kind of busy work and that’s when I spotted them and noticed they had the skill.
A year later, I had the good fortune to run into Tony and Mary Fagnant, who are the co-founders and they had a truck sitting in front of the building that said, “Blue Star Electronics” on it. I went inside and talked to Tony and shared with him what we were doing. We employed the men in the program and paid them for their work.
We were really just an enclave, it wasn’t a full-blown enterprise. I came back a few days later and told the story to Tony’s wife, Mary. The long and short of it, they donated the truck and the warehouse. They had a tenant in there, Blue Star Electronics, which had gone out of business, left a big pile of electronics, and left the truck as payment for back rent. Tony had a truck and a warehouse. I had people wanting to work, so we joined forces. We were kind of cheap in those days. we took the word “Electronics” off of the truck and put “Recyclers” on it. We recycled the name… that’s how she got started.
jbCM: What’s your message to the Colorado Springs community?
Bill: Most people are not aware of electronics recycling. We kind of know that this stuff doesn’t belong in our trash. The larger items tend to be stored in our garages or storage units in basements, but we really don’t know what to do with them.
One last thing, I would want everyone to know. If you have something in your home to recycle, bring it to us. We can recycle it and you can create new jobs for people with disabilities. The social return on investment is phenomenal. In 2018, according to the Colorado Institute for Social Impact, Blue Star Recyclers created about two and a half million dollars of social return on investment for the Pikes Peak Region. When you spend $1.00 with us we produce about $2.65 of social return on your investment. If you bring the stuff to us we’ll do the rest! jbCM