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Cultivating Social Innovation

GSSW alumna Carmen Sample has built a profitable social enterprise that also benefits the community

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Being a social worker doesn’t mean you have to be a martyr. That’s according to Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) alumna Carmen Sample, CEO of Sample Supports, a for-profit provider of community-based services for youths and adults.

The notion that social workers don’t have to be overworked and underpaid may sound like a revolutionary idea, but Sample herself proves that it’s not far-fetched. Since she founded Sample Supports in 2010, Sample has grown the company into a $16-million business with more than 500 employees across a range of services, from foster care for youths to assisted living for aging adults.

“Competition raises the bar for service delivery,” says Sample, MSW ’08, LCSW. “I see that in action in our progress as a company. We care about the bottom line and care about innovation—we create innovation because we’re trying to compete. Ultimately, the individuals we serve benefit. They receive better, more innovative services.”

Social entrepreneurs like Sample develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural or environmental issues. The social issue Sample set out to address was the need to eliminate institutional care for people in need by providing superior community-based care options, but she wanted to do that without the red tape and slow pace of change that comes with a nonprofit model. Instead, Sample introduced solutions including Crystal Joy retail stores that sell jewelry made by people with disabilities, two restaurants, two food trucks, a catering company and an event center, all of which employ people with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“We’re a business with a mission, but we’re doing it in a for-profit way,” says Sample, 2018 recipient of the GSSW Community Service Award. “If you have a great idea, you should do it. How can your idea be translated into a sustainable practice? It can be done!”

Sample will share her experience as a social entrepreneur at The Social: Inspiring Action in Social Innovation, an Oct. 9–10 summit of thought leaders, practitioners and students of social impact who will convene for immersive ideation, learning and action in social innovation and entrepreneurship focused on equity in innovation for community health and wellness. Sample will be part of a panel discussing “The Entrepreneurial Moment,” in which she’ll share her perspective on the innovative vision, vexing issues and personal velocity needed to propel social entrepreneurship.

Hosted by the University of Denver’s Project X-ITE, Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise, and GSSW, The Social provides cross-sector networking, collaborative learning opportunities and experiential workshops on topics including design-thinking, social impact evaluation, and funding and scaling for start-ups.

The summit aims to spur ingenuity and broaden perspectives regarding the power of social innovation and impact work in the global economy, says GSSW Dean Amanda Moore McBride. “If you are trying to do well while doing good, you will advance your impact by attending.”

Cultivating Social Innovation

Celebrity Chef Guy Fieri with Carmen and Mark Sample. In January, Fieri’s Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives featured Samples Restaurant, which employs people with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities. The pub is part of the Sample Supports suite of community-based services. Photo courtesy of Samples

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