The Entrepreneurial Spirit at NEC
Josh BoyntonG '06
The concept for Josh Boynton’s company, LifeShare, was brilliantly simple: provide community-based human services at a fraction of the cost of traditional programs. The inspiration, Ron, a developmentally disabled adult who lived with Josh and his wife, Rachel, for many years, is equally heartwarming. Today, the concept and the inspiration have intertwined to create a thriving company offering services to clients of all ages and abilities throughout New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Florida.
Ron had suffered from spinal meningitis as a child and, as a result, demonstrated behaviors similar to those of autistic children. Through his work with Ron, Josh became interested in the social services system available through the state. And when Ron turned 21 and the school system no longer provided for his care, Josh began to look at how these services could be delivered in the community. “Ron was an amazing individual,” said Josh. “He had never been listened to. He was frustrated with the type of care he had been receiving. People didn’t know how to work with him; how to be with him. I saw a spark in his eyes every time we did things that validated him as a human being.” With this knowledge in mind, Josh went to the state with a bold request. “I told them I wanted to form a company around Ron - a company that could provide him with the services that he needed.”
Josh noticed that the creation of art projects was the key to Ron’s behavioral issues. “Whenever he participated in art he became more engaged and all his behaviors started to go away,” he noted. So Josh hired an artist to work with Ron and started an art club in Henniker in a tiny cottage in the parking lot of a local grocery store. The concept caught on and soon an artisans co-op was founded. Students from New England College and artists from the Henniker area started selling an eclectic mix of their original artworks. “That’s when I realized I really appreciated New England College and all the students, faculty, and community members who embraced Ron.”
At this point, Josh figured things were pretty well set. Until he realized that families, who were impressed with the work he had done with Ron, were now coming to him with requests for their own individualized programs. “LifeShare was purely a grass roots organization that was focused on civil rights. We were looking at people for their gifts and their abilities, not their disabilities. People want to be included and succeed. The system as it was, was built around protecting individuals. It never explored their possibilities. LifeShare gave them permission to dream and I wanted to dream big!”
Over the last 13 years, Josh has stayed true to his mission to provide personalized community-based services. LifeShare’s workforce now numbers over 300. In addition, Josh has started an alternative high school located at the Manchester airport, Soaring High, for children in the juvenile justice system. “It’s been a David and Goliath story,” he notes. “The bricks and mortar institutions have been controlling the delivery of services and we are distinctly anti-group home and anti-segregation. That makes us somewhat controversial.” But Josh has found a sympathetic ear in the political establishment. “The Republicans like us because we save them money and the Democrats like us because we are socially sensitive.”
Josh describes his master’s degree program in non-profit leadership as a great experience. “I feel like New England College provided me with the opportunity to experiment and to go out on a limb. When it comes to building a business, it was a safe place to practice on things that were real the next day. The cohort model is a real benefit. I was able to sit with my peers and explain, and learn, and teach, and test out ideas. It was a place to get some very healthy business support and inspiration to get through the hard times.”
In fact, Josh has adopted the cohort model in his own business and uses it to provide foster care training. “People have built in support – they have others to call on.”
Josh’s innovative work in transforming the delivery of human services has not gone unnoticed. Among the many honors he has received are the 2007 “40 Under 40” award, the 2009 “25 Future Business Leaders” award, and a proclamation from the Governor of New Hampshire. Governor John Lynch also named Josh to the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission in April.
Josh sums up the philosophy that has been the foundation of his success with LifeShare, “All you have to do is listen, share your heart with the person, and the rest takes care of itself.”