To say that the government of Englewood, New Jersey had a paper problem was an understatement. Stacks of forms were backed up in the city’s construction office — creating a headache for people trying to obtain building permits. And that wasn’t the only problem that the department had. Since the office was only open during regular business hours, it was difficult for permit-seekers with full-time jobs to come in to fill out forms and check on how the permit process was progressing.
City workers weren’t in denial about the inefficiency of their office, either. Englewood city manager Tim Dacey told Miles Ma of that obtaining a construction permit was “a very time-consuming, paper-oriented process.”
So they contacted Bright Star, a startup that specializes in helping businesses transition from paper-based transactions to digital ones. But Bright Star isn’t just any startup. It’s a nonprofit that hires veterans to do the digitization work. Dorothy Nicholson founded Bright Star in 2008 after seeing her veteran family members and friends struggle with transitioning to civilian life. Nicholson told Ma, “There really was no leeway to enable them to slowly get back to the practice of working with other people.”
She wants Bright Star to provide that support and understanding for veterans through such programs as job sharing. That way, if a veteran can’t hold a full-time job, he or she can work a part-time one. Nicholson also allows employees to miss work for the physical therapy, counseling, or medical appointments — all things that many returning veterans need to attend. Additionally, Bright Star has a job sampling program through which employees can give different jobs a try until they find the right fit.
Bright Star has updated Englewood’s construction office, and now each building inspector in the city has an iPad to use to efficiently complete forms. Beginning on May 13, digital permitting will be available for all Englewood residents. And as for the veterans that Bright Star employs, “Yeah, there’s a bottom line that you’ve got to be aware of,” Nicholson told Ma, “but at the same time the humanity of helping soldiers needs to be a priority.”
It sounds like Nicholson is a woman with her priorities straight.
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