By Matthew Van Deventer | Photo by Giles Clasen
Recycling mattresses is merely a vehicle for change for Spring Back Colorado Mattress Recycling. Re-integrating drug addicts and alcoholics back into society is its real business.
Since Spring Back’s establishment in August 2012, owner and founder Christopher Conway and his crew have recycled over 65,000 mattresses and box springs, diverting from landfills 1.4 million pounds of lightweight steel, 992,485 pounds of mattress ticking, 867,283 pounds of prime foam, and 328,130 pounds of plastic. And 57 drug addicts and alcoholics found a sense of purpose.
While struggling to maintain what was left of his dwindling company that built high-end custom homes, Conway, who stands six feet four inches, with benevolent blue eyes and a pastor’s demeanor, started volunteering: “Filling my cup with servitude,” he said.
Inspired by the men he served at the Denver Rescue Mission, Conway visited a mattress recycling pilot program in Nashville, Tennessee. When he returned to Denver, he found another man attempting to do the same thing. Three weeks later, Conway took over the Denver operation.
In his first month of business, Conway and his first crew recycled 50 mattresses and box springs. Today, Spring Back recycles 3,000 mattresses and box springs every month. Spring Back employs a crew of ten men, and uses four trucks to pick up 12-15 mattresses every day.
Conway’s first crew consisted of three homeless men he hired from the Denver Rescue Mission. That first crew struggled with addiction, and Conway feared he wasn’t affecting change, only enabling them. Ultimately, he had to fire them. Afterwards, he decided to focus on hiring men that had graduated from a rehabilitation program.
In the beginning, Conway got too involved in his employee’s lives, and he realized he had to create a level of separation. Now, he focuses on their futures, helping them with self-initiated projects or even finding an employee a car to buy. He isn’t as interested in their pasts as he is in getting them to the next step, though he does make himself available when they are struggling, and encourages them to be sober outside of work. Spring Back has about an 80 percent success rate with nudging employees to a more positive lifestyle. “It’s not just about business,” said Conway. “It’s about life.”
Conway started hiring from Stout Street Foundation and continues to do so. He also hires from Step 13, Saint Francis, Denver Rescue Mission, and the Department of Corrections’ well of rehabilitation graduates, starting them off at $9 an hour after a two-week trial period.
In a partitioned area in the Spring Back Warehouse, Loressa Mayhew, recently released from jail after a year and a half, works for Green Pup Dog Beds. She excitedly rattled off all the skills she had recently learned putting together custom dog beds made from repurposed materials. “It’s giving me experience, it’s keeping me in a positive state of mind, it’s making me feel that I am somebody. I have purpose. I have something to do every day,” said Mayhew.
Green Pup is one of two existing micro businesses in the warehouse, another vehicle for change at Spring Back and another part of Conway’s vision. His ultimate goal “would be to have these guys owning their own businesses.” ■