Nicole Mason, 39

Founder of Glean Cleaning Services, LLC

Richmond native Nicole Mason says she didn’t know she had trouble falling asleep without the sound of gunshots until she lay, wide awake, in her quiet dorm room at George Mason University.

“It was humbling and startling,” she says.

Mason went to college knowing she wanted to earn a degree that would make an impact, that would especially help communities that fall asleep to the sounds of violence outside their window. For years, she dealt in the world of public relations and nonprofits but says “very loud questions” continued to plague her.

So she went back to school and became a licensed professional counselor, working with kids who had experienced significant trauma. In 2016, during a particularly troubling case, a lightbulb went off.

“I was working with a family and the mother was staying in this domestic violence situation and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it,” says Mason. “The child was reacting to what he was seeing at home. But the mother couldn’t leave. She needed a job, she needed income.”

Something of an answer to those loud questions suddenly rang clear: In order to thrive, people need financial stability, dignity of work, an opportunity. “Sometimes people need an in-between space,” says Mason. So she started a cleaning company, hiring folks who needed to earn a living for themselves and their families without relying on ephemeral philanthropy or having to go out and get official degrees or training.

Today Mason has 11 employees, who she pays a living wage, and cleaning contracts within the tri-county area and beyond. “I’m sitting here looking out of my window at our first Glean van wrapped with our logo,” she says. The name, Glean, just came to her; it wasn’t until two years into her business that she realized how apt it was.

In the Book of Ruth, the widow practices gleaning, the ancient practice of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been harvested, to support herself. “Ruth was in between places,” says Mason. “One of the lowest levels of charity is to give people what you think they need. Higher charity is giving them a job.”


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