Mario Kelly – Working to Create Working Opportunities Across Detroit in Sustainable Ways
From social justice to getting Detroiters back to work, and even an emerging green dumpster business, Mario Kelly is following his passion for connecting those in the community to sustainable opportunities and inspiring others to follow their business dreams.
To that end, Kelly started B3L1EV3 – a motivational-apparel company – several years ago to inspire Detroiters to go after what they believe in. Keeping that sentiment, he then launched Believe 313 Staffing, Believe 313 Cleaning, and soon-to-be Believe 313 Dumpsters. Born and raised in Detroit housing projects, he has been a community activist and liaison for years.
Kelly started Believe 313 Staffing in 2017, following that with the launch of Believe 313 Cleaning in 2020, and now holds contracts to do post-event cleaning for Ford Field, Little Caesars Arena, Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre, and Pine Knob Music Theatre.
His extended vision for Believe 313 Dumpsters is about diverting commercial and residential waste from landfills in the city of Detroit and beyond.
Here he talks to SBND about his businesses, his inspiration, and his continued efforts across areas of sustainability in Detroit.
Q: How did Believe 313 Staffing start?
A: I grew up in a HUD neighborhood at I-75 and Canfield and nearby was the meat packing company Wolverine Packing. They had received a tax abatement from the city of Detroit to build a storage unit and a park in the neighborhood. Part of that tax abatement required them to hire 50 people from the surrounding area.
Owners Jim and Jay Bonahoom came to the community to get insights on what people wanted and to start to talk about hiring.
People in the neighborhood referred them to me because I was heavily involved in the community and knew a lot of people. They told me they need 50 people and I brought them 100 applicants.
Jay and Jim then began urging me to start a staffing company to help connect people in the neighborhood to opportunities. I thought – what does a kid from the projects without a degree know about starting a business? But they kept advocating for me and supporting me, so I did it, and today it’s a seven-figure business.
Q: You’ve been very involved in social justice and community. You started a program called Canfield 75, an effort that aimed to bridge the divide between housing projects in your community. You created a neighborhood Meet Up and Eat Up – a free summer lunch program for students – and you’ve coached and led youth groups in several capacities. Where does your passion come from?
A: I’ve always felt that my purpose is helping people. And growing up where I did … you form strong bonds. We had to help each other in whatever we had going on. There is a real sense of community in underprivileged areas.
I want to and can get people in the community to work. They are ready and willing to work, and I enjoy connecting people to local businesses and creating opportunities for people to get ahead. My purpose here is to help assist people on their journey to financial stability. It’s a win/win.
Q: You grew your staffing company and added a cleaning company – Is that right?
A: Yes. I had the concept and business cards – the start of the cleaning company. I was involved with the Detroit Youth Choir and they were invited to take a tour of Shinola that I attended. That was serendipitous because the individuals at Shinola happened to mention that they needed a new cleaning company. I wrote up a proposal and have been cleaning for them since.
Eventually, I was referred to Comerica Park, and that opened the door to all of the arenas.
I just held a two-day job fair to hire people to clean Ford Field on Thanksgiving. The pay is $22 per hour which is solid. I had 120 people come out for this opportunity. This helped folks earn money to buy Christmas gifts and fulfill other basic needs.
Q: What sustainability practices do you follow regarding your work at the arenas?
A: We use all eco-friendly cleaning products. All of the arenas have robust recycling practices, and we sort all plastics, cardboard, cans, and bottles for the arena’s recycling companies to then handle.
I’m working to convert everything we do as a company to environmentally friendly – such as cleaning products – and a focus on waste diversion. That is the impetus behind the new dumpster company – Believe 313 Dumpsters.
Q: Tell us about Believe 313 Dumpsters.
A: Living and working in the city, and through the cleaning business, I’ve realized that between residents and businesses we have a lot of dumpster usage in the city. And most of the contents of those dumpsters is ending up in landfills.
The goal behind Believe 313 Dumpsters is to recycle and divert as much of the contents of the dumpsters as possible.
Q: What does the future look like for the Believe 313 companies?
A: Motivating Detroiters in a way that moves people and the city forward in a sustainable way. Whether that’s from a financial and economic standpoint, a social justice standpoint, or an environmental standpoint, for me it’s about creating opportunities for people to thrive.
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