Debbie Sardone, founder of the nonprofit Cleaning for a Reason, shares how a missed opportunity transformed into a way to help thousands of women battling cancer.
- Posted on Mar 11, 2016
Debbie Sardone has owned her cleaning company Buckets & Bows Maid Service for over 30 years. She’s used to fielding calls from prospective clients inquiring how much a service might cost, but one conversation with a woman undergoing treatment for cancer ended up changing the way Sardone did business forever.
“I gave a woman a price for services and she said, ‘I can’t afford that right now. I’m going through chemotherapy and I’m not working,’’’ Sardone tells Guideposts.org.
The call ended and Sardone was filled with regret.
“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Why didn’t I just think to offer her the cleaning for free?’’ Sardone recalls.
She gathered her staff that same day, advising them that if any more calls came in from women battling cancer, they were to offer them a free cleaning. Sardone continued that practice for years, never promoting the special service or making a big deal of how her company was giving back to the community.
She helped church friends and employees going through treatment, but it wasn’t until she attended a maid convention and shared what she was doing with other business owners that her “missed opportunity” transformed into a philanthropic business model.
“I was surprised by how many maid service owners came up to me wanting to do what we were doing,” Sardone says. “They asked questions like ‘How do you screen patients? How do you find these women that need help?’ That’s when I realized I needed to turn this company policy into a nonprofit and start setting up a program to make it easier for us to find women in need.”
Teaming up with local volunteers, the entrepreneur created Cleaning for a Reason in 2006. The organization partners with local cleaning services around the country and in parts of Canada to offer free cleanings to women undergoing treatment for all kinds of cancer.
Sardone says the application process is easy. Patients just need to visit their website, check their zip code to make sure a maid service is operating in their area, fill out a form and attach a doctor’s note simply stating they’re undergoing treatment. From there, the nonprofit partners them with a cleaning business that will then give them one free cleaning per month for four months.
Sardone – whose parents have both battled the disease, her father losing his fight to cancer and her mother thankfully beating it – knew how much something as simple as having a clean home could mean to someone. She wanted to offer peace of mind in the easiest way she knew how.
“We’ve had women tell us that the day they walked into a freshly cleaned home was the most normal they had felt in months,” she says. “We’ve had other women say it just boosted their spirits and they started to feel like they could fight this again. It’s just incredible the emotional impact a clean home has on a woman who feels like her whole world has spun out of control when she receives that diagnosis.”
But it’s not just women benefitting from her charity. When a woman battles cancer, her entire family suffers.
“We’ve heard from some of the husbands who say this was such a burden lifted off their family,” Sardone says. “He’s picking up the slack, he’s doing the things that he’s used to her doing and just having a clean home when he’s buying the groceries or cooking the meals -- running the kids back and forth -- it’s really a blessing to the whole family.”
It’s also been a game-changing model for small business owners.
“A lot of business owners mean well, but they’re building a business, they don’t have time to go out and find people that need them,” Sardone says. “We just make that easy.”
To date, Cleaning for a Reason has helped over 21,000 women with 1,200 cleaning businesses offering services that would have cost more than $5.5 million. Sardone – who says her nonprofit now has services available in almost all 50 states, including Hawaii – hopes she can continue to spread the word and reach women in every part of the country who need her help.
“Our goal is to become a household name to where every maid service in America wouldn’t think twice about joining,” Sardone says. “We want people to know, this is what we do. We do it well. We’re committed to giving back to our communities.”