Connecting people is something Jake McKenna has done since he was a teenager.
The Ocoee resident said creating a sense of family within the community is one of his main goals in life. Without a solid support system, he believes many people would struggle in their day-to-day lives.
Now, McKenna is sharing his passions with the community through his Facebook group “Jake’s Small Business Alliance.”
McKenna has been an administrator for the popular “Winter Garden — Rants, Raves and Reviews” group as well as the “Clermont Rants, Raves and Reviews” for some time with his friend, Sean O’Neill.
Over the last two years, McKenna said he noticed a divide between business owners and consumers.
“Winter Garden, especially, is a wonderful community; however, a great deal of the residents are somewhat jaded after poor experiences with subpar contractors or people posing as legitimate businesses and losing their money when those people disappear,” McKenna said. “As a handyman, ‘Jake of All Trades,’ I have always treated my customers like family, and I am completely transparent to where they have full trust in me.”
McKenna’s ethics are unique and have helped him stand out in the profession, causing a great deal of homeowners and business owners to come to him for advice and recommendations.
“There were so many that it became overwhelming,” McKenna said.“As honored as I was, I was also busy with my own small business and raising a family. That’s when I decided it was time to take my idea of a group for business owners and make it a reality.”
Jake’s Small Business Alliance now has more than 500 members since its inception in April.
The group comprises highly rated business owners who are dedicated to improving the quality of service in the community.
“We intend to bridge the gap between homeowners and service providers, build bonds between our businesses, and help struggling homeowners who have been victims of bad business practices,” McKenna said.
Because McKenna’s inspiration was to have a centralized location for business owners to seek out resources for their own personal jobs or for their clients, one of the goals was to fill the group with licensed and highly recommended businesses,
To distinguish these business owners, McKenna supplies an expert badge next to their name in the group.
To receive a badge, members must provide McKenna with a screenshot of their license information, as well as a four-star rating on various websites.
“This has helped the vetting process as well as helped with recommendations,” McKenna said. “With the group being exclusive to business owners only, our members can post without fear of a customer seeing. This also helps with building relationships with other businesses, as well as seeking advice or recommendations — without fear of any backlash on their business. We all have a common goal and that is to provide the best service to the customer, even if we’re not the ones to do the job.”
The group currently has more than 400 businesses, with more than half displaying an expert badge.
McKenna said he has formed relationships through the group with local business owners such as Jordan Lewis, the son of Charles Lewis and owner of Front Row; Sean Lagasse, Home Run Pest Control; Frankie Liz, Daniel’s Cheesesteak House; and Ron Ziolkowski, Ron the Realtor.
Member and moderator Dave Tran, owner of Tran Chiropractic, said he first got involved with the group after learning about McKenna from the Winter Garden page.
“It’s almost like a support group … we share a lot of similar trials, tribulations and challenges that go along with opening up a business even though we all come from different fields,” Tran said.
Member and moderator Jessica Villegas, owner of Hi-Lite Coaching and Consulting, agreed, saying she joined the group a few months ago.
“Small-business owners, we’re very, very busy; we don’t necessarily have time to meet other small-business owners, so it’s a great space to learn who’s out there, know who is reputable, share resources and to form new friendships where we might otherwise not,” Villegas said.
ACTS OF SERVICE
During the group’s meetups, McKenna runs a raffle for spots on the Facebook page header as well as other items purchased for the raffle. Proceeds from the raffle go toward expenses for the event, and funds left over are donated to local charities.
Most recently, the group partnered with A Heart to Give, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children in the area by providing school supplies and necessities that are hard to come by for struggling families.
Because one of his life goals is to start a nonprofit of his own, McKenna wanted to find a small nonprofit that could help him understand the inner workings of running such an organization while also gaining attention for the selected nonprofit.
“I wanted to partner with a small organization who was willing to sponsor our page and take a monthly donation from the raffle we have,” McKenna explained. “I am not looking for any monetary gain from the operation of this group. I wanted the funds gathered at our monthly events to go directly into the hands of someone helping our immediate community.”
Terrie Scott, president of A Heart to Give, said the funds will help with backpacks and school supplies for the children to start school.
“I know a lot of families struggle just to make ends meet so this is to help relieve the pressure of that so they can maybe put it towards food or a bill,” Scott said. “Something so little can bring so much hope to someone. We make sure we are being a hand up to our community and not a constant hand out service. We are wanting to better the community and truly help those that need the help. That’s our goal.”
In the future, Scott said she and McKenna will be working on several projects throughout the year to help families when needs arise.
“Jake (McKenna) found A Heart to Give through a post he had made and through conversation he has decided he wants to partner with us,” Scott said. “His heart is to build the community and for the community. This is really what it’s all about. He wants to give back to the community.”
Although partnering with a nonprofit is new for McKenna, he always has helped members of the community through what he calls “Angel Checks.”
“There have been a few people in the past three years that I have worked for, mostly elderly women who recently lost their husbands, and didn’t know who to call for certain tasks,” McKenna said. “While it seemed like they mostly needed conversation, I took care of a list of small tasks and sometimes the cost for the services. … I began voiding the checks and putting them in a little box.”
McKenna said he looks at the checks when he feels down, upset or overwhelmed.
“One of the first customers I did this with recently passed away,” he said. “I was upset over her passing when I heard. However, I am glad that she can be with her husband again. I hope she knew how much I enjoyed hearing about him as I hung his pictures for her. These are memories that keep pushing me to help others as much as I possibly can.”
In another recent instance, McKenna learned of Jennifer Tranter, who had a bad leak in her house, through the posting of one of her friends in the Facebook page. The friend was asking for buckets to carry water with so Tranter’s kids could bathe — McKenna knew he could do more.
After making a post in the group regarding the issue, donations immediately came pouring in, as well as members offering up their time and services.
“We began the process of hiring a company to come out and find the leak,” McKenna said. “Once that was done, we had plenty of members ready to go to complete the repair. Thankfully, the leak was outside the house, so we didn’t have to demo any walls or floors.”
The group of helpers plan on returning to the home to put in an access door over the repaired pipe to protect the repair. There have also been talks of a cookout so everyone who donated toward the leak detection company and repairs can meet the family they helped.
HEART OF A HELPER
McKenna said it has been a crazy ride over the past 17 years with his wife Jennifer and their three children; Liam, 15; Shayla, 3; and Caitlin, 2.
“Our son is one of my biggest inspirations,” McKenna said. “He is the most dedicated and goal-oriented person I know. His dream is to get a scholarship to play baseball in college. The main reason I try to put as much good out into the world that I do is to show my children the meaning of integrity and honor through selflessness.”
McKenna’s hope for his group is to continue doing good in the community. He said Lagasse, lead pastor at Purpose Church, has been his biggest inspiration throughout the creation of the group and beyond.
The alliance meets once a month at Front Row, with occasional other special events.
At the meetings, the attendees pass around a microphone, introducing themselves and their businesses, as well as tell the occasional joke, and offer or ask for advice.
On a larger scale, McKenna said he would like to work toward repairing the faith and trust in small-business owners by inspiring people to do better and run a legitimate business.
“Since I started Jake of All Trades, I have always tried to model my business and business practices in a way that resembles business owners I’ve followed and observed while admiring the local groups,” McKenna said. “I would say the character and unique moral values of its members is what makes the group the most unique. We all respect and look up to one another. It feels like one big happy family.”