It’s a typical dismal winter morning in Vancouver’s west end, complete with pelting rain and chilly temperatures. This isn’t the kind of weather in which most of us would want to hang out, but for the staff at Keeners Car Wash, working outdoors comes with the territory.

That’s why Brian and Darren are outfitted in bright blue waterproof hoodies, two vibrant splashes of colour against the backdrop of raindrops, concrete and dark vehicles in a parking lot on Drake Street. They’re working on cleaning a car in Modo’s large fleet, wiping the exterior with microfiber cloths, clearing the inside with a portable vacuum and ensuring every interior surface is dirt-free.

The work may seem ordinary, but Brian and Darren are in fact part of a new non-profit social enterprise that uses innovative steam cleaning technology to wash cars, improve the environment and give youth better employment opportunities.

Keeners Car Wash, operated by Family Services of Greater Vancouver (FSGV), services corporate lots throughout Metro Vancouver using steam clean machinery. It’s a completely chemical-free process, with nary a soap bubble in sight – it’s water, steam and recycled microfiber cloths that get the job done.

Keeners is the first mobile car wash social enterprise in Canada to use steam cleaning as part of its core business and the environmental results are notable: in the last six months, staff have washed more than 500 cars, yet saved 150,000 litres of water.

But Keeners is about more than washing cars and reducing water waste. It was created to help youth with barriers to employment gain job skills and experience. Many of the Keeners employees are alumni from FSGV’s Street Youth Job Action program, a daily work program for young people.

“Some of my staff have only done work for family businesses and they don’t have a lot of other job experience. For them, [the car wash] is an easy access to learn,” says Andrew Bryson, Keeners’ general manager. “But people are going to come and work for us because they like some aspect of what we’re doing. Cars are pretty popular. They all like what they do, they enjoy it.”

For Bryson, being able to guide young people and facilitate their growth has been truly rewarding. In the last few months, he’s been mentoring Brian and given him the responsibility of instructing new staff like Darren.

“Brian’s been mostly in charge of the training, and I’m giving him that skill set where’s he’s in charge of passing the information,” Bryson explains. “Seeing him go from car washer to more of a supervisor has been great.”

As a burgeoning business, the hours available for staff at the moment are part-time, and fluctuate depending on the season. In the next five years, Keeners is working towards building a steady stream of stable hours and more opportunities for youth to realize their potential.

A grant from Central City Foundation allowed Keeners to purchase its steam cleaner and the generator to power it.

“Without our steamer, we wouldn’t have a business,” Bryson says. “It really is the central aspect of what we do. The steamer is a very innovative piece of technology and allows us to deliver the service that we want to deliver. Without the machine and Central City Foundation’s help, we’d be hooped.”

For more information about Keeners Car Wash, visit www.keenerscarwash.ca.