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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Jobs for Youth – Gear for You.

This is a guest post from Jessica Elkan, the Director of Development and Communications at New Avenues for Youth.

Screen-printing equipment stored in a closet at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon was dusted off, given to our alternative school and became the inspiration for New Avenues INK, a social enterprise screen-printing business that trains and employees youth experiencing or on the cusp of homelessness. Fast forward five years and this brick and mortar screen printing shop in Portland’s trendy Pearl District has trained and employed 63 youth.

New Avenues for Youth, an organization that just hit the two decade milestone, has impacted the lives of more than 20,000 youth and INK is one of three businesses in our social enterprise portfolio. At-risk youth employed by INK can anchor to wrap around supports provided by New Avenues ranging from basic relief and safety services, mental health counseling, housing, education and career training – all aimed at preventing and ending youth homelessness.

Since our founding, it was evident that the youth we serve needed a combination of education and career training to reach self-sufficiency. The strategy of offering job readiness classes with a real-world work opportunity for youth to practice their newly honed skills while earning a paycheck began when New Avenues launched its first social enterprise in 2005, a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in downtown Portland. With the support of philanthropic investments, today we are operating two Ben & Jerry’s Partner Shops, a cart at the Oregon Zoo, an ice cream catering business and INK.

It isn’t a coincidence that in an apparel hub like Portland the community has embraced our efforts. Orders for screen printing come in from local schools, banks, construction companies, our NBA team the Portland Trail Blazers and recently one of our first out of state clients the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Sterile Processing Department at Stanford.

Collectively the enterprises train and employee over 100 youth annually and bring in $1M in revenue. For the youth working at INK, the enterprise builds a resume, skills and for some a career path.

Jamie (whose last name is withheld for privacy) is one of those success stories. She started out in an entry-level job at INK and found she had an aptitude for sales and problem solving. She was promoted and worked with the business manager. One year later, she was running the sales department, bringing on a new database and coordinating social media and marketing. Eventually she left New Avenues Ink for a position as an office manager at a larger screen-printing shop. She says her experience with the program “was nothing short of absolutely wonderful. It was supposed to be a temporary thing. I wasn’t really going anywhere as far as a career or in a field, and INK gave that to me. I gained that sense of purpose and what I wanted to do for my career.”

Growing up in a small family business is where I learned the hands on skills necessary to pursue my career goals. Witnessing youth have these same exposures, and the pride they feel in being a member of the INK team is inspiring. At New Avenues we know that INK is far more than screen-printing and a paycheck… it’s a launching pad for opportunity and possibility.

About Jessica Elkan:

Jessica Elkan is the Director of Development and Communications at New Avenues for Youth and during her ten year tenure has been a part of the team leading the growth of the New Avenues Social Purpose Enterprise Portfolio.

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