New Avenues Ink and Two Ben & Jerry's scoop shops in Portland, Oregon, are more than just your typical screen-printing business and ice cream shops. As ventures of New Avenues for Youth, these businesses are also roads to independence for at-risk youth.
New Avenues for Youth is a nonprofit organization in the City of Roses that offers a comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness and its root causes. For 20 years, the organization has been working with foster, at-risk and homeless youth ages 14-24, helping them address the barriers they face and reach their full potential through direct services—such as providing food and basic items—and advocacy. Part of the nonprofit’s social-purpose enterprises, New Avenues Ink and the two Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops provide youth with real-world work experience that can help them exit street life and face other challenging situations with confidence.
Catering for a Cause
New Avenues for Youth’s first foray into socialpurpose enterprises was with Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop. The company waived the franchise fee for New Avenues and the organization hired the youth they were serving, providing job coaching and work experience. Today, the nonprofit owns two brick-andmortar Scoop Shop locations—one on the campus of Portland State University and another in Pioneer Courthouse Square—as well as a seasonal location at the Oregon Zoo open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The organization also has a catering operation for events. Planners can choose between a basic cup-and-cone party and a sundae party with hot fudge, hot caramel, whipped cream and other toppings.
New Avenues’ senior business manager, Jim Cooper, says the catering arm does approximately 150 events a year. “We’ve done some really big events for Nike and a comedy event that had about 600-700 people. Here on the Portland State campus we’ve catered for groups of 2,000. And we’ve done weddings, celebrations of life and events at wineries.” They also do annual fundraisers, birthday parties, VIP parties and more.
He says the enterprise offers a sense of stability for the youth. “It’s a pretty diverse group that comes through here. … They work really well as a team across the board; they seem to gel. It’s a safe place to make mistakes and learn what it means to be a good employee.”
The catering team, says Cooper, is “very professional, and they get to encounter settings they normally wouldn’t, such as galas and wineries. It’s enlightening for them.”
Success through Screen Printing
The success of Ben & Jerry’s led to the organization opening its New Avenues Ink screen-printing venture. It’s an opportunity for youth who are looking for jobs in industries other than customer or food service—opportunities that are more industrial and tactile. The company offers screen printing for everything from event-, sports- and business-branded T-shirts to mouse pads, water bottles and lanyards.
“We have employed around 20 youths each year in our shop and given them internships that can last two months or one year, depending on their individual tracks,” says Sarah Weihmann, enterprise director with New Avenues. Because it’s a small shop, Weihmann says participants can learn the “hard skills” of the entire screen-printing process, including sales, marketing and graphic design. “The other big piece that they learn are those soft skills like confidence, communication, teambuilding, problem solving—those kinds of things that you only get by doing, by hopping in the fire,” says Weihmann.
The company can print a group’s existing design or create one for them. “We have an on-staff graphic designer, and we also have another business/program which is an artist mentorship program where we leverage professional designers and have them mentor our youth one-on-one using the Adobe Suite programs,” she says.
Weihmann says surveys of former New Avenues Ink interns have found that nearly 60 percent of participants are employed in the year following their internships at Ben & Jerry’s, New Avenues Ink or dfrntpigeon, the organization’s apparel shop. Of those, 69 percent report being compensated beyond minimum wage. In addition, 17 percent of participants overall report enrollment in postsecondary education, and 98 percent report a stable housing situation.
Jamie (whose last name is withheld for privacy) is one of those success stories. She started out in an entry-level job at New Avenues 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 essentially 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 screenprinting 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.”
Jamie says working with Avenues Ink taught her how to work with a team and put her trust in others. “It’s very team oriented; it’s an excellent place to land. Relying on people was something I wasn’t used to,” she says. It also encouraged her to be more proactive in the community. “When you’re making a difference in people’s lives—and it’s a significant difference in their lives—it’s paving the way for their success.”