It wasn’t the proverbial “light bulb” scenario that sparked the idea for Milano Nonprofit Management student Annie Bickerton and her business partner Jordyn Lexton’s social innovation start-up—it was years of careful study and preparation. Lexton, a graduate of Wesleyan University, and Bickerton are the founder and director of development and operations, respectively, of Drive Change, a nonprofit food truck business that hires, trains, and empowers formally incarcerated youth.
Re-entry programs that train those exiting the criminal justice system for employment have a tough sell, as any one at The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) or The Fortune Society can readily tell you. However, it’s a crucial step, with studies consistently showing that those who are able to find work are substantially less likely to commit a re-offence. Recidivism is much worse in cases where teens are treated as adults in the system. In these cases, 85% are more likely to commit violent crimes after release than those of the same demographics treated as juveniles, says Bickerton. Because of this, many re-entry organizations do not work with the youth. Drive Change wants to fill that void by creating a model of re-entry specifically designed for the 50,000 16-17 year-olds who are tried as adults in New York each year.
Drive Change’s food truck, which beings a pilot program in August, will begin by training 30 people annually during an eight month program, which includes two months of training, six on the truck, and another two in preparation for re-entry. Participants of the program, who are initially chosen by the CEO, will walk away with transferable industry skills and food-handling licenses, a community of support, and experience through quality, paid employment. To further ensure success, Drive Change has already teamed up with the New York Food Tuck Association, where vendors have committed to hiring people directly from the program.
Recently, Bickerton and Lexton placed second in The New School’s New Challenge competition, and are now in the midst of a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign for their start-up costs, which include securing, outfitting and designing the organization’s first operational truck. With an emphasis on local and sustainable, the food truck will park in areas where many of the employees are from, and include a menu featuring maple syrup. Bickerton likens the dishes to “sweet and savory comfort food…like apple skivers, maple taffy, and locally sourced pork.”