NEW YORK — Jordyn Lexton used to teach high school English to minors at Rikers Island.
Until the day one student said, “No disrespect, I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but you are selling dreams.”
At this moment, she realized she wasn’t doing enough “to lower barriers for my students. If young people can’t access opportunities then they’re going to revert back to tactics that got them arrested in the first place. That was the moment for me where I recognized that I wanted to do something very direct when it came to re-entry,” Lexton said.
So she started Drive Change, a nonprofit organization that uses holistic and evidence-based practices to help young people re-enter their communities after serving time in jail. Drive Change provides job training, work experience, community and mentorship to kids by employing them on a food truck.
“A lot of the people I worked with were leaving with felonies, not juvenile adjudications, which makes the likelihood of getting work, going back to school or living in public housing so much more challenging,” Lexton said. “… I was watching young people that I cared about and were full of potential cycle back into the system.”
Fred, a young man making gooey grilled cheese sandwiches in the Snow Day food truck, said smiling, “It’s changed my life for the better. For one, I have steady employment. I can feed my girls.”
In the six months the truck has been operational, Lexton is already seeing positive results among the group of eight young men. One is back in school full time, another is working full time at an upscale food shop and a third is taking culinary arts courses.
“Watching the progression of the guys’ growth, watching them becomes leaders, has been phenomenal,” said Roy Waterman, director of programs.
There are a number of businesses with similar models to Drive Change, such as Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, N.Y.; Old Skool Cafe in San Francisco, and Reconnect Cafe in Brooklyn, N.Y. But what makes Drive Change different is the focus on youth.
Lila Yomtoob is a producer on “Like Any Other Kid,” a documentary film about juvenile justice reform. Please visit www.likeanyotherkid.com for more information. Its Indiegogo campaign ends Sunday, Nov. 30.