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NYC Food Trucks Give Young Ex-Cons A Second Chance for Employment

New York is one of only two states that automatically arrests and prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults. Young people who are considered adults criminally may leave the system with open felony records as opposed to juvenile adjudications - presenting significant barriers to employment and education after their release.

A public awareness campaign called Raise the Age New York seeks to increase the age of adult criminal responsibility in the state to 18 years old, the standard used by nearly every other state in nation. In the meantime, startup food truck business Drive Change is using social enterprise to provide job opportunities to formerly incarcerated youth and lower recidivism rates.

The startup is currently building a fleet of food trucks that serve fresh and tasty fare while employing young people with criminal records. In addition to providing hands-on work experience and transferrable skills, Drive Change works to place its employees in permanent positions - lowering recidivism rates for young people who are treated as adults in the criminal justice system from 70 percent to 20 percent for program participants, according to the startup. All sales from Drive Change food trucks recycle back into the organization to subsidize re-entry programs.

"We are applying the best of the for-profit and non-profit sectors to create a unique organization rooted in the power of social enterprise," the organization says on its website. "At Drive Change, our food trucks generate revenue. This money allows us to subsidize our program cost. Eventually, it is our goal to be entirely self-sustaining."

Drive Change founder Jordyn Lexton raised $40,000 on Indiegogo earlier this year and attracted $90,000 in private financing and grants to fund the program. Young people coming out of adult jail and prison who are between the ages of 16 and 25 years old enter an eight-month experience with Drive Change, which is broken down into three distinct phases. The first six months encompass the training and employment phases, while the final two months are set aside for transitioning young people into permanent employment.

Employees are paid an average of $10 per hour through the entire program. Additionally, the Drive Change social work staff provides group and individual counseling for young people over their course of time in the program to help them adapt to life outside of prison.

The first Drive Change food truck, Snowday, hit the streets of NYC earlier this fall. In keeping with the burgeoning urban food truck trend, Snowday isn't serving standard street side fare like hotdogs and soft pretzels. Instead, the menu includes gourmet grub like maple grilled cheese sandwiches, wheatberry salad and maple bacon brussels sprouts.

"I don’t want someone to come up to me and say, ‘This tastes like it has a social mission,’" Lexton told Idealist. "I want you to walk away having this amazing food experience and then later, if you find out it’s one of the trucks by Drive Change, then you feel even better about the fact that you contributed to a lofty social goal."

Drive Change hopes to expand its vehicle fleet and ultimately become a go-to caterer for social good events in the NYC area to reach more young people and funds its re-entry programs entirely through food truck sales, Lexton said. The eight-month re-entry program is still in its development and will launch fully next spring.

Photo credit: Founder Jordyn Lexton (right) and the Drive Change team, courtesy of DriveChangeNYC.org

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Mary also contributes to Earth911; her work has appeared on the Huffington PostSustainable Brands and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also the co-host of 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands LIVE! and the producer of 3p’s sponsored editorial series. She is based in Philadelphia and loves to travel, spend time outdoors and experiment with vegetarian recipes in the kitchen. Along with TriplePundit, her recent work can be found in Conscious Company and VICE’s Motherboard.

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