Offering paid job training for youth.
Sara Hart Weihmann is the Director of Social Enterprise at New Avenues for Youth in Portland. She oversees a portfolio of workforce development social enterprises that offer goods and services to the local community. This provides paid work experiences and job training for youth experiencing housing instability. These enterprises include a Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop and a screen-printing business, New Avenues INK.
“I have always had a strong sense of environmental justice since I was a young kid,” Sara explains. “My parents would tell you that I was constantly giving them feedback about lights being left on in rooms. I had these little tickets I would issue to them if they left the lights on.
“So I’ve always been Type A do the right thing. You fall into line. We owe the environment everything. So I really took that environmental view forward into my life.
“In my younger years, I even thought that environmental justice needed to come first before social justice was addressed.
“After graduating college, I found a unique MBA graduate program in the Bay Area with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and social justice. I started a business specializing in installing edible gardens and urban farms throughout the Bay Area.
“What started as a passion for ecological sustainability and horticulture quickly evolved into a passion for food sovereignty, social justice, and elevating the voices of indigenous, black, and people of color to advocate for the resources they needed to thrive in the community.
“I started participating on non-profit boards, coalitions, and councils focusing on food system equity. I found myself passionate about working with young people living in excluded neighborhoods and mentoring them in agriculture and business strategy.
“There is nothing more fulfilling to me than seeing young people recognize their inherent value in an entrepreneurial setting where they get the freedom to brainstorm and take risks with their peers with guidance from mentors.
“When I moved back to my hometown of Portland, I noticed this opportunity at New Avenues for Youth as Director of Social Enterprise. It seemed like an excellent fit for my skills and passion. It was a combination of business strategy and management to serve young people experiencing housing insecurity.
“That was over seven years ago, and I still feel inspired every day by the impacts our workforce development social enterprises have on participants and the community.”
About New Avenues INK:
New Avenues INK is a screen-printing social enterprise owned and operated by non-profit New Avenues for Youth. Since its establishment in 2013, New Avenues INK has specialized in providing high-quality, cost-competitive decorated apparel items to customers while delivering paid work experiences and job training to youth experiencing homelessness in the community.
New Avenues for Youth’s social enterprise portfolio has provided hundreds of paid internships over the years to young people who have little-to-no traditional work experience. Young people receive an hourly wage to learn necessary job skills and participate in career exploration and career coaching. Interns can build confidence in businesses, experience being a part of a team, practice receiving and providing feedback, and ultimately learn about the world of work in a trauma-informed environment.