At-risk and disabled youths are getting the chance to overcome employment barriers by gaining valuable work experience, one scoop at a time, at a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop, owned by Life’sWork of Western, Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing job and entrepreneurial experiences for young adults, is one of 11 “social franchises” in the United States operating since Ben & Jerry’s launched its PartnerShop concept in 1987.
“The goal is to provide training to young people that will transfer to their next job,” says Jennifer Shewmake, community program manager for Ben & Jerry’s. “We are giving young people a credible work history. We provide a supportive training environment for young people who face many challenges in their lives and this fits into our value and gives back to the communities that we serve.”
Every cone, cake, smoothie and sundae purchased at the Squirrel Hill Ben & Jerry’s PartnerShop goes to support Life’sWork, says Christina O’Shell, director of marketing and development for the 81-year-old human services firm. Moreover, as it does with all its PartnerShops, Ben & Jerry’s waived royalty payments and its reported $32,000 franchise fee.
“It was an application and bidding process, and we were the lucky winner,” O’Shell says of Life’s Work entry into the treat business. Its PartnerShop, which opened four years ago, grossed $102,000 in catering and store sales in 2007.
Trainees, who battle everything from mild autism to troubles with the law range in age from 16 to 21. And like any other Ben & Jerry’s employee, they are required to memorize the ice cream flavors, pass a “scooper test,” and uphold everything mandated in the Ben & Jerry’s book of standard operating procedures.
“We are a real franchise, like any other Ben & Jerry’s, but we hire kids, store managers, and job coaches. There is a curriculum, and we tailor the goal path for a young adult,” O’Shell says. “Their goal might be to get customer service skills or some management training. This opportunity gives them some hands-on experience to build their confidence level so they can make a transition into the working world.”
One former Life’s Work participant recently graduated from high school, was accepted by two different colleges, and has since chosen Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“He had some barriers in his home life and was trying to make it through high school,” O’Shell says. “Eight months after entering the program, he became a peer trainer. His confidence level went through the roof. He needed someone to give him a chance to show what he could do, and he came through with flying colors.”
And that, she says, is the most fulfilling part of the venture.
“As an employee, it’s very satisfying to see the transformation these kids go through. These kids are very shy, or scared, and some might have an attitude. But they get a taste for what it’s like to be an adult. They come out of the program as young adults.”
That, says Shewmake, has been the goal of the Ben & Jerry’s PartnerShop program for more than 20 years.
“All of our PartnerShops have these goals: Operating a business and training young people,” she says, adding that Ben & Jerry’s have very demanding conditions for franchisees.
“We have even more rigorous criteria for PartnerShops,” Shewmake explains. “We look for leaders in the job-training arena and those who demonstrate an ability to take an enterprise like this and grow it. All of our PartnerShops have goals to be financially self-sustaining to support job-training programs. A PartnerShop is no different than a franchise.”
PartnerShops are located in Columbus, Georgia; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis; Oakland; and Detroit, among others. Ben & Jerry’s is presently seeking program partners in Miami, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Criteria for new partners include:
- Nonprofit status
- Annual operating budget of more than $5 million
- More than five years in operation
- Job training and life skills development programs for youth and young adults, ages 15–21
- Experience operating a social-purpose business
- Knowledge of the retail foodservice industry and/or franchising
- The desire and capacity to operate a social enterprise business
- Staff and board with small business expertise
- Excellent credit history
- Financial acumen and stability
- A record of fundraising success
- The willingness and the capacity to manage the complexities of developing a new business.
“It’s not an easy model,” Shewmake says. “They not only have to serve the customers walking through the door, but they also have to serve the young people who are working in the job-training programs. It’s a delicate balance. It takes unique individuals to run a PartnerShop. They have to have a retail background and a passion of the social mission.”