A unique hands-on job training program provides invaluable tools for youth experiencing housing instability or homelessness.
Sarah Weihmann, director of social enterprise at New Avenues for Youth, sees more than catchy slogans when she combs through dfrntpigeon (pronounced “different pigeon”) T-shirts at the New Avenues INK store (1445 NW Lovejoy St, 971-279-5649, newavenuesink.org). It’s no wonder—dfrntpigeon is much more than a cool apparel brand. It’s also an innovative job training and employment program for homeless and at-risk youth.
“Everyone has a unique story at New Avenues,” she says, smiling. “We focus on the fact that every youth we serve knows deep down within themselves what they need to define success and be successful.”
Part of that success, for some of the 100+ youth who receive job training from New Avenues–owned and operated social enterprises each year, lies in mastering the art of screen printing. In addition to taking custom print orders for event T-shirts from organizations and businesses, New Avenues INK launched dfrntpigeon as their “house brand.” Marginalized youth run this apparel and lifestyle brand while receiving mentorship from design-industry professionals.
The end result? Ultra-cool tanks and tees with both artistic and political flair. Think Cinnamon Rolls, Not Gender Roles onesies and The first pride was a riot raglans. “We started noticing that many of the youth we serve were interested in graphic arts,” says Weihmann. “and dfrntpigeon is an opportunity for young people to have a platform to express their ideas.”
As with all New Avenues enterprises, dfrntpigeon proceeds help fund their mission of preventing and ending youth homelessness. The nonprofit’s vast youth-centered social services address everything from basic needs to mental health and also include an LGBTQIA youth drop-in center (the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center), education continuation, transitional housing, and other job training initiatives, including the chance for youth to scoop ice cream at one of the organization’s two Ben & Jerry’s franchises.
At these job programs, youth “are able to make mistakes and have conversations about what they can expect in a working environment. They get to practice doing things like showing up on time and receiving feedback from a supervisor,” explains Weihmann. It’s this type of soft-skills development that can make all the difference in a marginalized youth’s future.
“It’s important to challenge the stigma that we hold around homelessness,” she adds. “I just want others to see the untapped potential in these young people.”
–Erin Gilday | Photos by Michelle Mitchell