Immigrant Teens Receive Grant for Business Ventures In Pursuit of Economic Justice

Philadelphia, PA – The local committee of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has awarded the Aquinas Center a three year grant of $20,000 annually to launch a Youth Entrepreneurship Project. CCHD is a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that is focused on ending cycles of poverty by empowering low-income individuals to act for themselves following the belief that those affected by unjust systems are the most knowledgeable in approaching solutions. In the Philadelphia archdiocese, the CCHD collection is taken up in early July and while 75% of the funds raised are distributed nationally, 25% are distributed locally through a grant application process.

Aquinas Center’s Youth Entrepreneurship Project (YEP) was designed by a group of teens who gather weekly to collaborate with their peers on projects that improve, strengthen, and empower the community. This program, called Youth Voices, is comprised of immigrant, refugee, and native born youth who lead tours for the center, speak about pressing issues, support events, introduce visitors to the neighborhood, and give back through community service hours.

Bernard Convento, a seventeen year old leader in the program, enjoys volunteering in the center’s garden and preparing meals with the harvest. Like his peers, Bernard felt that gathering afterschool once a week was not enough. Soon he and fifteen other teens started coming to the center two to three other days a week to work in the garden, cook together, and help each other with homework. The group soon began discussing issues that they felt required action and Youth Voices was born. Youth Voices members identified employment, food sovereignty, and racial/cultural/ethnic justice in public spaces as key focal areas.

Over the next three years, the teens will formulate a brand, develop a farm stand concept, strengthen their winter cafe series, and create a non-perishable or shelf stable product to fund other ventures. Youth will acquire important career training in the process and be mentored by immigrant business owners.

Sinta Hite will serve as a technical assistance consultant for the teens. She explained that South Philly is the perfect location for this approach, saying, “The neighborhood consists of many different immigrant communities and businesses. From mom and pop neighborhood cafes to Passyunk’s five star restaurants, you name it, it exists in the area around Aquinas Center.”  Sinta went on to explain, “These businesses are truly unique case studies for our youth to learn from. The challenges that immigrant business owners face are almost endless including language and cultural barriers. The Youth Voices represent the next generation that will learn and discover how to turn these entrepreneurial skills turn into life skills. Skills that they use to survive and prosper.”