Scooping up one sweet job

Scott Gordon

Cherry Garcia. Phish Food. Chubby Hubby. Wavy Gravy. Whatever the flavor, it was free at Ben & Jerry’s grand opening last weekend.

The new Scoop Shop, 1634 Orrington Ave., gave away about 1,200 ice cream cones between noon and 6 p.m Saturday. Bill Campbell of WLS-TV Chicago cut a ribbon to open the store, and Evanston Mayor Lorraine H. Morton and Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) helped employees serve the free cones.

For 7-year-old Elijah Bond, this meant five rounds of free ice cream cones. Most Northwestern students missed the free ice cream opportunity during Spring Break, but they will get the chance for another free cone day April 29 from noon to 8 p.m.

But for some young people in Evanston, the shop could mean more than just another place to enjoy their favorite desert.

The ice cream store is different from most. It is run by the Youth Job Center of Evanston and is one of 13 PartnerShops that Ben & Jerry’s has co-founded with nonprofit organizations. PartnerShops provide job training young people facing employment barriers.

Store employee Victoria Hoover, 15, said many local employers are reluctant to hire minors who need work permits. But with the help of the center, Hoover was able to obtain a job at Ben & Jerry’s.

Hoover, a high school sophomore, wants to be a psychologist.

“I want to work with people,” she said. “I get a lot of experience here.”

The new shop my may be the center’s tastiest endeavor, but it’s certainly not its first. Since the center’s founding in 1983, is has helped about 1,400 people find jobs.

PartnerShop Enterprise Director Ann Jennett, a founder of the center, said the shop’s main goal is to provide a innovative job training opportunity to about 25 people each year.

Employees train for three weeks at the center and learn basic customer skills before beginning work at the ice cream shop, Jennett said.

Workers can continue to receive support and training throughout their 3- to 6-month stint at the shop before the center helps them find jobs in managerial, clerical and sales positions, according to the job center’s press release.

General Manager Tera Krigbaum said employees won’t be forced to move on before they have acquired desired skills. Center clients often lack job experience and also face educational and economic obstacles when seeking employment.

One problem Krigbaum said she sees is a lack of strong personal models from whom the center’s clients can learn work skills.

The center’s supporters are hoping the ice cream store will change that.

“We are excited at the prospect of such a strong mechanism for delivering real job training to the youth of Evanston,” said John Kennedy, president of the board of directors for the center.

And this effort already is underway. Shop employee Reginald Howard, 21, said the center has been a big benefit to him.

“I’m learning something new every day, ” he said. “The training played a big role in what I know now.”

But the center couldn’t have gotten to where it is on it’s own. To get the PartnerShops off the ground, Ben and Jerry’s waived its $30,000 franchise fee. And all profits from the shops go to the organizations involved.