Shop allows area youth to get ‘scoop’ on job training

Breanne Gilpatrick

Alex Gagnon, 18, spent a year looking for his first job. Gagnonapplied at businesses all over Evanston, but employers kept tellinghim they wanted someone with more experience.

Then, last March, Gagnon finally found a job at Ben &Jerry’s Scoop Shop, 1634 Orrington Ave. Two months later he waspromoted to shift leader, and he said he plans to continue workingthere until he leaves for the University of Wisconsin thisfall.

“That shows that you can do what you set out to do,” saidGagnon, now a senior at Evanston Township High School. “It taughtme to appreciate that hard work can succeed.”

Gagnon and about 18 other young people looking for jobopportunities have worked at the Evanston Ben & Jerry’s in itsfirst year. The store — one of about a dozen PartnerShops acrossthe country — was co-founded with the Youth Job Center of Evanstonto provide young people with job training.

The Evanston PartnerShop’s goal is to train about 25 employeesannually, said Ann Jennett, founder and former executive directorof the Youth Job Center. Each employee goes through a six-monthrotation at the store, unless he or she needs to stay longer untilthey find another job.

At the end of the store’s first year the second rotation — withabout nine employees — is getting ready to leave.

There have been double the number of applications for the thirdrotation, which meets for the first time next Friday, Jennett said.Jennett is now a member of the board of directors for the Youth JobCenter and Youth Job Center Enterprises, the organization thatoperates Ben & Jerry’s PartnerShop.

About half of the employees from the rotation that began workwhen the store opened now have other jobs, said James Sibley,executive director for the Youth Job Center. Two employees likeGagnon have been promoted within the organization .

Victoria Hoover, 16, started working at the store when it openedand now works at Yellow Bird for Kids, a toy store in Wilmette.Hoover, a high school junior, said working at Ben & Jerry’shelped her learn job skills, such as operating a cash register,doing inventory and handling customers.

“If I hadn’t worked there,” Hoover said, “it would have been alot harder to find a job somewhere else.”

While the store is working to train young people, businesshasn’t been as good as expected lately. There have been fewercustomers after an especially cold winter and decreased pedestriantraffic on Orrington Avenue following Borders Books and Music’smove last May, Jennett said.

To boost business, Youth Job Center Enterprises hired HopeSpruance as Enterprise Director, a position devoted to increasingthe store’s community partnerships and visibility. Spruance, whohas been on the job for a week, has experience working with a Ben& Jerry’s PartnerShop. Before coming to the position inEvanston, Spruance worked with the Chicago Children’s ChoirPartnerShop in downtown Chicago.

Spruance said she hasn’t been in the position long enough tohave any specific long-term plans. But for now, the store isfocusing on nationwide Ben & Jerry’s “Free Cone Day” on April27, when they will give away free ice cream cones from noon to 8p.m. and register customers to vote.

Spruance said she is looking for other ways to market EvanstonPartnerShop now that the store has had a year to getestablished.

“I think it’s an amazing cause,” Spruance said. “And I’minterested in helping them grow.”