The mission of the Sweet Potato Project is to create a North St. Louis program that offers educational and money-making opportunities for “at risk” urban youth. The expanded goal of the project is to bring vibrant economic activity back to long-neglected urban areas by creating alternative and progressive ways to create and distribute products that are grown and created within these disadvantaged communities.
The Sweet Potato Project is a pilot program managed in the St. Louis region by the North Area Community Development Corporation (NACDA), a 501 c (3) agency with more than 25 years experience in community development programming. The concept is the product of a collaboration between NACDA and When We Dream Together, Inc. (WWDT), a local nonprofit dedicated to urban revitalization.
The Sweet Potato Project was developed to provide at-risk youth with self-sustaining, entrepreneurial, small business, sales and marketing skills that can be applied in their own inner-city neighborhoods and throughout their lives. The immediate goal is to provide a 9-week summer program that pays 10-20 youth a minimum wage salary over the summer. This pilot program was developed to serve as an alternative to the easily accessible but deadly world of illegal drugs and other criminal activities. After summer classes and training, youth will market their products to area churches, small businesses and through door-to-door sales in various communities. The idea is create a program similar to the Girl Scout Cookie campaign where purchases of products support worthy causes.
The Sweet Potato Project is based on the theory that poverty, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities in disadvantaged neighborhoods fuel illegal drug activity, theft, violent death and the disproportionate placement and incarceration of African-American and Hispanic youth in juvenile and adult correctional facilities.
With this endeavor and a cadre of supporters, youth will learn that there are indeed money-making, self-sustaining opportunities in their own neighborhoods. Additionally, with training, discipline, dedication and hard work they will also realize that they too can become active and productive members of society.
Youth will undergo rigorous motivational, counseling and small business training sessions so they understand expectations and the scope of the program. Through partnerships with churches, nonprofit agencies, professionals and grassroots individuals, students will design the brand and packaging of the sweet potato product (s). Once trained,they will make presentations to churches, agencies and groups in order to secure sales and commissions for the products they’ve sold.
It is our desire that the Sweet Potato Project serve as a template for expanded community-wide economic development. If we can demonstrate that youth can grow, package and distribute products created from locally grown produce, the concept can be greatly expanded as an inner-city job-producing effort that includes horticulture, packaging, processing, transportation and Internet distribution of a variety of community-grown products.
Once the brand, mission and loyal consumer base has been established, the possibilities are endless.
The Sweet Potato Project would not be possible without the help, assistance and involvement of the following individuals and agencies:
Karen Davis/ Horticulturalist with Lincoln University-St. Louis Urban Impact Center
Antonio French, Alderman 21st Ward