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PRODIGY'S STORY

Mission: Through high-caliber professional development and hands-on learning in a Prodigy enterprise, youth from low-income communities in Denver build skills, social capital and understanding for success in the new economy. This in turn builds wealth in the local community. 

Our first enterprise will be Prodigy Coffeehouse. Run by youth fostering extraordinary talent to become coffee craftsmen and relationship builders, creating a coffeehouse that rivals your favorite specialty shop...all while building wealth at the local level. Opens July 2016 in the ‘near northeast Denver’ neighborhood of Elyria-Swansea, on the border of NE Park Hill and Clayton (near 40th & Colorado)

Roots: Prodigy Ventures Inc is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in January 2015. Its roots were planted in the hearts of our founders over years as we spent our lives side-by-side with youth from low-income families in Denver. Through youth career development and education roles we came to realize that despite our efforts, there are far too many young adults who aren't finding success in the workplace. Over and over again we saw youth go into the abyss of the real-world not set-up for economic independence, with little chance to break the cycle of generational poverty. Many ended up disengaged from both school and work during crucial skill-development years. 

And, research shows this is a trend across the nation.

The Research

 

In the U.S., 10.5 Million 16-25 year olds are unemployed or underemployed; most deeply affected are youth from low-income families.

 

This has serious implications for individuals and our economy. And, it simply is not just. 

One major reason for this is that youth aren't learning the skills necessary to be competitive, and aren't retaining their jobs. According to employers, our young workforce is "woefully ill-prepared for the demands of today's and tomorrow's workplace." (Click for source)

Prodigy was founded as a local response, addressing some of the formidable factors causing this crisis. Prodigy Coffeehouse’s training programs and dynamic work culture will be informed by research on brain science as well as coffee science. We will contribute a new level of quality and innovation to Denver’s economic development landscape. We believe Prodigy is essential in the Denver market because traditional forms of job development are largely ineffective or incomplete.

To fulfill this lofty mission, we turned to the social enterprise model. Through social enterprise we can blend workplace, classroom and community space. We can create a middle-ground where youth can experience success before launching into the professional world.

The Model

  • Prodigy is a 'social enterprise': a nonprofit that operates businesses to generate revenue and fill an intractible social need.  

  • Social enterprises address social concerns “more efficiently than the government, more sustainably and creatively than the nonprofit sector, and more generously than the business sector,” (Social Enterprise Alliance)

  • Social Enterprises play a key role in building community wealth because they are locally controlled, provide supported jobs for those excluded from traditional labor market, promote innovation, increase community involvement & increase overall effectiveness of nonprofit programming. (Click for Source)

  • The social return on investment of an effective training program is as high as $9.10 per dollar invested.  (Click for Source)

(the part about how youth not being prepared for the workplace affects individuals and the economy)

  • Persistent high unemployment among young people costs $9 billion per year in tax revenue. (Click for source)

 

  • Ages of 16-24 are "make or break years for lifelong earning potential" (Click for Source)

 

 

  • Individuals experiencing early career unemployment have a high likelihood of enduring unemployment later in life, and are less likely to achieve higher levels of career attainment, which in turn decreases chances for upward social mobility. (Click for Source)

  • Youth unemployment disproportionately hurts low-income teens and young adults; the lower a person's income level, the more likely they are to be unemployed. (Click for Source)

(the part about the
gap in opportunities for workforce
preparedness)
  • Public schools aren't making the grade: In a survey of 400 employers across the U.S., high school graduates score deficient on all of the top 10 skills very important to workplace success. (Click for Source)

  • Private sector employers have little motivation to hire high school grads. With a higher number of college graduates competing for entry-level professional positions, employers can hire more educated, skilled workers into these positions. With budget considerations, other employers are outsourceing jobs or cutting entry-level jobs altogether. (Click for Source).

  • Nonprofit and government youth development programs are not able to fill the gaps for all who need it. Traditionally workforce development supports have focused either on rapid job-placement rather than long-term development and retention, or have far too many pre-vocational training requirements that stalls the job acquisition process.

 
(the part about the impact of poverty on youth brain development)
  • Youth in poverty are susceptible to a multitude of traumatic experiences and barriers to development. The Prodigy team has experience in the area of Post-Traumatic Growth and are incorporating key elements into program design and workplace culture. (Click for more information)

  • Compounding the lack of preparedness experienced by many youth from low-income families “emerging science [determined that] the inherent stress of living in poverty has the capacity to negatively impact the decision-making processes involved in problem-solving.” (Crittenton Women's Union). And, Executive Functioning (EF) skills are unable to fully develop in youth who grow up with acute stress caused by poverty— in a world where danger, violence, unpredictability, scarcity, and lack of control are constants. (Harvard Center on the Developing Child). Prodigy will incorporate best practices for rebuilding EF skills in pre-employment and ongoin training. 

  • Prodigy educators are experienced in the world of intentional learning design, specifically Understanding by Design (UbD), based on cognitive psychology. UbD scaffolds knowledge and skills into reasoning and critical thinking to enable youth to build long-term 'enduring understandings.' (Click for more information)

  • Information Literacy, Invention, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Self Direction are '21st century skills' as defined by Colorado Department of Education. Prodigy is set to teach and enhance aspects of these skills and deeper understandings essential for the workplace. (Click for Source)

 
  • Other resources and inspirations:

  • 1. Democracy Collaborative 

  • 2. Crittenton Women's Union and their Poverty Research 

  • 3. Sir Ken Robinson's Ted Talk on public education

  • 4. Teaching for Understanding Theory and Research

  • 5. How Children Succeed

  • 6. Homeboy Industries (L.A.) and founder Father Greg Boyle's TED Talk

Partners, collaborators, mentors and friends:

  • Urban Land Conservancy

  • cityWILD

  • Homeboy Industries

  • Community Wealth-Building Network (Denver)

  • GRASP Enterprises

  • Goodwill Industries of Denver

  • Sneed Family Foundation

  • InterSector Partners

  • Ozo Coffee

  • East Simpson Coffee

  • Allegro Coffee

  • Denver Retail Initiative

  • GrowHaus

  • City and County of Denver

  • Posner Center for International Development

  • Hive Denver 

  • Denver Shared Spaces

  • Denver Public Schools

  • Beanstalk Foundation

  • Social Enterprise Exchange

  • Upstream Impact

  • YoungLife 

  • University of Denver

  • Community Wealth Building Network

  • Denver Housing Authority

  • Groundwork Denver

  • Colorado Youth Corps Association

  • Operation HOPE

  • Generation Schools Network

  • Mile High United Way