What’s Poppin? A Business Model For Helping Youth On The Margins

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Portrait of bare chested boys eating flavored ice

There is an ever-growing people group in the Western world that is not being reached by the Church, nor have they heard the authentic, simple good news of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I am convinced this has little to do with the Church’s relevance, but more to do with a lack of authenticity, identity, and culture of honor and love. Our churches often do not know what to do with people who are different, creating a sectarian, “us versus them” mentality, leaving many people hurt and feeling rejected. As long as the Church remains perplexed by lost people when they act like lost people, we will continue to fail in our efforts to reach them. Compelled by the Father’s love for me, I am inspired to love the lost and help the marginalized and oppressed by working and walking alongside them. One way I plan on doing this is to start up a popsicle business called What’s Poppin? in Selma, Alabama.

Today, there are many social and economic issues in Selma such as crime, poor education, unemployment, effects of racism, and a staggering 40% poverty rate in this town of only 20,000 residents. Currently, there are court programs addressing many of these issues and making a difference, but the work is not yet done. I believe that we can engage the kids coming through juvenile court in a unique, impactful way through social entrepreneurship.

Work is something that God told us to do before the fall of man. Work gives us dignity and a feeling of self-worth. In order to find meaningful employment, an education is usually necessary yet in populations impacted by poverty, people often do not understand the point of academic achievement due to various social factors. Many of the kids coming through the juvenile court system do not see a purpose for themselves apart from sports and gang violence. When the inevitable feelings of failure and loss that accompany this lifestyle come, they give up hope entirely. Losing hope means losing the ability to dream of a better life. Moreover, many do not know how to function apart from the welfare system, which often leads to dependency, a poor work ethic, and low self-esteem.

Hope Academy is a Kingdom-Minded, court-mandated alternative school in Selma. My goal is to start a business program through business within Hope Academy to help the kids, 10-17 years old, learn to work with their hands. Entrepreneurship interests many impoverished youth, but they lack the confidence and preparation to make this possible.

Every year, thousands of tourists flock through historic Selma in the Alabama heat with no place to purchase water or a snack. We will set up the popsicle stand in the middle of downtown and teach the kids how to make, market and move their merchandise to people coming to visit their town. This offers an opportunity for confidence building, trading hopelessness for vision, and shame for dignity. Popsicles are fun, colorful, and cool to make and eat. I believe that this simple endeavor will teach and inspire the kids, build hope, add color to the community, and teach them how to dream.

Whats Poppin? will also use local ingredients, unique to Selma, to create our product such as G Mommas Cookies (gmommas.com), Revival Coffee (revivalcoffee.com), and local homegrown fruit like peaches and watermelons. This will build hometown pride and support the local economy.

Through this endeavor, teamwork and a sense of belonging outside of a sports team or gang will be built. Though not overtly evangelistic, this is a kingdom enterprise and the youth of Selma will be invited to receive a new identity in Christ. This popsicle stand is all about redemption. Within this population, what was formerly a criminal record for stealing and fighting is now a resume of teamwork, life-experience, and transformation. Where there was once shame, there is now a sense of worth. Where Main Street was formerly abandoned, there is now a popsicle stand. Where there was death, there is now life. This is a simple economic project that has culture changing, Kingdom building implications.

The idea was birthed when a friend who is crazy about popsicles realized the economic need and the opportunity in the town. The Lord showed me the social impact potential and the whole idea has snowballed ever since. When the unmet economic and social needs of the community intersect, you have an ever growing environment of chaos and devastation. When we, as spirit- filled Christians, step into the midst of this chaos intersection in the name of Jesus, it truly makes a difference as he uses us to bring chaos into order.

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