A Closer Look: Creating a Pathway To Employment for Formerly Incarcerated Youth

2013 New Challenge Winner
Ann Bickerton, Nonprofit Management, Milano School of International Affairs
Jordyn Lexton, Community Partner

Drive Change is using the food truck industry to broaden access to opportunity, reduce recidivism, and increase job readiness for young adults coming out of adult jail in New York City. The initial model of this social venture involved building and operating a state-of-the-art food truck that provides transitional employment to formerly incarcerated youth. Through its eight-month re-entry program, Drive Change works with approximately thirty young people annually, helping them develop transferable skills through participation in a paid fellowship.

“It was through the support we received from New Challenge that we figured out the voice for our message; saw how people responded when we shared our vision; and developed more deeply the concept for what is now a nearly $1M budget organization.”

— Jordyn Lexton, Co-Founder, Drive Change

Snowday, Drive Change’s award-winning food truck, serves as a mobile classroom for trainees, who spend 35+ hours per week learning the business (marketing, social media, and money management), prepping the entire menu from scratch, and participating in six hours of professional development courses each week. To ensure the youth make successful transitions into full-time employment, Drive Change has developed strategic partnerships with social and public agencies that provide youth with counseling services and other forms of support. In addition to addressing this critical need, Snowday also serves as a mobile advocacy piece by providing an opportunity to connect with different people across the city, talk about injustice inside the criminal justice system, and dispel preconceived notions about what it means to be previously incarcerated.

The seed for Drive Change was planted when Jordyn Lexton was teaching English at the NYC Department of Education public high school inside the jail complex on Rikers Island. While there, Jordyn witnessed the harsh impact of the system on the youth and saw several young people filled with potential cycle back into the system. Students struggled to find meaningful employment post-release, yet Jordyn noticed a glimmer of self-esteem and hope in the youth who were enrolled in a culinary arts class. Motivated by their sense of purpose and pride, and inspired by a belief in the power of good food to bring people together, Jordyn teamed up with Ann Bickerton to start Drive Change.

Since launching Snowday, Drive Change has reached several milestones, including signing a lease on a commercial location in Brooklyn, achieving status as an independent 501c3, and catering a meeting for UK Cabinet members with chef Jamie Oliver’s 15. In addition to leveraging the New Challenge prize money to raise an additional $150,000, Drive Change has received funding from the Fierce Advocacy Foundation, NY Community Trust, Pinkerton Foundation, Brooklyn Community Foundation, and Propel Capital. In the future, they hope to build a food truck commissary where other like-minded businesses will park, receive industry benefits, and hire young people out of the program. This commissary will allow Drive Change to create a fleet of food trucks for social justice and expand the program to over 100 people per year. After proving the commissary infrastructure model, Drive Change plans to scale to other cities.

“I’m contributing by helping [the trainees] realize when you put your mind to something, you can push through, persevere, and succeed.”

— Roy Waterman, Chef at Drive Change who spent 13 years in prison

Drive Change has received national attention in numerous outlets, including NBC, Melissa Harris-Perry, Edible, The Chew, and Yahoo Foods, for the innovative model they have developed. In addition to having been named an Echoing Green Fellow and included in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs Class of 2016, Jordyn was also selected as one of NYC Zagat’s 30 Under 30 influencers in the food sector. In 2014, Snowday made history by winning both the Vendy Award for the best food truck in NYC and the People’s Choice Award. Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, has also recognized Drive Change as an innovative new company in the field of re-entry.

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to put your ideas out there in the world — the moment you start talking about it and connecting with other people is the moment it starts to materialize.”

— Jordyn Lexton, Co-Founder, Drive Change


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