By Darla Shelden
Through a $174,000 grant from the Arnall Family Foundation, Sasquatch Shaved Ice is expanding its program to provide supportive employment opportunities to low income youth and youth who have formerly been involved in the foster care system.
Like many businesses and organizations, COVID-19 has impacted the launch date for the new stand and opening of the existing stand in the Plaza District at 1801 NW 16th Street.
Construction is being completed on the Bricktown stand which is scheduled to open later this summer.
Big Friendly Enterprises, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining employment-based social enterprise programs in Oklahoma City, launched as its first program Sasquatch Shaved Ice in March 2019.
The program is designed to help build job skills, improve financial literacy, increase high school graduation and higher education enrollment and provide a foundation for long-term financial stability and job readiness.
“Low-income and foster-involved youth are less likely to find employment, but work history is perhaps more important for them than their peers in higher income brackets, who are more likely to attend college and have the social capital and familial networks needed to find employment more easily,” said Whitley O’Connor, program manager for Sasquatch Shaved Ice and social enterprise strategist for the Homeless Alliance.
According to O’Connor, each Sasquatch Shaved Ice employee gets a checking and savings account and takes part in a program that includes financial literacy classes and trainings to prepare them for higher education or certification enrollment.
Additionally, through a sponsorship from Oklahoma’s Credit Union, Sasquatch matches dollar-for-dollar what their employees save towards their higher education and career goals, teaching and incentivizing responsible saving and spending habits.
“Most of our employees use their savings and match to purchase a laptop for school,” said O’Connor. “Before starting, 95 percent of our employees didn’t have a computer or internet access at home. Employees have also used their savings to help pay for college, buy eye glasses and other expenses that help them move ahead in life.”
In the Plaza Stand’s first three full seasons of operation, Sasquatch employed 21 youth. Of those who have completed the program, all have graduated high school. Only one came from a household where both parents had completed high school.
“Race, income and familial makeup shouldn’t stop young people from pursuing their dreams,” said O’Connor. “Every snow cone purchased from one of our stands helps to pave the way to work, education and financial success for youth in Oklahoma City.”
The new Bricktown stand will be located on the corner of Reno and S. Mickey Mantle Drive, directly across the street from the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark and Sonic Plaza in Bricktown.
The new location is scheduled to open this summer inside of a revitalized shipping container.
The grant has allowed the Homeless Alliance to build a second stand, hire a full-time employee to work with the youth and will enable them to establish a training hub.
“The Arnall Family Foundation is excited to partner with Sasquatch Shaved Ice to help fill the unmet need of supportive employment for at-risk, transition-aged youth,” said Sue Ann Arnall, president of the Arnall Family Foundation.
“Providing employment that meets the unique needs of these youth while teaching them the importance of saving and financial literacy will undoubtedly change the trajectory of their lives.”
The Homeless Alliance also operates The Curbside Chronicle, a nonprofit magazine that provides employment opportunities to people who are homeless and is currently raising money in order to open a flower shop with a similar mission.
“Businesses and nonprofits each have a place in this world,” said O’Connor. “But organizations that combine the two and use businesses practices to improve their community have always inspired me.
“Oklahoma City is such an amazing community, and the people here have been so supportive, ”O’Connor continued. “We are excited to expand the snow cone stand, and can’t wait to see how the community lifts up these kids.”
To learn more or to make a donation, visit sasquatchsavedice.org.