One day, in her English class at East River Academy, a school for incarcerated youth on Riker's Island, Jordyn Lexton had her students read Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem (A Dream Deferred)." After the group discussion, one student asked if he could be an architect someday. She told him yes. Another student shouted, "Hell no! No disrespect, Miss, but you’re selling dreams."
In that moment she realized that most of these kids would never actually have a chance to live their dreams—not because they didn’t have the potential, but because the system was broken.
Her students were all 16, 17, and 18 years old, but they were charged as adults in the New York state prison system. And even if they were lucky enough to leave East River with a diploma or GED, the chances of them ending up back in jail were high—70 percent would return. “Regardless of what I was doing inside the facility, it wasn’t enough," she says. "I wanted to literally stop selling dreams and actually create channels for young people to have a successful reentry experience.”
So Lexton left teaching at the beginning of last year to start working at the Correctional Association of New York on the Raise the Age campaign. She became interested in prison reentry, and afterward, worked at the Center for Employment Opportunities. An unabashed foodie, Jordyn then had an idea: What if she opened a food truck in NYC and hired her students once they got out of jail?
The idea stuck with her, so she started working at Kimchi Taco Truck to learn the ins and outs of the mobile food world. “If knew if I was asking people to pick up the truck, drive it to a site, turn it on, get it going, do sales, clean up, bring it back—I wanted to know what that entailed and felt like. And it’s not easy by any means,” she says. Organizations like Homeboy Industries and Mission Pie have been touting the therapeutic benefits of culinary arts for a while now, and now Drive Change is taking the concept to another level.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re trying to take the program and put it onto wheels,” she says. One goal is that Drive Change will play parent to a bevy of other food trucks. Its first one, set for a soft launch at the end of November, is Snowday, inspired by the time Jordyn was 12 years old and had “the most amazing food in her life” during a family trip to Canada—maple syrup over snow. Other items on the menu include maple bacon Brussels sprouts and pulled pork bacon maple sliders.
“I want you to walk away having this amazing food experience and then later, if you find out it’s one of the trucks by Drive Change, you feel even better about the fact that you contributed to a lofty social goal,” she says.
Lexton envisions hiring eight to ten formerly incarcerated youth and training them over a period of eight months on everything from how to use propane gas to social media marketing to accounting. The big goals: to train more kids who can use the skills they learn to get jobs; to make Drive Change the go-to caterer for social good events in the NYC area; and to help start lots more trucks in other cities. It’s all she thinks about. “I literally have not woken up a single day feeling burdened by it at all,” she says. “I wake up excited.”We're growing the community of people sharing creative solutions for living well and doing good, and want you to be a part of it. If you have an insight, experience, idea, or project you want to share with the GOOD Community and need more space to tell your story than posting a link on good.is allows, email us at email@example.com.