EAST VILLAGE — Sweet Generation, a First Avenue bakery with a social justice streak, is using its internship program to give city youth a voice and a safe haven after an election that has left them fearful, the shop's owner and founder said.
The bakery's RISE youth internship, which recruits youth aged 16 to 24 from city schools and nonprofit groups to work in the shop while participating in career training and workshops, most recently teamed up with Lower East Side arts organization Fourth Arts Block to create a mural on the storefront's metal pull-down gates.
The mural reflects the students' hopes and dreams for the future — including landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower from a student striving for a career in architecture and a cupcake from an aspiring pastry chef — but also reflects the students' desire for peace and unity, which has come to the forefront of discussion since the presidential election, said bakery founder and owner Amy Chasan, pointing to the peace sign emerging from the mural's painted clouds.
"That's where the peace sign came from, just that desire for harmony," explained Chasan, who said her students, all minorities, had expressed fears for the future in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump's victory and the reported uptick in hate crimes.
"In this mural project is when the youth started opening up about how it impacted them and how they thought about this city, which they love a lot," said Chasan. "I think what a lot of them felt, and it's what we hear from this generation, is it's really frustrating that bigotry like this exists and there’s no reason for it — why can't people just be themselves and everybody be OK with that?"
"It’s scary to think about being in a place where they aren’t safe, where they feel hate and exclusion."
Chasan has taken to the business's social media to reinforce her commitment to serving her students and making her bakery a safe place for them.
The bakery's internship program first launched when Chasan was operating out of a commercial kitchen in the Upper East Side, but has been able to serve significantly more youth since acquiring its own brick-and-mortar storefront in 2014.
The program has enrolled roughly 50 students since its launch, said Chasan, including from the nearby Boys' Club of New York and Lower Manhattan Arts Academy.
The participants fulfill a variety of duties depending on their interests and abilities, such as helping out at the front counter or in the kitchen with the pastries, and also participate in resume workshops and mock interviews to prepare for future success. They receive either school credit or payment through the nonprofit that helped place them.
And the program was recently established as a nonprofit entity, said Chasan, which will allow her to apply for grants and partner with more organizations going forward.
Chasan's goal, working alongside her bakery's youth manager Olivia Button, is to provide a place where the students can feel protected and encouraged to express themselves — especially as the current political climate has engendered more fear among youth that had already been fearful, she said.
"I think the people that we serve here were already acutely aware of a lot of the violence and bigotry that exits," said Chasan, noting they recruit from the city's lowest-income communities, and that several of her students have lost friends to gun violence during their internships. "Now in the wake of the election, it’s like they were already feeling a lot of what is now being validated and supported in some ways.
"For us, its really important to have a place where they do feel safe."
Students began work on the mural on Nov. 15, and hope to complete it within the week, Chasan said.