(Photo by Holly Quinn)
The tables in the Hagley Room at The Mill are strewn with LEGO bricks, Play Doh and Post-it notes. Lots of Post-it notes.
At the direction of Dual School program director Zack Jones, a small team of teenagers writes a single idea on the sticky notes at a time and attaches it to a board.
“That’s the genius of Zack’s Post-it note method,” says Linda Shirmeister-Gess, director of advancement for Strive, the youth leadership organization best known for its annual Sports Challenge. “It separates the idea from the person. Nobody’s judging you.”
The Post-it exercise is part of a job training program for Wilmington Green Box, where corny training videos and endless lists of rules are traded for a “Culture of Problem Solving,” a five-day, highly interactive onboarding process. At the end of the program, the new employees will start their new jobs with Green Box, making the cold-press-juices, manning the kiosk and selling juice from mobile Green Box unit (a converted bike with coolers attached).
Unlike many kids starting their first jobs, these young employees aren’t simply low-level cogs in the machine — they are an active part of Wilmington Green Box’s evolving business plan.
In a morning exercise, the teens were armed with what Shirmeister-Gess calls a “how might we” question and conducted interviews with people in Rodney Square.
“It could be, How might we make healthy food accessible? How might we sell more juice? How might we get more foot traffic?” said Shirmeister-Gess. The answers to those questions become the catalysts with which they develop solutions. As employees, they can then propose those solutions to Jason Aviles, founder of Wilmington Green Box.
The experimental method is not only empowering for young employees, it also uses youth productively rather than squandering its access to a valuable demographic.
Aviles has been working almost exclusively with inner city Wilmington teens since he launched the Green Box kiosk in 2017. This year, he’s opening Green Box Kitchen, a plant-based restaurant at 400 N. Market St., and the staff will continue to be made up entirely of local youth.
For this project, the teens — technically interns — are paid by funds from the Delaware Department of Labor. The 20-hour training program includes two days of design thinking and character-driven leadership exercises, delivered tag-team style by Shirmeister-Gess and Jones; two days of on-site hard skills; and one day to discuss what they’ve learned before starting the job.
“It’s a little like school,” said intern Brandon Williams, “but it’s to help you, not just send you out. That’s why I like it.”
“The process brings everyone closer together,” says Manny Sierra, who originally took the training at the beginning of the summer and has been working for Green Box for four weeks. “Everyone gets comfortable with each other and with constructive criticism,” one of the areas covered in the training.
There’s also a sense of pride: “The mission makes you feel good about what you’re doing,” Sierra said. “You’re doing something for the community rather than working for a big corporation that doesn’t care about you.”
Dual School and Strive first connected when 1313 Innovation nonprofit Social Contract was looking for a better social impact model.
“One of our ‘how might we’s’ was, How might we decrease teen violence?” said Shirmeister-Gess. “There’s employment, emotional literacy, creativity” — which all became aspects of Culture of Problem Solving.
Green Box is the first business to collaborate with Strive and Dual School Culture of Problem Solving cohorts, which includes two cohorts at The Warehouse and one cohort at Sussex Central High in Georgetown, where students tackled the problem of access for undocumented youth — in a group where half of the students were undocumented. The program has plans to return to Sussex High for a one-day program as part of the Pathways to Success.
At the end of the summer, the plan is to bring all of the the groups together to pitch the concept of Culture of Problem Solving to government agencies, businesses and nonprofits as a program they can adopt for training their own interns or as part of their community outreach.
“We hope to have a big showcase for the community with 40 or 50 kids,” said Jones.
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