Where I was
From December 2009 – December 2013, I worked for the Colorado AIDS Project (CAP) as a case manager working with youth (25 years old or younger) and refugee families living with HIV. It was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to the complex issues that at-risk youth and refugees face.
What I saw
While working with these populations, I saw huge barriers to employment. For example, let me tell you about one of my clients Jesse. When Jesse first came to me newly diagnosed he was 16 years old. He had contracted HIV either through IV drug use or sexual contact. Jesse came from a family who used meth and was extremely abusive to him. He had been traded to some of his dad’s friends for sex in exchange for drugs during his childhood. You can only imagine what that does to a person. The lack of self worth in Jesse was glaring and he had the hardest time staying employed.
In Jesse’s teen years he would get kicked out of his dad’s house a lot and meth party hop from one older man’s house to another being used as a “house boy” which entailed both house work and sex work for the man he was living with. He did all of this because his meth addiction caused him to not be able to keep a stable job and therefore not have stable housing. By the end of my time at CAP, meeting with Jesse every two weeks, he had cut his meth use down and could go three weeks without using. He had received his GED while in jail one time, was beginning to dream and was applying to college.
At the end of 2012, I was simultaneously beginning to bake pies as a part of my own grief process after my grandma passed away and was starting to seriously think through how I could start a social enterprise helping youth or refugees gain needed job and life skills through a business model. Jesse was my inspiration. I started thinking,“what could a youth do if they interacted daily with someone who believed in them even an ounce?”
What I wanted to do
It was time to merge my skills of social work and pie making together and start The Long I Pie Shop. I worked my case management job and built the business for the first six months. I had a successful kickstarter and a couple investors like Origins who believed in the vision and gave money to get things off the ground. I bought a 1966 Airstream Overlander and renovated it with my dad and grandpa in February 2014. We launched the airstream (mobile pie shop) concept of the business in July 2014. Our goal is to employ youth at-risk of homelessness, incarceration or exploitation in Denver to give them a first chance at employment in an environment that has a little more grace than a Wendy’s or McDonalds might have with them.
Where I am now
Last year was a good and hard year for us as a business and me personally. Finances are always tight and running a specifically mobile bakery isn’t very practical which both make for stressful times. At the same time, we got some amazing publicity and were voted “Top of the Town” in Denver by 5280 Magazine. Yes, that means we were voted best pie in Denver within our first year. 2014 was all about being brave for me personally. Always keeping in mind to make the bravest choice both personally and in business.
2015 is all about hope. The business and I have lots of hope for this year and have a list of needs that we are hoping in God to provide for us. One of those things is continued direction with the business, as I mentioned, it’s completely impractical to rent a shared kitchen space to bake in and run our shop out of an airstream. It’s a super cool concept, but completely impractical for a bakery. As a business, we are asking God big questions like; storefront and our own bakery? Denver? How do we expand to new non-perishable products? How do we keep employing youth and what does that program look like? Where does the money come from?
The two things that we do know are that we will continue to partner with Mile High Ministries’ social enterprise incubator called the Mile High Workshop and we will start having interns from North High School’s engagement center starting in February 2015.
When I think of this last year of business, a quote from C.S. Lewis best describes how I feel about it personally; “Experience: the most brutal of teachers, but you learn, my God do you learn.”
For more information about The Long I Pie Shop, please visit our website.