New York City is a hotbed of artisanal ice cream shops, and like many of them, Alphabet Scoop makes everything in-house.
But the creamy goodness at the 15-year-old shop on East 11th Street isn’t just homemade, it’s homegrown, too, as the majority of its workers are at-risk youth from the nearby community.
Alphabet Scoop opened in 2002 as a youth job-training and life-skills program of The Father’s Heart Ministries, which is next door, to give them the tools they need to succeed in the future.
“I think we lost our way on the value of a person and giving him or her the tools — nobody wants to be patient for them to develop, and that’s where the turnover is happening in many industries,” said Robbie Vedral, manager of Alphabet Scoop. “Most of the challenges are life skills — these are inner-city kids that are challenged in many different ways. Adult, heavy stuff is being laid on them at a really early age.”
Hands-on training ranges from learning the importance of arriving not just on time but early and rising above outside forces to adhering to strict food-safety regulations.
But for Shelby Fonseca, one of Alphabet Scoop’s five youth employees, the most important skill so far was learning to “talk so much more,” the 21-year-old said. “It gives me the confidence in my own self.”
“Shelby has done a tremendous job from where she was. You can see her personality is just very infectious, she’s very engaged with the customers in a way she wasn’t in the very beginning,” Vedral said. “She’s one of the successes we’ve had here. I’m really proud.”
If a current crowdfunding campaign reaches its $70,000 goal before it ends Dec. 31, Vedral hopes to take Alphabet Scoop’s training — and its workers — even further.
The shop, he said, is first a job-training program, but it’s also a business that hopes to become self-sufficient, as its expenses and salaries are currently subsidized by the church. To do that, Alphabet Scoop needs to undergo a complete overhaul to modernize its space and update its technology.
“If we get newer stuff, I can really teach these kids, really dig into how to manage inventory and the business better to show them real numbers and if you over-scoop or under-scoop, what that does to the bottom line,” Vedral said.
As of Friday afternoon, the campaign had raised more than $41,000 tax-deductible donations toward its $70,000 goal. Free scoops (with “all the sprinkles you want!”) and quarts, T-shirts and totes and a private ice cream party are among the perks of donating.