West End Neighborhood House


Senator Carper Visits Bright Spot Ventures!

Tucked away in an industrial park office near New Castle, Jalisa Baines and her co-workers on Friday went about their tasks of readying used books for resale.

Baines typed at a computer, processing “The Gulag Archipelago” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, just sold at Amazon.com. “Going to California,” she said, smiling.

Nearby, Markisha Ford sorted tomes by topic for local offline sales as Shantee Handy scanned CD bar codes to check their value.

“This one’s $10,” Handy said of The Rolling Stones’ “Tattoo You.” “That’s pretty good.”

All work at Bright Spot Venture — a new business like no other in the state. “This is the first social enterprise managed by youth in — and aging out of — foster care in Delaware,” said its manager, Carolyn A. Gordon.

With 15 part-time workers, all ages 16-24, the business is part of nonprofit West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington, an outgrowth of its Lifelines program to help teens as they age out of state foster care, Gordon said.

West End Executive Director Paul F. Calistro Jr. said Barclays Bank, led by Jocelyn Stewart, is a key supporter of the venture, but more would be welcomed.

The program also runs the new Cool Spring Farmers Market at 10th and Van Buren streets, Wilmington, open 4-8 p.m. Thursdays. There, the young workers sell produce they help bring in from program supporter and farmer H.G. Haskell of Chadds Ford, Pa. Vendors at the market — opened two weeks ago with help from Gov. Jack Markell and Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee — pay small fees to support the job training program.

“Shantee was rockin’ it last night on the cash register,” Gordon said, adding it’s going well.

Baines and Handy, both 19, say they’re learning job skills such as punctuality and proper behavior as well as computer work and customer service. “It’s a great opportunity for foster kids because it’s hard to find jobs,” Baines said.

Ford, 20, said, “It’s a challenge, but I can handle it.”

They work in space lent free by Wise Power Systems with support of site owner Harvey Hanna & Associates. Michael Haney, the green energy firm’s global operations director, said, “We love that we’re able to affect the community in a real positive way.”

Giving space, support, interaction and the chance of interviews or jobs is better than just writing a check, he said, adding, “It’s an amazing business model.”

And it got a boost Friday from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who visited to lend support. The youths explained how it all works and he promised to have a book drive.

Carper praised the partnerships that created Bright Spot Venture, adding the program “helps these young people get where they need to go — and that’s the road to success.”

Contact robin brown at 324-2856 or rbrown@delawareonline.com.