'Co-op' teaches kids green business

September 17, 2010 3:46:34 PM PDT
Hot sauce is fueling the engines of a group of young people who are learning to live green.It started with a seed of an idea to introduce underserved children to arts education. It has grown into a social enterprise that teaches the business of living green.

"We have three different sauces: habanero, which is the hottest, original, which is the medium and jalapeno," said jasmine Rogers, 13 years old.

Rogers has no trouble explaining the business model.

"It's kind of fun helping other kids with programs I can use to keep people from doing stuff they shouldn't be doing," she said.

Rogers and several other students in the Co-op Image After School Program tend a garden in Humboldt Park. Most of the produce is sold at farmers' markets. Students harvest chili peppers to make "Co-op Hot Sauce." The proceeds support the replenishing of the garden and a variety of other arts programs.

"Our programs range from traditional arts to new media," said Mike Bancroft. "We do murals. We do new media. We do video production, gardening. We do culinary arts, the whole gamut."

Hot glass-blowing is among the most popular choices. The program also offers recycling and reuse.

"We'll take the glass that we can and remelt it, and we'll actually use that to blow our pieces with. In the case of the mosaics, that was all found glass, glass that was getting thrown away in dumpsters," said Pearl Dick, instructor, Co-op image.

Co-op is also supported by After School Matters, Chicago first lady Maggie Daley's jobs program for teens. Over the summer, students made 125 vases that will serve as the centerpieces at next year's gala fundraiser.

"I feel really awed, like open-mouthed, like a normal 17-year-old kid living in Humboldt Park finally got his view of the world made into glass and then placed into an event. That's just, I'm speechless. I'm just speechless," said Kelvin Meldina, who is 17 years old.

Co-op Image operates in a number of Chicago public schools and works with up to 600 students per year-- primarily on the West and South Sides.

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