Ex-baseball player helps young men in Humboldt Park achieve their dreams

March 7, 2013 (CHICAGO)

They call this company SOAP, short for Sustainable Operations and Advocacy Partners. SOAP charges a fee to hotels for picking up their plastic waste. Workers then condense the customer leftovers and donate the product, which is recycled into tiny plastic bottles. The recycling program is one of three social enterprises started by The Stewards Market with the purpose of providing jobs for 18- to 25- year old men.

"Ultimate goal what I see is for the young folks that we work with who often are seen a problem in the city to move them to a position where they are a part of the solution and they are now the change makers," Richards said.

The nonprofit is the brainchild of Richards, a former Minor League player for the Texas Rangers who said he's found his Christian calling.

"Right now, what we're seeing in Chicago, it's about lives. Lives are at stake. If we don't do it, lives will be lost. Lives will not be transformed. It's no longer whether I want to do this or for how long I'm going to do it. This is all I'm going to do," Richards said.

Shevelle Walton, 21, was SOAP's first employee. He credits the job for turning his life around.

"I can say it helped me a lot. It changed me. It took me off the streets. I was hanging around the wrong crowd. It basically made me grow up," Shevelle Walton, employee at SOAP, said.

The Stewards Market also houses a full service recording studio. Young people from the neighborhood manage the operation. They also help run the store front called King Lizzy Apparel that sells graphic T-shirts and other street wear. Stan Dyl, 60, is a retired museum director with a background in geology and calligraphy. He now dons urban gear and teaches graffiti artists to become shoe artists as a way to mentor youth.

"This may not have been my original plan for retirement but God is kind of like out of the box," Dyl said. "So even if brushstroke by brushstroke someone can find that they can do some things that are positive and constructive and life-changing, then lives are changed."

Richards believes the best way to change the cycle of poverty and violence is by giving young people a chance to become productive.

"We're trying to continue to provide what we truly believe is a legitimate solution of training that will lead to employment and the big picture is actual ownership," Richards said.

This summer, The Stewards Market will launch a training academy to teach job readiness skills, as well as the basics of how to start and maintain one's own business. stewardsmarekt.com

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