Monday, March 30, 2009

Another World is Possible!

On the sixteenth floor of a lower Manhattan office building, in a rectangular room, on a tangerine wall, next to a gleaming white door, hangs a poster-sized piece of paper. Hand written in navy blue marker is the following quote: “Not only is another world possible, She is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. -Arundhati Roy”

While few days in New York City-not even this relatively calm and overcast March morning-can be described as quiet, in this room, the small headquarters of the Reciprocity Foundation, you can still hear the breath of change. It is on the lips and in the words of Adam Bucko.

Bucko, 33, is one of the co-founders of the Reciprocity Foundation. It is an organization aimed at providing homeless and high risk youth with skills to not only exit the social service system, but also find careers in what he calls the Creative Industries—fields like new media, social entrepreneurship, design, marketing, and green economy.

“Our goal was not to just help them to become successful,” Bucko says in an even tempo, words tinged with a Polish accent, “but to turn them into change makers so they can go back to the shelters, the neighborhoods, mentor other kids, and create opportunities for their whole community.”

The kids he speaks about is a diverse group of young adults, ranging in age from barely teens to early twenties. The majority of students are of color and are LGBTQ, a reflection of the homeless youth demographic in New York City. This year, Bucko says, the foundation has worked with over 300 kids.

According to recent data released by New York City, 36,000 people sleep in shelters each night-16,000 of which are children. Thousands more are sleep on the streets, in the subway, or other public places. These figures are the highest in the city’s history.

By these statistics, it would be hard for any organization to measure success by the amount of youth reached. Instead, the foundation measures success by what it can help the youth accomplish. Students of the Reciprocity Foundation have moved on to colleges like Parsons and Babson. They have earned internships and jobs at Fortune 500 companies. Their most recognizable, a transgender model named Isis, reached fame through the television show “America’s Next Top Model.”

“I would say that a lot of our students have had life changing experiences with an organization within our community,” Bucko says. “To me, that’s what success is all about.”

Click here for slideshow.

Text and Photos by Collin Orcutt

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

GREEN FASHION by homeless designers!

What if someday being decked from head to toe in the latest trends and carrying around a copy of Vogue could send a message to the world that you are green, sustainable, sweatshop free and committed to helping your community?

Fashion gets criticized for being superficial, but people like Lauren Hope Silverstein see the potential it has to be anything but.

Silverstein, who designs for a leading fashion house, recently met with Reciprocity students to discuss green fashion and design.

The general feeling in the room was that while we all want to give back and carefully use our precious natural resources, nobody wants to sacrifice on style, and nobody has to.

For young, homeless designers, this conversation was particularly important. Having experienced so much difficulty, these youth know that in order to feel good about their contributions, they want their work to tell their stories and help others.

The reassurance that designing the perfect pair of jeans has the possibility to send a positive message of awareness and change, and keep the planet healthy, further inspired these already motivated young adults.

Reciprocity has been offering training in green and socially responsible start-ups since 2004, long before the trend truly took off, but as Terry Swack of Sustainable Minds pointed out "the challenge is the lack of accessible, easy to use information that design teams can integrate into their processes to design greener products."

Reciprocity is helping to bridge that gap, and by asking practical questions, Reciprocity students are pushing industry professionals to articulate just how we can all work together to make this trend the standard.

Silverstein, for example, is offering students guidance on portfolios, and recently led a Reciprocity project that resulted in the creation of a chic, eye-catching, green, organic, sweatshop-free tote bag, sales of which benefit programming for homeless youth. Now that is one multi-tasking accessory!
Written by Sarah Autumn Feeley

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