New Avenues INK Employs At-Risk Youth to Help Events

New Avenues INK allows event planners looking to assist communities in need to wear it on their sleeves. The nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, employs at-risk foster and homeless youth to create swag attendees love to take home. INK has found many of the youth they touch are part of the LGBTQ community, and were ostracized due to their sexual orientation. Training includes creating promotional items, marketing and graphic design. Sports teams, corporate events and expos have already utilized the organization. Sara Weihmann, enterprise director of new avenues for youth, says the nonprofit is targeting more conferences, events and trade shows to partner with, thus putting more youth to work.

In a nutshell, what is INK’s mission?

New Avenues for Youth is committed to the prevention and intervention of youth homelessness. As such, we work with youth from a variety of backgrounds as they overcome barriers, pursue their goals and realize their potential. Sexual and gender minority youth (in the LGBTQ community) face tremendous pressure and oppression by the systems in which we exist, and a goal of New Avenues for Youth, and our social enterprises, is to develop power and affirming spaces allowing folks to shine and thrive.

While it's obviously a good thing to help youth by working with INK, what is the quality control in?

We pride our ourselves on being an enterprise that simultaneously provides social benefit by providing meaningful paid training opportunities to young folks experiencing barriers to employment and providing cost competitive and high-quality products to our customers. Our operations manager has more than 20 years of experience in the screen-printing industry, specifically in production. We check and double-check product quality and consistency at three points during the production process on every order. We also have an in-house graphic designer that works with customers to ensure that artwork received translates to our production process to impeccably achieve the desired results.

Who are some of INK’s clients?

We have printed shirts for the Portland Trailblazers to give to their fans, Ben & Jerry's Annual Corporate Meeting, Blue Cross Blue Shields Live Fearless campaign, event shirts for Run Like a Mother marathons, volunteer shirts for United Way, Children's Cancer Association, Boys and Girls Club, and on and on. The results are a true triple win for the community. Customers are able to promote their commitment to our mission through their partnership, INK is able to earn revenue necessary to advance our mission and sustain our social enterprise, and New Avenues for Youth's portfolio of enterprises are able to collectively offer supported work experiences to 100 individual youth each year and better support them in advancing toward their personal goals.

How does the process work for events to get involved?

While we have done some tradeshow events in the past, the primary way that events partner with New Avenues INK is to place orders with us for apparel items and promotional items they plan to distribute at their events. To do this, folks can contact us directly or through our website and we will support them in selecting the garments that fit their budget and specifications, getting their products produced perfectly by their deadline, and prepare the orders for customer pickup or shipping. Every product we produce receives an INK branded hang tag that connects the end-user to the social mission supported by the host's commitment to supporting social enterprise by using our services and buying our products.

Is this a national endeavor or just in Portland?

New Avenues INK has mainly focused most of our efforts on the Portland-local and Oregon-local community. However, we are set up to ship customer orders and have met the needs of organizations outside of our local community. Our goal is to grow our national business.

What are some examples of the gear created? 

Most of the decorated items we produce are t-shirts ranging from economy to fashion brands and styles. We also produce long-sleeve tees, hoodies, embroidered jackets, hats, caps, tote bags and some promotional items like branded glassware and mugs, pens, coasters and other items.