Most of us probably walk right past the pigeons. Maybe through them on the streets. They’re generally not a bird people ponder much.
Kids from New Avenues for Youth often feel like pigeons. On the streets. Overlooked. Underestimated. They identify with these urban scavengers, cast aside, making do. Like them, the pigeons can survive and even thrive in the city, explains Jessica Elkan, the director of development and communications for New Avenues for Youth.
New Avenues for Youth is a nonprofit that works with homeless and at-risk youths to exit the streets and empower them to live full lives. Some 12 years ago, New Avenues partnered with Ben & Jerry’s to launch a job training program, employing kids at a scoop shop in Downtown Portland. Today it is the only nonprofit in the country that owns and operates two Ben & Jerry’s PartnerShops.
Since that initial venture, the nonprofit has added New Avenues INK, a screen-printing company and last spring, dfrntpigeon – pronounced different pigeon – as a way to employ youth and harness the artistic talents of these kids and allow them to express themselves in a professional capacity.
“We see so many people come through here with this raw, organic talent and non-traditional creativity,” Elkan says. “We felt we were giving them manufacturing, retail, service and sales experience. But they lacked a creative pathway. That’s how dfrntpigeon was born.”
Apparel and merchandise
Dfrntpigeon debuted its first product line, the Identity Collection, last spring. It includes a line of T-shirts featuring designs by six young people who created pieces that reflect who they are, and express their views on how life intersects with design.
The T-shirts in the collection were created with the help of design industry mentors from AKQA, a digital marketing based in the Pearl District. The youth drew or collaged the graphics and used computer software to convert them it digital images. The shirts were launched during DesignWeek Portland, and New Avenues even supplied the models.
Next month, dfrntpigeon will offer its second line – the Community Collection, which includes everything from coffee mugs to notecards – at the PDX Pop Up shops in Downtown Portland. It will mark the brand’s first foray into a retail shop.
All sales proceeds, with price points between $10 and $150 per item, are plowed back into the dfrntpigeon program. The money is earmarked for New Avenues for Youth staff members dedicated to supporting dfrntpigeon, as well as designer salaries. Proceeds will also go toward funding more local creative programs put on by New Avenues for Youth, to help additional at-risk kids in Portland express themselves through art.
“Dfrntpigeon was just a natural fit for us,” says Lisa Frisch, Downtown retail program director for the Portland Business Alliance and organizer of the PDX Pop Up Shops, which launched during the holiday season of 2009, and is considered an “OG” of the nation’s pop-up efforts. “New Avenues for Youth has been a great partner in the past. We’ve seen the retail shops they operate and the amazing training and mentoring they provide.
“But our pop-up shops also have to offer great products, and dfrntpigeon offers great products. In this situation, we’re offering a chance to support a great organization in our community and help people buy and give amazing gifts.”
The Portland Business Alliance, along with the Portland Development Commission and the Clean and Safe District, helped sponsor the seasonal pop-up program for the past eight years. Each year, the program chooses four for-profit and/or nonprofit juried artists and/or designers, and turns Downtown Portland’s vacant retail space into temporary shopping destinations. This year’s pop-up shops have been allocated prime, street-level real estate in Pioneer Place.
“We want to sell as much as we can to scale and build on this concept, Elkan says. “The dfrntpigeon tagline is ‘Don’t just rise. Take flight.’ We want to use this business to help get the voices of youth out there and help them soar through life.”