Tacos Unidos Opens Doors For Youth

Teaching a teenage drop-out how to get and keep a job is no easy task, according to social service agencies who work with troubled youth in Massachusetts. Now, one local non-profit is trying a different approach. They've begun a "social purpose business" to benefit both young people and their communities.

Tacos Unidos was created and funded by Roca, a community non-profit focused on Hispanics. It's a pushcart business that has four employees and sells tacos and burritos at various locations in Chelsea. The group's goal isn't to make money, but to train former gang members, dropouts, runaways and delinquents.

"Well, these kids are at the point, some of them, where they need to know to come to work. That's the first part of it... is come to work and then perform while they're at work," says Alice Fisher, who retired from the food service industry and now volunteers at Tacos Unidos.

Patty McDermott, director of development, says classroom job training falls short, and that employers who don't have the patience to deal with unfriendly, late or grumpy employees will just fire them. At Tacos Unidos, each person is paired with an adult mentor who won't let them fail.

However, commitment can be hard to get, according to Stacy Foreman, a former gang member. She has two young kids, no high school degree, and is now in charge of the Tacos Unidos kitchen.

"It's a lot different, because on the streets you can do whatever you want... but then when you get a job it's like, I have to wake up at a time and make sure I'm ready to be on time for work," says Foreman.

Meanwhile, Roca hopes the alternative that their training provides will be tempting to former drug pushers and gang members.

WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov visited Chelsea to report on Tacos Unidos.

This program aired on August 23, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.


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