NEW ORLEANS -- A thrift store could be part of the solution to changing young lives in New Orleans.
YEP, the Youth Empowerment Project, opened the YEP Thrift Works store on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Thursday.
The place is packed with clothing, furniture and knick-knacks. 20-year-old Jaleel Holmes is Assistant Manager, excited to be part of opening a new business.
"As far as like where stuff is going to go, how we're going to set it up, and where stuff is going to be at," Holmes said. "It's kind of hard."
He has big plans to be a business owner.
"I want to do something like entrepreneurship, or like the thrift store."
It is hard to imagine the tough life Holmes lived growing up, roaming the streets by eight-years-old and beginning a life of crime.
"I used to get into all kinds of stuff, like robbing people, sneaking into houses, taking stuff, you know," Holmes said.
Tamara Jackson of the anti-crime group Silence Is Violence said the community needs to unite to change the lives of inner city youth, by giving them better opportunities, including the programs operated by Youth Empowerment Project.
"The streets are extremely tough," Jackson said. "Families are having a difficult time. There's not enough activities for our young people, so they are attracted to the criminal elements that exist."
Holmes said he’s happy for the opportunity to thrive.
"I guess I was just so far at the bottom, I just had that turnaround, and I just felt like I had to do something, and once I came to YEP, they gave me that support, and I didn’t really have support when I was growing up," Holmes said.
YEP has ten programs, including the bike store, and a computer lab that provides job training and mentorship.
"We serve, here at YEP, about 1,000 young people a year and about 70 percent come from households that have income less than $10,000," explained YEP Director of Programs Darrin McCall.
"The life skills ... so how to shake hands, how to have self-esteem, how to go on a job interview, how to hold a job once you have it," McCall explained.
Jaleel Holmes is a living lesson that people can change. He's now training other students to be thrift store staff.
"Kind of like a role model for them when they see me doing things, like they see me coming to work every day," he explained.
Though the promise of a steady job might not appeal to some people making more money illegally, the promise a career path could.
"Definitely offering them a minimum wage job is not going to be attractive for a child who is able to hustle," worried Jackson.
"There are some minimum wage jobs that we're preparing folks for, but ultimately we know it is important to put young folks on a career path," countered Darrin McCall.
Holmes, now the assistant manager, is becoming a savvy salesman.
"I'm talking to somebody that wants to wear something 'that looks good on you, you should wear that, you should get that,' you know. 'That's a nice movie,' or 'that's a nice book, I read that before.'"
Imagine what he'll do in five years.
YEP Thrift Works Store at 1604 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard is open Monday through Saturday from 10a.m.-6p.m. They welcome donations of well cared for clothing, furniture, small appliances, books, and toys.
For more information, call the store at (504) 264-7090, or visit their website at http://www.youthempowermentproject.org.