Excerpt from “Building Co-ops and Serving the Community” by Megan McGee (Geo.Coop)
“Recent social movements led by young people have shown Gen Z to be more progressive than any generation before, and more likely to embrace alternatives to the oppressive systems that previous generations have accepted as a given. While this has prompted many to speculate on what this could mean for the future, right now the youth of Worcester, MA are seizing the present to create change in their community. In a city with a poverty rate of more than 20%, exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 on the local economy, a group of determined young people have formed a network of cooperatives to earn money while helping to meet the needs of their most vulnerable neighbors throughout the community.
Worcester Youth Cooperatives was started in October 2020 by six high school students to build “cooperative solutions” to the social issues they care about. They found each other while involved in an educational program where they learned the basics of cooperative economics and gained practical experience in growing hydroponic vegetables. “At first, I didn’t know anything about it,” says Genesis, 18. Like Genesis, most of the founders’ journeys in cooperative economics began as a summer job. Jahir, 17, got involved with the program through Genesis, who he says told him what a good opportunity it was to help their community. Laci, who is now 17, had been working for the program since she was 14 years old, and her brother Livingston also helped found the co-op. “It was kind of a group thing,” he says. “I wanted to stay with people I trust, get along with.”
The objective of the educational program was for the youth to start a worker cooperative with hydroponic farming, but along the way, the youth themselves decided to shift their mission to something that was even more transformative. The space where the program was located was at the epicenter of the Central Massachusetts city’s opioid epidemic and homelessness crisis, in the neighborhood known as Main South. Lack of affordable housing has led to a concentrated homeless population in this area, as redevelopment efforts drive up rents and the recent expiration of the state’s eviction moratorium allows landlords to force people out of their homes in the middle of a pandemic. Worcester has also seen a surge in opioid abuse over the last decade, with the second highest number of fatal overdoses in the state. When the pandemic hit, the youth started seeing more homeless people in their neighborhood than usual as homeless shelters and detox centers throughout the city shut down. Having been deeply affected by their exposure to the devastating effects of these crises, the youth decided together that it would be best to shift toward providing direct services to the homeless community and people dealing with addiction.”
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