If you have ever stopped on your way through the Plaza District for a shaved ice from Sasquatch, you know their 112 flavor and 14 topping options are a refreshing way to beat the Oklahoma summer heat.
What you might not know is that Sasquatch serves up more than just a sno-cone. In addition to frozen treats, this shipping-container-housed business also serves the community.
Sasquatch Shaved Ice is a program of the OKC Homeless Alliance. Their goal is to support low-income youth and youth who have previously spent time in the foster-care system transition towards adulthood.
Much like their Homeless Alliance sister program The Curbside Chronicle, Sasquatch provides support through employment, training, and additional resources. Sasquatch supports employees by building their financial literacy through training programs, helping them learn to manage the checking and savings accounts opened for them. Thanks to a sponsorship from Oklahoma's Credit Union, Sasquatch matches dollar-for-dollar what their employees save towards their higher education, which incentivizes responsible saving and spending habits.
Additional training also helps increase high school graduation rates, as well as preparation for enrollment in higher education and certification programs. Of the youth who have completed the program, all have graduated high school. Only one of those youth came from a family where both parents are high school graduates, so it creates an additional point of pride to make their families proud of their accomplishments.
"Most of our employees use their savings and match to purchase a laptop for school. Employees have also used their savings to help pay for college, buy eyeglasses and other expenses
that help them move ahead in life," said Whitley O'Connor, program director of Sasquatch Shaved Ice.
Many low-income families do not own a computer or have internet access. With so much of education now involving online resources, they are at a distinct disadvantage. These are things that used to be considered luxuries but are now very much a part of the day-to-day expenses of education.
This season, Sasquatch is growing. Over the past three seasons, Sasquatch has employed 21 youth, but that isn't enough for O'Connor. A second stand has recently opened on the corner of Reno and S. Mickey Mantel Drive, directly across the street from the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark and Sonic Plaza in Bricktown. The new stand, housed inside of a revitalized shipping container, was made possible by a donation from the Arnall Family Foundation. The grant has allowed the Homeless Alliance to hire a full-time employee to work with the youth and will enable them to establish a training hub.
"Race, income, and familial makeup shouldn't stop young people from pursuing their dreams," said O'Connor. "Every snow cone purchased from one of our stands helps to pave the way to work, education, and financial success for youth in Oklahoma City."
O'Conner is no stranger to non-profit work. His wife Ranya Forgotson is the Director of The Curbside Chronicle, another OKC publication dear to my heart. The non-profit magazine offers employment opportunities to citizens who are homeless and assists them on their journey back into their own homes.
"Businesses and non-profits each have a place in this world," said O'Connor. "But organizations that combine the two and use business practices to improve their community have always inspired me.
Oklahoma City is such an amazing community, and the people here have been so supportive. We are excited to expand the snow cone stand, and can't wait to see how the community lifts up these kids."
"Low-income and foster-involved youth are less likely to find employment, so work history is more important for them than their peers in higher-income brackets who are more likely to attend college" -Whitley O'Connor, program director of Sasquatch Shaved Ice.