By Audrey Tempelsman
Just desserts are served at Alphabet Scoop, an ice cream store run by The Fathers Heart Ministries that employs Alphabet Citys at-risk \youth.
Carol Vedral, director of The Fathers Heart Ministries, and her husband, Chuck, founded the faith-based, nonprofit organization, at 543 E. 11th St., in 1998. Their mission is to break the cycle of dependency and poverty by providing hunger relief, job training and referrals to those in need.
The Vedrals began the youth program at Alphabet Scoop in 2005, believing that a combination of employment and mentoring would help reduce violence and gang involvement among local teenagers.
The street is such a big pull in teens lives today. We need to reorient them toward a path of success, said Carol Vedral.
The nine youths recruited to work in Alphabet Scoop also attend The Fathers Heart Ministries KidZone program, which takes place Tuesdays at 6 p.m. Most participants hail from the nearby Jacob Riis Houses and Campos Plaza.
At KidZone, the church sponsors a meal for young children, teens and families. After eating, kids can play board games, take free guitar lessons or self-defense classes, do arts and crafts or create nutritious snacks at the Fun With Food table. The program keeps a lot of kids out of trouble, according to Samantha Crespo, 18, a three-year veteran of Alphabet Scoop.
Like many of her co-workers, Samanthas life has experienced a significant turnaround over her years of being involved in the program.
My freshman year of high school, I didnt pass any classes whatsoever, she said. I wasnt taking it seriously. School starts at 9, and Id come at 12. If I felt like going to class, Id go to class. If I didnt, I didnt go. I didnt care at all.
But her attitude began to change when she started at Alphabet Scoop.
If youre working, you learn more respect, how to be patient. You learn theres no explanation for being late, she said.
Now, after having worked at the store for three years, Samantha not only supervises the younger employees, but also frequently makes the ice cream herself. At the end of her shift, shell use her own key to close up the shop.
Pastor Carol and Chuck give me so much responsibility. They trust me a lot, she said. I dont even know how it happened, but I started stepping up to the standards I need to step up to.
Samanthas academic performance has steadily improved.
I saw that failing all my classes, I wasnt getting anywhere, she said. Working here, I realized before I go on to bigger and better things, I need school first.
After completing high school this spring, Samantha hopes to pursue a career in basketball or criminal justice. But her years at Alphabet Scoop havent killed her sweet tooth.
Working in the store has made me really want to become an ice cream flavorer, she said. Its so much fun to come up with weird, wacky flavors.
To make the ice cream, Samantha explains, she runs a high-quality, chocolate or vanilla base through the stores industrial ice cream-making machine, adding flavored mix-ins.
For the stores top seller, cookies n cream, a vanilla base with vanilla flavoring is combined with Oreo cookies. When the ice cream emerges from the machine and into the white, plastic tubs, more Oreos are added in for an extra kick.
It just flies out the door, Carol Vedral said.
Peanut butter ice cream involves a chocolate base with peanut butter and chocolate peanut butter cups swirled in.
Flavors also vary with the seasons. With the coming of fall, customers flock in for scoops of apple pie ice cream or pumpkin pie ice cream.
Though Samanthas flavor of choice is classic pistachio, her favorite creation was her first: Banana stampede, a mix of chocolate ice cream, banana pureé and animal crackers.
By getting a good foundation in work experience, we believe the kids develop the confidence and training to either further their education or get a better job or series of better jobs so they can provide for themselves, Vedral said. Were very excited about where the kids are in their lives right now.