Girls Coalition launches food cart, with a side of self-confidence – 32963

Devoted supporters of the Treasure Coast Girls Coalition resisted an inspiring, albeit wet, ribbon cutting to launch their TCGC food cart, an initiative of the non-profit organization. Even a torrential downpour couldn’t dampen the spirit at the event, which was held at the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce.

Founded by Shala Edwards in 2021, TCGC supports economically disadvantaged girls ages 9-18 through after-school and summer programs focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Edwards said the food cart is an “educational extension of the program”, intended to build girls’ confidence as they gain experience managing all areas of service, including food preparation, ordering and interacting with customers.

She explained that students first participate in an in-person classroom training segment, before graduating into the actual physical classroom, where they work in the concession cart to develop the soft skills needed to work with real customers. The menu will feature a seasonally rotating menu, as well as canned food, freshly popped popcorn, craft drinks, snacks, hot dogs and burgers.

“This is a community service project that will allow the whole community to participate. We’ve been very intentional about community outreach over the past 18 months, but it allows us to reach out to all parts of the community. We don’t have to wait for the community to come to us. We can go to them,” Edwards said.

Drawing on her own previous experience as a catering manager, Edwards said the girls would gain skills and confidence by mingling with the public.

“Many of our students look at the ground when we interact with them. They are not used to handshakes and are not ready for job interviews. We prepare them to face the world,” Edwards said.

“One hundred percent of the proceeds from this truck goes directly to our programs to support our mission. When you buy a bottle of water, a bag of popcorn, or a soda from this truck, the return on investment is amazing. For every dollar you invest in youth development programs, there is a return of $13.

Edwards said that while creating TCGC was a long-time goal for her, she was motivated to act quickly by observing the struggles of students who lacked the digital literacy skills needed to navigate the educational platform. online forced upon them amid the pandemic.

“We couldn’t wait. There was an urgent call to action,” she said.

Their summer pilot program focused on these digital literacy skills and overall well-being for girls.

“We’ve seen the social and emotional decline of children from the isolation of being home and being unable to socialize with their friends during the pandemic,” Edwards explained.

Working with community partners, the girls visited Florida Atlantic University, participated in a STEM sea turtle nesting camp with the Barrier Island Sanctuary in Melbourne Beach, and a technology workshop at United Against Poverty. Other collaborative partners included a Junior Achievement program and TRiO (federally funded outreach program) at Indian River State College.

“In communities of color, STEM is very underrepresented among women,” Edwards said. “The biggest gap in professional STEM careers is women. We make up less than 30% of the STEM workforce. We want to make sure we start reprogramming that mindset.

Their curriculum includes training in digital technology and emotional intelligence, self-management, confidence and character building, relationship skills, mentoring, coping mechanisms, leadership, interpersonal skills, accountability and decision making.

Edwards hopes to empower girls, so they have equal opportunities to pursue and thrive in careers that close the gender pay gap, improve economic security, and ensure a diverse and talented workforce.

She also announced the creation of the Mildred Scholarship Fund in honor of her grandmother, which was established with start-up funds from the Vero Beach Rotary Club.

Donations to the fund will provide scholarships for girls to attend TCGC by covering registration fees.

The Treasure Coast Girls Coalition meets three days a week during the school year at Gifford Middle School. The food cart will make its culinary debut on September 30 at the Main Street Vero Beach Downtown Friday Street Party.

For more information, visit www.treecoastgirls.org.

Pictures of Joshua Kodis

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