By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
We have posted a handful of stories on Alexa and Paul Sponcia and their work with young, underserved youth at Austin-East and Fulton High Schools.
Their efforts, focused on culinary arts and entrepreneurship, include the School of Hard Knox and the Youth Entrepreneur Program (#YEP!). Both are housed in their non-profit named Live. Love. Hope.
After several years of operating with grant and personal funds as well as volunteers rather than full-time employees, they are seeking broader community support to continue the mission. It’s not something that comes easy to the couple.
“One of the biggest struggles for us is asking for financial support for these programs, but over the past three years we have personally invested roughly $40,000 of our own money into launching Live.Love.Hope and funding the programs,” Paul said in an email to a number of people in the community. “It’s time for us to humble ourselves and reach out and see who would like to partner with us in helping to make an impact on the next generation.”
Their goal is to raise $350,000 that would fund the initiatives through the 2019-20 academic year. Much of the three-year goal is targeted at operations including a full-time Executive Director to oversee the initiatives, with the balance funding prize monies for #YEP! And internships for the revamped School of Hard Knox.
“The most frequent question posed by individuals is ways to help,” Paul said. “These programs need less direct volunteer support and more financial support. The greatest risk we have today is the sustainability of the programs due to funding.”
#YEP! is now in its third year, connecting the students with other entrepreneurial initiatives like the University of Tennessee’s “Vol Court Speaker Series and Pitch Competition” and with entrepreneurial companies and their executives. The program concludes with a 48-hour pitch night held at Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. In the most recent competition, three winners shared $17,500 in prizes to launch their businesses. Those dollars are held in escrow and only given to the winners through a funds request process guided by their mentor. They have six years to utilize the funds.
The School of Hard Knox is transitioning from a school-based program to a new format, using an academy concept. The original format involved local chefs teaching classes, and it has seen success. A few of the participating students now have jobs in Knoxville with local chefs. The new approach, dubbed School of Hard Knox 2.0, will continue to partner with local chefs, but involve an internship approach when it launches in June.
Paul says there are several ways for individuals to help financially. The easiest is making a tax deductible gift through PayPal at this link. Prospective donors who are interested in specific opportunities like sponsoring a student or an event should email firstname.lastname@example.org.