Students among Pepsi Refresh Project finalists

The U students are working to open The A-List, a snack and apparel shop.

Sophomore A-List Vice President Melissa Zoerb, right  shows 8th grader Odia Ebojie, left, how to vote for The A-list on the Pepsi Refresh Project website Monday at the Brooklyn Center Junior High.  With the grant they would receive from Pepsi, the nonprofit would open an apparel store that would employ at-risk teen youth and serve as a place for positive afterschool programs.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Sophomore A-List Vice President Melissa Zoerb, right shows 8th grader Odia Ebojie, left, how to vote for The A-list on the Pepsi Refresh Project website Monday at the Brooklyn Center Junior High. With the grant they would receive from Pepsi, the nonprofit would open an apparel store that would employ at-risk teen youth and serve as a place for positive afterschool programs.

Alex Holmquist

A group of University of Minnesota students plan to open a business in Brooklyn Park, Minn., that will benefit local teens. The students are working to open The A-List, a snack and apparel shop that will employ underprivileged youth and provide positive after-school programs. On Thursday, the group was notified that they are finalists in the Pepsi Refresh Project. During the month of April, people can go online and vote for the group to win $25,000 to put toward opening the store. The store is planned to open this fall and employ about 20 local teens. âÄúWe want it to be the cool hangout place for teens in the community so that they have a safe place to go,âÄù said Matt Norris, a sophomore at the Carlson School of Management. Norris, who is from Brooklyn Park, said the number of teens who donâÄôt participate in after-school activities and a rise in juvenile crime motivated him to open the store. âÄúSeeing the change in my community really encouraged me to take this action,âÄù Norris said. Along with several other University students, Norris began generating a business plan for The A-List in 2008 and formed a nonprofit organization, also called The A-List, last May. Asha Sharma, a sophomore at the Carlson School of Management and co-founder of The A-List, said she was excited to start a business that was also a nonprofit, especially one that would benefit local teens. âÄúItâÄôs a great morale boost that you can be 21 and not only make a difference, but make a change,âÄù Sharma said. The group worked with Brooklyn Park teens to develop the concept for the store. Awale Osman, a 17-year-old junior at Park Center Senior High School, has been involved with The A-List since December. Osman, who recently moved to Brooklyn Park from Rochester, Minn., said he had trouble getting involved in after-school programs in Brooklyn Park because many are not well known to teens in the community. Osman said he is helping spread the word about The A-List to his friends and peers mainly by word of mouth. Osman added that he feels the University studentsâÄô willingness to accept input from local teens will help make the store successful. âÄúWe, actually the youth, are coming up with ideas,âÄù Osman said. The group also worked with the city of Brooklyn Park, including Mayor Steve Lampi, who serves on the advisory board for The A-List. Lampi said he thinks the store will have a positive impact on local teens, who otherwise may engage in crime or other unsupervised activities. Lampi also said he appreciates the groupâÄôs efforts to make their business model sustainable. âÄúThereâÄôs nothing worse than expending a lot of effort and money into something and then having it crumble and die in a year or two,âÄù Lampi said. Norris said the group has raised roughly $200,000 through various fundraising efforts but needs a total of about $300,000 to pay the storeâÄôs startup costs.