Carlson grads reach out to youth

Former students’ youth center engages Brooklyn Park teens.

Seventh grader D’Angelo Spring, center, plays Jamar Blunt in connect four Monday at the The A-list teen center in Brooklyn Park.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Seventh grader D’Angelo Spring, center, plays Jamar Blunt in connect four Monday at the The A-list teen center in Brooklyn Park.

by Rebecca Shrake

Upbeat music, brightly painted walls and lounging kids filled the A-List youth center on a recent rainy day in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

Opened in April, the center is the product of two University of Minnesota graduatesâÄô work and is an effort to get teens off the street in an area where there is little else to do after school.

Asha Sharma and Matt Norris, who graduated from the Carlson School of Management this spring, collaborated to create the 5,400-square-foot center that houses a clothing and snack shop âÄî a source of employment for under-engaged teens.

Walls of chalkboard or dry-erase boards showcase teensâÄô names, their favorite quotes or a mural they painted.

âÄúWeâÄôre really trying to change the way teens look at their lives and change the way they conduct themselves in a social setting,âÄù Sharma said.

On opening day, more than 300 community members came through during the day and 300 teens came in the evening.

In the weeks since, 20 to 30 teens filter through daily in search of a snack, tutoring or to relax on the couches.

The A-List currently employs 18 teens. Ashley Sledge, 15, is from Brooklyn Park and works at the snack shop three days a week.

Even when she isnâÄôt working, Sledge comes to the center to hang out with friends after school. âÄúIâÄôm excited to come, and I like working here,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs fun, and IâÄôve made a lot of new friends.âÄù

The center also offers tutoring, college preparation and business mentors for the teens.

The lounge area is set up with couches, TVs and a stage built by the students to showcase their talents. A talent show is set for this Friday.

In Brooklyn Park, 75 percent of all teens âÄî roughly 6,000 âÄî arenâÄôt engaged in after-school activities, according to the center. Sharma and Norris met in a Carlson class and share a passion for helping youth and explored the needs of the community.

âÄúThe idea for starting the A-List came out of nowhere,âÄù Sharma said. âÄúIt was very serendipitous, but at no point did I ever think it wasnâÄôt going to happen.âÄù

Sharma and Norris reached out to other students in Carlson to form a staff. Stephanie Tomczyk, 20, is one of 15 students from the University helping.
Tomczyk got involved with the group her freshman year. She helped develop a marketing plan for the snack unit, and she is now the vice president of operations for the business.

Over the course of 2 1/2 years, Sharma and Norris raised $500,000 for the project. The business continues to get funding from large corporations like Best Buy and General Mills and from small businesses and individual donations.

Sharma and Norris plan to replicate the A-List model across the Twin Cities and the nation. âÄúWe want to build an A-List in every community in need,âÄù Sharma said.

In turn, the A-List helps college students, Tomczyk said. “They further develop in the areas they are interested in.” Sharma and Norris meet with the college staff to help develop and improve career goals.

âÄúThey are great mentors for everyone,âÄù Tomczyk said. âÄúNot many college students can say theyâÄôve been involved in an amazing experience and touched so many peopleâÄôs lives.âÄù