Pro Athletes And Local Teens Replace Liquor Store With Fresh Food, Flowers, And Hope.

During life’s difficult moments, many people find that helping others is the only way to alleviate their own fear and anxiety.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Austin, Chicago-based youth group By The Hand Club reached out to NFL linebacker Sam Acho to help form “healing circles” for local teens.

Sam agreed, plus he took his participation a step further by recruiting other players and alumni from the Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, and Northwestern University. On June 4th, the professional athletes met with dozens of Chicago teenagers to discuss current events and create a plan for a brighter future.

The teens were intent on giving back to their communities and contributing to the well being of their neighbors in a meaningful way. During their discussion they noted how difficult it is to access fresh foods in their section of the city. While there are dozens of liquor stores in the area, grocery stores and farmer’s markets are hard to find.

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The building right next door to the By The Hand Club housed a now-vacant liquor store. The store had been looted by rioters and was closed, so Sam and his NFL friends reached out to the owner and raised $500,000 to purchase the lot. They demolished the store and turned it into a youth-led open-air marketplace called Austin Harvest.

Austin Harvest is a 12-week entrepreneurship program that provides local high school students with work and on-the-job experience while also providing their community with fresh produce, locally-sourced flowers, and other healthy products.

“Ten students are participating in a 12-week entrepreneurship program where they are learning everything about starting a business from architectural design to customer service,” By The Hand Club wrote on Facebook. “The students are receiving an educational stipend for their participation and are also learning banking, money management, and budgeting skills.”

The open-air marketplace aims to become more than a place to buy fruits and vegetables. They erected a wooden stage and hope to host local musicians, spoken-word poetry nights, and cooking demonstrations. Most importantly, the teens involved are getting to see the real-world results of turning their idea into a reality. They’ve also gotten to see firsthand how crucial it is to bring hope to people who are struggling.

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“We learned if you live within 1½ miles of a grocery store, you’re likely to live longer because you have better options to eat healthier,” said sophomore Azariah Baker. “We’re providing basic necessities here that are incredibly impactful, not only with the food, but with the love and hope we’re also providing.”

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These intrepid teenagers and their NFL benefactors have made a solid difference in their community. This is what it means to be a part of the solution. Great job!

Share this story to thank these teens for finding a way to make a positive impact in the world around them.

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