On the second floor of Children First Academy, a K-8 school for homeless kids, there is a classroom they lovingly refer to as The Clubhouse. This is where the miraculous story of Cookies 4 Change begins.
At 3 p.m. every day after school, seventh- and eighth-graders file into The Clubhouse. Before they even have a chance to set down their backpacks, they are greeted with hugs and a hearty “Welcome back—I am so glad to see you!” from their instructor, Marilyn Seymann.
Seymann started the after-school program last year with the help of the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network, an organization that unites groups working to fight human trafficking. Because the criminals that run these networks tend to prey on society’s most vulnerable, homeless teens are especially at risk.
The original idea was to provide middle schoolers who would otherwise be “on the streets” a safe place to go after school let out each day. But the program has become so much more than the seedling idea of a “hang-out” for young teens.
Much of the credit goes to Seymann, a woman who isn’t going to let an opportunity to help slip away. “My goal is for these kids is to become part of the community. I want the community to know these kids exist,” says Seymann.
The program is part of the Community School Initiative, an effort to connect community resources with schools to help young people “successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life.” Students participate in a total curriculum package, which includes a film club, a book club, guest speakers and field trips.
“With the cooperation of the community, we have been able to reach kids who are fairly isolated from the richness of what the world has to offer,” says Seymann.
Field trips have been particularly impactful and have included visits to the Musical Instrument Museum, Changing Hands Bookstore, the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse and the MARS education program at ASU. Guest speakers have also been invited to talk to the kids about issues that directly impact their lives, including topics like healthy relationships, Internet safety and teen violence.
This semester, the group created something new: Cookies 4 Change. The idea came about because Seymann would always bring freshly baked cookies for the kids. One day, they got the idea to create their own recipes and start a business to help fund their beloved after-school program.
The first cookie they invented was nicknamed “The Bomb,” a term that means “The Best,” they explained to Seymann. It is a chocolate chip cookie with a whole Oreo in the center.
Once they had their product, the group began to learn how a start-up company is formed. They discussed how to package, market and distribute their merchandise. This is where Phoenix ad agency Cramer-Krasselt stepped in and partnered with the teens to help make their start-up dreams a reality.
Cookies 4 Change will soon be marketed to the general public. Every cookie comes with a quote attached to it. A message from one seventh-grader, Xavier Beltran, reads, “Out of the pain and the loss, we come to the best we can be.”
Contact Marilyn Seymann at [email protected] for more information.
How you can help
- Sell cookies
- Invite students to local events
- Donate furniture or decor to “The Clubhouse
- Donate needed items to the school
- Mentor a youth
- Become a Cookies 4 Change partner
- Make a monetary donation to the program or the school
- How Arizona youth are targeted for sex trafficking
- Dominique Roe-Sepowitz: What parents need to know about sex trafficking