Local group helping at-risk youth through holiday wreath business

By LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

This year Hyde Parkers can deck the halls and foster an entrepreneurial spirit in at-risk girls.

The Luv Institute, 1507 E. 53rd St., is teaching young women from the Department of Juvenile Justice career development the fundamentals of running a business by making and selling Christmas wreaths.

The program is small but currently provides two at-risk girls with part-time paid jobs through the holidays.

This is the inaugural year for “The Journey to My Better Self Holiday Entrepreneurship Program.” The two entrepreneurs, Davisha Junius and Victoria Walker, both 16 of Englewood, assemble and sell hand-made, customized, live wreaths, to raise money for the Luv Institute.

The Luv Institute is a youth-oriented non-profit that targets at-risk youth who have been in foster care, group homes and the juvenile justice system and exhibit behavior and anger management dysfunction. Those who benefit from the institute are given jobs and skills with the ultimate hope that they’ll succeed in the workforce later in life.

Junius and Walker work with Luv Institute Executive Director Cosette Yisrael and Executive Assistant Prenita Hudson and assemble each wreath by hand on the 5400 block of South Dorchester Avenue.

The program is placed in Hyde Park, Yisrael said, because “we wanted the community to adopt our students.”

The goal is to sell 200 wreaths by mid-December.

The team works in a small garage, packed full of stacks and stacks of Fraiser Fir wreaths on the floor and a folding table where they work. Bags of pinecones and decorations are stacked along the walls and the air smells like juniper.

Junius came to the Luv Institute at the insistence of her probation officer — she had been fighting. She said the program has taught her that she is cut out to be a business owner.

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“Entrepreneurs and me have a lot in common,” Junius said. She said she has particular ways she likes things done and running her own business would allow her to run the show.

Walker’s sister encouraged her to volunteer at Luv Institute, in part to help keep her out of trouble at Tilden Career Academy High School, 4747 S. Union Ave.

Walker said after high school she plans to go to Rust College in Memphis where she will study to become a heart surgeon, or to open her own hair product business. That is, unless she joins the Air Force.

Junius said after high school she wants to either begin her own business making hair weaves or study to become an OB-GYN and open her own practice.

Wreaths can be purchased in person from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday until Dec. 14 at the Harper Theater, 5238 S. Hyde Park Ave.

Prepaid orders must be placed the Thursday prior to being picked up. Wreaths can be picked up during the week from the Luv Institute’s offices.

Order forms can be picked up at The UPS Store, 1507 E. 53rd St., or online at luvinstitute.org, or by phone at 773-453-1999.

l.welbers@hpherald.com