Niyanna Brooks is rewriting child labor laws.
The 8-year-old city girl was engaged with the public as she and other youngsters helped sell baked goods from under the Cornerstone Bakery Project’s tent at the Schenectady Greenmarket Sunday.
A new addition to the weekly farmers market, Cornerstone Bakery is a segment of the nonprofit Community Fathers’ Occupations Instead of Incarceration, earn-to-learn program.
The OIOI program aims to set youngsters on a path of business and entrepreneurship, hopefully derailing them from incarceration, Community Fathers executive director Walter Simpkins said.
In addition to the bakery, OIOI has a landscaping and silkscreening business, Simpkins said.
The young magnate Niyanna revealed details of the project’s business plan: She said they want to use proceeds from the farmers market to start a physical bakery, and “maybe a bakery truck.”
When it was suggested there aren’t many local kids her age willing to venture into business, Niyanna said she already has a business.
“It’s gonna come out in the summer,” she said. “I’m getting an ice cream truck. It’s called Crunchies.”
Her mother, Tanika Smith, explained that Niyanna has been helping with her catering business.
“I said to her, ‘What do you want to do?’ while we were catering in the park for events and certain things. She wants ice cream. She started with the frozen ice, and now she wants to incorporate more kid-friendly stuff.”
“We’re definitely encouraging kids to do other things and be entrepreneurs: you don’t have to wait till college or high school to do that,” Smith said.
Simpkins credited Niyanna’s father, Kenneth Brooks, for coming up with the idea of a bakery project.
Brooks said he thought of it while he was involved with the Community Fathers’ male achievers program.
“Once I started working with the youth,” he said, “I noticed that in the inner city, sometimes they might be labeled as troubled or whatever the case may be. But they just need something to do, with someone willing to teach them and care for them and show them love.”
“I started working at a young age,” he continued. “And I know that’s what kind of molded my life. I started being responsible, working and learning, earning my own money, and it gave me a feeling of self-worth. And I just feel like, when kids start young, it’s kind of a purpose for them.”
The bakery project’s instructor is Belinda Palombo, owner of Sugar Bees, an approximately eight-year-old baked goods and catering company.
“She always makes the best baked goods — every time, spot-on,” Brooks said. “So who else to learn from than who I feel is the best.”
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield stopped by the tent and bought a slice of pineapple upside-down cake and a “Brookie.”
“I think it’s awesome, and it’s teaching our young people how to have their own, and not to always work for someone else, but to develop their own and to meet a community need,” Porterfield said, noting that the city used to lack for bakeries.
Community Fathers began in 2009 as a once-a-week support group for men in the community. It has since evolved into a full fatherhood program with programs in domestic violence offender accountability, re-entering society from the Schenectady County Jail, a community fathers drug court group, and a group at Trinity Alliance in Albany.
“Out of that support group, we decided that we needed programs because fathers came in with issues that nobody was dealing with,” Simpkins said.
Its male achievers program involves students from high school.
“One of the things that we realized is that, more and more, we’re dealing with younger and younger fathers who have different issues altogether than older fathers,” Simpkins said.
Last week, Simpkins accepted a 2021 Good News Award from the Chamber of Schenectady County.
“Listen, it’s a wonderful thing,” Simpkins said of the award, “because what happens is, it’s trying to let us know that what we’re doing is having an effect that is getting recognized. Because we’re the only program like it actually in the country that works with fathers; we’re the only program that was developed by fathers for fathers and run by fathers. Most other programs got a grant from somebody and started the program. What we’ve done is we’ve taken the money out of our own pockets and built the program so that we could hold onto the integrity of the idea.”
The farmers market first engaged with Simpkins when the Greenmarket was conducting outreach for its program in conjunction with CDTA that will provide free trolley rides to the market from three low-income neighborhoods beginning May 16, Greenmarket chairwoman Haley Viccaro said.
“He told us about this program and the young folks making baked goods, and we said bring some samples, tell us more about the program, we’d love to have them,” Viccaro said.
The Greenmarket supports more diversity among its vendors, she said.
The bakery project will be at the Greenmarket every Sunday.