Fair-trade chocolate shop employs at-risk youth

Oct 29, 2012

Quinton Mitchell making Truffles at Confections With Convictions.
Credit Nancy Camden

Nearly two years ago, a chocolate shop opened in Kalamazoo, called Confections With Convictions--convictions as in the criminal justice system. Dale Anderson employs at-risk young people, teaching them a craft while helping them to craft a better life. 

Anderson was a youth counselor when he decided to start a business. He ultimately settled on learning to make artisanal chocolates. With a passion to make a difference in the world, mentoring young people was always a part of Dale’s plan.

“I’m a congenital punner and I made a joke that maybe what I should do is start a chocolate shop and call it Confections with Convictions because I would be working with kids who if not convicted at least adjudicated of crimes. And, also I thought that if I did such a thing, I would do fair trade chocolate, organic, local—those sorts of things,” says Anderson. “One of the things that was obvious to me when I was doing counseling was that many of the young men in particular that I was working with didn’t have a father in the home. Their father was either in prison or they never knew him or he is someone that they have very little contact with. So often the young men I was working with in the drug treatment court found their male role models and their job opportunities on the street.” 

According to Anderson, the skills that are learned by the young people working at Confections with Convictions include at the basic level, the skills that you need to hold a job. Beyond that they are learning the craft of making chocolates. Marcus Hughes has worked at the shop for a little over a year and loves it.

“My mom died when I was seventeen years old. I’ve been on my own since then, for three years. So, I started from nothing, I was out on the streets, by myself and I took that time to go up to Y.O.U. and get my GED and do what was right,” says Hughes.

Anderson says, “I think there is a perception that at-risk youth are kids who have nothing but deficits, but, the kids who come here have a lot of strengths, qualities that they bring here and teach us, too. That’s a big part of what happens here as well is that we learn from them.”

“There are also other volunteers who come into the shop and work with some of the young people here in studying for their GED or doing other things," says Anderson. "So, trying to have a support system for young people to be able to get a foundation here and move on into productive adult life. One of my employees here has finished her GED and moved out of the gospel mission and is now going to KVCC. And, she hopes eventually to be able to be the director of a residential treatment program.”

Hughes feels that the world need more people like Dale Anderson in the world.

“People need to give people a chance,” he says.