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YEG—the little group that could

These young entrepreneurs—Rose Fontana, left/front row, Erika Perrilla, Liz Grese, Shivani Patel, with Taylor Mcormack, left/back row, Alex Rokicki and Mae Bonnaci—are learning first hand about how to make a product and run a business.
TRR photo by Linda Drollinger

By Linda Drollinger
April 10, 2013

LIBERTY, NY — A group of teenagers is crowded around a table full of food, devouring everything edible with an efficiency that would shame a horde of locusts. Of course, that doesn’t prevent them from talking animatedly and keeping constant check on their cell phone screens. At first glance there’s nothing remarkable in this scene—until you listen in on the conversation at hand. These young adults are talking about business and ecology and social justice. This is the weekly meeting of the Youth Economics Group (YEG), held in the basement of First Presbyterian Church of Liberty.

Since its inception in October 2010, YEG has been an arm of the Rural & Migrant Ministry (RMM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving quality of life for rural New York State residents. Per its mission statement, RMM works for the creation of a just, rural New York State by nurturing leadership, standing with the disenfranchised (especially farm workers and rural workers), and changing unjust systems and structures. In the young adults of low-income Sullivan County families, YEG has cultivated a hotbed of enlightened leadership and enterprise.

These leaders of today and tomorrow, currently comprised of sophomores, juniors and seniors from Liberty, Fallsburg and Monticello school systems, don’t just talk the talk; they walk the walk. YEG is a hands-on training program designed to make its members entrepreneurs through experiential learning. YEG members design, sew, decorate, market and sell their own product—Basement Bags—eco-friendly canvas shopping bags bearing logos, slogans and pictures promoting responsible stewardship of natural and human resources. YEG owes something to Europe’s Renaissance craft guilds and something to 20th century American rural community-based nonprofits like 4-H, Junior Achievement and the Cornell Cooperative Extension. It is a contemporary artisans’ cooperative.