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Entrepreneur Zoe Bruyn stirs things up

Jessie and Kyle, employees of Stir It Up bakery, sell baked goods at West Michigan Miracle League

It’s no secret that there are limited employment opportunities for individuals with special needs.

In a 2015 survey conducted by the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), 57 percent of respondents with Down syndrome reported working paid jobs in some capacity, and only 3 percent of those reported working full time. Among the reasons cited for unemployment included lack of job-skill teaching programs and lack of job coaching.

Zoe Bruyn is doing something to change that.

“People with special needs have always been pretty close to my heart,” Bruyn said.

Bruyn, a senior at Grand Valley State University, is the owner of Stir It Up, a bakery that employs individuals with special needs and seeks to provide them with an environment where they can develop valuable job skills while gaining a sense of accomplishment.

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Social Enterprise: New City Urban Farm

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16-year-old Brennan Persenaire Hogeter is more than familiar with the effects of farming; he spent 11 years traveling around Africa with his family teaching new farming techniques to agricultural communities.

“I have seen the impact of farms and the impact of not having farms and what a poor harvest can do,” Persenaire Hogeter said. “I have always wanted to be a farmer, or at least be involved in where my food comes from.”

He is well on his way; Persenaire Hogeter is one of a group of teens employed by New City Urban Farm on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. The farm is a program of non-profit New City Neighbors and is impacting the community through social enterprise by employing at risk teenagers from the surrounding Creston and Belknap neighborhoods, teaching them valuable entrepreneurial skills and helping them to find careers paths.