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The Warehouse opens new RISE Innovation Center

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Alex Hackett The Warehouse RISE Wilmington Delaware

Officials celebrate the opening of the RISE Innovation Center the The Warehouse in Wilmington on April 11. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – Hundreds of city teens have explored career pathways through The Warehouse’s teen career training program in the Riverside community, and thanks to new support they will be able to better explore entrepreneurship too.

Called Reaching and Investing in Youth for Sustainable Employment, or RISE, the 26-week program runs out of the nonprofit community center that provides teens and young adults, ages 14-24, with the skills needed to secure sustainable employment. Since its launch in 2021, more than 300 youth have been employed through the program.

The first eight weeks of RISE are spent developing soft skills such as financial literacy, time management, conflict resolution, and more, while the following eight weeks are spent in an externship with one of The Warehouse’s employer partners. RISE participants are paid for 15 hours a week at $12 an hour throughout the 26-week training program.

Alex Hackett The Warehouse RISE Wilmington Delaware

Alex Hackett shows how his Apparel Academy trains teens on how to produce their own T-shirts. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The new RISE Innovation Center doubles as a headquarters for the program and a makerspace with equipment to press branded T-shirts and a digital touchscreen board to help them plan projects.

“I think the Innovation Center is about fueling those connections and helping our teens tap into their inner ambitions,” said Kenyetta McCurdy-Burd, chief operating officer of WRK Group, the parent organization for The Warehouse. “We want to make sure they develop the soft skills, as well as the hard skills, necessary to achieve their goal.”

One of the first partners to utilize the new resources is Alexander Hackett, the founder of Players Only Athletics, a local startup that has been designing sportswear for state high schools. He has been working with teens to design their own clothes and bring their ideas to life in a four-week course, Apparel Academy.

“We teach kids from start to finish how to create their own clothing brands. I’m talking about design, marketing, vinyl, screen printing … everything,” he said.

Celebrating the opening of the Innovation Center on Tuesday was Gov. John Carney, who has invested tens of millions of state and federal dollars into the WRK Group’s programs as it seeks to revitalize the long-neglected Wilmington community. He said he was especially concerned about the number of open jobs in the state and noted that preparing the youth for the jobs of tomorrow was essential.

“If we’re going to compete as a state, if all our children and our families are going to be successful, the work that you’re doing and helping cultivate the development of those children and those families is just essential,” he said.

Michael Kullman The Warehouse RISE

Michael Kullman said he and his wife, Ellen, wanted to help teens support their entrepreneurial passions. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Half of the undisclosed cost of the new makerspace was funded by former DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman and her husband, Michael, who was a top DuPont marketing executive, through their Kullman Family Foundation.

The Kullmans had wanted to aid the holistic WRK effort that encompasses The Warehouse, REACH Riverside and Kingswood Community Center, but weren’t sure how. Michael Kullman recounted how they decided on The Warehouse after learning of the innovation center idea and have seen the project proposed many ways over the years before it ended up occupying upstairs space at The Warehouse headquarters.

“We just decided, yeah, let’s do this. Let’s focus on this thing. And we are so happy we did because the way it’s turned out is just amazing,” he said.

Also contributing was M&T Bank, which donated $150,000 to the Innovation Center’s costs, and JPMorgan Chase, which has donated $1 million to the WRK causes.

“At M&T Bank, our very purpose is to make a difference in people’s lives, and we feel like there’s almost no better way than to get involved with the youth and workforce development programs like this that include the hands-on training, career readiness skills and internships that are paid,” said April Birmingham, regional charitable and community involvement manager for the bank.

The RISE Innovation Center joins a community that is receiving significant economic development resources, as a few blocks away EastSide Charter School is building a STEM Hub that will be accessible by the community through a partnership with the Wilmington Public Library.

WRK’s McCurdy-Burd said there will be significant “synergy” between the Innovation Center and STEM Hub.

“We’ll be leveraging existing resources and talent to be able to meet the demand because there’s a great interest in the work that we’re doing,” she said.

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