By Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer

Go for lunch along Mississippi Avenue and it might be served up by a young person going through an innovative internship program through Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC). While POIC has been serving Portland area youth for a long time now, a newer program of theirs, the Boise Business Youth Unity Project (BBYUP), is making a difference one business and one student at a time. 

The idea is simple: BBYUP places young people into paid summer internships with small businesses in the Boise neighborhood. For many, it’s their first job, and they work in shops that are usually in their own neighborhood. Mississippi Pizza, Laughing Planet and Por Que No are just a few of the businesses that participate. 

photo courtesy of BBYUP

Along with the skill-building and job readiness training it provides its participants, it’s an opportunity for the ever-changing community of North and Northeast to get to know their youth, and vice versa. In an area that has seen so much change in recent years, with a persistent disconnect between new residents and the existing communities around them, a program that gives the kids facetime with the larger community does a service to everyone. 

Leigh Rappaport, program manager at POIC and the coordinator of BBYUP, points to this community-building aspect of BBYUP as the thing that makes it unique, and valuable. “It’s about building community for kids who feel disconnected,” she says. “It’s about bringing them back into feeling like they’re part of something. They start to feel tied to a place instead of out of place.” 

BBYUP is very hands-on with their interns, inviting them to weekly lunches to discuss their experiences as a group and listen to guest speakers such as local small business owners who share career advice and guidance with them. In the end, interns leave the program with resume-building experience, ongoing career support from BBYUP staff and fellow interns, as well as community connections that will serve them well into the future. 

Sometimes the simplest ideas for strengthening communities are the best ones.  

BBYUP was the recipient of a NECN community grant in 2019. If you’d like to get involved with BBYUP as a business or volunteer, you can find them online: