Drive Change Paves a
New Way

Drive Change paves a road for the formerly incarcerated

We sat down with Jordyn Lexton, founder of Drive Change, to talk food, the criminal justice system, and mobility—and the place where they come together: the food truck. Lexton tells us how Drive Change got up and running, and where they plan to go from here. Photo credit (above): Jeyhoun Allebaugh

November 21, 2016

What is Drive Change?

Drive Change is a one-year fellowship that utilizes food trucks to give young people returning home from jail employment and educational opportunities.

What is the core problem that drives your work?

We’re about access to opportunity. New York is one of two states that will treat you as an adult in the criminal justice system at age 16. That means teenagers are going to criminal court, spending time in adult correctional institutions and being released as felons. Adult facilities are violent and abusive. When young adults return home from prison, their roads are paved with red lights, stop signs, and dead ends.

What inspired you to found Drive Change?

The concept came to me after teaching at a high school on Rikers Island for three years. I saw how the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income communities. The food career class at Rikers was one of the only classes where people were thriving. It made me think food could be a powerful connector.

I came up with the concept of a food truck business because of the mobility piece. Food trucks could get young people returning home from jail out in the community. It could raise awareness and give people the chance to interact face-to-face and learn about injustice.

Tell us about the process of founding Drive Change. What was your path to here?

I began by cultivating the business and building a network behind the idea. We raised money through a crowd campaign. Once we had momentum – that’s when it started to get hard. Going from a business plan to practice was hard. Lining up resources via pitch campaigns and leveraging passion into resources were big obstacles. But in spring of 2014, we began working with a group of 8 young men. This required a lot of heart and hustle, and for the first year there was a lot of learning-by-doing. 2017 is our third year of business. We are still in the development phase, and are learning to hit our stride in what we do.

Would it be fair to say that Drive Change is the first of its kind?

Yes – we are the only food-based social enterprise specifically using the food truck industry, and the only ones using it as a platform for teaching food-based skills. We recognized that the food industry is pretty diverse in the kinds of jobs it can provide. People can still break in and succeed in the food industry without a traditional diploma. Others have popped up as a result of the model. Our model is the one they’re building off of, and we love seeing that.

What could someone outside the food industry learn from Drive Change?

We’ve created a model that is replicable, not just in the food truck industry, but in any space where a business owner says, “I want to utilize my workspace to broaden opportunities for marginalized people.” We think that, with a little intentional design, you can help other small business owners maximize return on human capital, intentionally broadening opportunities for marginalized populations.

What’s on the horizon in the next five to ten years?

We would love to build a space for other mobile vendors where they can get everything they need on the back end, but also be required to work with the same population coming from the prison system. We are creating a mission cohort of small food truck owners and a launch pad and starting point for other models. We see ourselves as part of trajectory and movement across sectors and movements.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

Know when to say no. Don’t over-commit and over-promise. I feel like I’m still learning that.

Let’s look back to the first fellows you served. Where are they now?

They have gone on to other opportunities. Taking part of the process of building and starting something is empowering. That shared experience is an incredible thing.