High school freshman reaches agreement to sell jewelry at 15 Steps through participation in youth entrepreneurship market at DIA’s Chowder Cook-Off

The owners of 15 Steps craft and jewelry store on the Commons honored New Roots Charter School freshman Ayden Githinji by inviting her to be a featured artist in their store after seeing her jewelry on display at the Youth Entrepreneurship Market (YEM) during the recent DIA (Downtown Ithaca Alliance) Chowder Cook-Off.

“Ayden’s work was sophisticated, fun, inspiring, and offered something that fit in with 15 Steps, yet stood on it’s own merits. She is truly talented and has such a wonderful presence. Ayden, both as an artist and as a person, brings something special to the store,” said Stephanie and Scott of 15 Steps.

Githinji’s business, Solar Smithed, is a small jewelry business specializing in solar system themed jewelry that she started in the middle of the pandemic. She evolved the business through participation in a local youth entrepreneurship program, YEM (Youth Entrepreneurship Market). A New Roots Charter School program founded by Michael Mazza and Ethan Ash open to young people in the wider Ithaca region, YEM is designed to empower students to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset through a hands-on learning experience, culminating in a series of youth entrepreneurship markets, events and vending opportunities. 

“Ayden’s a true artist with her jewelry and we look forward to seeing her grow with this new opportunity at 15 Steps. We want to thank 15 Steps for giving a young entrepreneur an opportunity to realize her potential,” said Michael Mazza, co-founder of YEM and Director of Community Engagement at New Roots Charter School.

Githinji is an Ithaca-based artist with experience in many art mediums including mural painting, collage, design, semi realism, and metalsmithing jewelry. She first honed her jewelry design skills through The Metal Smithery, which is a space (at the South Hill Business Campus) for local youth to explore and develop metalworking skills in a community for metalsmithing, founded and operated by local jeweler, Elaan Greenfield.

Ayden first participated with YEM through an after-school program at Southside Community Center in partnership with with Village at Ithaca and New Roots Charter School. As Meryl Phipps from Village at Ithaca would say, “It takes a village to raise, educate, affirm, and inspire a child.”

Through YEM, Ayden has been sharing her jewelry with the community while vending at local events like Rootstock, Ithaca Festival, Apple Harvest Festival, Chowder Cook-Off, and the Ithaca Farmers Market. All of the events on the Commons, including the Chowder Cook-Off from this past weekend, are made possible through a partnership with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and New Roots Charter School (and YEM).

“Ithaca is filled with youth-centered organizations, and this type of collaboration between private and public institutions and non-profits is a great representation of the potential for our community to support the creativity and drive of young people,” said Mazza.

“We are grateful for the support of the Park Foundation and the Joint Youth Commission in bringing YEM to youth in our community, to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset that is at the heart of education for a just and sustainable future for all people,” said Tina Nilsen-Hodges, principal of New Roots Charter School.

New Roots Charter School is a tuition-free public charter school serving grades 9-12 that is open to any young person who is eligible to attend high school in New York State. Offering a private school education at a public school price, students prepare for lives of passion and purpose as they create and embrace new 21st century life opportunities through career and college preparation. Visit newrootsschool.org to learn more. To learn more about the Roots of Success program go to rootsofsuccess.org

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For more information, contact Michael Mazza, Director of Community Engagement at New Roots Charter School, at mmazza@newrootsschool.org.