Every successful entrepreneur is born with a seed of opportunity.
It is impossible for one person to be successful on their own; whether you extend gratitude to your family for their support, your university for its resources, or the angel investor who believed in you when nobody else did.
Now imagine you grew up in Lykins neighborhood, the poorest zip code in the Kansas City area.
In this neighborhood, there is a one-in-eleven chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime. 96 percent of houses are blighted. And only 54 percent of kids graduate high school.
The sapling of opportunity for the residents of Lykins takes a different form when safety is the chief concern — rather than a business venture.
In the last decade, however, a group has set out to germinate new opportunities in Lykins in hopes that the area will blossom out of poverty and crime.
The Urban Farming Guys have spent the last ten years focused on the goal of creating opportunity in the Lykins neighborhood from the inside out. With the help of a crowdfunding campaign, the group’s most recent endeavor hopes to transform a vacant 25,000-square-foot building into a makerspace.
The group has dubbed the campaign “Makerspace in the Hood,” which will allow donors’ dollars to be quadrupled through matching funds. If the public can come up with $50,000 by Sept. 1, a private donor has agreed to give $200,000.
“True transformation comes from within and works its way out; we’ve seen this model work before.” – Jason Fields
With the capital, the group will renovate the building to become a makerspace featuring an art studio, woodshop, 3D printers, a computer lab, equipment for welding and sewing, a recording studio and more. The funds also will be allocated to a robotics team, pay for more than 30 mentors and provide 200 youth scholarships.
Jason Fields, founder of UFG, hopes the space will be an incubator that provides economic and creative opportunity, allowing the community to prototype anything they can imagine. He said that they are on track to reach their crowdfunding campaign goal.
“I am optimistic,” Fields said. “True transformation comes from within and works its way out; we’ve seen this model work before.”
Fields’ love of making things comes from his family roots. Growing up, his grandmother made his clothing. His parents renovated the rooms in his house, and his sister made honey, butter and cheese from scratch. This gave him a “can-do attitude,” he said.
From sculpting and woodworking to pottery and Boy Scouts, Fields was always tinkering with something. As a boy, he built potato guns and even salvaged a car that was in hundreds of pieces. Cutting grass around the neighborhood provided an entrepreneurial spirit, he said, which he carried into The Urban Farming Guys.
“In my heart it’s like I know I can do it [make things], but how can I help other people do it?” Fields said. “There seems to be a large gap between people’s dreams and reality. I’ve always loved mentoring people and helping people, so I want the makerspace to help facilitate dreams come true.”
In 2012, UFG was founded as an official non-profit with a mission to build up communities in the most difficult places on earth. While its current focus is local, Fields said the group has also worked in India and Mexico. It began with building greenhouses, community gardens and after-school programs in the inner city, but Fields has since expanded his vision.
“From an outside perspective, it may look like I’m making a huge sacrifice (living and working in this neighborhood),” Fields said. “From my perspective it would be more of a sacrifice to move to the suburbs because this is where my heart comes alive. Here is where I belong.”
UFG attracts hundreds of volunteers and part-time freelancers, many of whom have been recruited from within the Lykins neighborhood. Fields said that the greatest positive impact on the neighborhood has come from the very people who once were inflicting pain upon it.
Along with the help of several ex-convicts and drug addicts, two of the most notorious copper thieves in the neighborhood have turned their lives around with The Urban Farming Guys. They are now working to replace all of the electrical wires in Lykins.
Fields said his biggest source of pride comes from helping people help themselves.
“Deep down in my heart I knew that this is what I was meant to be doing for the rest of my life,” Fields said. “You can spend millions of dollars on the prison time in this community, or you can help us get this match.”
To learn more about this initiative, check out the video below.