Here's a stocking stuffer that will fill your belly and warm your soul.  The product is muesli made by 13 marginalized teenagers in Ottawa and backed by a group of dedicated entrepreneurs.  These are bright, ambitious teenagers, from shelters or community housing, who just needed a little help.  So, with a good product and a good business plan, they have got a recipe for success.

It’s Thursday evening at the Parkdale Food Centre, on Rosemount.  A group of young people, all wearing bright yellow hoodies, are busy with their business called “Thirteen Muesli.”  The air is thick with the delicious smell of chocolate chips and other yummy ingredients that will form the final mix of their product.

16-year-old Glodie Iragi is busy dumping chocolate chips into a giant bowl, mixing it with oatmeal and mangoes.  This is as different as Iragi could imagine her life just 18 months ago.

“I’m 16 years old,” she says, “I was born in Congo and right now I live in Heatherington.”

Glodie is one of 13 teenagers who applied to be part of this incredible social enterprise called “Thirteen Muesli”, run out of the Parkdale Food Centre.  It started with money from an anonymous donor who asked the food centre about any programs for marginalized youth.  This business plan popped up. Karen Secord is the manager of the Parkdale Food Centre and about as enthusiastic as anyone could be about these kids and this program.

“Every day, they learn things from this enterprise,” she says, “from conflict resolution to accounting to how to run a business to product management.”

That product is muesli, kind of like granola.  Sarah Stewart is the kitchen manager at the Parkdale Food Centre and the team leader for the teens.  Why muesli?  Here’s why.

"It would be something simple the kids could make themselves, blend themselves, create custom blends of it and it wouldn't have to be baked,” she says, “and we are the only muesli company in Ottawa and the kids are really proud of that.”

With the help of some Ottawa entrepreneurs, including Jo-Ann Laverty at the Red Apron and Ion Aimers at The Works, the thirteen teenagers who successfully auditioned for a spot on the team underwent a two-week “boot camp” of sorts, learning everything they could about how to run a business.  They launched their product in September. It's been a huge hit at every craft show the teens have attended. 

In the four months they've been operating, they have made a profit.  15-year-old Ghita El Janaty, who hopes one day to be an ER doctor, is on the sales team.

“We are having so much fun along the way,” she says, “It’s not about money.”

Sisters Kejah and Daijah Bascon are on the shipping and receiving team right now , learning about invoices and marketing. Both have high ambitions.

“I want to get into cardiac stenography,” says 14-year-old Daijah, “and be a professional dancer.”

Both say the skills they are learning here and the friendships they are making are invaluable.

“I believe that everyone deserves a chance to do something better and not end up on the system and try to improve yourself,” says her sister, 16-year-old Kejah, who hopes to get into medicine.

15-year-old David Bisimwa is Glodie’s brother.  In his 18 months in Ottawa since moving from the Congo, he has learned English well, excelled at soccer and hopes one day to become a paramedic. He says this experience has given him an extended family.

“We are all together, thirteen kids from all different backgrounds,” says Bisimwa, “and we are here meeting, actually playing, and having fun as a family.”

"My hope,” says Karen Secord, “is that at end, they have money to go to go towards an education or if they want to start a business; that they are stronger people and most importantly that, even if they come from low income families, they are just as good as anyone else and that people believe in them.”

The program runs until July.  The hope is to hire 13 more teenagers and keep a couple from the first group to act as mentors.