By Marycatherine Karcich, Contributing Writer
Westborough – When Westborough native Connor Schoen, 22, launched the nonprofit organization Breaktime, he was driven by kindness, compassion, and community. For his dedicated spirit and passion for helping others he was awarded Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for Social Impact with co-founder, Tony Shu, 22, of Wellesley.
A passion for helping others at an early age
Work in public service started young for Schoen, fueled by unwavering support from his educators in the Westborough Public Schools. He helped launch a fundraiser in 6th grade, served as an 8th grade ambassador for Project 351, and ran a food drive and a clothing drive in high school.
Schoen attended Harvard University in 2017 where he began working at Y2Y, a shelter for young adults experiencing homelessness. He was moved by these individuals who, despite being kicked out of their homes, remained honest and authentic to who they were. They also encouraged him to embrace his own identity and gave him the space he needed to come out as LGBTQ+.
This support influences Schoen today as a young LGBTQ+ executive director as he works to instill hope and inspire others to be true to themselves, despite many challenges.
Breaktime is launched with a mission to end young adult homelessness
While working at Y2Y, he met Shu and they connected over their passions for service and community. According to SPARC and True Colors United, the community of young adults experiencing homelessness is 89% people of color and 40% LGBTQ+. This inspired the two young men to launch Breaktime with a mission to end young adult homelessness.
Breaktime helps individuals in transitional housing gain stability so they can achieve sustainable employment and the financial security needed for long-term housing. It works with ages 18-24, something Schoen feels is especially important.
Ever since Breaktime launched, they have seen a dangerous stigma that associates someone’s value with their housing status. Homelessness, as Schoen said, can be dehumanizing and damaging to one’s sense of self-worth. He wants others to understand that these individuals are in a temporary situation and it doesn’t define who they are or what they’re capable of.
Connor also emphasizes empowerment and that simple acts like treating people with dignity and respect, being inclusive and telling someone they matter really do make a difference.
Adjusting to COVID-19 with new initiatives
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the men had to shut down construction for Breaktime Café, a space designed to provide job opportunities to young adults experiencing homelessness. This pushed them to develop their ability to create change, and they did.
After seeing an opportunity to address the worsening food crisis in Massachusetts, Breaktime partnered with the city of Boston and over 30 local nonprofits to form the Double Impact Initiative. Together they created employment opportunities for 25 young adults who produced and delivered 600,000 meals across the Greater Boston Area.
In 2021, Breaktime is excited to announce the Breaktime Corps Model, which will focus on staffing food pantries and other nonprofits combating hunger. Their goal is to create over 100 job opportunities for young adults experiencing homelessness. Eventually, they hope to expand their efforts across Massachusetts and beyond.
An honor of a lifetime
While being named Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for Social Impact is a testament to the work they have done thus far, it also proves that change is possible. Schoen sees it as a “huge vote of confidence” for the young adults they work with and their potential.
“It’s the honor of my lifetime to be able to serve in this role. I feel like all of my passion and everything I’ve wanted to do with my life has really built up to this.”
For more information visit the Breaktime website.
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