It’s a busy week for New Roots Charter School. In addition to celebrating their 10-year anniversary, this Saturday marks the school’s annual Youth Entrepreneurship Market (YEM), which, since its debut in 2017, will be held in conjunction with Rootstock, a celebration of young musicians in the Finger Lakes region. 

YEM was co-founded by Michael Mazza and Ethan Ash, enthusiasts about community contribution and empowerment. For Mazza, the idea of a youth-centered market originated from his two young daughters, who enlisted his help in expanding their driveway-based lemonade stand. When numerous local organizations turned the young entrepreneurs away, Mazza sought a space without adult red tape, one that allowed youth to practice entrepreneurialism and apply real-world skills to business endeavors. 

Mazza then turned to Ash, an experienced entrepreneur, who trains young people in developing businesses. Together, they created YEM in order to guide students in their pioneering. The four workshops are tailored toward generating ideas, creating business plans, learning about budgeting, and understanding marketing strategies. Featured guest speakers during the lessons include One Ring Donuts, Emmy’s Organics, Waffle Frolic, and many others who’ve come to coach these young individuals.  

Mazza explained, “This market is about being good community members, where students are ready to contribute, act as social entrepreneurs, and be change-makers in the world. We want this to be sustainable so that it continues to go on for years in the community and is an opportunity that fosters creativity and learning.” 

YEM is also made possible by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which provides tents, tables, snacks, scarves and other necessities for the students. Unlike previous years, YEM was held in Press Bay Alley, but this year’s market will be at the Bernie Milton Pavilion.  

Directed by Ian Cummings and co-produced by the Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, Rootstock is a community music event which seeks to empower young people. Cummings developed an interest in music from an early age. The festival’s inspiration came from his childhood experiences attending Valley Palooza, a festival his mother organized. He performed with his band in a non-competitive environment which allowed him to meet other performers, form contacts and networks. This sense of longing for a similar platform resulted in the creation of Rootstock. 

“I hope it is a motivating experience that allows students to make music, meet new people, and form new memories,” Cummings said. 

The Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance has been a large contributor to the development of the festival. The organization aids in paying musicians to provide workshops along with various forms of sponsoring, providing sound equipment, and engineers. 

New Roots student and Youth Ambassador Alaiya Schreibman is eagerly awaiting the festival after months of rehearsing. As a pianist and band member of Free Range Musicians, Schreibman and her band went through a selection process that began earlier this year. Students in the broader Finger Lakes region filled out an application and submitted a video of their group in order to be considered for the festival. An anonymous selection committee selected around 10-15 applicants to perform this year.  

“I’m mostly looking forward to seeing other bands,” Schreibman said. “I know of the ones at New Roots, but I’ve never seen bands in places like Windsor. The lineup will be really exciting.” 

As with Mazza’s experience in finding opportunities for his children, music venues often have restrictions that keep performers of a certain age from sharing their art. Rootstock is designed specifically to overcome this challenge by featuring musical groups comprised solely of young musicians who are able to come together and perform. 

 “Rootstock enables students to break away from traditional program structures and allows them to showcase their talents to the community,” Mazza said. “Even if that talent doesn’t fit a school band or orchestra.” 

Both Rootstock and YEM share an overarching goal in overturning the traditional model of adults as merchants and performers and younger people as consumers and listeners. Both seek to empower youth within the region to be creative and engage in new experiences for change in the community. Students will discover their visions can be brought to reality, an empowering message that they will carry for years to come.

Both events will take place on May 18 from 12 to 9 p.m., featuring 14-plus performances and 25-plus youth entrepreneurs.


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