At-risk teens get business experience at mall

BURBANK, Calif. The store's student employees are learning about work and business, with some real-life lessons in social responsibility.

Tucked inside the /*Burbank Town Center*/ mall, in a corner on the third floor, sits a small business with a big goal: To teach at-risk teens how to run a company.

"So when people purchase here, they're doing more than just taking home a gift. They're also contributing to the well-being of others," said Linda Maxwell, executive director, /*We Care for Youth*/.

The store is called /*Bliss Unlimited*/. Co-founder Linda Maxwell calls it a teen business academy, part of the non-profit group We Care for Youth. The gift shop is packed with handmade products from around the world.

"These are made out of recycled snack bags," said Maxwell, displaying the store's wares. "These are made out of recycled telephone wire. These are made by Mayan women in Guatemala."

The people behind all these item, Maxwell says, are paid fair-trade wages, part of teaching the student workers that businesses need to be socially responsible.

But the main goal is teaching them to believe in themselves.

"They trust me with the key to the place," said Natalie Haroutunian.

Haroutunian is one of the charity's success stories. She started working at Bliss Unlimited a year and a half ago and quickly worked her way up to manager.

"I had to take a break to start college and get into school," said Haroutunian. "Whenever they need me I'm always back here helping them."

Now the bliss may be unlimited, but the profits are a bit limited, which is OK, since it's a non-profit organization. And the rent is free. And now other shopping centers are interested as well.

"We're in talks right now with a mall out in the Valley that came in here and saw our work," said Jose Quintanar, founder, We Care for Youth.

So now the teen entrepreneurs at Bliss Unlimited aren't just learning how to run a business, but how to grow one as well.

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