Harvard grad who launched non-profit to employ Boston’s homeless youth up for American Heart Association grant

A Massachusetts man who started a non-profit to find employment opportunities for Boston’s homeless youth population has been selected as a top candidate for an American Heart Association grant.

Connor Schoen, 22, who co-founded Breaktime in 2018 while a student at Harvard University, is one of eight innovators who will be presenting business models that promote health equity, sustainability and community transformation at the American Heart Association’s Virtual EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator Finale on Jan. 26.

These young men and women will highlight their work and impact to a panel of expert judges. The top finalist will receive a $40,000 grant, runner-up $15,000 and fan favorite $5,000.

To register for the virtual event and vote for the fan favorite, click here.

With Breaktime, Schoen is helping young adults break the cycle of homelessness by finding them paid jobs with local food pantries. The young adults work to prepare and deliver thousands of meals and tens of thousands of pounds of groceries to families in need across Greater Boston.

The initiative is not only helping young people experiencing homelessness to reach their full potential, said Schoen, it is also providing trained workers to food pantries that are grappling with a 59% spike in food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We see those two issues in tandem, and really work to address them both, by staffing young people at these food pantries, to build food resilience in their own communities while continuing to build sustainability in their lives,” said Schoen.

Schoen, who lives in Westboro, Mass., said he was inspired to do this work, in part, because 40% of young adults experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+.

“When I was coming out, these resilient young people were an incredible source of inspiration, strength and support for me,” he said.

Too often, where people live determines how long they live. Approximately 50 million people in the U.S. are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease because they lack the most basic needs — healthy food, clean air and drinking water, quality education, employment and housing.

Through the Business Accelerator, the American Heart Association challenges entrepreneurs, startups and non-profits to develop community-based solutions that change behaviors, expand access and improve long-term health by overcoming challenges in under-resourced communities.

Breaktime has partnered with Catholic Charities of Boston and Action for Boston Community Development, the city’s antipoverty agency, both of which operate a network of food pantries across Greater Boston. Schoen said his organization aims to provide 100 homeless youth with employment in 2021, all of whom will be paid $15 an hour and receive a $50 “savings stipend” each week.

“We really feel the pressure and urgency to get this done, and scale of our model,” said Schoen, “so that every single young person that comes to us can get an opportunity and can get the support and empowerment that they need to reach their full potential.”