Naked City

Frozen philanthropy

Ben Cohen (r) and Jerry Greenfield
Ben Cohen (r) and Jerry Greenfield (Photo By John Anderson)

I scream, you scream, we all scream for socially conscious conglomerates utilizing their brand awareness to increase charitable contributions to the community? Well, you should. Saturday, Vermont ice cream magnates Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (yes, that Ben & Jerry) were in Austin to celebrate the grand opening of their Austin PartnerShop, a fully functioning ice cream parlor, albeit one owned and operated by Austin nonprofit LifeWorks.

Located in an upscale, outdoor mall at Fifth and Lamar, the PartnerShop, in a unique arrangement to both the business and nonprofit realms, provides real-world job experience to the at-risk youth LifeWorks serves. The group, formed in 1998 from four existing charitable organizations, offers 12 different services, including a 24-hour youth shelter, yet lacked a very good job training program, Executive Director Susan McDowell said. "We can help them get jobs, but we have a hard time helping them keep jobs," she continued. "We're successful at every service that we do where we control the environment." The PartnerShop is the 12th of its kind in the nation, and LifeWorks runs it like any other franchisee, operating under the same quality and profitability expectations. The only major difference is that both a franchise fee and royalty payments are waived.

"The general theory is that businesses have a responsibility to give back to the community," waxed Cohen, a jovial, graying individual, the self-professed "big-picture" partner and the more talkative of the two. "The next part of the general theory is that just giving away a percentage of profits – it's a nice thing to do, but it doesn't really do enough. It's not really maximizing the potential to help improve the quality of life of people. … We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if a nonprofit, social services organization could own the PartnerShop, then the profits would go back to that agency?' We make the application process purposely very difficult, in order for the nonprofits to prove they're up to the task," deadpanned Greenfield. Tweaking the program over 15 years, Cohen said, the PartnerShop functions best as job training. "It turns out to be a self-funding program," he said.

"The purpose of what were doing, and the purpose of whatever any private companies do, is not to replace what government does but to add to it," said Cohen of the PartnerShop's larger role. "We're doing our bit, but government really needs to do its bit."

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

    Naked City

    Avid rider Ellis wants drivers to give a wider berth

    Naked City

    Unidentified person of interest will make self known to investigators

    Naked City

    Lone Star State needs to adopt Illinois reforms, group says
  • Naked City

    Money will clean up and redevelop contaminated areas

    Naked City

    Slusher and Goodman reflect on a decade of service

    Naked City

    Owners maintain operation is environmentally friendly

    Naked City

    Federal drug czar still lying about pot and wasting taxpayer money

    Naked City

    Keeping school children safe ... from TV reporters

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Wells Dunbar
Top 10 City Council Stories
Top 10 City Council Stories
Dais and months

Jan. 6, 2012

City Hall Hustle: The Hustle Bids Farewell ...
City Hall Hustle: The Hustle Bids Farewell ...
To the beating hearts of a great city

Dec. 30, 2011


corporate philanthropy, Austin PartnerShop, LifeWorks, Susan McDowell

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle