Kevin Bethea got the entrepreneurship bug his sophomore year in high school after learning business skills through a nonprofit in Cherry Hill, the RICH Program, or Restoring Inner City Hope.

Taking what they taught him, Bethea conducted a survey of his peers about their favorite snacks. He bought Doritos, Takis rolled tortilla chips and honeybuns that he then sold at school. It was his first business.

Nearly three years later, Bethea, a rising high school senior, will embark on his next skills building venture, one that he and the RICH Programhopes will also bring opportunity to Cherry Hill, the South Baltimore neighborhood where he also lives.

RICH Juice Bar will be a youth-operated social enterprise with cold-pressed juices, plant-based food options, smoothies and a goal of “pouring life into the community.” In addition to workforce development for youths, the juice bar started by the RICH Program will also be an educational hub for residents to learn about healthy foods.

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Bethea will work at the business. The juice bar had a soft opening in May and attracted so many people they ran out of juice. They hope to open officially by the end of June.

“I can learn customer service, juicing and we’re helping the community,” Bethea said.

Michael Battle Jr. and Dani Battle, spouses who co-founded the RICH Program, said they let kids experiment with juicing during some of the nonprofit’s other activities. Originally the Battles wanted to let the kids open up a juice bar stand, but they decided to go bigger. Catholic Charities, which owns the Cherry Hill Town Center where the juice bar is located, helped them get a space in the shopping center.

“Our names might be on the paperwork, but this is for the community,” Michael Battle said.

Michael Battle’s own health issues — diabetes and high blood pressure — partly inspired the juice bar, he said. He switched to a more plant-based diet and saw positive changes. He wants others to be able to do the same.

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Bethea said he hopes the juice bar promotes other development in Cherry Hill such as a community garden or a grocery store. He and his grandmother travel to Catonsville, he said, to do their grocery shopping.

In Cherry Hill, 44.8% of the area is covered by a food desert, according to the Baltimore City Health Department. A Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future report found that nearly one in four Baltimore residents are in a food desert and Black residents are disproportionately affected.

Dani Battle said people should feel like they have ownership over their health and food options. People need a place where they can learn that “food is the first round of medicine.”

Michael Battle Jr. and Dani Battle, founders of the RICH Program, laugh with Tyra Vereen, the manager of the RICH Juice Bar, on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

“The idea is to give healthy options but to make it inviting,” Dani Battle added.

Light pours into the entryway where customers will walk up to the countertops. To the left, is a moss green wall with the store’s mission and story about how they started. It’s hard to miss the big monitors hanging on the other wall. Listed are their different juice shots, smoothies and acai bowl offerings. There’s also vegan food options such as mushroom wings, crab-less egg rolls and a breakfast burrito.

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The drinks are purposely named after streets in Cherry Hill. The Carver Gold, a combination of pineapple, mango and mint, is named after Michael Battle’s mother, who he said had a heart of gold, as well as the road he was raised on. His mother died of a drug overdose when he was a teenager.

The healthy products, location and mission of the juice bar made it a no-brainer for Tyra Vereen, formerly a Baltimore teacher, to quit her job and work for the RICH Juice Bar as a youth development manager.

“What food can do for community, that’s how I see kingdom-building,” said Vereen, who was born and raised in Cherry Hill.

She can’t wait until the store is up and running with “ambitious” youth — to hear the music playing, blenders blaring and employees recommending different concoctions to customers.

Residents are also anticipating the opening, she said. They have to keep the lights off as they set up and work in the back because countless people come to the door.

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Dani and Michael Battle said they are grateful to be able to leave the juice bar in Vereen’s hands. They both work full time in addition to their community work.

Michael Battle Jr. and Dani Battle, founders of the RICH Program, stand in the RICH Juice Bar on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

For over 10 years, they’ve dedicated themselves to community work, starting with prayer walks and making food for neighbors. As they blossomed into a full-blown nonprofit and now a social enterprise, they keep the “rich” brand.

“This community needs to know that they are rich and valuable. So we make sure that we lead with the asset mindset in everything that we do by using ‘rich,’” Dani Battle said.

The original students who tested out juicing through the RICH Program will get first dibs working at the store. They will take financial literacy classes from Chase bank, Michael said, and open their own bank accounts. The workers are also expected to talk about juicing at Vegan SoulFest in August.

“We’re just one big family,” Bethea said.

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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