You Only Live Once. Live Right! This phrase is Carnella Linder’s motto. After the last year we have all experienced, this phrase resonates now more than ever. Carnella is a two-time GSBA Scholar who grew up in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. Her business, YOLO West Coast, was born to help fund Carnella’s ultimate goal of starting a non-profit that would address the sheer lack of resources for homeless youth and young adults in South King County. Of the six emergency shelters for young adults in King County, only one is located in South King County and has the smallest number of beds—just 12. Carnella seeks to increase this number and provide emergency night shelter and other support services from case management to financial advice, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and GED prep.
What year did you open YOLO?
Yolo West Coast has been a dream of mine for over 12 years. I was finally able to get the business established in March of 2019.
The objective, work, and goals of YOLO are unique and innovative. How did you come up with the idea?
When I became homeless at age 17, I had to travel from South Seattle to North Seattle just to receive the proper housing resources to keep me off the streets and get me into college while also trying to work. These resources should have been in my backyard or at least closer than 20+ miles away. I am the only one of my close friends that went to college, has stable housing or consistent income. I’m also the first in my family to go to college. I feel like more of my peers and people of color across King County could benefit from the opportunities I was given up north. Although I made many accomplishments, I was stripped of my culture, and I felt isolated. It was rather depressing at times. Why weren’t these services in my neighborhood?
I realized I wanted to bring these resources to my neighborhood, and I have been on a mission ever since. I went to college to gain the knowledge and tools to provide the best quality of care as a social service worker and open my own young adult night shelter and performing arts center in South King County. But I started thinking about how I didn’t have any seed money to start a non-profit. I’m actually very poor. How could I raise money? Then I asked myself, how do I keep money coming in once I raise enough money to open?
I looked at my program goals and thought, what if I could provide job training and jobs through my business, in addition to helping people find long-term stable employment? And that’s when my short-term fundraising strategy of YOLO West Coast turned into a long-term for-profit business idea.
YOLO West Coast will provide delicious soul food for the community, seasonal events, employment, on-the-job training, life skills, and one-day housing.
I started YOLO West Coast catering and event service to generate sustainable revenue to open and operate my future non-profit: The Amazing Grace Center, a young adult housing shelter and performing arts center. The performing arts center and its events will offer the community a safe space to gather for culture, creative expression, and experiences through the arts. Most shelters and resource or community centers rely on government funding that is rarely guaranteed or easily accessible. I don’t want to offer people life-changing opportunities and then have it disappear due to lack of consistent funding so, I created my own funding source with YOLO WEST COAST.
Have you always wanted to be a business owner?
Yes. I have always wanted to be my own boss and own my own business.
How have you pivoted your businesses to meet the challenges and obstacles brought on by the pandemic?
I have not been able to produce events or cater big gatherings because of the COVID-19 regulations. It has made the expansion of my business very difficult. I can still sell individual orders in a restaurant/fast food fashion by using a delivery service.
How has being a Ready for Business grant recipient helped you and your business?
The Ready for Business grant helped me expand my storage and cooking space to prepare more orders, more frequently for deliveries during COVID.
These days, what keeps you going?
My twin boys are my biggest motivation. Knowing how poor I grew up, going without meals, heat, hot water, or shelter some days and what I went through to survive the streets. I don’t want my kids ever to have to suffer as I did. I won’t let them. My dreams and passions keep me motivated. I’m not going to be satisfied until I make it to where I want to be. I love helping people. And I want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, not just a profit.
What’s next for YOLO?
To keep promoting and working on staying afloat during COVID. My main goal is to start throwing and catering events again soon so I can hire more employees, expand products and services, and raise the seed money I need for my long-term goal of opening the Amazing Grace Center.