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August 22, 2012

Peace Corps' Ross brings his work to Rocky Neck

Peace Corps' Ross brings his work to Rocky Neck

Even the most intrepid of Peace Corps volunteers have been known to find the west African Republic of Senegal an unusually daunting challenge.

But to 27-year-old Gloucester native Richard Ross, the place felt a lot like home.

“When I was assigned to work in Senegal,” he says, “I felt like I’d won the Peace Corps lottery.”

As an urban agriculturist, Ross spent three years developing community projects in the Senegalese coastal city of St. Louis, which, like Gloucester, is an old island fishing port on the Atlantic.

“I’d tell people there that my mother looks out her kitchen window at fishing boats bobbing in the same ocean,” says Ross.

Ross is back on the other side of that ocean this summer, staying with his mother at her home on Rocky Neck, and running the ice cream shop next door, which he’s renamed “Kiss on the Neck.”

But while his business card identifies him as “scooper in charge,” the real scoop on Richard Ross is that he’s not just there to sell ice cream: he’s there to sell Senegal.

Right beside the ice cream counter is an eye catching display of colorful, casual, stylishly funky tote bags. The totes, which retail for $25, are recycled from commercial rice sacks which, says Ross, “are ubiquitous trash back in the streets of St. Louis.”

Refashioned by “‘Talibe boys — barefoot, penniless, aimless beggers” back in those streets, the totes have been a big hit with summer crowds on Rocky Neck. Combined with weekly sales at the Farmers Market and the Bookstore on Gloucester’s Main Street, the bags have generated thousands of dollars in sales, proceeds of which go straight back into a micro-investment manufacturing venture established in St. Louis by Ross and his Senegalese counterpart, Aris Faye.

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