Florida program gives poorer kids taste of business

score In March 1998 while vacationing in Deerfield Beach, Florida, I ran across a story I found very interesting. The Deerfield Beach Housing Authority was recruiting young people ages 8 to 18, who live in the Stanley Terrace Apartments, a public housing project for a youth-entrepreneur program.

More than 250 children live in the 96-unit complex and most meet the income qualifications, that is, to have a family income of less than $20,905 a year.

The housing project coordinator, Debby Teasely, will hook up the youth with area businesses, such as car maintenance garages, hair salons and fast-food restaurants. The students will learn a trade and the basics of how a business is operated in hopes of providing the incentive to opening their own.

"We have so many kids that are talented, it's be a shame to not keep them involved in a constructive activity, and the youth program will do that," said Pamela Davis, the director of Deerfield Housing Authority. "I believe I'm going to get good response as long as I can show them they can blossom and grown and feel good about themselves."

The DHA will arrange for the children to attend mandatory seminars for new business owners on such issues as how to advertise, how to talk with customers, what to charge and how to purchase the right kinds of materials. These seminars will be conducted by a cooperating educational facility.

Each child will be paid, based on hours worked, and have 25 percent deposited into his or her own savings account.

To get the program up and running, the DHA provided $57,000 in seed money for expenses, staff, equipment, supplies and business cards for the entrepreneurs.

How's the program going after one year? I talked to the new program coordinator, Regina Hall. She said the program has an aggressive start to futuristic goals that really not been properly researched, and a detailed business plan was never developed.

The children are attending weekly seminars taught by Jerry Kolls, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, about purchasing, customer relations, saving money, learning a trade, appearance, business skills, bookkeeping, finance, black-history studies, writing a business plan and starting a business. All the things a budding entrepreneur needs to know.

The group meets once a week for a planning session, puts on talent shows, runs a store at the complex, sells products at sporting and community events, and makes cards for various holidays to sell.

About 35 children are involved in the program. The number keeps changing, but there's always that steady few who make up its core. All are earning money for their work; some they spend, while a portion is committed to individual savings accounts.

What's the scorecard? I'm told it's not huge success, but it is providing a level of training for those who have the drive to control their own lives.

Hall tells me there is zero drug problems in the complexes, which may or may not be because of this program, but I have to feel that it does have an effect. I'd really like to see other housing complexes start similar programs.

I plan to check on DHA next winter. I hope that, after a couple of years in operation, more children will be involved, the rough spots will be smoothed over, and the program offering will be expanded.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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