Caring Entrepreneurs Become Local Angels
Recruiting locals and hiring from a youth work program have helped these businesses succeed in their mission and community.
They're called "disconnected youths," a term that describes some 4.3 million young people today who have either graduated high school or dropped out and can't connect with mainstream employers or find jobs. They're often, but not always, found in urban centers, and are largely minority youths who need nothing more than an opportunity. Fortunately some business owners are doing exactly that--taking them in and providing them jobs, from manual labor to IT positions. These local angels are business people who've taken the time to look into the eyes of young people, street kids, as many are called, and see untapped potential.
At the age of 85, Izola White continues to be the hands-on owner of Izola's Restaurant, a staple of Chicago's Southside that's served up homespun soul food for nearly 52 years.
Along with drawing community regulars, White has put the local youth to work.
"If I need a job done, I'll hire someone from around here," White says, adding that business has slowed down in this tough economy.
During her long tenure on East 79th Street, White has continuously employed local youth, including the self-proclaimed "gang bangers" to mop floors and wash dishes.
White thinks it is better to have young people working rather than hanging out and getting into trouble.
"I give them fair wages for their work," says White, whose indelible spirit has become as much of a draw as the food. Her restaurant lets regulars kick back and get away from their daily routine. It's also a place where young people can start a daily work routine by committing themselves to a job well done.
When Aaron Kershaw launched West1Media, a website for Westchester County in New York, he knew it would be costly to bring in top-quality, experienced people, so he took a different direction.
"I thought about giving something back to the community. . . so I mentored within [the Boys and Girls Clubs] and picked up some interns," Kershaw says. He hired some of the neighborhood young people to work on the web design, video content and operations for the site.
Kershaw, who grew up and started his business in New Rochelle, N.Y., knows what it's like to change direction in your life.
"I had my own drug problem in high school, but I kicked it, joined the Marine Corps and turned my whole life around," he says. "A lot of kids aren't going to go into the military, so I thought, let me give these kids a hand."
Kershaw says he hired a man from a halfway house as a security guard, trusting him to protect $20,000 of valuable computer equipment.
"It worked out well for him," Kershaw says. For Kershaw, it affirmed that these kids only needed a chance, and they could handle responsibility. Kershaw taught another youth from the neighborhood how to handle a camera and helped the eager photographer launch his photography career.
Kershaw says his recent downsizing to a Yorktown Heights home based location is advantageous because the money he was spending on high rent can now be spent recruiting more young people off the streets and into jobs
Community Renewal International
Shreveport, La.-based Community Renewal International (CRI) coordinates programs for businesses, churches, civic groups and residents with a shared goal of building a stronger community.
After 30 years in the information processing field and volunteering for several years, Tom Watts, director of the renewal team, decided to follow his dream of impacting the community and joined the CRI team full time to care for the community and help children who had "fallen through the cracks."
"I employ the local kids to help with projects, which could be odd jobs around the house, working with community rebuilding projects or on special projects. Some of these kids want to earn money just to take the ACT in hopes of going on to college," Watts says, adding the teenagers benefit from such mentoring programs.
"Some of these kids go on to work for places like Sam's Club, some go to college and some join the military. It's important to get started helping these kids as early as possible. These are vulnerable times for them," Watts says.
Partners HealthCare, a Boston-based nonprofit that focuses on patient care, teaching and research is affiliated with 10 area hospitals. Partners, which has grown to be the largest non-governmental employer in the Commonwealth, recruits employees from the Year Up Program, founded by entrepreneur Gerald Chertavian in 2000 to train disconnected youth ages 18 to 24 in IT and finance.
"In this program, students not only learn skills, but also develop attitudes and behaviors that will help them be successful in a professional career." Chertavian says. The program sees more than 800 students each year move on to apprenticeships and jobs in major organizations, such as Bank of America, Harvard University and Partners HealthCare.
Mary Finlay, deputy chief information officer of Partners, says the company provides the training for teens to learn skill sets in customer service and computer repairs.
"Learning how to act in a professional environment, how to dress, how to show up on time, along with the specific skills, gives this program an edge," says Finlay, who notes that managers get a lot out of coaching and training these young employees.
Gilbane Inc. also brings in young people from the Year Up program in Providence, R.I. The 135-year-old construction giant has regional offices that handle primarily regional jobs, including several hospitals, colleges and even the Hancock Building in Boston.
"We offer an opportunity to help these youths get into the technology field," says Jonathan Rider, Gilbane's vice president and chief information officer. "They start at our service desk and work on everything from laptops and desktops to our software applications and even on mobile devices."
From their initial entry into the company, these young people have the opportunities to move into other IT areas.
"They can expand their track here or move on elsewhere with solid resume material from the program," Rider says, adding that other HR departments should consider programs like Year Up to help them find young people who are eager to work.
"You'll find a great source of untapped talent," Rider says.
Rich Mintzer is a journalist and author of more than 80 nonfiction books, including several on starting a business and a dozen for Entrepreneur Press. He hails from Westchester, New York, where he lives with his family.