Entrepreneurship Opens Doors to New Opportunities

Posted by | November 8, 2012

A couple weeks ago I drove Saaiba, a student at Samuel Fels High School, and three of her friends to the Sun Life Rising Star Awards, which was held at City Hall in Philadelphia. As we drove down Broad Street, we chatted about the awards ceremony. Saaiba, who’s enrolled in the NFTE program at her school, was in the running for a $5,000 college scholarship being awarded that night, which would bring the possibility of a college education a little closer into her grasp.

The Sun Life Rising Star Awards program recognizes nonprofits that redress low high school graduation rates and honors outstanding students who have overcome significant obstacles to succeed. Saaiba’s NFTE teacher had nominated her, citing her intelligence and ability to work well with others. In the car, we all crossed our fingers that she would win.

Sun Life’s scholarships make the college experience much more tangible for students like Saaiba, who come from neighborhoods where a post-secondary education is rarely considered an option. That Saaiba was even in the running for this award is a great example of how NFTE helps students reconsider their potential through the lens of entrepreneurship.

The Sun Life Rising Star Awards with 76ers Lavoy Allen at Philadelphia City Hall. Photo by Mark C Psoras.

An entrepreneurial view of opportunities

The ability to see a product or service or set of circumstances in a new way is what distinguishes entrepreneurs from the rest of the world. In that spirit of seizing opportunities, NFTE offers its students a new perspective on their futures. Every student enters the NFTE program with a clean slate in our eyes. We don’t know their school records or learning plans or behavior issues, and welcome them without bias. We believe in their potential from the start, since every student is a potential entrepreneur. If they want to build a business, we’ll be a resource and help them get started.

Many of our students grow up in challenging environments where they operate within a certain box and believe they fit only within that box. A majority of their siblings, parents, and role models never considered college, and some never finished high school, so these students often ignore the potential of college. NFTE says that’s fine, but presents a number of other options for students to explore. Our goal is to see every student graduate high school and go on to college, and we work to instill in them an entrepreneurial spirit open to new possibilities.

Of course, the more we educate them and begin to have an impact on their lives, the more they have an impact on us. Nowhere was this more apparent than when I watched Saaiba, amid the energy of the Sun Life Rising Stars Awards, hearing her name called as the winner of the $5,000 scholarship. Her facial expression was a treasure — she was so genuinely happy. And I was happy to help her get there.

Looking to the future

As I drove Saaiba and her friends home after the event, their conversations ranged from new music to their neighborhoods to attending college. My hat shifted to guidance counselor, and I encouraged all of them to take advantage of the opportunities waiting for them. I told them that of course I would be happy to help them along the way.

Being gracious and considerate, Saaiba asked me to drop her off at the Frankford Bus Station. She collected all of her gifts from the ceremony — a huge mock $5,000 check, a Lavoy Allen-autographed basketball, a Sun Life bag, and the beautiful award. I told her I could have the gifts delivered so she wouldn’t have to carry them.

But Saaiba shook her head. She said she wanted to remember that evening as long as she could and that she’d be taking her award to school the next day to show everyone. And so, holding her gifts close to her heart, she went to board the bus.

Saaiba is an example of the transformative impact NFTE’s entrepreneurship program can have on students’ lives, not simply by unlocking more opportunities, but by revealing strengths they never knew they had.

 

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