Why Teens Need Entrepreneurs as Mentors

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Several months ago I felt honored to be invited to mentor a 17 year old high school senior.  As a requirement for graduation, each student chose a year long community service project, which culminated in an awards program. Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the presentations and came away with an optimism about our future leaders.

Naturally, some of the students thought the project was “lame” and did only the required work with little enthusiasm. But what delighted me was seeing the pride on the faces of many others who were so inspired by the work that they far exceeded the obligatory hours. Their Power Point presentations, story boards, scrapbooks, oral or written reports showed they’d put far more time and energy into the project than was required.

I’m aware that young people often do volunteer community service because their churches encourage benevolence or they know it looks good on a college resume, but whatever their initial motivation, some of these kids discover empathy and purpose that hopefully will give their lives direction. Of course they feel the satisfaction of helping others but they also learn that goodwill and philanthropy isn’t just about volunteering and making charitable donations. That beneficence can be a way of life and a livelihood.

A proponent of socially responsible business, I found it encouraging that these young people gained an appreciation for and interest in environmental,  elder care and youth services careers.  As a life-long entrepreneur and self employment advocate, I was elated that they not only volunteered in civic and  social service agencies but also witnessed adults gleefully earning their livelihood as proprietors of private recycling services and sports camps for disabled children. They discovered that they could be self employed elder advocates, or environmental lobbyists in the private sector. One young man exuberantly reported on his work with a rock band who did a playground improvement project in each town they performed on tour. Another student, a pitcher on the high school baseball team, when asked if he hoped to play professionally, said his project coaching an inner city basketball team inspired him to maybe start a baseball camp for less privileged kids.  A girl whose project was testing river water for impurities, when asked if she wanted to be a researcher said, “No, I’m going to be an author.  I’ve already started writing fictional stories that teach a lesson about our precious natural resources.”

Sure, many of these kids will be job seekers but I’m ecstatic that some are already thinking like entrepreneurs. They know that they don’t have to have a job to do well financially and that volunteering or check writing aren’t the only ways to do good. These grads are heading out into the world knowing that they can make a difference by making a living as a social entrepreneur.  I’m still smiling.

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