An outcome of involvement at State Correctional Institution - Graterford, a maximum-security prison that contains a large number of men serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, is an understanding of their deep concern that children, grandchildren, young relatives, and other youths in their communities will end up in the same or similar institutions if no one intervenes. One of our students at SCI Graterford, who is serving a lengthy sentence, told us that, “[As a young man], I knew plenty of people in prison but no one going to college.” Even more telling, he noted that, “I wish I had met you when I was 12 years old and could have taken a different path.”
As a consequence of these pleas we decided to trial a program in West Philadelphia that would provide licit opportunities for young people to develop entrepreneurial businesses of their creation. They were required to write a short proposal in conjunction with one of our undergraduate students, and to present their ideas for possible funding of up to $250 per person. Five projects in total were funded from our university accounts, and they spent the summer of 2012 selling their goods and services.
These budding entrepreneurs were asked to sign, and have their parents to co-sign, a pledge that they would use the money for the purposes stated in their proposals and save 50% of their earnings for repayment of the initial loans. They were also encouraged to use some of their proceeds to reinvest in their businesses or save for school supplies. Finally, they were welcome to use about 25% for their personal enjoyment as a reward for a job well done.
All awardees had a positive revenue base at the end of the summer, and one had doubled her money relative to the initial loan. It was clear from a debriefing at the end of the summer that many positive lessons about hard work and personal creativity were learned. Each student was eager to repeat the program in the summer of 2013 and any remaining money was to be saved for this purpose. One youth actually continued her business throughout the year.
During the summer of 2013 we broadened our reach to 25 youths in West Philadelphia and expanded our vision of how to accomplish our goal of providing licit opportunities for professional growth. A local resident offered a parcel of land in this community where we launched a youth-based Saturday market. They were required to keep careful journals (provided by us) as to accumulated expenses and revenues. Thanks to a generous grant from Wells Fargo, the center was able to cover the majority of our expenses and the microloans. A local youth advocate worked on this program from its inception, and he opened the venue each Saturday, made sure the tables and signage were properly located, handled any concerns or complaints as they occurred, and safeguarded and deposited funds. The children also are scheduled to attend a week-long entrepreneurship camp and learn about banking at a Wells Fargo facility.
The Center for Church Management & Business Ethics would like to develop a template for this kind of program so that we can replicate it in other Philadelphia communities where many of the SCI Graterford men were originally domiciled, as well as Chester, PA, which is the poorest city of its size in the state. As this program grows, we hope to capture attention of the media and local politicians so that the larger Philadelphia area becomes aware of this venture and begins to view its patronage as a civic responsibility. We will limit our activities this year to the children served this summer.