Robinson Gardens Youth Group turns to entrepreneurship
They’ve studied finance, opened their own bank accounts, gotten summer jobs – and now teens in the Robinson Gardens Apartments Youth Group are looking to launch a business.
Led by Springfield Housing Authority Youth Engagement Coordinator Jimmie Mitchell, the group of about a dozen teens met recently with Zephrin Mongroo, an entrepreneur in his own rights who has branched out into the educational arena, guiding others to master the skills he has honed over the years.
Teens sat spellbound as Mongroo, who has launched nearly a dozen successful businesses himself, spelled out his strategy, including the important and concrete steps he takes along the way to ensure his plans work. His focus at his initial meeting at the family development in the Pine Point neighborhood stayed solidly on the kind of attitudes needed to make a good plan and stick to it.
“To learn anything, you have to listen,” he said. “A good listener is better than a good talker. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to know how to work together, and be a leader. Take charge.”
Mongroo’s visit was the first of what will be one year of weekly sessions, during which Youth Group members will decide on a specific business, make a complete business plan including finances, strategy and operations, and execute it.
Teens said they are excited about the prospect of starting something that will help them to master business acumen and earn cash at the same time.
“I’d like to do something with business,” said Brandon Naylor-Green. “I think it sounds interesting. I’m definitely going to be a part of it.”
Leilani Santiago, who is 16, said she likes the part about starting a business, though she is undecided about what direction that might take. But she especially likes one feature of Mongroo’s plan.
“This way, I can make extra cash and spend it on the things that I want,” she said. All of her money from her summer clerical job went into her bank account.
Beyond that, Santiago said the program will be educational for all participants, keeping the group focused on something that will benefit them. “I’d like to see something to help the teenagers from Robinson Gardens,” she said.
Mitchell brought Mongroo in for just those reasons. He sees the entrepreneurship program as a positive even for those who don’t end up running their own business one day. Even better if they do.
“These are the kinds of things they don’t learn about in school,” said Mitchell, a long-time city educator and counselor who is now retired from the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy.
“We need to teach our young people the ins and outs of entrepreneurship and business. I’m excited about this, truly excited. These are skills they will take with them,” Mitchell added.
That sounds about right to the young people he meets with every afternoon. Mitchell’s focus is always on things that will help set them up for good lives: Bank accounts, jobs, school and now, learning how to launch a business.
“I thought it was pretty good,” said 15-year-old Shania Thomas, who is a sophomore at Putnam studying hospitality and tourism. “I like learning about new things anyway, but nobody’s ever told me about starting up a business. I’ll definitely be a part of it.”
Stacey Sands, who is 19 and president of the Youth Group, said she feels certain that Mangoo will lead the teens to interesting places, and hopefully guide them to a successful venture.
“It was so educational listening to him,” she said. “I think he’s going to help us to be successful.”
While he has owned and operated business ranging from property management and real estate to contracting and construction, Mangoo presently runs a business called CleanCo Building Solutions, which cleans industrial buildings and locations. He is also affiliated with The Movement Project and its Entrepreneur Program, a Springfield organization which helps young people plan and launch businesses.
“These kids are going to learn everything about a business, from start to finish,” Mangoo said. “They will be so well versed that even if they don’t end up in business, they’ll be able to walk into any job and control that job, do well for themselves.”
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