Kids returning home from summer camp may bring back many things: photos, bug bites, dream catchers. Or they might bring back a solid understanding of the foundations of a successful business venture.
It may not fit the traditional ideas of summer camp, but a South Florida program is making sure that its attendees get just that.
Entrepreneurship 4 Independence, often abbreviated E4i, is a curriculum designed to teach the basics of running a business to individuals with developmental disabilities. The summer camp was open to participants between the ages of 18 and 26 and ran from July 7 to Aug. 15 on weekdays. In that time, attendees completed a business plan, participated in role-playing, gave Prezi presentations and conducted research projects. The camp was created by Picasso Einstein, LLC, in partnership with the HDS Foundation.
Palisades Hudson was invited to sponsor a student to attend the camp, and we were pleased to do so. Last month, I attended a graduation luncheon for the students on Palisades Hudson’s behalf, where I had the opportunity to meet the student we sponsored and his mother.
I also met the other six students who attended the camp, as well as their parents and other sponsors, and it was extremely rewarding to learn more about all of them. One of the students, Greger Jean-Louis, conceived a dating website designed exclusively for persons with disabilities and has secured funding to make the site a reality. In addition to the $500 he was awarded by the camp program, Greger has pursued start-up funding through a Vocational Rehabilitation Self-Employment program. VR will pay for professional help in researching and creating a business plan and, if the plan is viable, the program will cover start-up costs.
Nelson Santiago and Minerva Vazquez Santiago, Picasso Einstein’s co-founders, are personal friends. They are also responsible for Palisades Hudson’s involvement with this worthwhile project. Their two children both have autism, and Nelson and Minerva bring a personal passion to their work with Picasso Einstein and with the charitable organization Legal and Entrepreneurial Empowerment for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, or LEEDD. (Full disclosure: I currently serve on LEEDD’s board as its treasurer.) It is through Nelson and Minerva that I was able to see first-hand what the camp did for its seven students.
In a relatively short time, the students gained many skills and a great deal of information. Some developed greater self-reliance and self-confidence as they realized that their disabilities needn’t limit them in their careers or their lives. For instance, Nelson said that Greger had been accustomed to relying on his family to provide transportation any time he needed to go somewhere. During the course of the summer, Nelson explained the importance of taking initiative and learning to rely on oneself, rather than waiting for others to meet every need. Greger took this lesson to heart and began to take a city bus to and from camp, a two-hour ride each way. This step toward greater independence was huge.
It was also immediately clear how much pride the students’ parents took in their accomplishments. At the luncheon, many parents seemed pleasantly surprised by the evident change in their children, especially in their maturity levels, after participating in the camp. It was clear, too, that the students had great camaraderie with one another. Greger mentioned that he had forged durable friendships in the weeks he spent with the other students.
Most importantly, this camp demonstrated clearly that persons with developmental disabilities can achieve great things, even in relatively short spans of time, if given the training and opportunity to do so. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, persons with disabilities are almost twice as likely as the general population to be self-employed. Many of the key skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur are within their reach, but too often they are convinced by those around them to needlessly temper their ambitions.
The next E4i session is gearing up for the fall; it will run from Sept. 29 to Dec. 15 and is open to students between the ages of 16 and 28. Registration is open until Sept. 19.
While I felt proud that Palisades Hudson was in a position to help with this summer’s E4i camp, it is important to remember that the program was just a beginning, both for students who are starting their entrepreneurial journeys and for the ongoing effort to provide resources to make sure Greger and his peers have their very best chance to succeed.