On their own terms: Street youth entrepreneurship.

Written by Kevin Hayes, Free Range Youth

“Success is not what you have, but who you are.” –  Bo Bennet

When I started my first company a few years ago, I enjoyed playing games like  “How am I going to eat today.” or “I wonder if today is the day that my phone is going to be shut off”. My favourite game took place while standing in line at my favourite pizza by the slice place and waiting to see if I got the “Approved” or “Declined”. Sometimes I won that game, sometimes I didn’t. Eventually my business started to gain some traction. I started to acquire clients, deliver services, receive cheques, and pay myself. Going from keeping a single digit bank account and living on crackers and peanut butter…who am I kidding, I couldn’t afford peanut butter…to having a profitable business that provides financial security, confidence, and a stable life, did not happen over night. In fact, it didn’t happen in a year. I think I stopped borrowing money from the Bank of Family & Friends over two years after I started my business. It wasn’t easy to get by for those two years, but I made a decision to keep going until I couldn’t any more. Thank goodness I did, the reward has been amazing. I have made it.

The relentless pursuit of “making it”, surviving at all costs, and persevering regardless of life’s conditions, are the qualities that have given me the life I have today. Being an entrepreneur is not about being the smartest person in the room – being an entrepreneur is about moving forward and forging ahead, even when all odds are against you.

This is what Free Range Youth, FRY, is about. FRY is a program that teaches street youth about entrepreneurship. FRY is really about equipping young people with the tools to help them make decisions for themselves. Street youth are already entrepreneurial. They sometimes earn their own income. They survive day-to-day thanks to their incredible resiliency in dealing with the social and economic challenges that come with a life on the streets.

Through a five-step process, FRY takes young people from conception to execution of a business idea, utilizing skill sets they already possess. Essentially, our intention is to show them that their existing skills are valuable – we’re trying to expose these young people for the brilliant shining stars they already are.

What are the business ideas you ask? Well, we have had youth come to the program wanting to open everything from bakeries and restaurants to computer companies and healing centres. The real
magic happens when these kids realize that they have a real shot at achieving whatever they want in life.

FRY is a small part of the journey for these young people. At the end of the day, our goal is to support them as they achieve their goals. Whether these young stars start their own business, or use their newfound confidence to go out and apply for a job, FRY provides the framework and structure that can help them move in whatever direction they choose.

Free Range Youth offered its first program in January 2013, and have since had 30 students attend.  They believe that supporting young people in challenging life circumstances is important for a strong future, economy and community.  To learn more about FRY, visit their website here: http://www.freerangeyouth.com/

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