“PFEW can’t be explained, it has to be experienced,” Scott Lee, vice president of marketing and development, Foundation for Free Enterprise Education in Erie.
Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week camp began in 1979 with 100 high school students and a handful of businessmen and women, roughly 40 years ago.
This past summer 2,019 students learned what it takes to run a business over five, week-long camp sessions held at Lycoming College and Pennsylvania College of Technology, both in Williamsport.
The program grew out of a need for business curriculum not taught in high schools, according to Scott Lee, vice president of marketing and development of the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education in Erie.
Camps are fully funded, and offer a preview of college life as well as what it means to become a business owner or operator, Lee said.
“The Pennsylvania business community, civic organizations, chambers of commerce, private industry and anyone who believes in education,” may donate to fund the program, Lee said.
“Imagine a 16-year-old that knows how to read a balance sheet,” Lee said.
Rising high school juniors and seniors are eligible to apply for PFEW camp. Camp is not limited to academic high achievers and a student’s GPA, SAT or other college entrance scores aren’t considered during the application process, Lee said.
“You must have a high school administrator’s recommendation to attend – but that’s it,” he explained.
PFEW operates with seven full-time staff and more than 120 volunteers. Mentors return year after year – giving up a week of vacation time to guide and support the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs.
“When you hear the speakers – their emotion and their stories, you hear what it was like for them,” said Sam Brandt, 17, a Quakertown Senior High School junior from Richland Township.
Volunteers and guest speakers come year after year because they want to be there.
“They stay until the last question is answered,” Lee said.
He said the service component isn’t lost on the teens either and many return as adult mentors to participate.
Graduates also return as summer interns and go on to become mentors once they become professionals themselves.
“We have speakers who come from Alabama; from New York…they come for free because they realize the impact on young people. It gets into your blood. They’re the mortar in between the bricks,” Lee said.
Real life connections are made, as are lasting friendships, according to Nick Coldwell from Springfield Township. Coldwell is a junior at Palisades High School.
“I knew no one when I got there, and by the end of the week people were coming up to me crying, and saying goodbye,” Coldwell said.
He plans to take a road trip to Pittsburgh with a PFEW alumna he met at camp, who attends Pennridge High School.
Professional goals are set. Barndt said after having a sit-down talk with two legal industry professionals after a camp presentation his future plans “were cemented.”
And Emma Foster, 17, from Sellersville, plans to run for president.
The Pennridge High School junior said thanks to her PFEW experience, she’s aiming for a 2044 bid for the nation’s highest office.
“Since I wrote it down, I feel more motivation to achieve it. I will take what I learned at PFEW and use it my entire life,” Foster said.
“For students it is about transformation. The program is truly one of a kind,” Lee said.
For more information on Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week: www.pfew.org.
It costs about $1,600 to cover the cost of a student to attend PFEW to learn about entrepreneurship.
Camp scholarships are made possible from proceeds of UBCC’s annual Foodie event, held this year on October 11 at Sands Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Quakertown. Tickets remain! Support a youth, open a mind. Call 215.536.3211 or visit www.ubcc.org/foodie
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