OREGON – Some high schoolers are getting a taste – with a little cream and sugar – of the risks and rewards of moving a business.
Students recently helped the owner of a coffee and chocolate shop make herself at home in a new location, as part of the Oregon High School Social Entrepreneurship Program. The program’s goals are twofold: teaching seniors how to build a successful business that has a social benefit at its core.
When Conover Coffee & Chocolates had the opportunity to move downtown from Conover Square and change names, to Hazel’s Cafe, owner Candace Rivera knew the change would be a good time to mix things up at her new location at 307 W. Washington St.
That’s where the OHS students came in.
“Small business and partnerships are the key for small towns,” Rivera said, and that key helped unlock some new ideas for the look and feel of the coffeehouse cafe, courtesy of students’ creativity.
Students pitched ideas for the shop’s design, including a steampunk idea for the seating area, and the class was quick to see their ideas incorporated into the business.
“She took our ideas and added her style,” Kaitlyn Mcloud, 18, said – ideas like hinged tables that can be folded up to create more floor space, metal sculptures, and separate seating areas.
Since the tables and artwork had metal accents, Rivera decided to go with metal lights to give the space a uniform look.
Alexis Castillo, 18, who was working on an assignment to analyze the business, said her classmates’ ideas helped create a comfortable space for customers.
Working with Hazel’s was an ideal way for students to learn how business owners sometimes have to take risks, like changing locations and designing a new space. The class met with Rivera when the space was an empty shell and helped fill it in.
Instructor Aaron Stize said the program demonstrates just “what students are capable of.”
“Students are creative and energetic and they have a voice, and they have a choice,” he said.
From coffee shop to classroom
Sitze said he hopes students can take what they learned while working on the coffee shop and incorporate that into their own businesses – something each student is working toward through the end of the school year.
While each business is different, Sitze said they all have one thing in common: “The students have a passion for their ideas.”
The passion was evident with some of the projects they’re working on – bath products to help a women’s shelter, a YouTube channel to review products, a Frisbee league to promote health and socializing, and a key organizer made of reclaimed wood and used seat belts to keep the materials out of the landfill.
While passion and creativity are important, the budding young businessmen and women are also learning the importance of drive and hard work.
Castillo has an emotional connection to her product – the bath products – because she knows women who have been abused and wanted a product to help. What she found is that “selling products on my own is hard.” She’s trying to find locations to sell her bath products.
Her friend Olympia Powell, 17, is reviewing products on YouTube;one of the products is a bath bomb that Castillo is selling. Researching products, recording video, editing, and posting videos is “something bigger than I imagined,” she said.
Another challenge:dealing with the negativity that can exist with online videos.
“I have had mean comments including ‘This is a dumb channel,’” she said, but she knows that “retaliating is not the answer to disagreements.”
Andrew Laub, 18, has discovered that creating a partnership with a government agency is not an overnight process.
His Ultimate Frisbee League requires fields, and Oregon has several options, however an organized event requires permission from the park district.
“I am working on a Facebook page, but the challenge has been creating a name,” Laub said, a process that could include park district input, if he strikes a deal for organized events.
As Mcloud and her business partner, Johnathon Taylor, 18,work on their key organizer idea, they’re realizing it’s not always easy to find the time “to build the prototype and finished products because we are both busy,” said.
But dedication and determination can unlock and door that stands in their way – that and some occasional advice from Sitze.
“He is always available to help out, even on weekends,” said Taylor. “This class is a lot of fun, but it is hard.”
In the end the challenges are worth it.
“The life skills I learn in this class I will have for the rest of my life,” Castillo said.