People have often asked me why I travel over 600 miles every summer to go teach students that I don't know, about a summer business course called PFEW. They also are inquisitive why I pay my own way to travel there, stay in a hotel there and pay for my own meals. The only financial benefit is to take off my travel expenses on my taxes every year. Let me tell you how I get involved with PFEW.
When I worked in PA running a distribution center for Michelin, I got involved with the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce. I was interested in one of their groups called Business Education Partnership. I thought it would be good for businesses and education institutions to get together so that when students get out of high school and college that they have a better understanding of business instead of being blindsided when they first step foot into the business world. Being taught a course is only the skeleton of learning how something really works. High schools and colleges teach engineering courses, history courses, law courses, etc. How can a student transfer from a college to business without some sort of bridge? That's how I thought that someone in business can assist someone in education take that transition from school to work.
One year, a gentleman named Lou Aronow talked about his high school children that had gone to this week-long business camp. That was intriguing because who would ever want to go to a business camp in the summer? I have attended football camps, and knew many of my friends that had gone to baseball, softball, basketball and tennis camps. But business camp? Even though he had never gone there to be an advisor, Lou was convincing enough for me to get involved. That was in 1998.
In 1999, I decided to take the plunge. I was told to bring junk for Junk Night and come in on Friday evening for training on Saturday for the business simulation. The students (young adults) come in on Sunday morning and stay in a classroom until late that evening. Every day starts at 8AM and most days finish around 6PM. After a full week of training, listening to speakers, teaching these young adults how to run a business, they 'graduate' on Friday with a photo of their teammates and a letter of completion from PFEW. The difference from Sunday afternoon to Friday evening is almost like a magic trick. Students that are total strangers on Sunday learn how to create a team, elect their own CEO, build a business, run business simulations, make decisions on how to run it better and finish up the week sometimes being friends for life.
Now, why do I continue to get involved? It's nothing more than realizing that I get more out of the week than the students get out of the week. I see the maturing of these young adults in six days. I see the bewilderment on Monday to the understanding on Thursday of a concept that is a college level course. I see strangers becoming friends and working toward a team goal. I see the emotions that these students go through when they leave their company on Friday evening and realize that most likely that will be the last time that they will ever see these high school friends. I see the letters and emails from them after the week thanking me for being a part of their life. I see the emails from them five and 10 years after they have gone to PFEW telling me how they are doing in college, in medical school, in pharmacy school. I see them on LinkedIn being a productive member of society and being in business. I see them being successful in life and I hope that I was one of those people that influenced them into being a productive member of this great nation.
The rewards aren't immediate. In fact, driving away from 'business camp' is hard because there is a 12 hour trip to get home. I have the opportunity to think about the week during that drive. I think about those students that I have had the privilege of teaching for one week. I think about the future and hope that what they have learned, that they can go back and teach others. I hope that I have laid a cornerstone in their life that they can build their cathedrals of life. The last thing I think about is that hopefully, one day, these students will think about coming back and giving back to society by being an advisor in this program we call PFEW.