A lot of people ask me why I give a week of my time each year away from family, business and my life to volunteer at Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week (PFEW) to be with a bunch of high school kids. When I am asked this, I have a hard time getting all the reasons into a quick answer, so let me share a few here. A few years ago at PFEW I listened to Lorenzo Simonelli, then President & CEO of GE Transportations systems speak to the group about leadership. This speaker was perhaps one of the best speakers in all the years I have participated. A while back I received a letter from a former student telling me I had changed their life. Former students of mine are going on to powerful internships and exciting universities and they share their stories with me and it makes me feel good to have contributed to their path. In my office, I have on prominent display a prototype shoe that was designed and built from cardboard, tape, paper and cloth by one of my teams, which they presented to me as a gift.
For those of you who don't know, PFEW was started some 42 years ago by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association and MidAtlantic Employers Association with a mission to teach high school sophomores and juniors about entrepreneurship and business to build future leaders. It is a great program that I believe strongly in. If you have a friend or family member that age, encourage them to attend. The week is structured as a game and competition and the students get to hear amazing speakers and have lots of fun all while also learning how to read a balance sheet, income statement and important elements of marketing and advertising. The program is not just for the kids strong in math or science; it is for drama and creative people too. They put on skits, create commercials and develop a company persona. Each PFEW graduate receives a $20K grant to Lycoming College or a grant to Penn College of Technology and PFEW graduates overwhelmingly attend college after high school.
There are so many role models here, fellow volunteers, speakers, program administrators and even the students that you can't help but observe and learn about leadership and life. I am super impressed with the students I have had over the years. They are concerned with worldly issues, they believe in conservation; they are respectful, polite and strong. Simply put, there are a hundred different reasons that I choose to volunteer a week at PFEW, and collectively they give me energy and experience that enables me to be a stronger leader and a better individual in my role at my job and in life.