Rachel Fradette, Naples Daily News, May 11, 2020. Read the full story on Naples Daily News.
As businesses shuttered around the country due to COVID-19, a youth entrepreneurship program in Collier County kept its business going.
The result: Taste of Immokalee students are getting firsthand experience during an unprecedented time, Marie Capita, the company’s executive director, said.
"This program took career readiness to another level for them because it prepared them for things like this that nobody else foresaw," Capita said.
Taste of Immokalee, which started in 2014, is an entrepreneurship and mentorship program that helps students learn business and leadership skills.
The essential business stayed open because of its supply and association with Publix. Its products are sold in more than 200 stores in Florida, Capita said.
So students are still working, from home of course, and their supply makes its way from the "essential" co-packer, IPAC, in Winter Springs, Florida, to grocery store shelves.
"Our program has always taught our kids to have a Plan B," Capita said. "This prepared them to say, 'OK, you can't go sampling now, but still you do have a business that is essential. It still has to go on.' This prepared them for a Plan B in life."
Taste of Immokalee sells six different salsas and sauces, including Serrano hot sauce and chipotle barbecue sauce. All product profits go to the youth program.
Marthe Auguste, a senior at Immokalee High School, said students are scheduling their time to ensure all of their work gets done.
"I do have a lot of files that I keep track of," Auguste said. "Most of our work was kind of online already so it was easy to make the transition."
Auguste works for the program's human resources department as an intern, so she's keeping track of payroll to make sure students are logging their hours.
She's also researching Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and compliance for when things fully reopen.
Auguste, who will attend the University of Central Florida next year, started in the program in 2017.
Auguste said she's learned to connect with people one-on-one and improve her public speaking skills.
Growing gains:Taste of Immokalee expands to 200 Publix stores
About 60 students are involved in the program at different levels, Capita said.
Jeremiah Paul, who works in marketing for the program, said time management is crucial as students navigate online school and work.
"You always have to manage your time because you can't go the office now," Paul said. "Learning how to meet deadlines and have lists to ensure that your time is being managed successfully."
Paul, a sophomore at Immokalee High School, planned promotions and sampling in Publix for their products but coronavirus quickly axed that idea.
"Now we're mostly doing social media type things and videos online to share our story," Paul said.
The recipe videos, a collaborative idea by marketing students, lead viewers through a recipe that includes one or more of their products.
Paul said they wanted to reach out to the community to provide "a sense of home" with their videos.
Online promotions, like their Cinco de Mayo sale, are helping bring in revenue for the business.
The students have weekly Zoom meetings to share ideas and continue their roles.
Both Paul and Auguste advised other businesses to be ready for change as they work through a pandemic.
"We cannot let change paralyze us," Capita said.
For more information about Taste of Immokalee or to purchase their products, go to tasteofimmokalee.com.