Coronavirus. COVID-19. Social distancing. Self-quarantine. School from home. These are all terms or concepts that were unheard of just a couple of weeks ago and now they’ve become part of our new normal.
Young and old, we are all experiencing and adapting together. Through the challenges, I am so proud to share how your support helps us prepare our young entrepreneurs to rise above adversity not only in their personal lives, but also in business.
Through this crisis, they are learning more than we ever imagined.
While our thoughts and best wishes are with you and your families during these difficult times, I am hopeful that our student’s stories below will bring you five reasons to smile, knowing that your support is helping to shape these future business leaders.
Marie Capita, Executive Director
(Photos of the students contributing are included at the end of this article)
High School Student Entrepreneurs Share:
5 Business Lessons from Global Pandemic Crisis
1. What Business Success is Really About
Social responsibility is a core value at Taste of Immokalee (TOI). Our students learn to work hard for success because our profits are used to help people in our community. Below, Sai Rachumalla shares how this "business for social good” model is shaping his perspective.
“I see that priorities in these times aren’t really about business for any company; they are about keeping our country running smoothly. No matter how successful we become, we must never forget that it’s the community, whether local or national, that keeps us afloat.
As a basic service to them, we must do our best to ease their stresses in times of hardship. This allows us to have the support of the community well into the future and garner trust. As a business, donating food or donating profits (like we do at Taste of Immokalee) are just some of the ways we can help de-stress the community.”
Seeing the needs in the community has also made an impression on Natan Petit-Homme. “Going through this pandemic has made me think about how I might help the community through troubling times when I’m a business leader. For example, if I own a tech company one day, I will want to think of ways that my business can get computers and tablets to students that need one.”
2. Business Continuity: Planning for the Unexpected
At TOI, our students are involved in every aspect of business, including many things that cannot be taught in a classroom such as adapting to change and conflict resolution. The global pandemic has certainly put these skills to test. As we navigate through this current crisis, our students are also understanding the importance of emergency planning and response, as Arturo Artiles shares below.
“Like many businesses, Taste of Immokalee has had to close our offices and our employees must work remote. Hours have been reduced and salaries have been impacted. This is the case for many businesses nationwide and it has filled me with both knowledge and questions.
Although this coronavirus pandemic was impossible to predict, being involved with TOI has helped me realize how important it is for a business to have a plan for responding to emergencies like this. This experience has caused me to pose many questions to myself as a future business owner, such as:
If my business were forced to shut down, what am I to do with my employees who need to work to sustain their basic needs of shelter? I would feel, as most business owners probably do, a sense of responsibility to take care of my employees in any way I can.
It is also important during these times of uncertainty to keep morale up and to continue to prosper even through setbacks. To do that, it is even more important to plan and make sure everything will be back in order as soon as the outbreak has subsided.”
3. Modern Technology Skills are Critical in Today’s Workforce
Through a unique combination of hands-on business experience, classroom learning and professional mentorship, Taste of Immokalee students are prepared for success in today’s workforce. Technology skills are a crucial part of that preparation and we are grateful for the support that enables us to provide our students with equipment including laptops and iPads. Students share how this preparation helps them succeed in a digital world, in both work and virtual classrooms.
“Before the pandemic, I was familiar with Zoom (web conferencing) because we use it frequently in the business of Taste of Immokalee – for group meetings, workshops with our mentors and more,” shares Dieulerne Deceus. “But many of my classmates didn’t have that experience and continue to struggle to keep up with classwork that has suddenly gone virtual.”
“It’s not just students who have to learn and master software like Canvas or Zoom, but teachers also have to acquire new skills to teach without the ability to be face-to-face,” adds Jeremiah Paul. “As my peers hesitate to shift to this new way, I am more confident about it because of the experiences I have gained with Taste of Immokalee.”
Although community resources everywhere were not prepared for this kind of crisis, I can say that through my work with Taste of Immokalee, I know I’m prepared in many ways,” said Guadalupe Huapilla-Perez. “With everything in life, school and work moving to a digital world, having access to our equipment and using applications like Zoom for our Junior Board Meetings has better prepared me for the future.”
Taste of Immokalee is certified with the Florida Ready to Work program, an innovative education program sponsored by the State of Florida that ensures a Florida jobseeker has the fundamental skills necessary to succeed in today's competitive economy. Our own students recently sat for the exam and achieved a 100% pass rate!
4. Soft Skills are Equally Important Yet Rarely Taught
Equally important to succeed in any career is the soft skills like communication, teamwork, business etiquette and public speaking. Our students have the opportunity to learn and practice in real-world situations where they’re held accountable for meeting goals, on the front lines of customer service, working with our partners and suppliers, or conducting media interviews. Time management is a big part of these soft skills, as Jeremiah Paul explains below.
“Taste of Immokalee has given me experience with technology and applications like Office 360 and Zoom, but also has provided me with the skills to manage myself. Without the structure of 7 bells a day, many students feel lost and don't know how to manage their time and get all their assignments completed. I am able to use the same practices I’ve learned from TOI, like creating a list of tasks every morning, to manage my time efficiently.”
5. The Digital Divide Still Exists
As our students are grateful for the resources and training available to them, they are also very much aware of the great needs around them. Access to the internet, along with a device like a laptop or tablet, is something that most of our society takes for granted. But there remains many in our community without this luxury – and therefore without the opportunity to gain the skills that today’s employers are seeking.
That is why Taste the Impact is so vital. Our nonprofit was formed for the very purpose of equipping more students with the skills they need to rise out of poverty. Please consider supporting our efforts.
Our students share their observations and experiences as our schools shift to virtual environments and our community struggles to respond to the urgent needs.
“In our impoverished town of Immokalee, a lot of people don’t have access to technology like laptops or tablets that would be needed to do their schoolwork online.” Guadalupe Huapilla- Perez
"Some students do not have internet access in their homes and have had to rely on places (with WiFi) like the library or McDonalds. But now with those places shut down it is a struggle for those students to know what's going on. They don't get updates from the school website or know how/when to pick up laptops." Marthe Auguste
“The lack of technology creates a considerable obstacle for ensuring education for all during this hard time because this excludes many from achieving an education.” Jeremiah Paul (Jeremiah further shares: if you are aware of CCPS students who still need a laptop, please share this survey ASAP)
“Although Collier County has thousands of devices to give to students in need, it’s still not enough.” Dieulerne Deceus
“There is a big void to fill particularly in Immokalee for those who don’t have any access to computers or iPads. Whether it be more school resources, an alternate type of tutoring available, or other organizations that come together to help meet these needs so that all students can continue learning through these times.” Bradelune Casseus
Special thanks to our Taste of Immokalee students who contributed to this article:
About Taste of Immokalee and Taste the Impact
Our Florida-fresh salsa and sauce products not only TASTE great, they also make an IMPACT on the lives of our students and the community of Immokalee.
All profits from the sale of Taste of Immokalee products are used to fuel our nonprofit youth entrepreneurship program, Taste the Impact. This vital program empowers teens to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their impoverished, migrant farm-working community of Immokalee, Florida. By providing business experience and college scholarships to our students, supporting local youth programs and alleviating the many economic needs in our community, we are IGNITING DREAMS AND CHANGING COMMUNITIES.