Growing up in a small rural Texas oil town about the size of Hackett offered no career advantages. Beaumont was the largest city around, and it was 45 minutes to a Kroger grocery store. It was one of those towns from which any high school student with career aspirations would flee upon graduation.
However, we could safely ride our bikes all over town. In the hot Texas summer, those bike rides were interrupted with stops at the local swimming pool, where you could buy a family membership for $20 a year. More importantly, though, we had adults engaging with us as mentors.
Grownups like my mother taught Spanish to the neighborhood kids for free, purchasing all the workbooks and teaching materials from her own pocket. And then there was Mrs. Webster, owner of the local newspaper, who took kids under her wing to teach them writing and even published some of their stories. There were men who taught young boys how to work on lawn mowers and other “manly” skills.
These adults were committed to giving the young people in their community an education that was dwindling in the public school system. They were preparing the youth for the real world of work, where skills, however, acquired, would serve them well upon graduation. These were adults who encouraged kids to begin early to make their way. They taught us to earn spending money by mowing yards, babysitting, and having bake sales.
This type of mentoring is not dead. There are a number of businesses across the River Valley who see the value in mentorship, not just because it helps young people, but also because it is good business.
Angela O’Neal, the owner of Ageless Beauty, a Fort Smith skincare salon, is part of this mentoring trend. Realizing that young estheticians are graduating from beauty school with skills, but no real world experience, O’Neal offers a mentoring program to help young talent acquire not just real world experience, but the skills necessary to grow as professionals.
“They graduate with enough knowledge and skills to get a job, but not the skills needed to grow. What we offer is an opportunity for empowerment. We want to see this young talent succeed and grow and to have the confidence to use that knowledge to succeed beyond book learning,” explains O’Neal.
Fashion enthusiast Kara Karber has partnered with photographer Ashley Lewis to mentor high school and college girls who have an interest in fashion. Again, it’s a program designed for a real-world experience as well as confidence.
Last spring BSavvy magazine teamed up with the Future School of Fort Smith and participated in their mentorship program, which offered two students an opportunity to experience sales, writing, photography, and design—all components of getting a magazine to print. During the summer, the magazine offered a mentorship opportunity to a local college student.
According to the magazine’s publisher, Colleen Perry, “The mentorship program works for the student as well as the magazine. They get an experience that looks good on a resume and also gives them a glimpse into the industry. We get good work and fresh ideas that help us produce a better magazine.”
These programs are not altruistic endeavors. These are smart business owners who realize the value of young talent. Young talent brings fresh ideas into a business, be it high school and college students or trade school graduates. These young people are the future labor pool. They will eventually be seeking full-time jobs.
These businesses are providing a service that strengthens the labor pool. And, through continued mentorship, these young people become future business owners, providing services that will be in demand for future generations.
Smart business owners invest in the communities they serve. Investing time and energy to mentor the area’s young people is smart business. And it’s a trend that more and more small businesses see as an opportunity. Whether the young recipients of the mentorship programs stay or leave the area for employment, our business community has provided experiences that are sure to serve these students well for career success.