A brighter future

Youth learn about the American free enterprise system

Celebrating their 40th year of educating Pennsylvania’s youth schools about the American free enterprise system, Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week (PFEW) gives incoming juniors and seniors the opportunity to learn about business, leadership and life.

PFEW “is an economics and business education program,” said Scott Lee, vice president of Marketing and Development. “We teach young people to both understand and celebrate t­­he private enterprise system.”

The summer camp is hosted at Lycoming College for four weeks, and during their final week, they hold a double session, one at Lycoming College and the other at Pennsylvania College of Technology. The final week began on July 29 and will finish on Saturday.

During the week, students throughout the state come together to run simulated businesses for three years over the course of one week and make business decisions that real-life executives would have to make, Lee said. They have the chance to work with both the financial side of business, as well as a marketing and advertising campaign.

When students arrive to the campus, they are already assigned to an industry and group and there they decide on the product they will create as a team, Lee said. This year, a group may be assigned to make power tools, footwear or household appliances, among other industries. For example, if assigned to the footwear industry, a team “can make steel-toed boots, sneakers, women’s pumps (or) socks.”

Each group has a company advisor who acts as a mentor for the group, Lee said. Company advisors “never answer a direct question” but get the group talking to learn about one another’s strengths and weaknesses.

Advisors give up a week away from their job and family “to see a light bulb go off in a young person and to … hear something and see something or learn something that just will shoot them into their future,” said Lee from his experience as a company advisor for 23 years.

Groups also have to select a CEO for their business that week, he said. The students “get more of a

­­ look of what leadership is,” and they meet with senior staff for breakfast about management and leadership. During the second week of the program, three selected CEOs all attend Loyalsock Township High School.

“We have world-class speakers that come in and talk to these kids about everything under the sun — personal relationships, personal management, bullying, how to treat others. It’s a broad-based preparation for life that is surrounded by teaching them about the American free enterprise system in business,” Lee said.

Some speakers talk about business topics like interviewing skills, confidence and how to approach college and career choices, Lee said. Keynote speakers, such as Evan Frazier, senior vice president of community affairs at Highmark Health, or Henry Musti, president/CEO of Justi Group, Inc., speak about their journey and set the tone for the week on Mondays.

Popular speakers include Sweethearts and Heroes, who talk about “bullying and action, (how) to not only prevent it but to intercede it;” David Flood, who teaches kids to not judge someone based on first impression; Jeff Yalden, who talks about teen suicide, navigating life, responding and slowing down; and Gary Horton, a former Army Ranger who touches on patriotism and being an American, Lee said.

Headquartered in Erie, PFEW has called Williamsport home during the month of July for 29 years, Lee said. Since 1979, the organization has graduated over 44,000 students and at the end of their fourth session, they will have graduated over 2,100 this summer.

The organization markets to 1,000 high schools’, charter schools’ and cyber schools’ incoming juniors and seniors throughout the state, Lee said. There is a registration fee, but the scholarship for tuition is paid for by a civic organization or individual that believes in this experience and the students without ever seeing them.

For every student that passes through the program, their experience is different. For some, it’s personal. Others, it solidifies their career choice — they decide on a college, learn how to work in a team, realize they need to make a change and treat others better or “get lit up by the business world,” he said.

“Whether it’s PFEW or not … getting behind a program like this that really empowers young people to make things better and to understand how it works, and I’m talking life, business … navigating your future or being able to deal with adversity,” Lee said. “Everyone will take something different away from this experience.”

For more information, visit www.pfew.org.