Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week celebrates 32 years
By LEN MAHONSKI
"Find a bigger purpose in life besides yourself" was the message given to hundreds of students by world renown youth motivational speaker Jeff Yalden at the Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week, which was held Aug. 1 to 7 at Lycoming College.
Throughout the week, students from across the state gathered and took part in various workshop activities covering every aspect of business, including finance, marketing and advertising.
According to John Trombetta, president and CEO of the PFEW Foundation, rising high school juniors and seniors from nearly every community in Pennsylvania travel to the program, which educates students about the American free enterprise system by bringing them together with business executives from throughout the state.
Trombetta said this year more than 1,400 students from 600 different high schools and 84 advisers participated in the program.
"The students are engaged and eager to learn," he said.
And if you told students enrolled in the program they were going to spend an entire week at business camp and that they would enjoy it, the response would be mixed at best.
But that's exactly the reaction PFEW officials, advisers and volunteers received from the students.
"It's definitely been a challenge, but it's been one of the best weeks I have ever had," said Louise Tessier, a junior at Neshaminy High School, Langhorne. "It's been a wonderful experience. All of the speakers have been amazing and inspiring."
Tessier, who attended PFEW for the first time, said she is undecided about whether or not she wants to study business or early childhood education in college.
"Right now, it's up in the air," she said. "But this week has definitely made an impression."
Alex Vallo of Murrysville agrees, and said the whole experience was a great opportunity.
Throughout the week, students also had the opportunity to stay in dorm rooms and experience college life first-hand.
"The whole experience was incredible," Vallo said.
According to program officials, the organization shares a common belief with civic organizations, businesses and foundations that young people of our great state are the future.
In addition to learning the "ins and outs" of business and free enterprise, students were addressed regarding valuable life lessons that spoke about good character, correct choices and accountability.
Keynotes speakers include past presidents, vice presidents and CEOs of MetLife, Xerox, Erie Insurance and ADT, but perhaps nobody's words resonated louder than Yalden's, who made the trip from Cape Cod, Mass., on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. His message was as loud as the motorcycle he rode in on.
The tattooed ex-Marine and teacher grabbed the students' attention by speaking on their level and delivering a powerful message about harboring self-respect, making good decisions and building strong character.
"There is no greater responsibility in life when you have one hour to speak in front of kids," he said.
Yalden, who once starred in MTV's hit series "Made," decided not to go the corporate route in regard to motivational speaking. He lightheartedly said the reason he speaks to students is because he has no desire to speak to adults. He addressed the teenagers and used humor while recounting past experiences as a youth in order to relate to them.
Before becoming one of the most sought-out youth motivational speakers in the world, Yalden overcame many obstacles himself, which he shared with the crowd.
As a teenager, he lost interest academically.
He took the SATs twice and only scored a 610 out of a possible 1,600 points.
Worse yet, he said he suffered from a stutter, a facial tic, bad acne and a learning disability.
During his speech, he told the students they can persevere - just like he did.
"Do what's right, do the best you can, find your purpose in life and in the end - good things will happen," he said.
Another experience the students got to share in was teamwork.
According to junior Alek Michali of Erie, the most challenging aspect of the program was getting everything organized.
"Putting everything together was the most difficult task, but it was a lot of fun," he said. "We had a good team and we pulled together."
Michali said he enjoyed the experience so much he wants to eventually return and fill an advisory position.
Regarding the advisers in the program, Trombetta said a third of the adult volunteers also are graduates of the program.
One such adviser, Nate Cooper of Philadelphia, who is a successful owner of three businesses, said he got involved 12 years ago after his son enrolled in the program.
"I do it for the young students," he said. "They're so creative."
The creative minds Cooper spoke of and helped advise at this year's event developed a sneaker called "Tetra," named after the brightly colored neon fish.
The idea was to embed a microchip into the sole of the footwear that would change the sneaker's color.
Program officials said although there is a registration fee required, no student is turned away due to an inability to pay.
If students are interested, but worried about the financial burden, businesses and colleges help alleviate those stresses by sponsoring students.
Past participant Katie Kern, of Pennsbury High School, Newtown, said the program was not only "the best week of my summer, but also the best week of my life by far."
In order to accommodate the ever-increasing number of young people enrolling in the program, sessions are now being held at Lycoming College and Pennsylvania College of Technology.
Lycoming College hosted the first two sessions, which concluded July 17, and Pennsylvania College of Technology hosted the week of July 25 to 31 before the program returned to Lycoming College for the final week.
For more information, visit www.pfew.org.