O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility team awarded ‘most inspirational’
Photos and story by Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
More than 500 high school students recently competed in the 11th annual Project ECHO High School Entrepreneur’s Business Plan Competition at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Among those competing was a group of young men from Johanna Boss High School at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton.
The five from Johanna Boss H.S. could not compete live, so they videotaped their presentation. Project ECHO (Entrepreneurial Concepts Hands On) offers a hands-on year-round program in business and entrepreneurship with the aim of providing teens from various socioeconomic backgrounds and academic achievement the opportunity to experience entrepreneurship.
This year about 50 teams from 16 high schools competed.
The group from Johanna Boss H.S. created an app, “Helping Hands, Breaking the Chains.” The idea is to give those who have been incarcerated direction in their lives when they are released from jail, prison or a youth correctional facility.
It also reaches out to those in housing, mental health, schools, transportation, health care, legal services and others who deal with people who are considered at risk.
For instance, the Helping Hands app would allow those in housing to advertise vacancies within the user’s area code. The same information would be provided concerning trade schools, community colleges or universities in a particular area code. With the click of a button, the user can find health care in their community including hospitals, emergency care facilities or clinics.
Also, the Helping Hands app is designed to provide information on legal services such as legal defense, family court and bail bondsmen. While looking for employment, users can see who is hiring and where in their community those jobs are located.
Teachers Chris Lawyer and Steve Maucieri worked with the five teens every school day from January through early April.
“I saw how the kids responded; it was fun,” said Maucieri. “One kid told me this was the first time he felt like a human being, like he had purpose, like he was somebody.”
First the group had to figure out who was doing what. They created an organizational chart for their “Helping Hands” business with a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Technology Officer(CTO). Each had to study their field and learn what the position entailed.
“After we organized and knew what our roles were, we had to put our heads together and come up with an idea,” said CEO Daniel. “That was the biggest challenge.”
The group had to perform an industry analysis without using Internet search engines to find answers. Instead, the youth had phone conferences with representatives from Android, Microsoft and other companies to learn how to develop an app, how to research it and how to market it.
“The representatives we talked to from all these companies couldn’t have been more helpful. We told them who we were, what we were doing, and they took the time to explain the process to us from start to finish,” explained Maucieri.
After planning, research and phone interviews, they crafted a presentation to be videotaped. The five students put on dress shirts, ties and stood in front of the camera to deliver various aspects of their app in a concise and professional manner.
“We had never done anything like this; stood in front of a camera, and tried to sell an idea,” COO Jerry said. “We were all pretty nervous.”
But all five did their parts, made their case for why the “Helping Hands, Breaking the Chains” app is necessary for those who have done their time, paid their debts to society and are looking for ways successfully re-enter into society.
“I’ve learned about responsibility and what it takes to run your own business,” said CEO Daniel.
CTO Javier said, “This is great because I always wanted to run my own business, be the boss, and with this program, I’ve learned so much to help guide me in that direction.”
Maucieri said the project helped build confidence within the students.
“The students really enjoyed the experience and things like this do wonders for their self-esteem and assist tremendously in the overall treatment and rehabilitative process,” he said.
DJJ Assistant Superintendent of Education Troy Fennel, who presented the DVD during the ECHO Project competition, said the presentation by O.H. Close won the Most Inspirational award, and was shown twice, with a warm reception both times.
The team’s written business plan score placed sixth among the 42 written business plans. The other 50 percent of the score came from their presentation score, collectively placing them within the top 10 of the Technology Based Business category, according to Project ECHO officials.
“I’m so incredibly proud of (the team) and their accomplishments in participating in Project ECHO’s entrepreneurial studies pathway and for preparing a formal business plan,” said Diane Quast, Executive Director of Project ECHO. “This team of young men has challenges far and beyond our typical students, and to accomplish so much within the confines of (a correctional facility) are absolutely amazing. I was so delighted to see the outpouring of support for this team from all of our competitors and guests at the competition who cheered for them at the encore showing of their taped presentation.”
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