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Community News: Southwest

LEIMERT PARK : Youths Get Chance to Run a Business

August 29, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

Like many teen-agers, Heather Johnson enjoys watching television, telephoning friends and shopping for clothes. But her favorite pastime seems more suited to an adult than a teen-ager--running a business single-handedly.

Heather, a 14-year-old who is entering Westchester High School next month, is a member of Tomorrow's Entrepreneurs Today, a 3-year-old nonprofit organization that teaches youths 12 to 19 how to run a business and helps them establish and maintain ventures of their own.

"I like what I do," said Heather, who operates a custom-frame business, called All Occasions Frame Trimming, out of her home. "It takes time, but I come up with everything myself. And people see what I've done and want to buy it. That makes me feel good."

Under the tutelage of Fannie Butler, director of Tomorrow's Entrepreneurs Today, and a core group of volunteer staff and mentors, TET members learn the art of business. They take trips to venues including local black-owned businesses and the Pacific Stock Exchange, and hold bimonthly meetings at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Leimert Park.

At the meetings, which Butler calls "intellects," participants go through a two-tiered program. First, they are taught how a business works. After that, each is required to create a small-business plan. A participant is required to conduct a marketing survey and come up with a suitable name for the venture before it is approved by TET staffers.

Participants borrow about $50 to $100 in start-up money from parents or TET, which is supported by private donations from local businesses and other organizations. Butler said all of the ventures--mostly home-based, one-person operations that have included catering, jewelry-making and secretarial services--have cleared profits, and a few participants are beginning the process of officially establishing their businesses with the city.

The key to the program, Butler said, is giving the youths real-life experience in being an entrepreneur, complete with failures and triumphs.

"We live by the rules of the three P's--patience, perseverance and persistence," said Butler, a former counselor at Manual Arts High School who ran a promotional items business before founding the group. "Investment education is great, but the kids need the opportunity to make money. That's the bottom line in this country."

Butler added that the extensive business education TET provides helps beef up participants' self-esteem and gives them the confidence to take on any project, entrepreneurial or otherwise.

In the first phase of the program, an eight- to 12-week component called Smart Start, participants receive lessons in black history to give them a sense of significant accomplishments of Africans and African-Americans before they learn how to follow a 10-step business plan.

"Commitment--learning to never quit--is the most important thing," Butler said. "Also, they have the option of working alone or with a partner in creating a project. We need to dispel the myth that black people don't help each other in business."

The group started with seven members and now has an active group of 30 participants, who Butler said are recruited mostly through schools, parents and word of mouth. Three staffers and 25 mentors train the youths.

"One thing you do learn is responsibility," said Charles Butler, 16, Fannie Butler's son and an original TET member who runs a home business called Simply Catering. "I buy and make everything myself. You also have to learn time management pretty quickly. It's rewarding, but it's work."

For Butler, the big payoff will be eventually having a pool of TET alumni who can lend each other support and strengthen the network of African-American business owners: "Black people have made great strides in education and politics. It's time for this."

Information: (213) 964-1883.

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