Young Entrepreneurs Society (YES) was founded in Orange, Massachusetts in 1998 as a project of the Orange Revitalization Partnership and incorporated as a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization in 2000. Orange (pop. 7,500) is among the 20 lowest income of the 351 towns in the Commonwealth. It is located in the heart of the isolated 9-town North Quabbin region straddling Worcester and Franklin counties in the north-central and north-western part of the state. To date, YES has helped over a thousand teens and young adults in these and 31 other towns in the North Quabbin-Franklin County-Hampshire County region chart their own paths to prosperity through entrepreneurship, job readiness and financial education.
To tackle high youth unemployment, YES created the Odd Job Squad (OJS) to help youth earn money, build skills, gain experience, and gather references by assisting community members with odd jobs. YES developed BizVenture! to help them learn how to create their own jobs by launching businesses. With support from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), YES partnered with schools, organizations, business associations, and youth groups to offer BizVenture! programs across North Quabbin and Franklin County. YES teachers have since won NFTE's coveted Teacher of the Year Award and trained youth and teachers for NFTE in Boston, Iowa City, Kodiak, and Winnipeg.
In 2001, with support from the Public Service Endowment at UMASS, Amherst, YES developed its Co-op BizTeam program which provided BizVenture! alumni with 140 hours of social enterprise business planning activities. Their plan — to launch a cyber cafe and copy shop — edged out 25 others to win the 2002 National 4H Council/USDA Cooperative Business Plan Competition. The plan helped YES to acquire a CRA mortgage to purchase and renovate two adjoining blighted buildings in the historic downtown district of Orange in 2003 and launch the YES BizCenter and Teen Cyber Cafe in 2004. The Cyber Cafe closed in 2010 having served its role as the region's only public computer and high-speed Internet access venue during its critical "digital divide" years. The BizCenter, managed by BizVenture! alumni, continues to provide paid and voluntary job training and work experience to area youth. In 2011, YES members launched Phil Harmonix Studio on the ground floor of YES HQ after 5 years of fundraising and volunteer-powered construction. Today, the full-service recording studio and rehearsal facility is leased to and operated by a YES member d/b/a BFK Studio.
YES develops other programs as needs and funding arise. These have included MoneySmarts! (financial literacy); TechVenture! (computer literacy); YouthTube (digital resumes and stories); and Learn 2 Earn (job readiness); BLINQ.info (a regional web portal); TechACCESS (to help youth with disabilities expand their livelihood horizons); Tapestry Teens (a reproductive health infomercial and website); North Quabbin Young Leaders' Council (teens organized to lead community vitalization efforts); and QuabbinTeens.org (a regional web portal for teens).
In 2007, YES received funding from the SBA develop a strategic plan for expanding BizVenture! and the Odd Job Squad. The findings were used by a YES committee representing business, education, municipal government, parents and youth to reconfigure the programs for the 21st century. The result was the launch in 2010 of the BizVenture Series — this annual online and place-based calendar of activities, events, programs and contests — for youth and adults in a service area expanded to include Hampshire County, while the Squad is being readied for a 2012 nationwide on-line launch.
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