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Berks County students learn about starting and running a business

Area businesses help support week long summer business camp

By Lisa Mitchell, The Kutztown Area Patriot

Friday, January 26, 2018

Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week is supported by businesses across Pennsylvania, resulting in a minimal fee for the student to pay for the entire week at $285. Berks County businesses have provided additional monetary support allowing Berks County high school juniors and sophomores to participate in the one-week summer business camp for $100.

A supporter of the program is the Northeast Berks Chamber of Commerce.

“This is not your typical summer camp,” said Northeast Berks Chamber Executive Director Lori B. Donofrio-Galley. “It is, in fact, an amazing experiential learning opportunity designed to entrench students in the process of starting and running your own business. Sponsorships are often available to ensure broad participation by secondary students throughout Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week representative Ken Snyder spoke in November to chamber members about the program. Past participants from various high schools in Berks County also shared their experiences with chamber members.

Chamber Board member Clare Kilpatrick Benz, who serves on the Chamber’s Business Education Committee, said, “The purpose of Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week is to basically educate our kids about what our free enterprise system is. Whether they want to work in business or not, they are impacted by the fact that we are a free enterprise system. Perhaps some of them will decide to go into business, but even if not, having a better understanding of business will help.”

Benz, who is also the Career Education Specialist at Hamburg Area School District, said many high school juniors and sophomores do not understand how business operates. Free Enterprise Week gives them hands-on experience operating a business and could help them as future employees, as well as possible future business owners.

“It gives them a great experience at a minimal cost to get to meet other people and realize that they can be with a room full of people they’ve never met before but they can develop relationships and create something wonderful,” said Benz. “It gives them a chance to be somebody totally different. You can go to this and nobody knows who you are. You can be a different person. You can be funny or a little more serious. It gives them a chance to try out something new.”

In 2017, participating students from Berks County included from Boyertown, Daniel Boone, Fleetwood, Gov. Mifflin, Hamburg, Kutztown, Oley Valley, Tulpehocken and Twin Valley high schools.

Snyder also spoke with Hamburg juniors and sophomores about the one-week summer experience during presentations at Hamburg Area High School on Jan. 25.

“I hope it spurs more interest,” said Benz. “I would love to be one of those schools who sends about a dozen students.”

About five to six students from Hamburg participate every year. This past summer, five members of the Class of 2018 participated: Brinn Albrecht, Brooke Bensinger, Ashley Grim, Alyssa Noecker, and William Willoretta.

Hamburg seniors Albrecht, Bensinger and Noecker spoke about their experiences during Snyder’s presentations.

“We learned all about the finance part of business, as well as the marketing and advertising,” said Albrecht. “I actually plan on majoring in business so it told me that I probably wouldn’t want to go into the finance aspect of it but I’m still really interested in marketing and advertising.”

“It also taught me some good leadership skills because you had to step up and take charge of the groups,” said Bensinger. “I always wanted to be in the medical field so that didn’t change anything. It just gave me the experience of leadership skills and making friends.”

Their favorite part was meeting new friends.

“I don’t go out of my bubble very often so it was a good experience for me,” said Bensinger.

“It definitely made me want to connect with people outside of who I normally talk to,” said Albrecht. “It got me ready to go off to college because obviously we’ll have to make new friends there. It opened our eyes to see that there’s more than our close bubble of friends.”

They would recommend other students participate.

“Even if you’re not interested in business, it’s still a fun experience overall,” said Albrecht. “We encourage kids to go because it’s pretty life changing.”

“It was a very memorable week,” said Noecker. “It was very impactful and I remember all of the experiences throughout the day, it sticks with you, the friendships and the life lessons. There was a lot of work and it was long hours... It’s something that sticks with you with a very positive affect and you learn things you’ll use going forward in life.”

“This is not a business nerd camp,” said Snyder to students. “This is about teamwork, leadership and self discovery, with an underlying tone of learning some stuff about business. If you are going to do anything for money in life, business is going to be a part of it. If you know how a business operates, you’re going to have a leg up.”

Snyder said any high school junior or sophomore can apply to participate.

“It’s not reserved for the 5 percent academically elite. It’s for all,” said Snyder, noting that future plumbers, electricians, bakers, beauticians and more could all potentially have their own businesses. “We do an awful lot about entrepreneurship to help... We’re there for you as a resource.”

During the week, they are housed and fed at either Lycoming College or Penn College of Technology, both in Williamsport. They are assigned to a team that will consist of strangers.

“My job is to get you started... get you comfortable being in a room full of people that you don’t know, how to harness the energy that is there, get confidence in yourself,” said Snyder. “It’s one of the biggest things that businesses in the world are looking for, hiring people who are confident, who aren’t afraid to speak, who can interact with other people.”

Students are divided into companies, creating and marketing a product to adult business professionals who will judge companies during competitions.

“You will create a 30 second radio commercial, 60 second TV commercial, design a website and other social media,” he said. “Billboards, magazine ads, create a slogan and a logo. You’ll copyright a name for your company.”

Snyder said the Free Enterprise Week is run by volunteer business executives and entrepreneurs, some retired, that he said bring a lot of business expertise to the table. The program is held five weeks during the summer of which a different group of high school students participates for one week.

“There are no teachers there. Teachers are great people,” he said. “PFEW is about experience, what you can experience as a group of young people without an adult looking over your shoulder every half hour telling you what to do and how to do it. And you do fantastic stuff. Everyone brings gifts to the table. They may not know that they bring gifts but they do... Unbelievable what you can do without an adult looking over your shoulder, the creativity and the add ons that occurs as the ideas bubble up.”

In addition to meeting and working with students from across the state, participants have the opportunity to spend a week in a college dorm room and participate in fun activities like volleyball, a pool party, a dance, and games.

PFEW is a one week summer experience open to high school juniors and seniors, not just for those students planning on going into business, but rather for those with all types of interests and skills. For more information, visit