Our work in East St. Louis started nearly 15 years ago as we partnered with the Christian Activity Center in January 2009. The very first day Ariel Bean was one of four students who showed up to our first language classes. All this time later as she has transitioned into adulthood, getting married and starting a family with one of our other first students, David Addison. In this time, she has been one of our core volunteers. As of January of 2023, she is now our first employee, our new Program Director bringing all of our programs to 3 new sites across East St. Louis including the high school and both middle schools.
Yesterday, her middle school business students opened their first business, a snack shop. They were eager to start, and they managed to sell ALL of their snacks on the first day! They have already decided that they want to import African textiles to make and sell clothes. They have their goal set to make $150 for their first investment to bring in some wax cloths from our partners in Dakar, Senegal. This group is bright, and they are only one of four cohorts of entrepreneurs working to build their business skills. We are so excited to see what they produce! As we continue to expand our business programs, we will hold our first Youth Chamber of Commerce meeting this June where students from all four sites will have the chance to meet and discuss what they have learned and the vision they have for businesses in East St. Louis and beyond. Our city does not even have a proper Chamber of Commerce, but these students can form the bedrock of our business community going forward working with local entrepreneurs to mentor them into the future leaders and cultivators of the city's economy. These students will be able compliment their newly nurtured business acumen with our standard programs of foreign language, aviation, multi-media, agriculture, studies abroad, athletics, STEM, coding, and many others. As they learn and combine these skills, their vision and leadership will carry them and their community to new places as we have already seen in so many others. They are learning how to network on a global scale to bring resources to build their city, setting an example for other communities in similar circumstances. We have been entrusted with a larger field, and we need to prepare more workers for the abundant harvest ahead here in East St. Louis and beyond into the world.