Children, teenagers and young adults experienced running their own businesses for a day at the Young Entrepreneurs Expo at the Freeport Recreation Center, selling everything from jewelry to hair products to cookies.
For the past four years, Belinda Watkins, the creator of Q.B. Generational Change, a nonprofit focusing on early entrepreneurship and youth empowerment, has organized the Young Entrepreneurs Expo. It is a traditional marketplace packed with merchants offering various commodities and goods, but the twist here is that these stands are operated by adolescents. These young entrepreneurs, with the assistance of their parents or caregivers, showcase to the community what they have to offer, and the experience can serve as a possible stepping stone for them to learn the ins and outs of establishing and managing their own business.
“We want to give them a platform to expose their business, because kids can’t afford a building or storefront,” Watkins said. “So really, we just want to give them that platform.”
This year’s Young Entrepreneurs Expo was held on Dec. 3. As dozens of vibrant and distinctive stands filled the Rec Center, locals spread out across the unique marketplace shopping.
The young participants in Q.B. Generational Change come from all around the Long Island region, as far away as Brooklyn.
“The goal for me is for them to make sales,” Watkins said. “So, I just want to make sure they understand the process of business, to just try to become self-sufficient. Really get by on their own and maybe they can help support their family and give back to them as well.”
In addition to the active marketplace, the event also featured a live DJ, face painting, and raffles for various prizes. Teenage girls from Young Voices, a musical youth organization, organized a dance-off in the middle of the expo and awarded themed T-shirts to the victors.
Selene Ferdinand, a ten-year-old businesswoman, was a vendor at the event representing the Meera Empowerment brand she had founded utilizing her illustrious beauty pageant past. Meera Empowerment is a non-profit organization founded by Ferdinand with the help of her mother.
“We do different fun fashion shows and tea parties, we raise money at the fashion shows to stop world hunger and homelessness,” Ferdinand said. “Mainly to find a cure to cancer.”
Ferdinand did a lot of community service since she was four years old when she first started competing in beauty pageants, which inspired her to launch the organization to get people her age involved in the spirit of giving back.
Her booth sold Meera Empowerment March merchandise such as t-shirts and bags, as well as the book “Road to the Crown,” which she co-wrote with 17 other girls in the beauty pageant community.
“It’s about how we can empower the youth in our communities and teach them wide scale independence and to give back in the community,” Ferdinand said.
Phillip Michael, another young entrepreneur at the fair, started his own cookie selling brand at the age of 9. Phillips Cookie Shop was created as a result of Michael’s love of his Grandmother’s baked goods, which inspired him to learn to bake and sell the same cookies he enjoyed growing up.
“I love her cookies, so I told her I want to do this,” Michaels said. “ I actually wanted to like start a business.”
Michaels bakes themed cookies under the guidance of his grandmother in the kitchen. He initially reimburses his parents and grandparents for the cost of the ingredients used to make the cookies with his earnings before determining what to do with the remaining funds.
“I have to pay my grandma back because she bought some stuff for this, so I just have to pay her back like twenty five dollars,” Michaels said. “The rest, I’m going to maybe buy something, probably new shoes.”
Q.B. Generational Change offers financial literacy courses and constructs mentoring programs sending their members interested in a certain profession to local businesses to learn and assist.
“The main goal of the organization and all of this is that I want them kids to see that there’s other options to get into rather than just getting into trouble and making money doing something that they shouldn’t be doing,” Watkins said. “So, this way, they can make money and create generational wealth for themselves and their families.”
To learn more or get involved in the organization, visit QBGenerationalChange.org.