While starting a business isn’t on the radar screen of too many third and fourth graders, an eager group of youngsters devoted four days of their precious summer vacation to acquiring lifelong lessons in the Licks for Puppies Entrepreneurship Class at Muskegon Community College.
The students were among more than 500 participating in the highly successful WINGS enrichment program at MCC for children in Grades 1-6. WINGS students choose from one of two Monday-Thursday sessions in late July to learn about a specific theme or topic using a hands-on active learning approach.
Licks for Puppies was the brainchild of David Stradal, who chairs the MCC Entrepreneurial Studies program. He has worked with high school students in an award-winning program at the Muskegon Career Tech Center. The WINGS program, an annual community educational event for more than 30 years, provided Stradal with a venue to pilot an entrepreneurial program for elementary students.
“Our mission is ultimately build a pipeline to the college, but also to promote entrepreneurship to grades K through 12,” he explained. “The concept is to get students familiar with business ownership or aspects of it, so that when they graduate from high school they know that there’s an alternate career path. You don’t necessarily have to go out and get a job – which may or may not be easy – but you can go out and start your own business.”
Stradal contacted Battle Creek-based Generation E, a collaborator on his high school initiative. He also reached out to the local dog rescue groups to gauge their interest in benefitting from the youngsters’ philanthropic efforts by selling lollipops. Pound Buddies answered his call.
In all, 13 WINGS students enrolled in Licks for Puppies the first week and other 10 students the following week.
“A lot of the kids said, ‘Oh, I’ve done something like this,’” explained April Jones, the Generation E staff member who co-taught the course. “They’ve all had lemonade stands, Kool Aid stands at garage sales, and different things like that. So this kind of fit in with what they’re doing and it showed them that it wasn’t just all about themselves. It was also giving back.”
On the first day, Lana Carson from Pound Buddies introduced the students to Bella, an American Bulldog mix, and taught the youngsters some basic dog lessons.
“It connected them to what they were doing which was raising money for the dog and of its friends at Pound Buddies,” said Stradal.
“They also completed an interest, talents and hobbies survey so that when they’re done with the program, they are going to look at what they can do as a business that’s age-appropriate and start their own businesses once they leave here,” added Jones. “We talked about an entrepreneur and the qualities and traits that an entrepreneur has.”
By Wednesday, the students were selling five different kinds of suckers – from 10 cents to $1.75 – to their fellow students, MCC staff and faculty during the WINGS’ lunch in Collegiate Hall.
“They far exceeded my expectations and raised $400 for Pound Buddies,” admitted Stradal, who along with MCC Vice President Teresa Sturrus, local entrepreneur Orville Crain and his wife, matched the pre-total profits.
“I think the kids have learned a lot. They’ve learned a little bit about entrepreneurship. They learned a little bit about charity and giving back to the community. They learned a little about how to handle a dog and how to approach a strange dog. They’ve learned about an organization called Pound Buddies and they got the exposure to Muskegon Community College.”
The entrepreneurial seeds that Stradal and the organizers hoped to plant were already taking hold after a few days.
“After the first week, two of the students came to us and said, “We want to do this again next year, only we want to do our own business idea,” said Stradal.