EAST ORANGE, NJ — On Aug. 4, East Orange held a closeout event for its 2022 Summer Work Experience Program, which teaches area youths about entrepreneurship and leadership, while paying them to create their own businesses and maintain internships.
“We are so proud of all of you for the outstanding job that you did this year,” Mayor Ted R. Green said at the event, also thanking the program’s many sponsors and mentors. “We are so proud of the efforts you have been making over the years, especially those of you that have been in the program for over two years or three years. You have grown so much.
“This is what it’s all about in the city of East Orange, because we know for a fact that the training you get today will build your future for tomorrow.”
SWEP, which is administered by LaDonna Johns of the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training, relies on community mentors to teach participating students about how to create a business, sustain that business and be a positive force in the community. The students also organized a mental health seminar, which was held the following day, Aug. 5, and included high school students from across the county.
At the closeout event, the students set up booths to sell wares and promote the businesses they had created.
“I know you’ve had a long day, but I’m going to try to get around to all the tables so I can give you all some of my money,” Green told the students. “I had to save up a whole year, but we’re going to come around to the tables to make sure that us, as adults, show our young people that when you do good, we’re going to support you.”
Council Chairperson Christopher Awe was similarly proud and supportive of the students.
“Just know how proud of you we all are,” Awe said at the event. “The future is in great hands when we look at you all, our future millionaires and billionaires, future mayors and council people and teachers and entrepreneurs and lawyers and whatever you want to be. You guys are showing us the way. You guys are checking us when we’re not doing the right thing, which is a beautiful thing.
“East Orange is the talk of the nation with this program and what all of you are doing,” he continued. “So people are looking out for you and all your future endeavors, but the future is now and you guys are doing it now.”
Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake also addressed the students, explaining that her job is to write legislation that promotes social services, justice and equality.
“If there’s any of you young people who want to intern at my office, you are also more than welcome, because we believe in pouring into you and building you up to be the future leaders so that you can also write policy for my babies who are here with me,” she said.
A special guest at the event was former Knicks player and Olympic gold medalist Allan Houston, who brought his leadership mentoring program, Faith, Integrity, Sacrifice, Leadership and Legacy, to SWEP.
“My passion is you. My passion is being able to empower you,” Houston told the students. “What we did over the last six weeks, we explored a way to win from the inside out. We explored the mindset that it takes to have winning and success.”
Four students also took the microphone to speak about SWEP and the FISLL program, specifically about the impact it has made on each of their lives.
“FISLL helped me to get better with my public speaking, ’cause if you all met me when I first started this program I would not get up here,” one student, who has created a bracelet business, said. “I’ve become more of an advocate for myself, I’ve opened myself to more opportunities and now I’m standing up here talking to you all, so that’s a big accomplishment for me.
“This is my second year in the program and I just feel like I’ve shown a lot of growth,” she continued, adding that FISLL’s five principles, which form the organization’s name, “have helped me put purpose to what I want to do.”
Another youth said the FISLL program helped her develop as a person.
“It helped me mentally feel stronger, in a sense, so I could have a better understanding of who I am, what I want to do, where I’m going and how I’m going to get there,” she said.
Another student speaker agreed that understanding one’s self is the key to success.
“From faith comes the question of who I am. And who I am is a very important question for me, because, to determine your purpose in life, you have to know who you are and where you want to go in life,” she said.
A fourth student said that the legacy principal was most important to him.
“It has helped me with my leadership skills; it has helped me put things together,” he said. “Legacy is one of the biggest things ever, because you don’t want to leave this earth without leaving your mark. You always want people to remember you. Your legacy is how people remember you.”
While the mentors made a large impact on the participating students, the students also made a large impact on the community.
“I thank you for being a part of this program,” Johns said. “It has turned out more successful than I could have even dreamed of, and I thank you all for being excellent participants.”
According to the mayor, the SWEP participants promise a bright future for East Orange.
“Keep striving to be the best,” he told the youths. “Show the world how great you are.”
Photos Courtesy of East Orange City Hall