By Skye Conner
The New Citizens Press
LANSING, MI — Shabazz Academy students, along with their mentors from Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Kappa Delta Lambda Chapter traded their classrooms and their jobs to visit businesses in Old Town as a part of a new outreach program to the schools.
Sponsored by the Old Town Commercial Association and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the trips are designed to expose middle school students to employment opportunities that are available to them.
Since Old Town has a diverse mixture of businesses, from hair salons to galleries, from furniture and antiques to graphic arts, it was the perfect place to start teaching businesses and educators a new way to look at exposing youth to employment opportunities.
In October of 2006, Shabazz Academy started a mentorship program with Michigan State University Chapter of Black Engineers and the Chauncey Spencer Academic Motivational Program.
Dr. Eugene Cain who has been the Superintendent for the past 7 years, said that young African American males face difficult obstacles that may hinder their ability to successfully compete in an academic environment. Dr. Cain has been successful thus far with the mentoring program.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity helped sponsor this event because these young men have to learn about the importance of education and the opportunities education can bring to students who are not exposed to the many different types of employment opportunities that are available.
The excitement was evident as the students followed the staff of Pace and Partners, a marketing firm, located at 1223 Turner Street, Suite 101, around with their eyes wide open in amazement as they watched the computer screens of the individuals in the Creative Department. The employees explained how they could make a picture that was taken in another state of man sitting in a chair float seemly in thin air.
Dennis Pace, owner of Pace and Partners, told the young men as they watched him intently, that they needed to practice their writing and reading skills every day.
At Swanson Design Studios located at 329 East Grand River Avenue, the young men listened to Chuck Roth explain the job duties of an architectural design company.
Mr. Roth told the young men that in his business being good in mathematics, science, art and technology were important to be successful. He also told them that they had to have good social skills because they have to work with clients who may have an idea but it is not practical on paper.
The young men especially enjoyed the fact that Swanson Design Studio is housed inside of an old bank.
Their next stop was Preuss Pets located on the corner of Cedar Street and Grand River Avenue at 1127 N. Cedar Street. The youths chatted noisily as they eyed the wide selection of marine and freshwater animals. During the tour, they saw Preuss’ full line of small animals, like gerbils, ferrets, guinea pigs, and a large variety of reptiles and kittens. They have one of the largest selections of tame and talking parrots and caged birds in Michigan.
The 22,000 square foot building has an original mural of a tropical underwater scene and a large water fountain in the front of the building.
Rick and Rob Preuss said that there were a lot of people who said that they could not be successful but they had the support of friends and family.
Rick also told them a story about how he when he was a student he struggled with school but he continued to strive to do better.
Learning about making an advertisement, building magnificent structures and the responsibility of taking care of pets had the young men excited while visiting the businesses.
At Sir Pizza, they talked about the trip and what they learned while enjoying pizza and the view of the Grand River. They spoke about becoming artists, writers, architects, lawyers and future pet owners.
"Before we conducted this event, most of these young men told us they wanted to be football and basketball players," said James McCurtis Jr., chairman of the fraternity’s civic committee.
"While we want these young men to follow their dreams, the chances of becoming a professional athlete are very slim. We want to expose them to the many wonderful options they will have with a good education. Today, these boys learned about being an architect, an advertiser and marketer and a business owner. These are great careers and I hope that many of them one day will enjoy being apart of these professions."
For more information about taking your mentor/mentee group on a tour of Old Town call Jamie Shriner Hooper, Executive Director, Old Town Commercial Association at 517.485.4283.