Christine A. Hausrath says she and her husband, Kevin, could have become kids who fell through the cracks.
"We were both (high school) dropouts," said Hausrath without a bit of shame or bravado. "My father was an alcoholic and my mother worked two jobs."
Hausrath, who grew up in the Town of Tonawanda and resides in Amherst, now employs 190 people at companies she owns, including Hausrath's Landscape Maintenance in Amherst, Bison Turf Equipment and Segways of Western New York, both in the T0wn of Tonawanda.
Her work has made her a multimillionaire, Hausrath said, and she wants to help children who are dropping out of school because they are not college-bound.
So she recently founded BEAT, an after-school program in the Town of Tonawanda that is designed to encourage kids to finish high school and consider building, education and trades careers. She said kids may not realize they can succeed at a skilled trades job. She envisions the program will organize hands-on projects, field trips and guest speakers, and provide teens with information about trades and apprenticeships.
She said the after-school program will likely start in the fall. Hausrath said she has already invested about $5,000 of her own money to start it. She plans to hold fundraisers to look for support from the community, vendors and friends. She expects the program's annual budget, with at least one or two paid staff members, to be about $150,000 per year. And she is recruiting volunteers in the trades to help mentor the teens.
"One of the most important things is mentors. We are looking for skilled tradespeople who don't mind sharing their secrets of how they came up the ranks," said Hausrath, 63. "It's a chance (for teens) to dabble, to try something out."
She said one contractor, Newman Electric, has volunteered to participate in the program and she is looking for others. Contractors may volunteer by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 833-7392.
On April 10, the Tonawanda Town Board unanimously agreed to provide a room in the Sheridan Parkside Youth Center to the program free of charge.
Councilor Lisa M. Chimera, who is also a teacher, called the program a great opportunity for students to explore multiple opportunities at a younger age. "I already know students who will love going there and will excel and be excited about their opportunities for careers in the future," said Chimera.
Councilman William C. Conrad, also a teacher, told Hausrath, "Having good people like yourselves to serve as role models are a very good way to reach these kids."
Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said the No. 1 concern of industries in the town is the lack of employees with skilled trades.
"We are a very industrial town and we will do whatever we can to support this program," said Emminger.
Councilman John A. Bargnesi Jr. called BEAT a "perfect fit" for the Sheridan Parkside Youth Center.
"We are offering you a home," said Bargnesi. "You are the shining example of a success story and have made it in every company you have built and you continue to give back to the community you grew up in."
Hausrath has already had some success with founding programs for teens. In 2003 she opened Annie's Place, an after-school program at the Boys and Girls Club on Skillen Street in Tonawanda that she envisioned as a confidence-building program. She said the program was named after her late mother, whom she credits with helping to push her to get a general equivalency degree and become successful. The Annie's Place program has grown from having a few kids participate to having more than 900.
"I want to see them walk across that stage," said Hausrath of her push to encourage young people to graduate. "I think this will spread. The town has been warm and welcoming. They see the need."