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PROGRAM INSPIRES YOUTHS TO MAKE THEIR DREAMS INTO REALITY

Some of the younger hopefuls may not even be able to spell -- much less pronounce -- the word, yet still they know it's something they might like to be in the future.

An entrepreneur.

The word has an attractive ring for about 25 inner-city children, who will spend two hours a day, twice weekly for the next four months learning the whos, whats, wheres and hows of self-employment.

Sponsored by the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, in collaboration with the Niagara Regional School-to-Work Consortium and Niagara County Community College, the after-school Entrepreneurship Program is designed to "explore how work helps the student, the community and society, and to promote a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem," among participants, NFHA executive director Stephanie Cowart said.

Chief instructor Mildred Robinson, a retired social studies/economics teacher in the Niagara Falls school system, said that through a combination of "active and cooperative learning," participants will become better prepared for life in the workaday world.

"Hopefully, (their involvement) will culminate in them forming a business, or at least in having a vision or idea for down the line," she said. "But this will help make them good employees, also, for any business. It'll give them the flexibility to survive.

"Basically, we feel that the more they know about business and finances, the better off they'll be," Mrs. Robinson said. "That's something we need to talk about a little more, something that's never been done very often or very well."

Organizers limited the program to those between the ages of 9 and 21 -- and in doing so had to turn away a couple of enterprising 7- and 8-year-olds, NFHA tenant services coordinator Kelly Mariano said.

"What we're really trying to accomplish is to help these students explore the community, society and the suitability of entrepreneurship as a career," Ms. Mariano said.

"We'll provide them with a better understanding of the characteristics of a market economy, teach them how to develop a resume and a business plan, and show them what an entrepreneur is and what kinds of things they do."

Topics to be discussed during the program include business financing, contracts, franchising and licensing, risk management, government regulations and, of course, taxation.

Field trips to area businesses are planned and speakers are also scheduled to help provide participants a first-hand look at successful business ventures.

On a practical level, organizers hope the program will foster better communication and interpersonal skills among participants and improve their decision-making and problem-solving capabilities.

They hope the students will come away from the experience better prepared to complete job applications, compile a resume and, of course, distinguish between the roles of worker and proprietor.

Held Monday and Wednesday afternoons at the Family Resource Building, 3001 Ninth St., the program stresses a simple motto, Ms. Cowart said: "If you can't find the circumstances you want in this world, make them."

"We want the participants to see problems as opportunities and to realize that all their dreams can come true, if they pursue them," Ms. Cowart said. "We're looking to affect attitudes in a positive vein."

Renowned businessman (and entrepreneur) Wally "Famous" Amos -- he of the chocolate chip cookie empire -- helped kick the program off with an inspirational talk.

"He gave them some tips," Ms. Mariano said.

Participants were solicited via church groups, community centers and area schools, she said.

"We hope it will be real successful," she said. "We think it will really help the students, give them some good ideas."