Sammy Ortiz was headed to the annual Dade City Kumquat Festival a couple of years ago, but instead of taking the usual turn onto Meridian Avenue, he wound up on Lock Street.
The Wesley Chapel man was astounded.
He could not believe the difference between the conditions along Lock Street and the Southern charm of downtown Dade City.
Lock Street, roughly a mile away from downtown, “looked like a Third World country,” Ortiz said.
The minister felt called to become involved.
“I feel like God impressed on my heart that I need to do something for the area that didn’t involve necessarily preaching to them, but giving something to them,” Ortiz said.
Soon after, Ortiz rented some space in Dade City, and began walking Lock Street to become acquainted with the residents and their needs.
The pastor said he’d been warned not to walk down Lock Street, that the area was too dangerous.
But, he said, he never felt threatened and instead encountered people who were nice.
He decided to begin a program that he calls Y.E.S., which stands for Young Entrepreneurial Students.
“I felt if we could change the mindset of young people concerning economic distress, then we can really help future generations,” Ortiz said.
One group of nine students has completed the program, and a second one is underway.
“The first cohort was a guinea pig cohort. It consisted of five weeks,” Ortiz said. “We are now doing them in 15-week increments.
“What we want to teach young people is how to start their own business, organization or cause,” he said.
Nineteen-year-old Angel Mendez was in the first group.
“Y.E.S. gives hope to young people in the community,” said Mendez. The program, he added, “helped to look at where my passions were and where I wanted to take them.”
It also helped him get his hands on some video production equipment and gave him an opportunity to network.
Now, he has a video production business he calls WhatEyeSee Productions. It’s a fledgling operation, but he’s excited about what lies ahead.
Isabel Lopez, 19, is part of the second cohort.
She heard about Y.E.S. from another graduate and was attracted to the opportunity.
“I like it. I actually changed my major in college to psychology,” she said, deciding to follow her passion rather than simply choose a more practical career.
Osvaldo Limas, another Y.E.S. participant, likes to dream big.
He’d like to open a zoo in Dade City, he said, via an email to The Laker/Lutz News.
“Now, opening up a zoo in Dade City is a very tall order,” Limas acknowledged.
But he is undaunted.
“The path is long, but I am determined that I will reach the end,” Limas said.
Ortiz said the Y.E.S. program consists of weekly sessions.
“The curriculum is modular. They learn about their personal strengths, how to develop a team. They learn about personal obstacles and limitations. They learn about their passions and their dreams, and then they begin to identify problems,” he added.
They identify what problem they are solving, who their customers are and what solutions they are offering.
They must calculate the costs for launching their business and figure out how much funding they need to keep it going, and how they will generate that revenue, Ortiz said.
The youths use a curriculum that was developed by Co.Starters — which is a youth version of the curriculum that Pasco Economic Development Council uses for its adult entrepreneurial program, Ortiz said.
He credits John Walsh, of the Pasco EDC, for helping him to get Y.E.S. rolling.
Unlike the Pasco EDC’s program, Y.E.S. provides its program to minority and underprivileged youth at no charge.
Ortiz also has launched a cohort at the Juvenile Detention Center, will be starting one at Cox Elementary School, and is beginning an entrepreneurial club at Saint Leo University and another at Pasco-Hernando State College.
“I want to make sure that young people, especially those that are in economically distressed areas, have the same opportunities that I would call privileged young people would have.
“They have some great ideas.
“Somebody has to encourage them to pursue things that they may feel a little apprehensive pursuing,” Ortiz said.
In some cases, he noted, these students are the first from their families to pursue a college education.
Some youths have potential, but lack confidence.
He likes to tell them: “You may not do that yet — but you can learn how to do that.”
He doesn’t want youths to be held back by their financial circumstances.
“They can’t be excluded,” Ortiz said. “I want, if anything, just to make room at the table.”
Ortiz wants to extend the opportunities to more disadvantaged youths and has been working to raise funds to support it. At the moment, he and his wife have been the primary financial supporters.
“Poverty is cyclical. So, we want to break that,” Ortiz said. “We want success to be cyclical.”
When Ortiz thinks back to a couple of years ago, he realizes that none of this might have happened, if he hadn’t driven down Lock Street.
“I’m glad that I got lost,” Ortiz said.
Or, you can visit the website, YoungEntrepreneurialStudents.org.
Published November 29, 2017