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What is the long backstory behind CES?
Everyone has a story....and this story involves resilience, challenges and why human support systems are needed in everyone's life. People have a tendency to make assumptions and judgments and sometimes they aren't always accurate. At the end of the day, it's so much better to just be kind and not doubt another.
The idea for The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies originated when Mrs. Bonita Lehigh was living in New Sharon, Maine on an old 92-acre dairy farm. Bonita thought that the land would be ideal for young hard-working individuals to start their own small businesses because the terrain and soil were ideal for growing and recreational activities. When Bonita left the old farmhouse to marry her husband Clifford in 2012, (and get into a house a whole lot less drafty), Bonita strangely found that this idea seemed to follow her. Things seemed to be falling into place leaving Bonita to believe everything happens for a reason, and that her big heart was intended to help others.
In 2012, Bonita applied for a finance position at Mt. Blue Campus where she interviewed with Glenn Kapiloff, then Director of Foster Career and Technical Education, which is the Career and Technical Education arm of Mt. Blue Campus. At the end of the interview, Glenn noticed that Bonita's personality and knowledge would be better utilized as a Business Instructor at Foster Tech Center. Ironically, there was an opening for a part-time business instructor. Glenn offered Bonita this part-time position and Bonita explained she did not have the credentials for such a position. Glenn graciously offered to help Bonita obtain her teaching certification for her personality and experience seemed to be just what the students needed. Bonita thought it over for two days and accepted Glenn's offer. Bonita never thought that she would be a teacher because she was expelled from high school as a Freshman due to truancy. Personally, this new position offer was pretty strange for Bonita because Middle and High School was not a good experience, and Bonita lacked "educational confidence", despite being a hard worker and her lengthy very notable work experience. Bonita was fairly confident she was not a good student despite earning A's and B's in school and because she felt that she wasn't well educated through traditional post-secondary education pathways. Bonita's learning was due to being exposed to amazing, and unfortunately, not so amazing people.
Throughout Middle and High School, Bonita had family issues that interfered with her learning. Because of Bonita's expulsion and family upheavals, Bonita chose to go live in foster care, and shortly thereafter, a dear family friend offered to care for Bonita during her freshman and sophomore years in Duxbury, Massachusetts. This time apart was what the family needed to get the household and family unit in order. Once stability was regained at home, Bonita returned to North Andover, Massachusetts to attend high school at St. Mary's High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts for her Junior and Senior years.
Upon graduation in 1987, Bonita had no interest whatsoever in college because of her personal experiences with school personnel. Far too many assumptions and judgments were made about Bonita's family during this time, which consequently resulted in a distaste for institutional education in general. Bonita and her siblings were "those kids" whose mother and father were not ever around due to PTSD, mental health issues, divorce, and alcoholism. As kids, they did what any child would do, they protected their parent's honor.
Bonita's family consisted of five members who cared greatly for one another, and others. Both of Bonita's parents were selfless U.S. Marines who gave all they could to others, and not themselves, and unfortunately their own family unit until the tough years were behind them. Bonita's family was emotionally heavy due to trauma and military service, but they were not "bad people" for they cared for others, attended church, gave to others less fortunate. Hard work was the backbone of who they were thanks to the U.S. Marine Corps, and being a respectable Irish/English Catholic family in the greater Boston community.
in 1996, Bonita and her father created a business where her father saw an opportunity. The opportunity was great but once again the environment was questionable. Bonita did not fully understand this until many years later. Bonita and her father complimented one another perfectly! Bonita's father William was a hard worker who was highly respected in the mechanical industry and was offered several prestigious positions including Director of the NTSB, (National Transportation Safety Board) Highway division in Washington, D.C. but William turned it down to stay in Boston. Bonita was respected for her hard work ethic as well, and her ability to resolve issues, provide top-notch customer service, organize and deliver results. Problem-solving was a skill that came naturally. Together, their company grew to produce revenues exceeding $3 million dollars annually. Life and business were good. This is when Bonita employed Career and Technical Education (CTE) students from Greater Lawrence Vocational Technical School. Having CTE students initially was thought of as a goodwill task, however, it became a tremendously self-fulfilling experience for both Bonita and William.
In 2001, William received a startling diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of fifty-two (52) due to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. William volunteered during the draft, served two tours in Vietnam between 1964-1968, receiving a Silver Star and two (2) Purple Hearts. Unfortunately, William had fallen victim to a broken VA system where the VA neglected to alert William to test results which would have prevented an aggressive form of cancer from spreading to his bones. William was given six (6) months to live but fought for six (6) years; all the while performing various clinical trials at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. William believed that he lived a full life and if he could help kids with cancer who did not live their life, he was willing to be poked and prodded in clinical trials to find a cure for kids.
Once William's diagnosis was publicly learned by the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), out of state competition and business associates, pressured Bonita to sell Williams Maritime Repair Service, Inc. The more Bonita said, "The business is not for sale", people became fierce, and corruption exposed its ugly face. Once again, another severe blow to the family in a very challenging time.
In August of 2006, while Bonita took her sick father to Maine, the family corporation was commandeered by the Massachusetts Port Authority and Bonita commenced a lawsuit. While Bonita was working the lawsuit, Bonita was fortunately embraced by a couple of lovely ladies from New Sharon. These ladies gave Bonita friendship, love, support, and purpose in a troubling time period. These ladies directed Bonita to a position as Town Treasurer and Deputy Town Clerk to help make ends meet which was quite a challenge. Bonita stuck with the fight for six (6) years, sold everything she owned, won the lawsuit, but ultimately lost the war. Losing everything one owns, and moreover "one's self", can take a toll, but Bonita had the resilience and solid support from family and true friends.
In 2012, Bonita started her life. Bonita worked a couple of part-time odd jobs and often joked that the only thing she wasn't selling was live bait over the past 6 years. This is when she met her soulmate and husband Clifford who encouraged Bonita to apply for financial positions in the community because he saw it was her strength.
So here we are...today.
Throughout Bonita's official teaching career which commenced in 2013, Bonita connected with many students who also had family challenges. As a staff member, Bonita witnessed the same tendencies and behaviors that attributed to her lack of educational confidence causing Bonita to become greatly concerned. Bonita went on to learn about tricky behaviors (including her own) and how people often make assumptions and judgments. While it is easy to say, "don't let their opinion bother you", Bonita finds it is better to educate people about how assumptions and judgments erode people's self-worth and strength in good times and challenging times. One simple question came to mind looking at this problematic issue. Why are we not educating the people who judge and assume? As Maya Angelo stated, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." It is so much easier to look at life with a positive outlook, be kind, and help people thrive.
With all this being said, The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies will pilot a grassroots movement that delivers increased options for second-year career and technical education students as well as students who do not thrive in a traditional education setting. In regard to second-year students, (there were 73 CTE students who repeated their CTE class in 2018-19 and 25 students who dropped out between September 2018 - April 2019 in Regional School District 9 (RSU 9) Franklin County, Maine).
Second-year CTE students are thirsty for more and under the current system of education, a more robust opportunity is needed for students, the community, and the workforce. The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies will allow students to apply first year CTE knowledge into a business or internship / employment opportunity. Throughout the process, students will be more apt to learn about "filling a community need", will be able to learn solid transferrable business skills, and most importantly learn to successfully "do what you love". In regard to students who choose to drop out of high school, CES knows that life and home life struggles can play a significant factor. CES is founded on meeting students where they are and growing the individual free of any judgments and assumptions. This belief assists an individual to feel welcome, included, and empowered. CES's task is to raise aspirations and help the individual become a leader in his or her craft honing off of the student's angst, desire for personal freedom, and fight to pull one's self out of poverty.
We must be that change in educational culture. We must raise the bar to match the students' ambitious goals and create greater opportunities. We hope to share our business plan and templates with many more communities so that we raise aspirations and change the culture of learning for everyone has a purpose in life.
Thank you for reading this backstory as we hope it helps to explain why a change in culture is needed and how education is so important. We can do better through this pilot, for we are all here to do good, not harm.
P.S. This was also done in honor of a young man named Joshua Shane Hennessy (September 30, 1986 - March 26, 2017)