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Helping Youth Help Alaska


When Julie Eberly of Houston, Texas, walks into a room and talks about Lemonade Day, to be held Sunday, May 1 in Anchorage for the first time ever in Alaska, the whole room lights up with her big smile and amazing enthusiasm.

“It’s a learning journey,” she says of the program, geared toward children in kindergarten through 12th grades, which teaches these youngsters and teens about entrepreneurship, and a whole lot more. Students in Anchorage, Eagle River, the Mat-Su Valley and possibly Fairbanks will set up lemonade stands, learning business skills while earning money with a three-part mission: some goes to self, some goes to savings and some goes back to the community. Eberly is working with the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development (led by Christi Bell, director), and other leaders who generate interest in the program, as well as teach youngsters and teens how to run a business. They are in partnership with Junior Achievement of Alaska.

“We have this crazy quest to have a million kids a year learn about business in 100 cities across America by 2014,” she said.

The Anchorage goal for this year is to have 1,000 participants. “We need teamwork to make that happen,” said Bell. The eventual goal is going to have every child in the state participate.

“It’s going to be amazing to watch,” added Eberly.

Last year they had 67,000 participants in 14 cities across the U.S. This year the numbers are expected to double. They enlist the help of teachers, school leaders, lenders, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, YMCA, businesses, building suppliers, and much more. They are working to expand the program into Native villages, and seeking the help of Native organizations throughout the state.

There are several steps involved in the program:

  • Set goals
  • Create a business plan
  • Establish a budget
  • Find investors (which they pay back with profits)
  • Choose a site
  • Market and sell the product
  • Save for the future
  • Give back to the community (Last year $4.2 million was raised in Houston alone, and children there donated more than $1 million to charities of their choosing.)

Stories about children’s success are amazing. One youth in Houston set up his stand at a racing event and soon learned racers didn’t want lemonade, they wanted water. So he charged $1 for lemonade and $2 for water. Quick thinking.

For another girl, it was a life-altering experience. She was in the fifth grade, should have been in seventh. She had low self-esteem and didn’t have a proper role model as both parents were in prison. She used some of her lemonade stand profits, more than $100, to buy a new dress and get a haircut for fifth grade graduation, a rarity for her and something she desperately wanted.

“She had a new confidence,” said Eberly. “She said, ‘I did it; I can do anything.’”

She realized it was in her power to become independent.  Now she is back up to her proper grade level.

“It changed her for life,” said Eberly. “It was something easy she could do that she could have success with.”

A homeless child learned the lesson of self-sufficiency through the success she had at Lemonade Day and told Eberly, “My parents gave me up because they were homeless. You can’t imagine what we went through. I will never give up my kids. I will be self-sufficient.”

Eberly says: “The stories all have the same theme. ‘I can’t believe I’m an entrepreneur today. I set a goal and was successful.’ Whether Native communities or right here downtown, the common theme of how use money, how give back to community are great things to celebrate. Something sparks inside of them.

“And it is long-lasting,” she adds. “The earlier you expose kids to sound business practices it literally changes the perspective of their life. It’s not only in theory. It’s in action.

“I’m excited to be here. I like that your leaders say: ‘you will see Alaska will have a mark, a significant mark.’ It is amazing.”

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