Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - 12:00pm

Businesses created by students, run by students, for students in need

To learn more about this initiative click here to watch a video.

This summer Mercy Business Honors students presented more than 150 backpacks and supplies to students attending a Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school in Washington Heights, New York. The donation was the culmination of a project that challenges Mercy Business Honors students to develop business plans with the potential to solve complex community concerns.

Assigned by Lecturer Robert F. Bohn, the social entrepreneurship course project tasks groups of students with developing a plan, one of which is ultimately chosen to pursue based on its creativity, feasibility and the students’ passion for the idea. Ideally, the winning plan has the potential for real-world application. The result of the spring 2019 course went above and beyond Bohn’s expectations. Not only was the selected plan practical, but the group of students with the winning idea were staunchly committed, and aptly managed the project to fruition, garnering support and interest from prominent businesses and community leaders and deeply impacting a population in need.

Mercy Business Honors is a prestigious leadership development program for Mercy School of Business students with outstanding GPAs, extra-curricular leadership, public speaking excellence and passion for a career in business. Social entrepreneurship is a crucial part of the Business Honors curriculum since the field has gained significant momentum.

Daniel Montez `21, Julian Heaven `20, Lauren Unger `20 and Yubenny Espinal Ortiz `21, were the standout Business Honors students to exceed Bohn’s expectations and come up with the idea for the backpack giveaway. They developed the concept to give students from challenged means the tools to do well in school and were driven by the notion of “students helping students.” This mission was of great importance to Montez, who graduated from a KIPP school in Texas, came from similar circumstances as the receiving students and made the first connection with KIPP Washington Heights Middle School.

Montez, who has become the group spokesperson, is a dynamic force of nature – a personality that makes you want to drop everything you’re doing and join his cause. And that’s what people did. He, along with his fellow team members – who Bohn deems the “dream team” – successfully recruited their classmates to help with the backpack giveaway by stuffing bags and helping with other tasks. They also motivated Mercy to donate backpacks, convinced local stores to provide supplies and made lasting partnerships with high profile corporate entities.

The implementation process was met with some challenges, but both Montez and Bohn said that is when the most learning and personal growth took place. “When we faced obstacles, we learned to fine-tune our communications methods, remain flexible, rely on team members’ strengths and persevere,” said Montez. For example, they had to register a Mercy student club titled “Mercy Leaders” to fast track some administrative processes. Montez said that the skills he gained from overcoming challenges will serve him well in the future as he pursues employment in business and enterprise after graduation.

On August 19, Bohn and the Mercy team traveled to Washington Heights and handed out backpacks to thankful students who were used to sharing pencils and rulers. “We wanted to help take away the students’ inhibitions, which stemmed from not having the right tools, and give them a reason to get excited about learning,” said Bohn. He recalls students jumping up and down as they were handed the bags, some crying tears of joy. “What happened was the result of incredible teamwork, motivation and originality exemplified by a group of impressive Mercy students,” said Bohn.

Bohn and the Mercy team are reflective of the deep impact they had on the school families and are particularly touched by the notes they have received from parents. “You’re our knights in shining armor,” one reads, while another states, “Thank you for showing us respect.”

In terms of what’s next, Montez is more than eager to sustain Mercy Leaders and pursue another purposeful venture. He said, “Now that we have set the club at a high standard, we have the potential to serve even more populations in need.” He thinks the next project may focus on addressing the hardships veterans face or the issue of homelessness and looks forward to making an even greater impact.

 Backpack Giveaway IIIBackpack Giveaway II

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