Through our Young Entrepreneurs Pilot Grant Program, Whole Kids Foundation has the honor of connecting with youth-led organizations across the country to hear their stories, tips for kidpreneurs, and to learn how we and others can best support them. We recently caught up with Laila M., a 10th-grade-student member of the nonprofit organization Growing Leaders to get her take on what it’s like to help run a youth business program.

A recent recipient of one of Whole Kids Foundation’s Young Entrepreneurs Pilot Grants, Growing Leaders provides paid work to a small group of Berkeley Technology Academy students each school year. Student interns gain job readiness skills through their work in the garden, kitchen, and at the BTA Food Pantry. Program participants are responsible for developing and recipe-testing the food products they sell, and business decisions are made as a team. Many of the products feature produce harvested from the school garden. Of the 100+ pounds of produce harvested from the garden each month, the majority is distributed to the South Berkeley community at the student-run BTA Food Pantry.

As a part of the internship program, students also enroll in a community public health course, where they cover topics such as food justice and nutrition.

A Q&A with Laila M., a 10th-grade student member of Growing Leaders

What inspired you to want to become part of Growing Leaders?

I love being outside in nature. I love the spiritualism of connecting with nature. Gardening and harvesting are great exercise both emotionally and for your body because you’re moving around using your whole body. [Due to COVID-19…] I spent a lot of the summer sitting, so being active and walking around the garden again felt really good on my body.

What are you most excited about learning as a member of this program?

It’s so amazing that Growing Leaders focuses on making products that are homemade, and I really like that. I’m so excited to soak up the knowledge and teaching and use that for the future, or even now when I’m spending more time at home. It’s great to be able to learn how to plant things, pull out the weeds, and help the plants grow. I also love being a part of our food pantry. It feels so great to give people healthy food that we helped grow in the ground, not food that’s been processed with chemicals and other harmful things.

What qualities do you think will help Growing Leaders’ business succeed?

Consistency is really important. Continuing to show up to support your team every day no matter what is key. Good communication is also really important.

What role can adults play in helping youth entrepreneurs?

Oh, that’s a really good one. I think providing consistent support – whether it’s supporting them through personal issues or other [program-specific] issues – is really helpful. Check in with students regularly to see how they are doing and really mean it. It’s also important to put yourself in students’ shoes and be considerate of how things may be going for them vs. what they look like for you.

This school year looks a lot different than most. Do you have any advice for others on how to adapt to change?

Try your best to give each other space. In terms of COVID, follow the guidelines and leave at least six feet between your teammates, wash your hands, and keep lotion by the sink. No one wants dry hands! When it comes to mental health, try to get outside when you can. Taking a quick walk makes a big difference.

What do you want to do when you grow up and how will this early business experience help you achieve that?

I want to get into something that won’t only make money but will also make me happy. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but I know that if you really want to be happy and earn money at the same time, you should do what feels right in your heart. If you’re doing a 9-5 job and don’t like it, quit the job and go find another one that makes you happy.

How can you tell when your heart is happy?

You aren’t stressed all the time. You have more of a loose mind and a loose body. You feel at ease and give off a nice energy that others can feel and that you can feel in yourself.

If someone had never heard of this program before, what would you tell them about it?

Growing Leaders is a really fun program if you’re into being outside and connecting with nature, or if you want to learn how to make some of your own foods. It’s also a great way to socialize and communicate with students and staff.