5 Ways One Entrepreneur Is Giving Disadvantaged Teens a Fresh Start

For Jabez LeBret, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals combined with his experience as an EO San Diego member provided the inspiration to serve his community’s marginalized youth—an effort that’s earned him a nomination for EO Global Citizen of the Year. As part of our focus on #EOImpact, Jabez told us about his efforts in the education field.

Almost five years ago, I was on vacation with my wife when I leaned over to her and said, “We should open a high school.”

There was a long pause. But my wife knows my history.

I didn’t graduate from high school. My mom wasn’t able to care for me at that time and I found myself homeless. Eventually, I earned my general equivalency diploma (GED) and went on to graduate from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Ever since, I knew I’d be involved in education somehow.

So, after that pause, my amazingly supportive wife and I began to form a plan for Sisu Academy.

As I review my goals for Sisu and how they align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, five stand out. Let me share them with you. 

1. No Poverty

Sisu is a Finnish word that stands for stoic determination, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness—the qualities a person needs to survive in poverty and to excel beyond it.

Too many times, life outside the classroom gets in the way of kids’ educational success. Abuse. Absent parents. Lack of safe housing. Food insecurity. Disengagement. If we mitigated some of those factors strongly associated with poverty, students would have a better chance of reaching their goals.
​That’s why Sisu is a boarding school—and the first tuition-free, nonprofit, boarding high school that includes an embedded (business) accelerator program.

Over time, all operational costs will be funded through seed capital and the accelerator program fueled by entrepreneurs. This program bootstraps our supporters’ companies and provides an immersive learning environment for our students.

2. Quality Education

One of the first signs that we were headed in the right direction is that we’ve already received applications from parents, teachers and school administrators on behalf of promising students.

Quality education goes beyond just the core curriculum. That’s key to our model, which we landed on by taking an approach familiar to any entrepreneur. We started by asking: “What would a school and quality education look like if we threw all the traditional rules out the window?” We designed Sisu’s entire program by taking the best parts from education programs across the globe.

San Diego, where my wife and I live, is one of the most innovative education hubs in the country. We’re proud to add Sisu to the amazing programs rolling out right here. Our first freshman class of 40 girls and 40 boys will start in January 2019.

All of our students will benefit from a ratio of one counselor to every 22 students, ensuring that kids previously deemed at risk due to their circumstances will have routine, consistent attention within an enveloping environment of support.

3. Zero Hunger

One of the greatest challenges facing students living in poverty anywhere in the world is lack of access to enough food, especially healthy food. This has a major impact on any child’s ability to learn.

Among our priorities is to provide Sisu students with adequate nutrition, as well as farming experience and skills training. Showing kids what good food looks like and teaching them how to prepare healthy meals changes the way they view food.

By teaching our students, and their families, what can be done with good food, we expect to see a ripple through their home communities as they share their knowledge and capabilities with their families and friends.

4. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

In existing school models, failure is usually something to be avoided. I’m on a mission to teach students that success is about failure—something I learned as an entrepreneur.

We’re viewing every aspect of the school—from the curriculum, to the support structures, to the funding—through an entrepreneurial lens. We want to address social and business-related challenges that affect both the students and the community at large.

We’ll teach students to embrace failure as a catalyst for growth. We’ll also help them learn to make good choices, to pivot, to be humble, to ask for help, to take the lead and so much more.

Building these skills will turn kids around in a way another “B” on a test never could. I know that from personal experience. Everything I’ve done has prepared me for this exact, specific, special project—from cleaning a grocery store meat department to being a financial analyst, seeing my own company go out of business, building skills as a consultant, touring as a public speaker, reporting as a journalist, growing a new company and joining EO.

I’ve come to embrace EO’s core values as a way of life: trust and respect, thirst for learning, boldly go, make a mark and cool. I can’t think of a better way to describe what we’re doing with Sisu Academy.

5. Sustainable Cities and Communities

Under-served and disengaged students often lack the resources and support to become tomorrow’s leaders in the US. At Sisu, we’ll expose students to new ways of thinking, learning and welcoming possibilities. Over time, we anticipate that those tools will allow them to apply their life experiences and knowledge to improve many more lives.

My dream for these kids is easy to express: I hope they realize how big an impact they can make if they choose to contribute to others first, without intending to receive anything in return. They are really the key to changing the world.

I am just a late starter getting the chance to open the door for the real game changers.

Read more about nominees and winners of the EO Global Citizen of the Year award. Check out other ways that EO and its members are supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

 

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