Forty teenagers living in and around the town of Greenburgh, including two from Edgemont and one from Scarsdale, recently completed a three-month program to help local businesses recover from the crisis
As members of the Zuckerberg Institute’s post-pandemic task force, high school students learned leadership and marketing skills and then used those skills to help companies affected by the pandemic.
The Zuckerberg Institute (ZI) was founded in 2015 by Randi Zuckerberg together with Michael Littig and Brian Patrick Murphy. Randi is the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who both grew up in Dobbs Ferry.
Last December, the institute teamed up with Town Supervisor Paul Feiner to recruit high school students for the Greenburgh-specific task force. Murphy says, “Some of the companies we work with have lost more than 90 percent of their sales. this [task force] is not a theoretical exercise. We treat these students as our future colleagues. We want them to feel the gravity of the situation and help them to see that their work saves families’ livelihood. “
The teens participated in virtual presentations from industry leaders in technology, marketing and media. The City of Greenburgh subsidized the cost of the program, which was free for students.
David Diao, an aspiring eleventh grader at Scarsdale High School, noted that the Zuckerberg Institute brought along “amazing speakers” like Scarsdale-based Harry Moseley, global CIO of Zoom Video Communications.
“I learned a lot of general life skills from them,” said Diao. “I’ve learned to recognize and listen to other people’s comments, ask better questions, and think more analytically.”
Diao’s team worked with Top Asian Mart where they took a variety of actions to help the business that was started during the pandemic.
“We’ve helped them build a better social media presence, helped them network within the community and reach more customers,” he said. “We actually went in and helped clean up and reorganize the shop, which is one of our greatest accomplishments.”
Chase Feng, a 2021 graduate of Edgemont High School and an aspiring freshman at Johns Hopkins University, said the teams had many “different hats, each trying to help companies in every possible way.” His team worked with the Irvington-based meditation laboratory, which runs meditation and mindfulness classes in schools, and he found the experience invaluable.
“I got my hands dirty,” he said. “This is not an opportunity that many high school students would have [be able to] need to work with these companies, share their ideas and gain first-hand business experience. “
Hannah Guttenberg, who graduated from Edgemont High School with the 2021 class and plans to study at the University of Michigan this fall, said she appreciated the task force’s hands-on approach.
“It wasn’t just like we were collecting money,” she said. “I did a lot of volunteering during high school. Most of the time I was selling cakes and stuff. And that … we weren’t just volunteers. Rather, we were future employees. “
Gutenberg also noted that the task force enabled students to be independent and solve problems on their own.
“It was cool because we had to make these decisions ourselves,” she said. “Even though there were two adults at the top, we would meet alone in the groups and develop ideas, and we had to find out whether they were physically possible or not. It was a great opportunity to learn. “
Students in the Rivertowns gave similar feedback about the program.
Isabelle Kellezi, a graduate of Ardsley High School, noted that task force members had exchanged ideas with “some of the most brilliant minds in the world,” including Lindy Elkins-Tanton, lead investigator on NASA’s psyche mission to explore an asteroid, the orbiting the sun; Alex Bussenger, Senior Vice President of Bank of America Private Bank and Moseley von Zoom.
“But just as important was the time we spent working with our colleagues from the Greenburgh area – the next generation of big names,” said Kellezi.
Interactions with business owners opened eyes to Augustin Kiriyanthan, a junior at Ardsley High School.
“Not only is this a golden opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs like us to grow as individuals, but it’s an opportunity to meet new people and really use our problem-solving skills to make big changes,” he said.
When Jake Ourman, a junior at Irvington High School, found out about the task force, he wanted to join.
“I’m interested in business, economics and politics,” he said. “We learned what it means to be a leader and which leaders we would like to address. How to become a communicator. Principles like figuring out what the problem is and digging deeper to find the root of the problem. That transformed me. “
When Ourman joined the task force, he thought of a local company that might need help: Jennifer Monness’s meditation lab, where he eventually teamed up with Feng. As a participant in Monness’ pre-pandemic meetings, Ourman nominated her company to be a partner on the task force and she agreed to work together.
“It was a very special trip with these young people,” said Monness. “This is a wonderful program.”
She explained that since Ourman had been in school in her meditation labs, he had to be aware of the impact the pandemic had on my program because he no longer saw me at school, aside from some monthly taped videos.
Monness wasn’t sure how the partnership would work at first, but she soon learned that the students had lots of ideas. She even held a “meditation lab” for them online.
“I was able to walk them through a session so they could get a better feel for me and me, so they could present and present the ideas more authentically after they had the personal experience,” she said.
When Monness mentioned their goal of expanding their business into the corporate world, the students suggested working with a caterer and offering companies all-day “wellness retreats” outdoors. The students also showed her their recommendations for marketing materials and specific pitches that she could direct to potential school or company prospects.
Monness is optimistic about the future of her company. She believes recovery from the pandemic will involve bringing people together, and meditation retreats could be part of that recovery.
“I think the interaction is important,” she said. “And based on feedback from other companies I’ve worked with, be it virtual or in person, it’s an amazing experience and people go with tools and techniques that will help them with whatever they’re going through.”
– with reporting by Amy Bochner in Scarsdale