Fernando Marmolejo smiles as he politely greets potential customers inside the David P. Meaney Education Center, the main office of the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE). He passes out flyers, talks about the fresh produce he has to sell, and thanks people for their time. The high school junior is learning new skills that he believes will help him later in life.
Fernando is part of a team of students from Gerber Road Community School taking part in a program called Fresh Producers. It is designed to help teenagers learn what it's like to operate a business, from marketing to customer service to delivery. The program also helps students save for and prepare for college.
"I'm actually getting sales experience and experience talking to people," said Gerber student Fernando Marmolejo. "This is a great opportunity to get some experience to put on my resume."
"It's been a very good experience learning how to work in sales and it's something that has been very positive and productive for me," said student Keshon Stewart.
Gerber Road Community School is operated by SCOE and provides students an opportunity to continue their education and experience significant positive personal change in their lives. Gerber students benefit from involvement in the LINKS program, which consists of a career technical education model aimed at helping high-risk students succeed. Participation in the Fresh Producers program is a newly added group project for the 2009–10 school year.
"This is helping me learn business skills at a young age," said Gerber student Alyssa Lewis.
Fresh Producers is a not-for-profit enterprise that organizes fresh produce deliveries to a variety of distribution sites. The produce is locally grown and environmentally friendly to the greatest degree possible. The company develops marketing materials and supports the training and management of volunteers at the sites to conduct sales and deliveries. The program engages students ages 7-17 in eating better and developing skills for success by offering them the opportunity to serve as volunteer sales reps for fresh produce.
"This is a tremendous, motivational opportunity for our students to learn many, many valuable skills," said David W. Gordon, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools. "In addition to learning the value of teamwork and the solid basics for operating a business, our students also are learning about the importance of healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle."
"Fresh Producers as an organization has been heading toward the front lines of change in the areas of students' eating habits, workforce development and building scholarship equity. Working with SCOE has taken the program to a whole other level, as we work with continuation school students and participants in the Sacramento Community Based Coalition," said Rabbi David Wechsler-Azen, Fresh Producers CEO and Founding Director.
Older students participating in the Fresh Producers program can move into management positions and earn points from sales, service hours in community gardens and farmers markets, and delivery to the elderly and those who have disabilities.
Program operators state that net revenues will be deposited into a Fresh Producers Trust Fund for all participants. Other manufacturers and retail outlets can be invited to tithe a percentage of revenues from sales of produce and other healthful products to the Trust, which provides scholarship funds for further education and career training.
The Fresh Producers website provides information about the program, as well as how to order fresh fruit, and how to become an affiliate or a sponsor.