BALTIMORE – Their proposal for an inner-city youth community center may have won first prize, but Elizabeth Cerezo and her teammates from Northwestern High School don’t want it to end there.
The team members say that what they really want is a bricks and mortar version of their dream center, which they call “Be More for Baltimore,” to open in Northwest Baltimore as soon as they can get funding.
The plan was one of two proposals awarded the “Ultimate Shot Caller” prize from Verizon Wireless, the cellular phone company. A group of students from Patterson High School also won for a teenager friendly retail center.
“[The proposal] doesn’t have to end in a classroom,” said Cerezo, 17, as she and her teammates picked up their prize: a laptop computer with matching bag.
The contest called for students from economics classes at the two Baltimore schools to create thorough and viable business plans, said Vincent Reed, group marketing manager at Verizon, during the award presentation Tuesday at the Liberty campus of the Baltimore City Community College.
Verizon officials selected Baltimore – along with Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City – to host a contest because it is a major market for the company, Reed said. In each city, the best team from two schools received the award.
Economics classes and an “underserved” population made Patterson and Northwestern high schools good choices, Reed added. Community leaders also weighed in on the decision, he said.
Each school received a technology package including color printers and a digital camera.
The teams had about four weeks to develop a plan – complete with marketing, financing and hiring strategies – using a curriculum developed by The Enterprise Center, a Philadelphia-based organization that promotes minority entrepreneurship. Fifteen teams submitted plans.
Cerezo said her team met every couple days to discuss ideas and delegate responsibilities, such as researching potential grant sources. The five-person team eventually agreed to pitch a community center housing services for inner-city youth, including after-school tutoring, counseling services and career advising.
The team members said the center could provide the community much-needed – and absent – services.
Christopher Lee, 16, said his Patterson high school team members also looked to fill a void in the community.
He said he is often bored because there is not a lot of cheap entertainment in his neighborhood. So he and his four-person team created “Hurricane,” a retail center for teenagers featuring a movie theatre, restaurant, arcade and dance club at discount prices.
The idea for the name literally fell from the sky. “Hurricane” seemed appropriate because it rains a lot in the Inner Harbor, Lee said.
Coming up with a distinctive identity was challenging, Cerezo said. For instance, they struggled to produce a unique PowerPoint design.
But both team presentations focused less on marketing aspects and more on addressing community issues. The Northwestern High School presentation featured statistics on high school dropout rates in Baltimore City. The Patterson High group discussed how boredom is a major cause of juvenile crime.
Although the Northwestern team members plan on attending college in Maryland after they graduate next year, they aren’t leaving the issues behind.
“We plan to stay connected,” said Cerezo, who is going to the University of Maryland, College Park next year. Team members Sean Hall, 17, and Timothy Thompkins, 17, will attend nearby Towson University.
But for the meantime, the team remains very connected – even finishing each other’s sentences after the award presentation. “We plan on actually executing,” Cerezo began. “So everybody can finally believe … ” Thompkins added, as he leaned on Hall’s shoulder.