Thirty years ago, Becky Levin ’79 and her husband Mark were living in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. Every day they would pass young people hanging out on the street.
“The feeling was there weren’t opportunities for them there,” Becky says. “We would visit a bakery with a young man working there who had all these ideas. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we could do a student-run business?’ ”
Time passed. They moved to Boston. Becky and Mark worked hard at their careers. Becky as the founder of Levin & Company, an executive search firm, and Mark as a “serial entrepreneur,” building and operating biotech companies.
One day, they realized their careers were in a good place and they could make it happen financially.
“We went for it.”
The result is The Possible Project, an after-school entrepreneurship program for high school students in Cambridge, Mass., that teaches students to start and run their own businesses. They wanted to reach students who might not have a lot of opportunities. Most would call them “at-risk kids.” “We prefer ‘kids of untapped potential,’ ” Becky says.
“This is not for the straight-A student. And it’s not for the student with a criminal history or drug problems. This is an incredible opportunity for someone who hasn’t found their niche yet.”
Some are on meal vouchers. Some struggle academically in school. Some live with grandparents. Some simply want to learn about business. All are invested in The Possible Project.
This isn’t the first time Becky has reached out to young people. She has created scholarships for UNCG students. Some of those recipients write to her every semester. “I wanted to give some kids the experience I had at UNCG.”
She came to UNCG her sophomore year, the same year she and Mark married. While she started as a psychology major, she ended up shifting that to a minor and majoring in business. At the time the Bryan School was only about 10 years old.
“It ended up being the perfect combination. It did help me succeed in business.”
She is quick to tell everyone that her years at UNCG were some of the best in her life. “The culture of UNCG is warm and caring,” she says. And when she returned in 2008 to receive the Bryan School Distinguished Alumni Award, she felt that hadn’t changed a bit.
Many say the same about Becky.
“Becky is the most accessible human being,” says Boston artist Brian Gordon. “She is genuinely thrilled by ideas from other people.”
Becky envisions TPP moving into other American cities or even to countries like Haiti or Rwanda. But first they will perfect the model in Cambridge.
So far, there is much to be proud of.
“I’m proud Mark kept the idea alive for so many years and didn’t forget about it,” Becky says. ”We all have great ideas but don’t always act on them.”
She’s especially proud of the teens who have come through the door. When they arrive, some can’t even establish eye contact. But now she sees seniors going off to college with successful businesses launched, such as Shawn Peterkin’s Green Room Experience, a production company for teen-focused events, or Gentry Demchak’s UFLO Design and Flomatic Apparel, two businesses that include branding and graphic design as well as an apparel division.
“They leave thinking, ‘Dreams are attainable.’ Before, it was, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ Now it’s, ‘Of course I can do this.’ ”
Read more about Becky Levin and The Possible Project in the fall 2013 UNCG Magazine.
Story by Beth English, University Relations
Photography by Christopher English, University Relations