Roselle resident’s S.O.A.R. initiative set to make lasting impact in Union County

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ROSELLE, NJ — Roselle resident and S.O.A.R. founder and Chief Executive Officer Rosie McCamery has put together a program designed to carry the youth of Union County to new heights. S.O.A.R. Hospitality & Travel YLC Inc. is set to help students see the world through a different lens. The first-ever Virtual Business and Entrepreneurship Youth Boot Camp, for Union County eighth- and ninth-grade students, will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from May 18 through June 10. There will be no charge.

“S.O.A.R. is a multifaceted, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and our overall goal is to empower inner-city and at-risk youth to become future change agents, excelling in their academics while leading the charge in the fields of hospitality, travel, business and entrepreneurship,” McCamery said on Friday, April 23. “Through the programs that we offer and the courses that we’re teaching, we want to be able to empower them and improve their self-esteem, strengthen their leadership qualities and abilities, develop their business etiquette, foster independent thinking and create opportunities that transcend any business entrepreneurial path desired.

“In doing so, we thought this pilot would be a great opportunity to assess the needs of the youth and what they’re actually looking for,” she continued. “They have to have a vested interest or a desire to want to delve into that business or entrepreneurship. Hospitality and travel are also our main pillars of focus and, as we continue to progress and evolve in this course, we’re going to start introducing those topics and building a curriculum for that as well.”

McCamery said the inspiration behind the S.O.A.R. initiative was her own upbringing. She said she was raised by her grandparents, along with six of their other grandchildren, four were siblings and two who were cousins, in the inner city of Louisville, Kentucky. In high school there, McCamery enrolled in a travel and tourism magnet program. That was the first time she was able to travel, both domestically and abroad. The first place she went was Barbados, where she did an internship as a junior in high school. That was her first exposure to a different climate and way of life. Her group also went to Disney World, where she did an internship for two weeks, and to Hawaii. These experiences left her wanting to do and see so much more.

According to McCamery, her long-term goal is to open a charter school. Programs such as this will help build a sturdy foundation and create a rapport with parents and the community. The intent is for students to pick a path. The program is geared toward helping children discover that path, whether it leads to college or elsewhere.

McCamery had the idea for S.O.A.R in 2010, although it wasn’t officially recognized as an organization until it acquired 501(c)(3) status in 2013 and became recognized by the state of New Jersey as a nonprofit organization.

“I came to Roselle and saw that there was such a need and thought my program would be perfect,” McCamery said. “With the education system being as it is now, I thought the kids needed something. There’s not a lot of recreation, and there’s not a lot for them to do. You leave a mind dormant long enough, they’re going to find something to get into that’s not conducive to what they should be doing. We started back up in 2020 and have been busy ever since.

“Our goal is to begin introducing the program to other schools and to see whether or not we can build a relationship as sort of an after-school program of some sort, or extracurricular program that’s embedded into the current curriculum, and see how that works. We have a few options we’re weighing out right now.”

The Virtual Business and Entrepreneurship Youth Boot Camp is geared toward eighth- and ninth-graders and has a team of facilitators consisting of McCamery’s husband, Leon McCamery, a private client banker at JP Morgan Chase and small business specialist; Kiana Walbrook, founder and CEO of Spark Leadership LLC; JR Dawkins, founder of Metaleye Photography and senior project manager of Verizon Media-yahoo; and Aundre Blasingame, owner and president of Heavenly Catering.

McCamery said the program may be extended to cover hospitality and management in the next pilot. The process would then start over again for 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders, focusing on business and entrepreneurship first, followed by hospitality and management.

“We wanted to get the younger group first, because they’re transitioning into high school,” McCamery said. “You have these eighth-graders going into high school and have ninth-graders that are just starting high school, so we want to really reach them at that point, where they’re transitioning into a higher level of responsibility and independence for themselves. With other grades, the plan may change, but that’s what we have in mind.

‘We’re starting with this four-week miniseries to gauge the level of interest from the students,” she continued. “When we cover the content and material that we’re going to cover with them, we will gauge what they’ve walked away with and we have those assessments in place; the weekly assessments, along with the end-of-course assessment. With all that information and data that we compile once the course is over, then we can see if we should extend the program or expand it. This pilot program is getting their feet wet and introducing them to the idea of business and entrepreneurship, the idea of being innovative thinkers, and then evolving and building on that.”

High on her list of topics is teaching children in black and brown communities about financial management and financial literacy. McCamery said that, as a child, she didn’t have someone explaining to her why it’s important to balance a checkbook, the importance of a savings account, the importance of investing at an early age, the importance of thinking for yourself and becoming an innovator, or the importance of helping oneself. She said she wants to teach these children that independence, even as it pertains to business and entrepreneurship, and that it’s important to get into business for themselves. Being business minded and empowered to do that will help these youths branch out and succeed.

“The reality of us not having the opportunities presented to us that are presented in other communities, I want to be able to offer that to our people as well,” McCamery continued. “Our heart is in it. We have the passion for it, and we’re teaching a different method, so that they don’t make the same mistakes that we may have made. I feel like that sets us apart.”

Roselle 5th Ward Councilman John Fortuna said he was interested in McCamery’s program the moment she told him about it. According to McCamery, Fortuna helped her program gain steam.

“The S.O.A.R. program will provide our teens with valuable, real-world instruction,” Fortuna said on Friday, April 23. “The basics of business, entrepreneurship and financial literacy can provide a foundation for a successful life.”

As one of the facilitators and founding board members who will be teaching the basis of entrepreneurship, building a plan and a pitch, and cultivating and executing ideas, Blasingame is thrilled about the S.O.A.R program.

“I’m excited and elated,” Blasingame said on Monday, April 26. “This program has been in the works for a few years, and we took a pause to really step back and … do some additional fact finding on how we wanted to operate this. The way that it’s evolving and how quickly it’s evolved since we really started, I’m excited, overjoyed and overwhelmed about seeing this being pushed forward.

“We’ve gotten an opportunity to speak with the mayor and the entire City Council, not even a month after we put it out there,” he continued. “To see the community be so onboard and get behind it and then start seeing the kids apply for our virtual pilot class that we’re doing, I’m just ecstatic and excited to see it happen.”
Leon McCamery feels the same.

“I feel good about the attention the program has been getting,” McCamery said on Monday, April 26. “My wife had a vision years ago about doing something great and helping out the community. The fact that Roselle and the surrounding communities are embracing it, it was more encouraging to see her vision unfolding. I’m very honored.

“Many people say things and they try to put things to work, but very few see it manifest. The fact that I’m able to see it and be a part of it is an exciting thing,” he added.

The deadline for applications is Saturday, May 1. For more information, email info@letssoarnj.org or visit www.letssoarnj.org.

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