Dons Net Cafe
Ordinarily, a successful small business strives to retain its leadership and staff. At Dons Net Café in Santa Barbara, Calif., high turnover is part of the plan. Dons Net Cafe is the student-run Regional Occupational Program (ROP) Virtual Enterprise (VE) business at Santa Barbara High School (SBHS). Honoring the school’s mascot, Dons was established to provide students an opportunity to serve their community while also learning the fundamentals of running a profitable, social entrepreneurial business.
That’s where Santa Barbara SCORE comes in. SCORE volunteers serve as teachers, mentors, interviewers and role models. Along with providing the same kind of counseling provided to “grown-up” clients, SCORE experts also help the students develop the poise and confidence necessary to grow personally and professionally.
Dons has evolved into a profit-making venture, offering the Santa Barbara community and SBHS students a one-stop shop for purchasing customizable t-shirts, key chains, embroidered goods, and other products, plus a wide variety of healthy snacks and beverages. Profits go toward supporting the many community service activities Dons “employees” participate in, all aimed at fulfilling their business slogan, “Doin’ Some Good in the World.”
During the 2009-10 school year, for example, Dons participated in the United Way’s Day of Caring statewide beach clean-up, and flew a giant hand-made “peace dove” in a parade held as part of Jane Goodall’s Peace Day at the Santa Monica Pier. They sold eco-friendly recycled billboard bags recovered from dumps in Indonesia, and created special “Do Ubuntu” shirts and sold Do Ubuntu bracelets to aid HIV-infected orphans in Africa. Those shirts are being sold at the World Soccer Cup in Africa.
And with the arrival of tax season, Dons IRS-certified student volunteers assisted hundreds of low-income families and individuals with preparing and filing their income tax forms. This was the foundation of the Dons Net Cafe and is now in its 17th year of service. Because Dons senior management team “graduates” literally and figuratively every two to three years, there’s a continual need to manage change and instill the principles of good business management on both an individual and collective basis.
The success of Dons Net Cafe is shown in many ways. The group routinely amasses more than 5,500 volunteer hours each year, while its Do Ubuntu campaign has gained international visibility. Dons employees have the highest scholarship rate in Santa Barbara County. They have also competed successfully in student business plan competitions, including reaching the national finals. And in 2009, the Orfalea Foundation awarded Dons a Youth Ambassadors grant to promote healthy eating. In Summer 2010, they were off to Miami to the Youth Venture Summit to teach others about their tax program.
In addition, many Dons alumni have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs in the “real world.” Many return for Dons annual “Grand Opening” event to discuss how the valuable direction and encouragement they received in the program has helped them. Many more exciting activities await participants in Dons Net Cafe when the next group of student managers takes the reins of the program this fall. When they have an idea for a new product or service, a question about a business issue, or simply want to know more about being successful entrepreneurs, SCORE volunteers will be ready to help them keep “Doin’ Some Good in the World.”
“SCORE has propelled the Dons Net Cafe into the business world through advice, guidance, and networking opportunities,” says Lee A. Knodel, the school’s VE coordinator. “We absolutely hold our SCORE advisors in the highest esteem possible.”