Stand or Fall: the Hot Spot lesson

I didn’t fear problems as a child. The bigger the obstacle, the longer and harder I would look at things to solve it. My mother wanted my brother and I to be self-sufficent as adults. It’s not that she didn’t think we would find capable partners in life and get married- she believed that you need to give every person the tools to be able to survive in the world knowing how to track finances and cook, clean, plus do laundry for yourself.

After 3 years of deejaying, my partner Mike and I noticed that most teenagers just wanted a place to call their own. Part time jobs were scarce and if you give children idle time, they’ll find a way to introduce themselves to adult rituals without realizing the long term implications of such actions. We wanted to provide the town with a place that would run after school programs, dances on the weekends and maybe other community activities yet for the most part be a positive, uplifting and safe place for adults to allow their children to be. The Hot Spot would be the name, and once we got feedback from the teens who knew we needed such a place, the fund raising got off the ground running.

Mike and I learned how to negotiate with realtors, take part in zoning board meetings, and speak with community leaders plus other business men. We had to make tough decisions as to run the center for profit or not (we were chosing the latter) and take a vacant second floor retail space to transform it into a working, running teen center. We raised $20,000 out of a proposed $50,000 through a flurry of activities- bake sales, donated auctions, even running a dance hosted by a well known rock radio station and gaining a huge buzz through all the surrounding towns given permission to attend the event thanks to our great relationship with the high school adminstrators in our local town.

Unfortunately our efforts were thwarted by a local restaurant owner two doors down from the building we renovated. Even though the police station was across the street from our building- and we had secured permission from the plaza 100 feet away to have parking there- the owner launched a campaign with all the local politicians that we would bring a “bad” element of drinking and drugs to that section of town. It didn’t matter that we outlined adult security, chaperones and a police officer detail on site for the dances or live bands that would play on Friday and Saturday nights. The powers that be in the adult world proved to be more powerful than two teenagers with a dream to give other teens a safe place to call their own, and soon the Hot Spot became history.

Through the setbacks we had local churches willing to let us put on more teen dances for the town, so all was not lost. We gave back all the donated money to other local programs for kids. A couple of years later a teen center would be open in the city next to where I lived, and I believe we were the inspiration for other people to develop programs for teenagers in our local area.

I learned so much about how business works and the skills you need to gather when it comes to presenting to potential investors. It’s one thing to have a dream- it’s another world to gather support, teach people what you hope to accomplish and give them the tools to make it come true. I could have viewed the Hot Spot as a failure and never want to venture into self-employment again- but I believe that fall led Mike and I to take our deejay business to heights even we couldn’t imagine. I then started a promotional business for unsigned and independent bands with another partner in New York- which helped me to understand better the inner workings of publicity and record label support.

Give children a chance to learn about the real world of business and fall at times within it. If you see someone in your life that has a curious spark about your job or career, see if you can arrange a time for them to shadow you for the day. Let them see all sides of the equation and don’t be afraid to get feedback from them- they may hit you with fresh ideas that will surprise you.

Like the Elton John song says, I’m still standing… better than I ever did. Looking like a true survivor and feeling like a little kid.

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