MEET SHARYN ABBOTT, FOUNDER & CEO OF THE ULTIMATE BUSINESS UNIVERSITY (UBU) – ON CREATING THIS SPECIAL LEGACY AND MAKING A DIFFERENCE
SVT: What made you decide to develop a school for kids at risk?
SA: My brother was adopted when he was 5 and I ended up taking him in when he was 15 and I was 24. Some of the stories he told me about being in foster care made a huge impact on me. In 1998 he ended up with colon cancer and managed to survive10 years. I promised him I would build the school as a legacy to his life and all the children who don’t have any one to champion them.
SVT: Where is Belize?
SA: It’s about a thousand miles south east of Mexico City and borders Guatemala.
SVT: Why take kids from the USA to Belize?
SA: The main reason is it’s about 1/3 the cost to feed, educate and house the children in Belize. Everything there is more affordable since there are only 350,000 total residents in Belize and the jobless rate is 13%. This school will provide a major financial impact for the country as the average blue collar (teacher, police & retail) earn less than $10,000 a year.
SVT: Three years is a long time for these kids to be out of the country. What is the reason for this?
SA: It takes a while to nurture the abused effects and bring children back around. They will begin during their sophomore year and continue through the end of their senior year. We will make it possible for them to have family visitors.
SVT: How will the children be selected? Will they have any say in this?
SA: We are approaching juvenile court judges (so far we have five) who will give the children an option between juvenile hall or UBU, so it will definitely be their choice. They will be predominantly first offenders (for shoplifting and other petty crimes) based on their trying to survive on their own.
SVT: Will it present a challenge to take them from the U.S.?
SA: Since they will be at least 15 years old they will be emancipated so they can get an entry visa. The majority of these kids aren’t with their parents for one reason or another.
SVT: Will the students learn other languages?
SA: We will have a full language program as well as emersion courses. One of the unique programs for the students is having children from all over the world. Hopefully two from many countries who will be assigned a Sunday to prepare their homeland food, expose the rest of the students to their language, present the history of their country and what their music and entertainment is like at home.
SVT: What makes UBU different than other high school programs?
SA: The first thing is the entire required curriculum is in multi-media. Each course will be videotaped and edited by the students to improve the curriculum. We will have all of what we consider electives in the U.S. as mandatory courses. Topics such as performing arts, cooking, sewing, agriculture, horticulture, organic farming, alternative energy, auto mechanics and even construction trade courses. These classes will be taught by visiting experts in the field. We will have extensive entrepreneurial training as regular classes.
We will have each student start their own business during the first month they are on site and at the beginning of their junior year the weekly grant writing class will be mandatory. The students will be encouraged to re-invent each and every product we use on the campus. Innovation will be a large part of their education.
SVT: How will you select the teachers and counsellors?
SA: We are targeting teachers and counsellors who will hopefully be half from the U.S., 25% from Belize and the balance from around the world. They will be recruited by our own teacher’s recruitment department and offered a one year contract which can renewed.
SVT: When will the first classes launch?
SA: The target is for January, 2015, with 500 boys and 500 girls. We’ll need some time to work out the details in the programs and then add 1,000 each in the fall of 2015 and each subsequent year.
SVT: Will the students in Belize be involved in the school?
SA: I am so happy about this point. The children in Belize have no schooling available after they turn 15. We will be putting computers into the schools and churches and all of the curricula will be available to local students at no charge.
SVT: What do you perceive as your biggest challenges – the kids themselves, or the running of the project?
SA: I take the Henry Ford approach to everything. Hire the experts and let them make the best decisions. The challenges will surface I am sure, but we will have an amazing team involved. So far there are more than 100 people who have been working in the background (without pay so far) to make sure the project will launch as smoothly as possible.
SVT: I noticed you talk about the school being self-sustainable, how much of the school’s requirements will you be able to provide?
SA: We will grow the majority of the food we’ll require. I have an amazing organic farming expert who is dedicated to the project. We will have a canning facility to preserve excess crops, as well as raising cattle, chickens and other livestock. We will have our own water treatment and water power plants. We will be planting trees that grow a nut that can be converted to alternative fuel, too.
Eventually we’ll have our own clothing manufacturing plant and when we see other areas of impacting the effectiveness of our operations, we will look into adding other sources. We will also have continual fundraising projects on several different levels.
SVT: You have an interesting program for seniors to be involved in your school, what is that all about?
SA: We will have 25 couples on each campus who will serve as surrogate grandparents. These will be folks who might not have any family and struggle financially. I believe it’s important for children to be able to relate to seniors and learn respect for their elders.
SVT: What type of fundraising will you be doing to support the operations costs?
SA: We will have multiple types of fundraising projects, some obvious such as golf tournaments, auctions, dive trips, music festivals, entertainment events, grant writing, corporate gifting just to name a few.
What makes this unique is each fundraising activity is designed to create well-paying jobs for people doing the fundraising around the world.
SVT: Do you have plans of adding additional school sites in other countries?
SA: I am so glad you asked. I have agreements for Australia, Cameroon, Cambodia, India, Philippines, Tanzania, Vietnam and many other countries who are in the beginning stages of investigation. The goal, after our four year University is built, is to launch a-school-a-year around the world.
SVT: How can ordinary people become involved in the school?
SA: We need volunteers to speak in local communities to inspire service organizations to be more proactive with kids at risk; sales people for the auctions and golf tournaments nationally; teachers, teacher assistants and just about every possible position necessary to be able to launch and expand the school.
SVT: What is your desired / planned outcome? What happens to the kids after the three years?
SA: We will have the four year University complete by the time the first classes graduate but they will be encouraged to go to the college of their choice anywhere in the world. If they’re not interested in being college bound, they will already know what kind of businesses they want to pursue due to the entrepreneurial courses.
SVT: Is there a ‘pass on’ factor here? Do the kids have to do similar work for other homeless kids when they finish?
SA: We will definitely encourage the children to give back. We will have a team at the school who will be responsible for tracking the students to see what they end up doing. We would, of course, love to have the students return to guest lecture, as student counsellors, and, of course, we’ll host alumni events.
SVT: What inspires you?
SA: I’ve have been driven, as though this project has a life of its own. When I talk to others about UBU, I get rejuvenated and it inspires me to reach out to others who can become involved in the school. We have more than 200,000 children in the U.S. who are homeless and have no family. Every time I think about being tired, hungry or cold, all I have to do is think about all of these children and it makes me work just a bit harder to provide for as many of them as possible.
SVT: Who is involved in this project – governments, corporations, educational institutions, the UN?
SA: I am so pleased to have the Minister of Human Resources from Belize; the Ambassador to Belize based in Dallas; the largest revenue generating company in Belize; a major resort in Belize; an educational accreditation expert; a very well connected grant writing firm from Las Vegas; New Tech Network educational systems; and so many others who have connections and have gone out of their way to make connections for the school.
SVT: Are there additional programs you have earmarked for UBU?
SA: Yes, UBU is a multifaceted concept. The first phase is to get our children off the streets and provide them the best education we can possibly provide. Phase 2 is to expand to international locations. Phase 3 is to launch our first orphanage for infants through 18 year olds throughout the US. Phase 4 is to create 100 unit facilities for single mothers who will undergo immersive entrepreneurial programs. The basis is to move them from welfare to self-sustainability. Phase 5 is to design and implement small community housing developments within close proximity to UBU campuses to provide home ownership for our employees.
SVT: How can people keep up with your progress?
SA: We will have live video feed on our website and we have already engaged a well-connected firm in Los Angeles which will produce a documentary capturing our progress each year.
SVT: How can people get in touch with you?
The school is dedicated to my adopted brother Tony who I took full charge care of when he was 15 and I was 24. When I realized how little there was for teenagers to do, I founded Youth Enterprises in Chico in 1974 getting youth off the streets and giving them something to do with their free time. They decided to clean up neighborhoods, paint fences, haul trash and pitch in when those who couldn’t accomplish tasks they were able to help with. We were able to convert a club which lost their liquor license into an under 21 club. We were the first group to establish work study programs for high school students giving students and opportunity to work in jobs to gain the experience, obtain school credits and earn an income which was often desperately needed.
I volunteered for organizations through the years including being on the board of directors for Easter Seals and American Diabetes Association. Over a ten year period I organized more than ten golf tournaments every year for non-profit organizations including Boys Town of Italy, Boys and Girls Clubs, ADA, to name a few.
In the early 1990s, I became a spokesperson and fundraiser for Rubicon, Inc. in the Bay Area. They were the only facility which housed children who have been abused. I created a community outreach program to educate service organizations on what they could do to support Rubicon. I was able to create a program involving insurance brokerage who would offer a trust which would reduce the donor’s tax base by $100,000 over a three year period and cost $10,000.
All the while, I spent 20 years in the printing and publishing industry, spending 8 years in the corporate sales arena. I took over a travel agency and increased sales from $90,000/year to $185,000/year within three years, while launching an entrepreneurial training which I operated for 20 years.
I appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1991, featured for my unique communication style techniques and I am an author of ten books. I teach others to write their books based on their passion and I am a motivational speaker inspiring my audiences to live the lives they deserve rather than settle for a life of struggle.
I have 40 websites, one for each book and training program plus special interests such as alternative health resources, money savings systems and many resources to help individuals and companies save time, money and become more efficient. All of my websites can be accessed on www.sharynabbott.com.