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Highlighting the Life Changing Work of ESL Community Impact Partners: The Young CEO Program

Q&A with Nakia Vargas, Owner of Vargas Financial and Founder of The Young CEO Program

March 2023

“If we make positive investments in our youth, we can affect change for the future.”
– Nakia Vargas, Owner of Vargas Financial and Founder of The Young CEO Program

What prompted the launch of The Young CEO Program?

The Young CEO Program started as an idea that I had for years, but I couldn't figure out how to roll it out or fund it. Then during the pandemic my 11-year-old daughter expressed her desire to own her own home-based baking business. This led me to research the feasibility of her being a business owner at her age. Once I found out that she could legally own a business we made it happen. From there I was able to build the framework and curriculum for The Young CEO Program.

How does the program work?

The Young CEO Program was designed as a 10- to 12-week program for teens 15- to 18-years-old. The children go through a curriculum that teaches them first about personal finance. Things like savings, budgeting, credit, and goal setting. We then roll into Business and Entrepreneurship, which entails learning about business entities, filings, marketing accounting, and more. The participants file business licenses, open business accounts, and create a business plan to graduate the program. Once they graduate, they receive startup funds and six months of business coaching if desired. The only part left to launch my program was the funding. So, in 2021 when ESL introduced its Black and Latino Equity Grant Program, I took my chances with that to pilot The Young CEO Program within the community. I was awarded the grant in January 2022.

How has the program grown?

Since the launch of the first program, I have graduated eight successful Young CEOs who run nine business collectively. We have been featured in the local media. I have also been able to partner with the City of Rochester to offer my program as a Summer Enrichment opportunity last summer. We're up to 20 teenagers who have had the opportunity to learn what it takes to be a Young CEO. We are currently securing funding and writing grants for the spring and fall 2023 Young CEO classes.

What impact are you seeing among participating teenagers?

The Young CEO Program is empowering these teenagers to create generational wealth. It is allowing everyone who is working together on this program to shine a light on the positive things the youth are doing rather than the negative things we often hear about. The program itself gives teenagers an outlet from the violence as well as a safe space to talk about the things that are troubling them in society. We also allow them to have a viable alternative to college if they can't afford it or just don't see themselves as "college bound" students. My students often say this program gives them a competitive advantage in the business world because few teens are running their own legal business.

One of my students felt so inspired by the program that he chose to start two businesses. He did exactly that. He did double the work throughout the program. He graduated with two legal businesses. He ended up being featured on the local news to show the positive things teens are doing in Rochester.

What has it been like working with ESL?

It has been wonderful working with ESL. They have been helpful and always willing to educate and assist the program. Patty from the Mt. Read branch [note: Patty has since been promoted to Central District Manager at ESL and Patrick Moreland is the new Mt. Read Branch Manager] came to us to start our CEOs’ business accounts and made sure all the teens were educated on banking. ESL also came to our Summer Enrichment program to educate children on banking, and ESL funding is what made the spring 2022 session possible.

What else do you think is important for people to know about The Young CEO Program?

I think it is important for people to know if we make positive investments in our youth, we can affect change for the future. Youth today need options, education, and a listening ear. They also need someone pushing them into greatness. If we can continue to do that, we will see changes in violence, poverty, and the confidence youth have in themselves to set themselves apart from the negative influences.

How can people get involved in supporting the mission of your program?

If people want to get involved, they can donate their expertise or funding. We look for people that can help keep the program running at no cost to youth and their parents. Also, other entrepreneurs who can share their experiences and help educate the children are always welcomed. We can be contacted at