If Paul Orfalea could go back in time, that’s what he would tell his younger self.
“I wish that I knew I was OK,” the entrepreneur and Kinko’s founder said at Friday’s grand opening of the Dons Net Café at Santa Barbara High School. “I was insecure, everybody is. I wish I had given myself permission to be insecure.”
Orfalea and clothes designer Alicia Estrada were the keynote speakers at the event, and they shared their business expertise and life lessons.
“What we’ve done in society and in schools is become people pleasers,” Orfalea told about 250 people inside the Santa Barbara High Theatre. “We’re always pleasing somebody else. It’s time to start pleasing yourself. Go to your intuition and say ‘I learned this for me.’”
The only measure of success in life is happiness, Orfalea said, but when it comes to a successful business he maintains that there are three main elements.
“Motivate your workers, understand your customers and balance your checkbook,” he said. “That’s all you do.”
Dons Net Café CEO Olivia Alvarado described Orfalea’s speech as inspirational.
“I liked how he said when we were 5 years old we weren’t scared, but now that we’re older, people have told us we can’t do those things,” she said. “But we can’t be afraid to take risks as an entrepreneur.”
The Dons Net Café is a self-sustaining and student-run organization that provides services and products, not only locally but throughout the world. It started as a volunteer tax site in 1993, evolved into a virtual enterprise class and has become a real and profitable business.
Lee Knodel, better known as Ms. B, uses project- and community-based learning inside and outside of the classroom.
“People are looking for the answer to education and we found the answer,” she said. “The answer is connecting students to what matters in the world, not teaching what they are going to do one day but having kids do it today.”
The students showcased several projects, including the XSProject, which gives trash pickers in Indonesia free-trade wages by purchasing trash at higher-than-average prices. The Dons Net Café teamed up with XSProject to hire special-needs workers to construct bags made from soap and billboard. The students then purchase them and sell them locally.
“Our slogan is ‘Doing some good in the world’ and we try to help the community and other parts of the world,” Alvarado said. “We actually make a difference.”
Students also purchase and sell the Du Ubunto orphan bracelet, which was handcrafted by local South African women living with AIDS. All of the proceeds go toward helping families in South Africa.
The Spot is another Dons Net Café project and will offer a healthy-eating alternative to the fast food that many Santa Barbara High students often seek on Milpas Street. The café plans to start a community garden and composting.
“More than 600 kids walk by our classroom on Canon Perdido to eat lunch on Milpas Street, which is unhealthy,” Alvarado said. “So we are trying to serve healthy food and get people to come to The Spot.”
“(Don’s Net Café) has so many links to nutrition and success in life,” Orfalea said. “This school should be teaching students to eat properly.”
Knodel hopes other campuses can adopt the Dons Net Café model. But teachers need more incentive to produce more successful programs, she said.
“It helps if the teacher knows technology, business and accounting, but more important than that is you need someone who loves the kids,” Knodel said. “You can’t be an in-the-box teacher. These kids are my life.”