"I believe I make a difference in lives,” says Susan Discorfano-Caiafa, owner of Oh! Susanah’s Hair & Nail Salon in Lodi, N. J., about her involvement in Project Sidekick, a local program that allows seventh- and eighth-graders to spend time at neighborhood businesses to see firsthand how they are run.

The idea, explains Discorfano-Caiafa, is to give the children an opportunity to study several types of businesses to learn what interests them and what is really involved. That way, by the time they reach high school, the students have a good idea of what classes or vocational training they need. Students interested in cosmetology commit to visiting the salon after school once or twice a week for six weeks. “I sit my assistant down next to me at my workstation and explain everything I do as I do it,” says Discorfano-Caiafa. “One girl never wanted to leave; she’d stay until closing.“

To complete their education, Discorfano-Caiafa teaches her young pupils how to handle paperwork, order supplies, and manage money, customers, and employees. “I also give them a set of tips and wraps each week and allow them to practice on me or on themselves,” she says. “We need really good nail technicians who are going to enjoy what they do. And even if they don’t end up going into nails, they get to see what happens in the real world, all the hard work involved in owning a business, and all the rewards.”

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