Yashika Stewart has few complaints.
The 31-year-old still lives in Wyandanch, the town where she grew up and a place that she loves. She has a job as a monitor in the Half Hollow Hills School District, and the love and support of her family, including her mother and 12-year-old son.
But as her hometown is on the cusp of a major revitalization effort, Stewart thought it would be a good time to look into a personal revitalization as well.
“I like the idea of being my own boss one day,” she said. “And I’m trying to leave something behind for my son, a business that can stay in the family.”
So when Stewart saw that the Farmingdale Small Business Development Center was offering a free course called “Excellence in Entrepreneurship” right in the community where she lives, she jumped at the opportunity.
“It was a ‘Why not?’ moment,” she said. “What did I have to lose?”
Instead, she gained a lot. For the past six weeks, Stewart attended the three-hour sessions at the Wyandanch Senior Nutrition Center every Wednesday night. She said she’s developed the tools she needs to develop a viable business plan to eventually follow her longtime passion for event planning.
Stewart was joined by about 30 others on Wednesday who completed the course, which has also been given in other low- to moderate-income communities, said Pat Edwards, vice president responsible for community development for Citi, which funds the program.
Edwards said Citi and the Farmingdale Small Business Development Center saw Wyandanch as a location that would benefit from the program because of the opportunities for business owners that will come with Wyandanch Rising, the community’s multi-phase redevelopment plan.
“When the revitalization effort is fully launched, we want the community to be as best prepared to respond to some of the invitations to apply and establish their businesses there,” Edwards said.
Vanessa Pugh, director of downtown revitalization and community development for the Town of Babylon, said the town has been buzzing about the Wyandanch Rising plan, which will include 50,000 square feet of new retail space in the first phase, for more than 10 years.
Now, as the estimated first-phase completion date is just eight months away, it was time to focus on more than just buildings, she said.
“We’re focused on a complete and holistic approach to revitalization,” she said on Wednesday night, as she congratulated the program participants. “We are making sure we do everything we can to address the needs of existing and future small business owners.”
Erica Chase-Gregory, a business advisor at the Farmingdale Small Business Development Center, said the course offers existing and future business owners a step-by-step plan to launch or improve their businesses, from creating a business plan to a digital marketing strategy.
“There are so many people who go into business or have a business idea but without the resources or the planning, there’s much more of a chance that business will fail,” she said. “The Wyandanch community has historically been in need of such resources to create a foundation of strength, and the reaction to this program has been wonderful.”
Stewart said she has never seen her hometown the way other people have seen it.
“It’s not all about negative things,” she said. “I come from a good family, I care about this community.”
She said the program has given her the confidence to see a new future for herself, and the prospect of Wyandanch Rising has reinforced her faith in her community.
“Everyone wants to talk about how horrible it is,” she said. “But if you want to see change, there comes a time when you have to seize the moment.”