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Bulgarian teens practice business
Stafford man shares his experience in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer.

 The Kookery is celebrated the day before Lent and has a Mardi-Gras feel to it, according to James Mayers.
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Date published: 6/28/2005


James Mayers' Junior Achievement group faced opposition to plans for opening a temporary business for learning purposes.

Mayers is on a 27-month stay in Bulgaria.

Last August he left the comfort of what was known for the discomfort of the unknown. At the age of 37, the former Stafford resident was accepted into the Peace Corps.

He is learning a new language, new customs and trying to become one with the people of Purvomai, where he is living and working. His job is to help with environmental and business projects for the community. He is also working with schools.

At one school, he started an English Club. At another, he started a Junior Achievement program. The 10th-grade class started up a nonprofit company to fix up the classrooms in a school. The 11th-grade class opened a cafe called "The Hole," because of its location in the basement of the municipal building.

Mayers said the group of 11th-graders had a lot of support from the mayor and others in the municipality, but some in the community expected the students to obtain a business permit and other legal business documentation.

Mayers tried to explain the purpose behind the temporary business, but the opposition didn't budge. They didn't understand that the purpose was for the students to learn by doing, Mayers explained by e-mail.

"I pressed forward without the permits with the attitude of if they want to shut the company down once it was started, they could do so, but they would have to confront the mayor, kids and parents," he wrote.

The cafe stayed open for two and a half months. It had operated at a small loss, said Mayers. But the students learned valuable lessons about creating a realistic business and marketing plan, he added. Some of the students from the original group of 10th-graders that made up the nonprofit company decided that they didn't want to be involved so they left. Those who remained raised funds for their company and did the repairs to the classrooms. Mayers said they filled in holes in the walls, repaired the chalkboard and painted.

"It was great to see kids volunteering their time for something they believe in," he said.

Of the two groups, Mayers said the 10th-grade class came out on top, but for both groups, he doesn't think the students will be flocking any time soon to fill out business permits.

To reach KATHLEEN LEWIS:540/374-5000 ext. 5749klewis@freelancestar.com

Editor's note: This is the latest in an occasional series following James Mayers' Peace Corps adventures in Bulgaria.