Opportunities Academy is a post-secondary school that caters to and empowers students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Public investment in schools has declined over the past decade, and as the latest federal budget proposal cuts $7.1 billion in Education Department funding, states often focus on standardized test results when designating school funding.
This emphasis on testing can leave those intelligent students without distinguishable scores questioning themselves and their place in life.
Will Esposito and his co-founders started HYPELITE to fill this gap.
“My own passion for entrepreneurship fueled me to question why this alternative career path was never taught in my schooling,” Esposito said.
“I reflected on who I was as a teen and believed I could’ve benefited a lot from knowing this was an option for me. This basically opened the floodgates for exploring other flaws in our education system that we intend to solve.”
The nonprofit hosts events and programs designed to help high school students discover their passions and explore possible career paths as well as learn soft and hard skills.
The organization’s name echoes its mission. “I equate hype to passion, that thing inside of you that gets you excited and ‘lite’ is one’s purpose, the method or vehicle in which you choose to share your passion with others,” Esposito said.
“Not everyone needs to go to college to be happy and financially sustainable," said Curtis Springstead, Chairman of SCORE Northeast NJ and Esposito’s mentor. "However, even if you choose a college-focused pursuit, the pathway to the dream career on the other side is not always clear."
“HYPELITE connects students to people with real experience who are often from the same neighborhood, which provides realistic, relatable, and actionable insights,” adds Springstead.
HYPELITE creates customized programs that respond to schools and youth organizations’ needs. “By doing an analysis of students’ interests, fears, and ambitions, we’re able to identify areas in which we can provide a valuable outlet for student learning and cultivation of skills,” Esposito said.
One school had numerous students interested in filmmaking, but the school didn’t offer film courses, so HYPELITE established its film program. “We partnered with professionals in the film industry to implement a six-week digital film production course where students learned the fundamentals of filmmaking and made their own short film,” explained Esposito.
The organization also has flagship programs, such as the HYPELITE Club, which meets after school and instructs young people on becoming leaders. “This is a model we want to share with other schools to adopt,” Esposito said. “Additionally, we created a service learning experience for students to give back to those in need during Giving Tuesday.”
HYPELITE has worked with approximately 1,000 students over the last five years, and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2016.
“With so much information coming at high school students today, the traditional issue of, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ is even more intense,” Springstead said. “HYPELITE has a timely offering delivered in an easy-to-consume manner.”
Like late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, Esposito is mindful of the positive potential of entrepreneurship, particularly how it can provide a path for young people to discover themselves.
“When starting a project or business, you learn a lot about your strengths, interests, values, and much more,” said Esposito. “Learning how to solve other people’s problems or your own through business, while cultivating an understanding that you can create something from nothing, is a powerful realization that we hope to instill.”
Springstead notes that gaining entrepreneurial experience can be beneficial to all students.
“Even if the student learns that entrepreneurship isn’t their thing, there’s value in understanding how a business works,” he said. “Students can better contribute to the job at hand, understand why their clients and employers make the decisions they do, and anticipate issues based on their understanding of what makes a business successful.”
Based on the countless hours Esposito has spent working with young people, he sees great potential in the upcoming generation and looks forward to promoting their achievements to the public.
“Generation Z is extremely compassionate and aware,” he said. “I believe this generation will give rise to more activists, entrepreneurs, and innovators than any generation before.”
One of Esposito’s favorite success stories is of a student he met in HYPELITE’s early days who was unsure about her future. “We talked about her interests and her passion for baking. She’d never considered pursuing a career in that direction,” he said.
That student recently graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. “She came back to her high school as part of our Bridging the G.A.P.P career event and mentioned this,” Esposito said. “That was pretty special.”
Esposito’s ultimate goal is to broaden young people’s scope of the opportunities available to them. “My vision for HYPELITE is to disrupt the education system through experiential learning initiatives,” he said.
“By partnering with companies, organizations, and entrepreneurs, we can create a new system for students who want to pursue their own ideas or take time to explore their options before jumping into a university or trade school.”
HYPELITE always welcomes new supporters. “We’re looking to grow our network of professionals who want to give back by sharing their expertise and life experience,” Esposito said. “We really want to build a community of people who understand the struggles of finding your path in this life and want to help the youth through mentorship. This is just the beginning for us.”
Aimée La Fountain is a Greater New York-based writer and nonprofit marketing strategist. She currently serves as an arts columnist for Gannett and specializes in features and editorials. In her spare time, you'll find Aimée volunteering, traveling, or in the midst of her latest DIY project. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune, and Patch.
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