Unions to help Madison Park students create and maintain their own business

Madison Park students celebrated the opening of a new gift shop that they will run on Dec. 18. From left, Ann-Laurie Desilus, Ginet Castillo, Sara Herrera, Gerald Santana, Ayanna Brice, Irani Perez, Samantha Disla, Briannalyz Ruiz, Enaira Uribe.

It was all business at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School last month when union representatives from District Council 35 and The Paint and Glass Association of New England joined with students and faculty to celebrate the grand opening of the high school’s new gift shop.

The store, which is being funded thanks to a $10,000 donation from the Dorchester-based painters union, will provide Madison Park students studying business and marketing a chance to create and maintain a business plan, perform financial and accounting tasks, and receive hands-on training in a retail setting. 

Greg Shuman, a marketing teacher who developed the idea for the gift shop along with fellow teacher Francisco Torres, said in an interview that “the vision for the store is always about how we can get the students to show their knowledge about business and marketing and make money for themselves.”

He added that the collaboration between trade union representatives and a vocational school was a natural fit.

“The good part about a vocational school is that you can decide: Do you want to go to college or do you want to go right into work? If you have a union behind you like this,” he said, “some of these kids can go to college ten years later, make a lot of money and then pay for it themselves.

“We’ve got RoxMAPP [Roxbury Dual Enrollment/Early College Program], which takes you right from high school and puts you in a college while you’re in high school, and we also have the unions that are working with us now. So it’s like the best of both worlds.”

Gerald Santana, 18, of Dorchester is one of those students currently participating in the school’s early college program, whereby he takes classes as a senior at Madison Park while he’s also enrolled as a freshman at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, where he studies business.

Santana worked as store manager last year during a trial run of the gift shop model, an experience that let him “make connections” between the classroom and the retail space.

Santana said that running the shop requires “a lot of communication skills. You need to be able to communicate with people.” But he also learned valuable lessons about leadership and delegating responsibility, he said.

“As manager I didn’t make a decision by myself; I actually consulted with the other students on the team. Like, if I wanted to move a table or change something, I told them why I’m doing it, instead of just giving an order.”

Tony King, a Dorchester native and owner of Beantown USA, a clothes printing shop in Adams Village, helped facilitate the connection between Madison Park and District Council 35 after learning that Schuman, an old friend of his from South Boston, was behind the project. And for good measure, King decided to design a t-shirt commemorating the collaboration.

“I’m a signatory of DC35, so when we asked them to do the donation here, I wanted to make a collaboration shirt for it,” he explained. “So I just took [Madison Park’s] crest and kind of incorporated the values of the DC 35 Painters and Allied Trades, Painters and Glaziers, and the union logo there.”

Through the donation, King and his outside sales manager, Joe Rufo, hope the gift shop model can develop and expand its services with the purchase of a heat printing press, store mannequins, and other display items that improve the customer’s retail experience. 

“I’m just trying to help this grow,” he said. “My main goal is union work, not necessarily in school stores, but the correlation I made is, you know, I want to help them here and tie my union contacts in with them. Let’s get them some of this union money that’s so prosperous...the future of this is me giving them a business plan to actually have their students be able to print their own stuff in here and sell it as is, or customize it on the spot in front of the customer.”