Bonita Lehigh founded the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies on Main Street in Farmington in 2020 to use entrepreneurship as a tool to overcome personal barriers. The center offers entrepreneurial opportunities where youth can launch micro-retail businesses offering merchandise such as the decorative signs hung behind Lehigh. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal file photo

FARMINGTON — The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies has been awarded a $25,000 grant to expand its program. The grant was given by Maine Community Foundation, an organization that brings together donors and recipients working “to improve the quality of life for all Maine people.”

The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES) will use the grant to build their “Makerspace,” a studio where entrepreneurs enrolled in the CES program can create products to sell in the store and for their brand. The Makerspace will have printers, machinery — to cut wood, metal and glass — computers, an area to make jewelry and more.

“We really want it to become a community spot where people can pull themselves out of poverty,” said founder Bonita Lehigh.

Maine Community Foundations awarded their “Start Up Scale Up” grant to “organizations or programs or collaborative workspaces that are supporting entrepreneurs.” Senior Program Officer Maggie Drummond-Bahl said the CES received the grant because the program engages young people, is highly visible on Main Street and is in Franklin County, which they consider an “under-served area.”

The CES is a non-profit and “workforce development program” with a retail shop where kids and adults alike are enrolled to learn business knowledge, develop a brand or business, sell their products, and “explore their interests, values, strengths.”

Lehigh believes that “entrepreneurship brings about a lot of joy,” “can change lives” and can help people to overcome personal barriers that “prevent them from thriving.” The program also seeks to address those barriers such as housing insecurity, poverty or a lack of health insurance.

What we want to do is make the person a leader and in order to make them a leader they need to have their basic needs met,” Lehigh said. “They need to have their house in order, the foundation’s got to be solid before you build a house.”

Lehigh first established the non-profit with high school students she connected with when she taught business at Mt. Blue. The focus was first to develop the entrepreneurial skills of youth, but Lehigh said the program is now for “everybody — veterans, elderly, youth.”

Though Lehigh sells her participants’ products at the CES store, participants see all of the profits from their products in exchange for volunteering.

Lehigh plans to have the Makerspace finalized and set up by the end of the summer. Lehigh is currently working on fundraising a total of $67,000 via grants, a CES year-book style “look book” and individual fundraising initiatives. Those interested in contributing to the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies can find more information and a place to donate at their website, cesmaine.com.

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