High school students in the Town of Greenburgh are being offered the chance to participate in the Post Pandemic Task Force, a three-month online program of the Zuckerberg Institute, established by Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. 

Randi Zuckerberg was an early employee of Facebook and created Facebook Live. She is also founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, which provides advisory services to companies that use technology to revive stagnant industries and better serve consumers. Her weekly radio show, TV series, and children’s books focus on attracting girls to technology.

The Post Pandemic Task Force, one of the Zuckerberg Institute’s eight leadership programs, will provide 14 high school students in Greenburgh and 14 in the Town of Woodbridge, N.J. the opportunity to identify an industry that has been disrupted by Covid-19, come up with innovative solutions to its problems, and help save businesses affected by the pandemic while, in the process, developing entrepreneurial skills and collaborating with peers. 

Every Saturday, from next March through May, Randi Zuckerberg and other successful business leaders in Silicon Valley will interact with the students in 90-minute Zoom sessions, giving advice and suggestions for devising plans to assist local businesses with social media and with generating creative strategies to boost their businesses.

The students also will engage in weekly 30-minute “Brain Break” sessions designed to foster a sense of community, encourage them to adapt “classroom” skills to real life, and build successful businesses of their own. In a Virtual Innovation Summit, they’ll pitch their ideas to a panel of innovators.

Students from school districts in unincorporated Greenburgh, the Rivertowns, and districts outside Greenburgh already applied for the Post Pandemic Task Force. Participants will be chosen next month. Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, who has been spreading the word, urges students to apply immediately.  

“The problem is when you see their résumés, some of them are so good, it would be a crime not to pick them,” he told the Enterprise. “Actually, most of them are; that’s the problem.” The Town will work with the Institute on screening applicants.

Private foundation funding is covering the cost for 14 participants ($315 plus taxes, per student), but Feiner is seeking more support to enable everyone who’s interested to join in the program, and to provide a stipend as well. 

The upcoming program is a pilot. If it’s successful, another program will run during the summer, and possibly another in the fall, with modifications made as appropriate. Feiner believes the Post Pandemic Task Force could become a national model. 

“A lot of businesses are facing problems; partly because of e-commerce, the world is changing, and partly because of Covid,” he stated. “It’s going to be very interesting to see students work with local businesses and help them survive.” 

The Zuckerberg Institute will focus on two or three businesses for the March program; if the pilot is successful, the summer program may involve more businesses.

The chosen businesses will be diverse, probably restaurants and small retail stores. The Town is reaching out to local establishments. “It’s a competitive process for the businesses, too,” Feiner noted. “We have to make sure they’re going to work with the students.”

“The people who are going to be successful after Covid are the people who are going to be able to rethink the way to take advantage of opportunities, and people who are able to adapt to changes are the ones who will succeed,” Feiner added.

Criteria for determining the success of the pilot program are still evolving. Feiner expects success will be defined in terms such as, “Do the students feel they’re succeeding, do the businesses feel they’re surviving and getting creative ideas?” 

The Town’s connection with the Zuckerberg Institute began with what Feiner said was a “cold call.” His habit of scanning media outlets for mentions of interesting individuals or public figures with connections to Greenburgh paid off in 2010, the year Time magazine named Mark Zuckerberg “Person of the Year.” The Zuckerberg family had been Dobbs Ferry residents; Feiner tracked down Mark’s father, dentist Ed Zuckerberg, and invited him to be a guest on his WVOX radio talk show, “The Greenburgh Report.” 

Ed Zuckerberg accepted and, according to Feiner, who posted the interview on Facebook, it spread to other countries. In the last 10 years, Feiner said, Zuckerberg has been a guest on the show three times. Ed Zuckerberg was also a (virtual) speaker to the Town’s 2020 cadre of 35 summer interns, leading to Feiner’s invitation to Randi Zuckerberg, whose inspirational talk to the interns prompted Feiner’s enthusiasm for the Institute’s program.

“I thought, might as well take advantage of this — she has a lot of important connections,” Feiner recounted. “This is a gold mine of opportunity.”

Next summer, unrelated to the Zuckerberg Institute program, Greenburgh will still offer its regular six-week summer internship for high school students. That internship will not have the same focus as the Post Pandemic Task Force. 

Feiner believes local school districts and communities could adopt a program similar to the task force to help revitalize communities and downtowns.

His goal for Greenburgh’s participation: “Finding the right students and helping them become major successes — to create future Mark Zuckerbergs.”

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