In 2012 Terry Valmassoi, president of Master Spas, heard Rob Staley speak about The Crossing, a faith-based charter school he started in Indiana. Staley was looking for businesses the school could partner with to provide job training to its at-risk students.
“It’s really for kids who aren’t going to make it in regular high school,” Valmassoi says. “What he saw is these kids — they end up on the street, they end up in jail, there are just no opportunities for them at all.”
Valmassoi wanted to get involved, so he took it to the director of manufacturing at Master Spas, Mike Rees. “Typically, manufacturing guys would say, ‘I don’t need another headache in manufacturing — these high school kids for three hours a day messing up our flow,’ ” Valmassoi says. “But he was all over the idea. Once we did it, it worked so much better than we thought it would and our employees embraced these kids.”
When the program started, the kids were bussed to Master Spas to work a three-hour shift. Master Spas covered the cost to have a teacher/coach there. It was working well, so they added a shift. At that point, Valmassoi joined the local board for The Crossing and knew the school envisioned the kids would go beyond job training and start learning how to run a business.
“They wanted to have microbusinesses set up where the kids can learn skills in running the business themselves,” Valmassoi says. “So we got the idea to get the students to manufacture pallets. They buy lumber on their own, and price it to make money to cover the cost of a coach to run that program.” The pallets are then sold back to Master Spas to use with its spas.
When busing the kids back and forth was starting to affect attendance, they decided to set up a satellite campus at Master Spas. “We got our vendors involved and built a classroom big enough for 30 students,” Valmassoi says. “It had another room for what they call family time — when they can talk about life — and then they have a loft up on top where they can have lunch and hang out.” That was built about four years ago. There are two teachers on campus that teach in the classroom, a coach that runs the microbusiness and a coach in the factory.
Anywhere from 23 to 30 students are on the campus daily. Master Spas started an intern program so students could work at the factory during summer and other school breaks. They include the students in all company events and have hired several after they have graduated.
“Finding good employees is hard,” Valmassoi says. “When they graduate, any students who are interested in a job and want to be part of the Master Spas family, we do hire them.”
Valmassoi says the students leave not only with a diploma, but also with an understanding of work. But he says the program probably has an even bigger impact on the Master Spas employees. “Some of the employees really see themselves [in these] kids and became their mentors,” Valmassoi says. “It really adds more to life.”