Palisades High School Students Receive the Rotary’s Entrepreneur Award

Maya Laaly was recognized with first place in the Rotary Entrepreneur Award. She is flanked by club president Hagop Tchakerian (left) and Committee Chair Perry Atkins.


At the Pacific Palisade Rotary Club luncheon at Modo Mio on May 10, three young entrepreneurs were honored.

Pacific Palisades High School students Maya Laaly, Aspyn Berstein and Skyler Snyder received a certificate and a cash award. Laaly received $500, for first place and Berstein and Snyder, who were runners-up, each received $250.

To qualify for the entrepreneur award, a person had to be employed part-time and have worked for one or more employers or after school or on weekends for a minimum of 40 hours.

Seventeen students applied. They filled out a questionnaire that required the job title and description of responsibilities; a suggestion that they would like to make to their supervisor about how to improve the operations of the company; a mistake that they made while working that they learned from; and a job performance of which they were particularly proud.

In making the presentation, Rotary Committee Chair Perry Atkins, first asked how many Rotary members had jobs during high school. All raised their hands. With his generation, Atkins said, “If you were a high school kid without a job something was wrong with you.” He noted that now, kids who work during high school are rarer and Rotary was happy to recognized these students.

Berstein, who works for BoxUnion, which offers group fitness, said “I check people into their classes, make sure the studio and bathrooms are tidy. I sell merchandise, answer phone calls and sell memberships.”

When asked to share something she was proud of, she wrote “For the entire month of January and February, I had high school soccer every day of the week. I came into work every Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. and sometimes earlier.” She said that going out on weekends was limited, but she felt good because “I was able to balance my schedule so well.”

Snyder, who works for the Beverly Hills Bikini Shop, said one of the mistakes she made was “I would show customers swimsuits I liked rather than swimsuits that interested them. I learned to listen to the customer.”

It paid off. She wrote on her application, “Last week I had my biggest sales in one day, which was $8,000. I really listened to what customers wanted and directed them properly and showed accessories to go with the swimsuits.”

Laaly works for Westside Aquatics. She said when she was 14, she went to her boss and asked for a job. Laaly was originally turned down, but she persisted.

“I am now a part-time coach and working with such wonderful children is the highlight of my career,” she said, noting that she took online courses about the mental and physical development of children. “I learned from my mentors how age, swimming background and mentality can change the way that some might process swim instructions.”

Sklyer Snyder (center, left) and Aspyrn Berstein received runner-up awards from Rotary President Hagop Tchakerian (left) and Committee Chair Perry Atkins (behind.)

Other students who applied for the award, worked at Pinkberry, Chipotle, Sprouts Farmers Market, Wilshire Boulevard Temple (teacher’s aide), Ralphs Grocery, Pez Farm (animal rescue), Starbucks, The Green Store, Karine & Jeff (French vegetables and soups), Highlands Rec Center, Aviator Nation and McDonald’s.

A McDonald’s worker shared on the application that “I grew up with parents that had thick accents.”

When a customer came through the drive through, the worker repeated the order to make sure it was correct. “As he pulled forward to the pay window, he apologized because he thought he had put me in an inconvenient situation. I quickly assured him that he didn’t, and I told him never to be ashamed. Speaking with an accent should not make you apologize, especially just for ordering food. He thanked me for my kind words and that I had made his day. I was proud I was able to make the customer leave with a smile on their face.”

A Starbucks worker wrote that when customers say something is wrong with the drink, the barista is expected remake it, but the customer also keeps the original drink. “People often claim their drink is made wrong in order to get another free drink.”

The worker said it happens more often than one might think and “It allows people to come in daily and get more than they paid for.”

The person also said that one thing they were proud of was “standing up for myself.”

She told a story of a man who ordered a pistachio latte.

“A new barista began preparing the drink as I ran up the purchase. The barista was new and unaware the sprinkles went on top of the beverage. The man exclaimed that wasn’t right and demanded sprinkles. I profusely apologized and attempted to de-escalate his rather rude outburst. He began yelling at the new barista about his lack of knowledge, then demanded a refund.

“He called me and my partner ‘unknowledgeable’ and said we had no business working there. He went on about our lack of expertise, even as I apologized and explain we were in training, but he refused to hear it.

“The man continued to yell at me, saying the most awful things. When he was done, I politely told him I was not going to help him if he was not going to treat me with respect.”

The worker said that remark sent the man into even greater anger. “Another barista came out, recognized the man, apologized profusely and gave him a recovery card of $10.” The worker said they were given a stern talking to about their behavior.

The worker questioned the way she and her fellow worker were treated. “No one should be talked to that way, in any capacity, no matter the reason,” the barista said.

The five people on the Rotary committee agreed that all applicants were deserving and selecting the top three was a difficult decision.

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