NAME: Steve Mariotti, 50
HOMETOWN: New York City
MISSION: To give kids an option other than a life of crime
•The Eureka Moment
Mariotti was jogging along New York City's East River in 1981 when five teens jumped him, stealing $10 and leaving him bloodied, bruised—and changed for life. "I went over it again and again in my head," says the former import-export trader. "I felt like if they had only asked for help, I would have given it to them."
Mariotti, the son of two schoolteachers, decided to trade in his $70,000-a-year job to join the staff of an inner-city school.
On his first day at Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High School, troublemakers called him Mr. Manicotti. One pupil set another kid's coat on fire. "I was terrified," he says. "The principal told me I was the worst teacher in the school."
"I realized the good kids were getting bullied and tormented by the few who were really bad," says Mariotti, who soon changed his teaching methods. Kids flocked to his new business class, a mix of basic math, English, commercial skills and trips to places like a wholesale market. In 1987 he founded the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an organization that has helped 80,000 young people here and abroad launch their own careers in business.
•The Big Payoff
"I feel incredibly fortunate," says Mariotti, who is single and lives in New York City. "In the jobs I had had before, I knew I could make money. Now, for the first time in my life, I feel I can make a difference in somebody's life."