Ulster BOCES Grad Achieves Dream of Starting Own Business

Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Jonathan Rafter, it meant learning how to grow a business and lay the foundation for his future—opening a martial arts studio—an aspiration he’s held since he was 13-years-old.

Rafter’s encouragement by his mother to enroll in the Career & Technical Center’s Web-Based Entrepreneurship & Business (WEB) program was a natural recommendation given his family’s entrepreneurial history. His mother, Nancy, is the owner/operator of Arrow Photography & Promotions and manages her husband’s business, DronePix. She is also the founder of the not-for-profit Krystal’s Wish Foundation for S.I.D.S.

“I started out working at my mother’s [photography] company at 10-years-old,” Rafter says, explaining it began with simple, straightforward tasks and then progressed as he demonstrated his competency. “At [age] 14, I started making and answering phone calls,” he describes, adding that the experience grew his self confidence and allowed him to develop customer service skills, which are essential to a business’ success.

The 2014 Kingston High School graduate remembers struggling in school with a learning disability, but he knew he was destined to join the ranks of the self-employed. He knew fairly quickly that enrolling in the WEB program was a proactive response to achieving his goal.

Looking back, Rafter says he was pretty scared when he first began attending BOCES with students from more than a half dozen other districts. “I started by hanging out with my friends and then with their friends, so I was socializing with people I didn’t know,” he recalls. “This definitely was a big difference from Kingston High School, because when I went to BOCES it was like this is my home. It was more welcoming because of the teachers and staff, and Ms. Middaugh showed that to me too.”

Thanks to the WEB class, Rafter learned a variety of marketing skills including the importance of business cards, pamphlets, and the insight that every business should have a website—all strategies that complimented the valuable hands-on lessons he learned while growing up and participating in his mother’s business ventures. 

The budding enterpriser also understood the power of networking at a young age and, under the mentorship of his mother, frequented the local Lions Club and chambers of commerce, and landed his first client through one of those meetings.         

Rafter started his career teaching martial arts at a client’s home when he was 16-years-old. In 2017, the now 23-year-old opened a martial arts school called Moo Do Self Defense in Saugerties and relocated to Port Ewen in April of 2018 to accommodate his growing business. In fact, Rafter has been teaching 2018 Ulster BOCES Criminal Justice and Kingston City School District graduate Jeremiah Childs since he was four-years-old. Childs says that he finds Rafter’s success to be a motivation for his own future accomplishments. “He opened his own school and even before I went to BOCES I wanted to [also open a martial arts school], so seeing Jon do it inspired me and made me want to do it even more,” Childs explains.   

Middaugh recalls that Rafter was a very focused and detail-oriented student. “In Web Business Entrepreneurship, the students learn how customer feedback through the creation of customer satisfaction surveys is important in business. These are very important qualities in becoming a successful business owner.”

Today, the work experience he gained from his mother is reflected through one of his business’ tenets to provide self-defense in a family environment that provides social, physical, and emotional growth for the entire family. “Parents are the best teachers of life’s goals… by taking a negative and turning it into a positive,” Rafter says. He also believes the instruction he received at Ulster BOCES was instrumental in contributing to his business success and made for a great high school career. “I thought everyday was awesome for two years,” Rafter recalls fondly.

Middaugh is not surprised by her former student’s success. "Jonathan had very good work ethics and these qualities are assets when you are in charge of your own business and being successful," she s