By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The posters in teacher Laurie Widman’s room at North Tonawanda High School bear words to live by: “Your mind is your most powerful resource,” “For success, attitude is as important as ability” and “Knowledge is power.”
For members of the school’s DECA club, those words — and the principles behind them — may also be a ticket to California this year.
Fourteen members of the DECA club for business and marketing students at the school recently returned from the the 53rd annual State Career Conference in Rochester with a collective 16 medals and nine trophies — and six students moving on to the International Career Development Conference in April in Anaheim, Calif., where they will compete with others from around the world.
Widman, who has served as adviser to the club for seven years, said only about 200 participants from the state competition move on to the international one. About 1,800 students took part in about 60 events at the New York conference, while about 15,000 will participate in the Anaheim convention.
DECA students take part in events including public speaking, interviews, tests, business role playing, giving presentations and presenting manuals they’ve put together on various business and marketing issues. The events are judged by business people from the community.
“There’s so much growth you see in the kids. It’s amazing to see them mature,” said Widman, who recalled shy students who visibly conquered that shyness preparing for and taking part in DECA competitions. “I love it. It’s just a great program. You see them get more confident.”
Even for those not moving on to the international contest, the public speaking, networking and other DECA-related experiences are invaluable, she said.
“They get to see so much,” Widman said. “Sometimes they get so involved with their own school and community. They don’t realize what opportunities are out there. The world’s turning, every day.”
Some students start working on their DECA projects as early as summer, she said. Club members also work in the NTHS store, where they earn money for competitions.
“Some kids who are on the edge, sometimes it’s hard for them to make good choices,” Widman said. “Once they get involved in DECA, they seem to find their way down a good path.”
As part of the “Buying and Merchandising Operations” competition, students Connor Greene and Carlie McClinsey wrote a 30-page manual for Anderson’s Frozen Custard that includes ideas that may actually be implemented by the company, Widman said. They finished second in the state, and will be moving on to Anaheim.
McClinsey was one of several DECA members who said that she actually intends to change her career plans because of what she’s learned in the club.
“I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did,” she said. “Because it’s a business club, you think that everyone’s going to be strict and ‘business-y.’ But everyone’s so relaxed and outgoing and fun. You meet a lot of people. People are willing to help other people improve. ... It gives you a lot of opportunities you wouldn’t normally get.”
“Just to speak in front of that many people,” he said, “isn’t normal for a student.”
One group of students took home top honors, but will be staying in North Tonawanda for the competition. Lauren Helf, Megan Helf and Caitlin Jones won first place for their “Chapter Scrapbook” project, a category that only exists at the state level.
“It was a lot of work,” Megan Helf said, “but it paid off in the end.”
Lauren Candlena, Megan Weaver and Tim Zamyslov earned fourth place for the “Fashion Merchandising Promotion Plan” competition for their work on plans for Nike Inc.
Gabrielle McIntyre earned fourth place for “Principles of Hospitality.” Aaron Weaver and Kelsey Ross took three medals each for their work in the “Technical Sales” and “Buying and Merchandising Operations,” respectively.