Planting seeds for the future

Pilot ESI Camp encourages youths to consider a future in business

By Larry Peirce, Editor The Banner-Press - David City

Need a training device for baseball pitchers? See True Siffring and Jacob Gleason.

One-of-a-kind flip-flops? Call Rachel Stara or Curtis Blowers.

Your initials in a pillow? Melanie Mimick.

 The business owners - all local middle school students may one day find their names in the local business directory, and they might say it all started back in 2007 at the Butler County ESI Camp.

A group of 14 Butler County youths attended the camp this week to learn how they might one day turn their talents and the activities that they love into a profitable occupation.

The camp, with ESI short for Entrepreneurship Investigation was a collaborative approach between several local, regional and state organizations. It is intended to help young people explore their options in small towns across the state, where many young people leave town for higher paying jobs in the city.The ESI campers heard from a number of local business owners and managers about the ins and outs of running a business.

The questions: Why did you get into business? How? Is it hard work? How many hours do you spend at work?The camp provided good food too at local restaurants, and that helped keep the campers' interest up during the six-hour sessions. 

At the Brainard Cafe, owner Don Maxson told the kids that when he and Nancy Steager took over seven years ago, they were seizing and opportunity and keeping a key local business going too. It would take about three years, Maxson told them, before a new business will be bringing in the revenue it needs.

Other tips? Be self-motivated. Accommodate the public. Be a people person. Expect to work hard and to work long hours. Don't expect it to be easy. 

"You've got to take care of your health", Maxson said, noting that if you don't get enough rest or exercise, your business will suffer too. Also, Maxson said, a good business owner should help out local community projects. By doing that, a business spreads the word that it cares about the people who keep it going.

The campers' favorite outing was probably the Oak Creek Sporting Club southeast of Brainard. The campers heard manager Terry Kriz tell how a family business blossomed into a regional leader in the hunting preserve and sporting clay business. The club, he said, had started by buying a few dozen cases of clay targets, and last year that number grew to 750,000.

 Kriz said the club is selling an outdoor experience to its visitors, and the students were treated to some shooting at two stations on the circuit.Both Kriz and Maxson, along with other speakers, stressed that integrity and honesty are critical. By Friday, the kids had developed their products using a $75 provided fund for each one. They had to figure out labor, marketing and other costs. When the 90-minute sale of their products was over on Friday, they had to balance the books.The students learned on Friday that they also will have the option to display their business ideas - but not sell - during the Nebraska State Fair. The local ESI Camp is expected to serve as a model for other communities across the state.

Curtis Blowers of Rising City, a freshman at Aquinas High School, said he learned while working with campers Rachel Stara, Gentrie Dodson and Shania Steager. They took ordinary flip-flops and decorated them with fabric and other materials, including balloons. The shoes sold for $6.

"I learned that it is possible to make your own busines", Curtis said. "We might actually keep doing this the rest of the summer. I was surprised at how our product is selling fast." 

Jacob Gleason of Schuyler, whose father Dan was one of the mentors, said he would recommend the camp. "I think it would be a good experience for them because I understand now that anybody can get their own business", Jacob said. "You don't have to be a certain ability to get your business you can be anyone. You have to make sure you have a passion for what you do."

Gina Barlean, one of the key coordinators of the camp, said the community-wide approach helped to make the camp successful. 

"I am very happy with how this pilot camp evolved. We collaborated with so many good people, which is the key to having a great event", Barlean said. "It was great to have different schools involved, both with teachers and students, and it was awesome how our local businesses jumped in to participate. I think the kids had a great time."

Committee members working on this camp were Gina Barlean of Butler County Development and David City Area Chamber of Commerce, Dennis Kahl of UNL Extension, Doris Lux of Central Community College, Tony Smith of Aquinas High School, Dan Gleason of Gleason and Associates and Kathy Bohac and Don Maxon of East Butler Public Schools. 

Businesses that assisted with this camp in some way are: Rose Call Solutions, Holgate Heirloom Produce, Moravec CPA, Riding on Faith, CTF Services, Rehmer Auto Parts, Oak Creek Sporting Club, Smallville Daycare Center, Northstar Services, Signature Portraits, Jones Insurance & 5th Street Laundry. The campers had lunch at Northside, Brainard Café and Pizza Hut and had a meal from Runza brought in the last day.The camp was funded in part by a grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development administered by the Nebraska Rural Development Commission. Middle School Youth participatingin the camp:

Emma Mattingly (David City High School), CurtisBlowers (AHS), Austin Bradley(Rising City), Gentrie Dodson (DCHS),Jacob Gleason (Schuyler), DillonHicks (DCHS), Elizabeth Hruska(DCHS), Melanie Mimick (AHS),Kristin Potter (RCHS), BrianneRomsheck (AHS), Tyler Schmid(DCHS), True Siffring (DCHS),Rachle Stara (AHS) and ShaniaSteager (AHS).  

Curriculum contributors:
Project Leader: Professors Patricia Fairchild and Diane Vigna of UNL.
Writers of this curriculum were represented by University students, high school and middle school teachers, extension educators, and other education specialists in Nebraska.

Curriculum partners include the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension, Nebraska State 4-H, Hometown Competitiveness, Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Net Force and former Congressman Tom Osborne.