Van Wert Career Counselor Kerry Koontz addresses students at the 5th annual CEO program banquet on Wednesday. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Van Wert Career Counselor Kerry Koontz addresses students at the 5th annual CEO program banquet on Wednesday. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Wednesday morning, students involved with the high school Career Education Opportunities (CEO) program gathered to celebrate the fifth successful year of the program. The CEO program allows seniors from Van Wert, Lincolnview, and Crestview to try out career opportunities in Van Wert County. This year, 49 students and 47 businesses participated.

Van Wert High School Career Counselor Kerry Koontz, who started the program, said that with COVID-19, the CEO program almost didn’t happen this year. A few businesses that normally participate, couldn’t because of safety precautions. But he noted that students, businesses, and the schools were flexible, which allowed the program to move forward.

“We didn’t give up and it worked out for the most part,” said Koontz. “The doors that closed opened some new other ones. We had 14 new businesses that partnered with us this year.”

Koontz said this year, in particular, taught students to be flexible and do tasks that may not necessarily be part of their job description. Some students who wanted to go into health care, but couldn’t test out the job due to COVID, tried other careers. One student who was interested in health care, for example, worked with the YWCA. Koontz said this allows students to see what’s in the community and what various organizations do in Van Wert County, even if the students may not go in that career direction.

“There’s obviously a purpose for what we’re doing,” said Koontz to the students. “Now you’ve gained professional experience. You’re going to highlight that on your resumes. You’ve networked. You’ve made connections. These people are references for you.”

“Some of you have figured out ‘This is not what I want to do; I don’t like this,’” added Koontz. “That’s a valuable experience. If you didn’t experience what you’ve experienced every day through CEO, you wouldn’t have known. So you can change [directions].”

Students enjoyed a breakfast and heard a message from local pastor Matt Braun of LifeHouse Church who encouraged them to keep working hard to reach their goals.

Several students plan to stay with the businesses they partnered with for the CEO program through summer work.

Four local businesses have participated in the program all five years: Vancrest, National Door and Trim, Van Wert Middle School, and Van Wert Elementary School.