Pictured at top is Lorrie Decker. Pictured at bottom is Allie Etter. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Pictured at top is Lorrie Decker. Pictured at bottom is Allie Etter. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – The Career Education Opportunities (CEO) program aims to allow area senior students to test careers at local businesses and organizations. Currently, students are halfway through this year's program. Two Van Wert seniors spoke about how the program has helped them discover what they would like to do after graduation.

"Before, I had no idea what I wanted to do," said Van Wert senior Allie Etter. "This program has led me to the direction I want to move into."

For the CEO program, Van Wert seniors work with Career Counselor Kerry Koontz, who started the program, and explain what types of careers they are interested in. Etter noted that she was undecided about what she wanted to do after high school, but was interested in the work Mitch Price, Main Street Van Wert Director, does.

"I've known Mitch for a really long time, and I knew I wanted to work with him and that I would discover different businesses," said Etter. "I really like what he's doing, and it's shown me what I want to do."

Etter has been helping with the marketing aspect of Main Street Van Wert, and now thinks she would like to go into a marketing career. At MSVW, Etter has been utilizing social media to promote the organization. Lately, she's been working on the Chocolate Walk event, which occurs in early February.

Seniors in the CEO program leave school for a class period to work with local businesses. Etter said this was one appeal to the program because it allowed her to get hands-on experience that can't necessarily be gained inside of a classroom.

"I think it's a great opportunity to see what you want to do," said Etter.

"It's a great opportunity to get out into the community and help out," she continued. "It's really fun if you have room in your schedule."

In the same building, Van Wert senior Lorrie Decker has been working with the United Way.

Decker completes daily tasks that need to be done at the United Way including preparing for events and sending out pledges. While Decker worked solely with the United Way during her first semester, she transitioned to going to the Van Wert Elementary School to work with Mrs. Welker's art class for part of the week during the second semester.

"I've always wanted to go into marketing," said Decker. "I'm a bowler and marketing is really big in the bowling world. So, that really sparked my interest. But I've always loved art. I'm in AP art and that established as I went along. I wanted to test a business side but didn't want to strictly be in art. So I thought I'd combine the two."

Combining art and business led her to the United Way, but as the first semester came to an end, she thought she'd try something different.

"As I went along with the United Way, I thought, 'Well, maybe I want to go strictly art,' so that's what I'm doing [with going to the elementary art class]," added Decker.

Decker said the CEO program is flexible and allows for her to test various careers. By looking at both a marketing career and an art career, Decker is able to find out which might be the best fit for her, without having to spend a bunch of money.

"The CEO program gives you a chance to see exactly what you want to go into, and even if it's not what you want at all, it gives you that opportunity to decided you don't want this," said Decker.

She also said that the program provides business experience and allows for networking opportunities that lead to references that can be used on a resume.

Decker encourages juniors who are thinking about doing the CEO program next school year to keep their mind open and to be willing to test out different careers.

"Branch off into what you, possibly, are too scared to do," said Decker. "Don't be scared to spark your flare."

Decker said she hopes to go to college for something that is both business and art-related.

Both Main Street Van Wert and the United Way have participated in the CEO program for several years.

"It's important for us to have a CEO person because we want people to not only know what's going on downtown but we want them to come back when they graduate college and support the downtown," said MSVW Director Mitch Price. "It helps us out because we stay connected with the high schools, whether it's Lincolnview, Crestview, or Van Wert."

Price said often the students volunteer outside of their regular scheduled hours and said that it's beneficial to have the youth involved in the community.