Fayette County CEO Students Showcase Businesses at Annual Show

By Rich Bauer

The current group of CEO students wrapped up their year on Sunday by showcasing their individual products and services at the annual trade show.
Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunity is “a one-year, experiential, learning-based course designed to use partnerships in the community to provide local youth with insight into business processes and development” .

Pictures of Rich Bauer
Leo Krueger, who sold his Mezcla Mix at the CEO Trade Show on Sunday, won third place in the 2022 Power Pitch competition from the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Center for Innovation and Inquiry and placed second in the CEO National Pitch Competition .

Together with CEO partner, the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, the local board strongly believes that 21st century skills like problem solving, teamwork, self-motivation, responsibility, critical thinking, communication and curiosity should be central to every student’s development. throughout this program.
The group’s vision statement is: Fayette County CEO will provide a pathway for student entrepreneurs to develop integrity, teamwork, excellence, accountability and a sense of community for leaders of tomorrow.

According to the mission statement, the program “is dedicated to: making connections, building relationships, fostering teamwork, teaching the lesions of life, building confidence, developing creativity, teaching responsibility, offering experiments, teach communication skills; and enhancing community awareness.
The class meets each morning with host Debbie Hobbie, a retired teacher from Vandalia, before starting their normal school day.

Through the program, students learn to become entrepreneurs by hosting local business owners, visiting local businesses and industries, working with local business people who serve as mentors, developing a class and creating individual businesses.

This year’s class business was a murder mystery, which was hosted by the Vandalia Moose Lodge, and this year’s class decided to run a pop-up shop, selling gourmet popcorn during Olde Tyme Christmas.

All of this year’s CEO students are seniors at Vandalia Community High School.

This year’s students and their individual companies are:

  • Elizabeth Barenfanger, Elizabeth’s Emporium, clothes and bandanas for dogs.
  • Jadie Davidson-Keck, Cre8, artwork.
  • Madison Johnson, Maddie’s Magical Moments, Magical Moments and Telegrams.
  • Leo Krueger, Mezcla Mix, morning, noon and evening snack mixes.
  • Kurstiana Sachan, No Confusion, Art Kits.
  • Ellie Whitten, Ellie Kate’s, Bakery Treats.
  • Isabella Eller, Root Bound Plant Co., plants, accessories and growing tools.
Fayette County CEO Group

Photo submitted
This year’s Fayette County CEO students are pictured above. Left to right, Jadie Davidson-Keck, Elizabeth Barenfanger, Madison Ferguson, Leo Krueger, Isabella Eller, Kurstiana Sachan and Ellie Whitten.

Current members of the Fayette County Board of Directors are Sandy Michel, President; Pat Click, Vice President; Mary Schulze, secretary; Sally Emerick, Treasurer; Mike Shackelford; Nick Casey; Laura Benhoff; Doug Knebel; Bo Melton; Mike Radliff; and Brent Oberlink.

Hobbie praises this year’s student CEOs.

“All seven are performing well,” Hobbie said.

“This is the most mature group of kids I’ve ever had, and it’s going to be fun to see where they go from here,” she said.

Leo Krueger, for example, “has irons in the fire to get a cottage license” tied to the possible mass production of his snack mixes, she said.
Individual student businesses were highlighted on the class Facebook page, something Hobbie thought “Midland (States Bank) was putting up (Facebook page).

“And I find out it was Elizabeth (Barenfanger),” Hobbie said.

This, she said, is an example of how “when they just see something that needs to be done, they do it.

“And, they get along so well. It’s amazing,” said Hobbie.

This was the first year with the CEO that Hobbie decided not to have the students meet or work on their businesses one day a week.

“Before, I wasn’t always sure it wouldn’t just be more sleep time (that day),” she said.

“But, these people, we might not meet one day, but at 6:30 or 7 a.m. (in the morning), they’re texting each other – they’re up and working,” Hobbie said.
In addition to regular class work, class affairs, and individual businesses, students traveled to high schools across the county to explain the program to potential future student CEOs.


Pictures of Rich Bauer
Ellie Whitten wraps up some of her Ellie Kate baked goods for a customer at Sunday’s CEO show.

And, this year, Hobbie said, they also started meeting eighth graders, “just planting the seed.”

Next year’s class will be the first to have students from all five county high schools, and with 17 students, it will be the largest CEO class yet.


Photo by Rich Bauer
Elizabeth Barenfanger, who sold her Elizabeth’s Emporium products at Sunday’s CEO Trade Show, has been selected as a finalist for the Golden Apple Scholars Class of 2022.

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