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Food for Thought: Riverbend CEO reflects on its third season at investor breakfast event

When she was at the podium at the second annual Riverbend CEO Investor Breakfast on April 30 at the Missouri Room at the Best Western Premier Hotel, Katie Williams summed up her nine-month experience as a member of the Riverbend CEO in three words.

“Don’t give up,” the Marquette Catholic senior said.

Williams was part of the CEO group, comprised of high school seniors who attended Marquette, Alton High School and East Alton-Wood River High School. The program prepares seniors to be responsible individuals in the business world.

The group was honored at the 90-minute event that included investors and board members of the Riverbend CEO.

Other members were Lucas Admire (Alton), Kolten Bauer(Marquette), Gabrielle Clark (Alton), Colin Everitt (Marquette), Carsen Freeman (Alton), Mackenzie Giertz (Alton), Justin Godfrey (Marquette), Nick Hemann (Marquette), Josh Lombardi (Alton), Jacob Mellenthin (East Alton-Wood River), Jack Parker (Marquette), Jon Podner  (Marquette), Sadie Siefert (Marquette), Roman Thomeczek (Alton) and Andrew Wilson (Alton).

“The CEO has helped me develop skills that I could never do in a classroom,” Thomeczek said. “The experience that I had with all of the people I have met with was incredible. I think everyone should be able to take this class. I recommend anyone a year under me to take this class. It’s a really great program.”

Later that day, the CEO members returned to the hotel to showcase their business at the annual CEO Trade Show.

Williams has started a business that creates blankets. She said after every five purchases, one is donated to the Siteman Cancer Center. 

“My business idea comes from my mom, who a few years ago was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Williams said. “She’s cancer-free. Whenever she would receive chemo, she would be always cold, so I wanted to provide that little bit of comfort to people who are going through the same thing.” 

The investor breakfast event began last year to recognize the 21 investors who have contributed to the CEO program, which has wrapped up its third year.

“I’m so proud of these kids,” facilitator Katie Sabolo said. “I’m so proud of this program. It has gotten better every year. I’m excited for what next year holds.”

The program started with a breakfast. Next, it had speeches from Sabolo, board president Jane Saale, all 16 CEO members and Carley Hamberg, who was part of the first CEO group in the 2016-2017 school year.

There are more than 30 CEO programs in Illinois, including the Riverbend’s.

“The idea is having a program like this is really amazing,” Saale said. “Jerseyville is putting one together. Edwardsville is putting one together. Granite City already had theirs before we started ours. The CEO program is growing like wildfire.” 

The students meet off campus every day, either on a business visit or at a host business to learn about succeeding in the business world. The program is hosted by businesses throughout the year and is funded by business investors.

“This is such a unique program and a great unique learning opportunity for these students,” Sabolo said. “These are hands-on opportunities that a lot of students don’t have access to.”

The facilitator said the group also created a Monopoly-like board game called Riverbendopoly, which features 40 businesses from the Riverbend.

“They did a really great job,” she said. “Just the skills they learned in this project as they went out and asked people to give money up front so they can put their business on the board, that’s scary. They got all of 40 spots filled and they sold the game, so I’m super proud of them.” 

Riverbend CEO investors

1st MidAmerica Credit Union, Adams Development Company, Carrollton Bank, CNB Bank & Trust, Contegra Construction Company, Cope Plastics Inc., Express Employment Professionals, Freer Auto Body, Illinois American Water, Jack Helmkamp, Landmark Realty - Matt Horn, Lash Family Farm, Lewis and Clark Community College. Macias Insurance Agency, OSF Saint Anthony’s Health Center, Piasa Motor Fuels; Sheppard, Morgan, & Schwaab; State Farm - Karen Wilson, TheBANK of Edwardsville, Wegman Electric Co., Werts Welding & Tank Service

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