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'A transformational experience': Effingham CEO program nurtures young entrepreneurs

EFFINGHAM — Students from the Effingham County CEO class may be young, but they know how to run a business.

The Effingham County Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class, or CEO for short, is in its fourth year and has been successful and challenging, said Craig Lindvahl, teacher of the CEO program.

“This is a transformational experience for everybody: for the kids, their parents and the businesses. It’s a remarkable experience,” Lindvahl said. “I have heard that these kids get a 20-year head start on their lives because of this class.”

Select junior and senior students from six high schools in Effingham County are chosen for the year-long CEO class. During the course, students have the opportunity to develop their own product and work with different businesses.

Lindvahl said student who want to enroll in the class have to go through an application process. Students have to write an essay and submit letters of recommendation.

“The selection committee is trying to find the right kids who would benefit the most from the experience,” Lindvahl said.

The CEO class normally has 20 to 25 students enrolled each year and is funded by 50 to 60 business investors who each contribute $1,000 to the program, he said.

According to Lindvahl, the purpose of the program is to teach students how to deal with failure and success and to give them the skills they need to thrive in the world.

“There is a growing disconnect between the world inside of school and outside of school. Kids learn differently, they think differently and we can no longer pretend that the world is like it was. So we need to give kids the kind of skills that will enable them to deal with change,” Lindvahl said.

One of the students who has the skill set to deal with change and manage success is Taylor Fatheree.

Fatheree, a senior at Effingham High School, developed a free cellphone application called Hearts Mobile. The app provides information, scores and photos of Effingham High School sports.

Fatheree said since he launched Hearts Mobile on Jan. 6, the app has had 4,000 downloads in 31 states and 10 countries.

“I think for people around here it gives them information on the spot. Most people these days don’t want to wait for anything, they want something right now. This is something no one else around here has done,” Fatheree said. “And I think for the people outside of Effingham it is a way to tie back into the community and see how their team is doing.”

Fatheree said after he graduates from high school he plans to go to college in a different state, which will make running his business difficult. However, Fatheree said he has a solution to continue his business: hire someone else to run it.

“To run the site you have to be at the games, so we have talked about hiring people on or selling it down the road. We will figure that out when we get there,” Fatheree said.

According to Fatheree, plans for the future of his app include adding a wider variety of sports and focusing more on basketball and football.

Another student who knows how to balance high school and a business is Katie Whightsel.

Whightsel, a senior at St. Anthony High School in Effingham, cultivated her own aroma therapy dog toy called Rosie’s Remedy, which is named after her dog.

The product has buck weed and lavender essential oils in it, which Whightsel said relaxes the canine.

“The dog plays with the toy and it releases the scent. It’s just to calm your dog down and relax them,” she said.

Whightsel said she formed the idea for her product at the veterinary clinic she works at. Rosie’s Remedy only takes Whightsel about five to seven minutes to make and she sold more than 40 dog toys in two hours at the CEO Tradeshow on May 7.

Whightsel said she plans on going to college in Missouri and wants to continue her business while she is there.

“Eventually I would like to have it were I can hire people to put the product together and I would just oversee the project,” Whightsel said.

Even though he is no longer in high school, Brandon Hemmen still plans on continuing his business, which he founded while in the CEO class.

Hemmen, just graduated from Teutopolis High School, and said he feels confident that he can still sell his product when he attends Kaskaskia College in the fall.

During the CEO class, Hemmen came up with a product called the Man Closet, which holds hunting equipment and clothes.

“It keeps your gear together without losing any of it and it’s very efficient,” Hemmen said. “It’s kind of like a man cave, but a miniature one. It just helps the hunter out that much more.”

Hemmen said he came up with the idea for his product when he was searching for his hunting gear in his basement and found that it was not organized properly, so he wanted to make a product that would help keep all his hunting gear in one place.

There are two versions of the 7-foot-tall Man Closet: The smaller version is $380 and the other is $490 because it has more shelf space, he said.

Hemmen said he has only sold five Man Closets so far but plans on selling more in the future by pitching his product to different businesses.

“I think this is one of the first of its kind and when it gets out there they will buy it. Which is a plus for me,” Hemmen said.

Fatheree, Whightsel and Hemmen, among many other students, have all had a jump start on their business careers at an early age thanks to the CEO class.

Students who want to learn more about enrolling in the CEO class can go to www.

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