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A Head Start

ALTON — Since her senior year at Marquette Catholic High School began in August, Regina Guehlstorf has been busy.

She plays two sports, and she’s a member of the Riverbend CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) group, which prepares seniors to be responsible individuals in the business world.

“I’ve been doing sports for years and I’ve been doing school for years, so I figured why not add something new to the mix?” said Guehlstorf, who played volleyball last fall and basketball this winter. “This is a really good new thing and it’s different. It’s not just your typical school class, and it’s something you’re going to need later on in life, so why not get a head start? I’m all for that.”

The Riverbend CEO includes 12 local high school seniors. They are Guehlstorf, Heidi Amberg (Marquette), Joey Barnard (East Alton-Wood River), Solomon Blackmon (Alton), Ikeyah Edwards (Marquette), Grace Frost (Marquette), Izzie Hallemann (Marquette), Johnna Harshbarger (Marquette), Darryl Hunter (Marquette), Kelcey Johnson (Marquette), Lila Snider (Marquette) and Diamond Wagner (Alton).

Katie McBee is the facilitator of the group, which started in 2016. A 2007 Alton graduate, McBee works as a business teacher at Marquette.

“I have a passion for the Riverbend area,” McBee said. “I love this area. I think it’s amazing with the businesses that we have and the opportunities and the history of the area. I just love it. When I found about this job and I heard about working with the students and committing to the area and learning about the area, I thought it would be a great job for me.”

The program also has a board of directors that includes president Tom Long, vice-president Marc Voegele and secretary/treasurer Monica Bristow.

Craig Lindvahl, executive director of the Midland Institute of Entrepreneurship in Effingham, started the first CEO class in Effingham in 2008. Now there are 35 CEO programs in Illinois, including the one in the Riverbend.

“One of the first facilitators out of Effingham, Craig Lindvahl, did a presentation,” McBee said. “Cindy Edmond was the one who first heard about the program. She brought Monica Bristow and Tom Long on board and they got into it and they developed our board ... they raised the funds and they were able to get it up and going, and it’s been going ever since.”

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 local businesses throughout the year and is funded by business investors.

“It’s not even a class,” Guehlstorf said. “It’s totally different, and it’s a whole introduction before you go to college and before you go to into the business world. We’re learning the little business in and outs before we ever get into it and it’s a really special experience. I’m glad that I’m able to join the class.”

The students have toured more than 50 area businesses. They meet at St. Claire’s Hospital.

“Things are going really well in the program,” McBee said. “The students are definitely growing and they’re maturing. It’s neat to see the growth that takes place in a short period of time. Right now, we’re working through the business plans. We’re almost finished writing those. The accomplishment of writing a business plan when you’re 17 to 18 years old is awesome.”

Guehlstorf is already working on a plan for her business, Take Me Back.

“I would go interview over a iPad and tape it and I would ask the older generation what life was like when they were little or how your world has changed and what your grandparents were like,” she said. “I give it to the younger generation, whether it’s my generation or my parents’ generation. It’s a live account of someone that you live with, not only your family’s history but the history of America and what it was like back then ... It’s your own personal life.”

Frost (volleyball and softball), Amberg (golf and bowling) and Snider (basketball and soccer) are among the other athletes in the program.

“We have busy schedules as athletes, and I think it’s really cool that we get to have work days in CEO, so we do a lot of it here,” Frost said. “But you also get to bring those skills you learn as an athlete, being a team leader or working as a team and picking up the strengths and weaknesses of a team and applying them in CEO has really helped with balancing everything.”

The CEO group will have Banker Day on March 9, when students will present business plans to area bankers. The program’s trade show is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. April 24 at the Best Western Premier Hotel in Alton.

McBee said the goals for students are gaining knowledge about business and building relationships with local businesses.

“They may decide that entrepreneurship is not for them, and that’s OK,” the facilitator said. “We would not consider that a failure at all. They’re figuring it out now at 17 and 18 years old instead of 30 or 40, so they’re ahead of the game.” 

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