Distributive Education Clubs of America
Story by Angela Brandt
Photos by Nikki Carlson
Page Design by Stacy Mantle
In a time when some families seem to have less time for one another and even less in common, some Havreites have found a solution - Distributive Education Clubs of America, or DECA.
For Havre High School DECA advisor Janie Hedstrom, “it's a family thing.”
Hedstrom has coached many nieces and nephews, and all three of her children in DECA competitions, including her son, Matthew.
Matthew Hedstrom, along with 10 other Havre students and more than 14,000 high school students, advisors and sponsors, will take part in DECA's 60th annual High School International Career Development Conference, which will run from April 29 to May 2 in Dallas.
The students have held fundraisers over the last year to pay for the trip, which costs about $1,000 per child, and will accept donations.
Seventeen Havre students competed at last month's state-level competition and 13 qualified for the Dallas conference. Two had scheduling conflicts, leaving 11 to compete in Texas, Hedstrom said.
The DECA high school program helps prepare students for careers in business administration, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales. More than 180,000 high school students are members of the club in more than 5,000 chapters operating in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Puerto Rico, according to DECA's Web site.
Janie Hedstrom said the club gives students connections in the business world and serves as “a door opening.”
Judges are selected from businesses in the area where each competition is held.
“For state, it was Billings business members, and the district manager of a chain store judged one of the girls on the Havre team. He called the local store in Havre to see if the student was 16 years old yet so he could hire her,” Janie Hedstrom said.
Similar situations have happened in the past.
“They know if the students were in DECA, they have the training,” she added.
Sophomore Stephanie Stremcha took first place at the state competition in the entrepreneurship competition. She said she joined the club because she thought it would be fun and a good way to meet people.
Stremcha's mother, Lorna, was also in DECA during her high school years in Billings and competed at nationals.
Stephanie Stremcha said her mother encouraged her to become involved with the group because she had a good experience when she competed.
Lorna Stremcha said participating in DECA helped her with networking skills, self confidence, interviewing skills and “being a well-rounded individual.”
She said the atmosphere at the competitions has changed since she was a DECA member.
“Now, it's like watching little Donald Trumps on their laptops,” Lorna Stremcha said.
Stephanie Stremcha said her involvement with the group has helped her overcome her shyness. She said the competitions help because she is talking in front of complete strangers and is more comfortable because she'll never have to see them again.
Last year, she received an award of excellence at the national conference.
She is looking forward to returning to nationals this year and meeting new people.
Steve Mariani, a past DECA member, said the club has changed over time.
He said the group was not as organized when he was a member and the club didn't go to meets and conferences.
His daughter, Katie Mariani, said she didn't know her dad, a Havre High graduate, was in DECA until after she had already signed up to join the club.
Katie Mariani took first place at this year's state competition in both food marketing and fashion marketing.
The Havre sophomore had to write a 15-page paper for one of her competitions.
“It makes you busy but it's worth it,” the 16-year-old said.
She said she enjoyed her trip to the national competition in Anaheim, Calif., last year, especially the trips to Disneyland and a Dodgers game.
This year, she is looking forward to visiting the Six Flags Over Texas theme park and attending the Mesquite Championship Rodeo.
Steve Mariani said he is very proud of his daughter and her accomplishments in competitions.
“I know going to nationals is an honor and the trips are a lot of fun,” he said.
The insurance agent said he thinks the skills learned in the club, like the art of selling yourself and also thinking on your toes, are very applicable in every career.
Janie Hedstrom said one way DECA officials encourage the students to meet each other is by giving each a handful of pins representing their state.
“All of them wear blue blazers at the competition and some have their whole blazer covered with pins representing all of the states by the end. It works as an ice breaker so the students can get to know each other,” she said.
Jesine Munson, who is set to compete in the apparel and accessories category in Dallas, said she hasn't felt anxious about the competition yet.
“Right now, I am not nervous. When I get there, I will be,” she said.
Senior Chase Castloo, junior Christina Armstrong, sophomore Anni Freier, and freshmen Devon Hassa and Beau Briese also will compete in individual competitions in Dallas. Kelsey Evans and Shayla Preeshl qualified at state but are unable to attend nationals.
Havre's only team will compete in the entrepreneurship promotion plan category. The three-person team, made up of juniors Matthew Hedstrom, Erika Briese and Michael Erickson, placed first at the state competition.
Matthew Hedstrom, who is in his third year with DECA, said their presentation on successful promotion and entrepreneurship will include a 10-page paper, a Power Point display and posters.
A judge will question the team.
All of the students' travel expenses are paid with money earned at fundraisers.
The Havre kids have sold raffle tickets, held a spaghetti feed and put together two dances to raise money.
Hedstrom, who's been the HHS DECA advisor for 27 years, and another chaperone's expenses are covered by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Grant, a federally-funded program designed to assist in career planning.
She said she and her family members have learned many things through DECA over the years. One lesson: never leave before the awards ceremony.
Her daughter, Stephanie, went to the DECA national competition two years ago.
The advisor said the Havre High group had to fly home before the awards ceremony because they were unable to catch a later flight. She got a message on her cell phone as soon as the club got off the plane saying Stephanie had placed eighth in her competition.
“We stay until the end now,” Hedstrom said.
The club will continue to sell raffle tickets for a drawing in May after they return from the competition and also will begin fundraising for next year's conference. To buy raffle tickets, contact Janie Hedstrom at the high school or any of the participating students.