2021 - Jefferson County CEO Students Strive for Success

Date: Thursday, February 25, 2021 

Publication: Mt. Vernon Sentinel 

Author: Josh Jones 

Even with the challenges that this year and last year has brought six local seniors are working hard to pursue their own dreams of entrepreneurship. 

The 2021 Jefferson County CEO class is currently establishing their own businesses with hopes of potentially growing a business or using that experience to pursue other opportunities in the future. Jefferson County CEO is an educational program that prepares our youth to become entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial thinkers. The students enrolled are immersed in an environment where they learn real-life experiences from business leaders and companies in the local area. 

Briar Curd is a senior at Mount Vernon Township High School (MVTHS). She said that her business named Briar’s scents focuses on homemade laundry scent booster. 

“I have noticed that when you go to Walmart or Kroger and you try to buy the leading brands like Downy, Gain, or Tide, you get 16 ounces for like $9. It is just crazy, but people buy it because they are really good,” Curd said. “I am going to be making mine organically with no chemicals, make more of it and hopefully for cheaper.” 

Curd said she is in the process of researching the cost to make the scent booster as she discussed the research she has put into her business. 

“I have watched YouTube videos on how to make them and different recipes,” Curd said. “The one that I selected is super simple. I bought small amounts to make the recipe and I did some tests on different mixtures of scents. I ran them through my own washing machine to test it out.” 

Curd said that she is hoping to start out with three different scents. She said that it will depend on how well her scents do by the end program whether or not she continues her business beyond CEO. 

“I came into CEO thinking it would only be throughout the class period, but it just depends on how successful it is and if I can manage it within my schedule, because I do work over the summer and u am also going off to college in the fall,” Curd said. “I am looking forward to gaining experience and learning more about myself throughout the process.” 

Curd said that her mentor for the program is Chris Bernard of Peoples National Bank. 

“He is super supportive, really helpful and I know I can ask him any questions that I need to, and he will definitely answer within a day,” Curd said. “It is really helpful to have someone with experience like that who Is on my side.” 

While Curd has enjoyed the CEO Program, she also explained that this year has been challenging. 

“It has been a super enjoyable just the aspect of everything I have learned, but it has been frustrating having the class during the pandemic, just because I know that we haven’t been at the same level as other classes, because we haven’t been able to take advantage of all the resources and all the class room that pervious classes have had,” Curd said. “So that is really frustrating, but at the same time there is nothing we can do and we are just making the most out of it. It has been super enjoyable and I do regret taking the class.” 

Lauren berry is a senior at MVTHS. She said her business is called Happy Tails, which is a pet bandana business. 

“I would make bandanas for cats and dogs and I am doing resin pet tags as well, so I would customize for the customer little dog tags and cat tags for people.” Berry said. “I am making sizes for dogs extra small to extra large, because my dogs are three different, so I have all of my sizing charts here and for cats I feel would just be a size small.” 

Berry said that resin tags are made out of silicone and are highly customizable. The tags usually consist of the pet’s name and a contact phone number. 

Berry explained that it is her passion for animals that led her to this idea for a business. 

“I have three dogs (Jack, Remington, and Maggie) and a cat. So I just love animals and I knew I wanted to something with the pet market, because I knew that is very popular,” Berry said. “I like to sew, I like to be creative, so why not mix all those in one and do pet bandanas and resin tags.”  

Berry said that if she sees success with her business she will probably continue it. She said she is excited because she knows various owners and experts involved with local pet businesses.  

“I am really excited, because I love dog and I love talking to people. I am in theatre, so I like being expressive,” Berry said. 

Berry said that her mentor, Megan Schimdt, has been great to work with. 

“She is the perfect person I could be with, this is right up her alley, we just click and she is so helpful. I am really thankful for her.” Berry said. 

Berry said that even with the pandemic her Jefferson County CEO experience has been great. 

“Even in COVID it has been very beneficial. I have learned a lot about people’s stories and how businesses got started,” Berry said. “You learn so much about what is actually in Mount Vernon. Just learning new things about the community around you, you get to be creative and meet new people.” 

Brothers Hayden and Hunter England are seniors at Woodlawn High School. They are both working together for their business called Hard Headed, which seeks to be one stop shop for fitness apparel, equipment motivational items, fitness instructions and nutritional help and more. 

“We have been working on it for about three years. We always look for motivational things, which we believe a healthy body leads to a healthy mind,” Hayden Said. 

Hunter said they hope in the future to sell some fitness packages that include instructions. 

“Right now we are offering free fitness instructions,” Hunter said. “We are posting videos of workout routines to help people out.” 

Hayden said they are striving to go beyond just creating a business. 

“We are trying to build a platform or culture on social media, right now we are on Instagram,” he said. “We are trying to build a culture around someone who is willing to work hard and has discipline, that is where our name comes from.” 

They plan to have apparel for sale when they showcase their business at the end of the CEO program. Hayden said that his mentor for the program is Ryan Wellmaker of Wellco, LLC. Hunter said that his mentor for the program is Gary Hamerski of COUNTRY Financial. The brothers said that they also had help from business owner Jake Jines. 

“They have been great, anything you need you can go to them and they can get you the answer for it,” Hayden said. “It is so awesome to have somebody like that, who has done everything and who has went through that. They really help you not make mistakes they made when they were building their businesses. Just having a conversation with them is so helpful.” 

Hunter said that the CEO Program has been life changing for both his brother and himself. 

“The CEO program is just awesome, it has been a life changing thing for Hayden and I,” Hunter said. “We have always had an interest in business and CEO has helped.” 

Hayden said the CEO program has really helped them get over their shyness. 

“Hunter and I were pretty shy people and just getting out of our shell a little bit and talking to some successful adults has really helped us grow in a lot of ways,” Hayden said. 

Shaylin Arnold is a senior at Woodlawn High School. She said her business is called Estas Bellas, which means “You are beautiful” in Spanish. Her goal is targeted towards fashion and enhancing outfits through her handmade jewelry. 

“I am making jewelry and accessories for just about anyone,” Arnold said. “I have been trying to focus on vintage (style) and mostly working with wire and stones just to give it a little pop and separate myself from other jewelry that is out there.”  

Arnold said that she has always enjoyed buying handmade jewelry and that business inspired her own business. 

“I have always worn a lot of handmade jewelry I have bought from other people. I just figured it would be something fun to do with my grandparents and mom,” Arnold said. “It is more of a bond and just starting a business with them.” 

Arnold said that she is expecting to have a lot of rings and necklaces available for sale.  

“I am hoping to draw in a lot with some special items that I am working on,” Arnold said. 

Arnold said that she is looking to carry her business through the summer but said only time will tell if she will continue with it.” 

“I am hoping for a good turnout, with everything going on with COVID, I am praying that doesn’t affect that as much as it will affect other things going on in the world,” Arnold said.  

Arnold said her mentor is Chelsea Heck of Roadhouse Harley-Davidson.  

“Overall she has been pretty good. She has helped me out a lot of things I didn’t think of and she has really supplied me with a lot of the jewelry products that I need such as wire and bead,” Arnold said. “She has helped me with a lot of connections that I would never think of.” 

Arnold said that even in these difficult times she has enjoyed her experience through the Jefferson County CEO program. 

“It has been great. I have enjoyed meeting all these business people and just building those relationships that are going to last forever,” Arnold said. “It is so beneficial, I just hope everybody will take the chance and just go for it.” 

Katy Knox is a senior at Woodlawn High School. She said her business is called Camp Knox, which is aimed as a place, local youth 5 and older, to go during the summer. 

“It is a learning activity center for school-aged children,” Knox said. “It is a technology-free zone that encourages kids to make new friends and get out of their comfort zone.”  

Knox said that she has been holding this camp since 2017. 

“Last summer we were only open three days a week and my attendance was really low,” Knox said. “Hopefully this year we will have lots of lifts on policies with COVID, so hopefully things will be back to normal.” 

Knox said her camp is full of various outdoor activities including slip and slide, riding bikes, and more. 

“I love watching the kids make new friends, learn things and having the moments where you can tell they are having the best time of their life. I just love doing it,” Knox said. 

Knox said that she will be selling Camp Knox t-shirts, take home journals and will have information for the camp. 

Knox said that her mentor this year is Kay Zibby-Damron 

“Kay is great, she has helped me so much,” Knox said. “We have only been able to meet a couple of times because of COVID, but she is great.” 

Knox said that she plans to counite her business after the CEO program and she is planning to become a teacher. She said that her CEO experience has been fantastic. 

“CEO has taught me so many things. I have become very comfortable talking in front of people since I began this,” Knox said. “It has been a fantastic experience and I am so glad I took the chance and actually participated in it.” 

The Jefferson County CEO program takes the students through a variety of different business activities. During the first semester the group worked as a team to form a group business/event to raise money for their individual businesses in the second semester. For additional funds the students also could present their businesses to local banks during Banker Day where they can get zero interest loans  

The 2021 Jefferson County CEO Trade Show will be held outdoors from 4:30 to 6 p.m. May 6 at Rend Lake College Marketplace on Potomac Boulevard from 4:30 to 6 p.m. For more information the public may visit www.jeffersoncountyceo.org or its Facebook page.