Working together, DECA impacts community

With water bottles, breakfast, tweets and buckets, teens at Northwestern High School aim to educate, feed and strengthen their community, together. For years, members of the school's DECA (an association of marketing students) chapter have teamed...

Northwestern High School DECA members, left to right, Michael Lindsay, Madison Trautt, Brooklynn DeGraef, Jessica Shaver, Paige Orlowski and Journey Brown divvy up penny drive buckets and instructions before bringing them to classrooms Jan. 24 at Northwestern Middle School. Maria Lockwood

With water bottles, breakfast, tweets and buckets, teens at Northwestern High School aim to educate, feed and strengthen their community, together.

For years, members of the school's DECA (an association of marketing students) chapter have teamed up to make a difference.

"It's given me something to look forward to," said senior Madison Trautt, who's helmed the financial literacy project with Journey Brown for three years. "I enjoy coming to school because of DECA."

The two estimated they spend about a full school week - five days - a year educating students, peers and adults about money basics.

"Our main goal is to teach students and community members how money works in the world," Brown said. "How someone earns it and manages to invest it, donate and spend it."


Their teaching style has progressed over the years.

"We got more creative as we went," Trautt said, and switched to immersive activities that leave a lasting impression.

Fellow seniors Paige Orlowski and Michael Lindsay have focused on providing food for the hungry and care for the sick. They raised more than $3,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association with an online silent auction last spring and participated in the annual MDA walk. It's the first time they've taken the auction online, and it was a big success.

The pair also teamed with the school's summer weights program to provide a community breakfast, snagging $1,000 in freewill donations for Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. They collected another $1,500 for Second Harvest by selling candy bars and spirit rags during football season and hosted a Northwestern Middle School dance that netted $500 and a mound of canned goods.

"After each large activity, Don Leighton will come in and we'll have a check presentation in front of the whole school," Orlowski said. "So then we'll talk a little bit about community service and donating to the food shelf, and he'll speak a little bit about the importance of the food shelf."

The community service team will host a miracle minute at a trio of upcoming home basketball games Feb. 10 and 11. DECA members will pass around buckets during each game to raise funds for the food bank. They also plan to help promote the spring Empty Bowls fundraiser for the Rural Care & Share Foodshelf.

Last week, DECA students travelled to the middle school to launch a penny drive for Second Harvest. Brown and Trautt handed out buckets and sheets explaining the rules to sixth grade students. Days before, the financial literacy team had visited the same classrooms.

"We started a 30-day savings challenge with the students and we also created piggy banks out of plastic water bottles," Trautt said.


"Which was really fun and cool, actually," Brown said. "They enjoyed it a lot, I think."

The youngest DECA leaders have taken to Twitter to share their anti-tobacco message, "It's not a joke, don't smoke."

"I normally don't give projects to ninth graders," said DECA advisor Jody Forsythe, but freshmen Ryan Ross, Ryleigh Hill and Jocelyn Loustari took on the public relations campaign this year.

Activities have included presenting information on the harmful chemicals in cigarettes at Northwestern Middle School's Red Ribbon Week and a middle school dance. They've tapped high school marketing students to create video commercials on the dangers of tobacco and taken polls, both online and in person.

"Smoking slims your chances of marriage down by 80 percent," the group tweeted on Nov. 7 after online poll results were released. Out of 166 respondents, only 20 percent said they would marry someone that smokes. A mere 13 percent of respondents said they think smoking is cool.

Those numbers were similar to in-person polling at the middle school - 20 percent of 179 responses said they would marry someone that smokes and 4.5 percent said they thought tobacco use is cool.

"The purpose of the surveys was to disprove the stereotype that people think that smoking is cool," said Ross, 14.

Their campaign focuses on all demographics.


"It's important to talk to younger kids so they don't start but it's also important to talk to the older people so they know how to quit and, you know, also the kind of teenage people so they know how to say no," Ross said. "So it's important to talk to all ages, I think."

The teens said they've been surprised by some of the things they've learned.

"Every cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life," said Hill, 14. "That was really alarming to me. I didn't think of it like that and I was like, wow, that's shocking. Eleven minutes. What could you be doing with that 11 minutes? That adds up. Eleven minutes becomes, like, a day. A day becomes a week and it's like what would you want to be doing with that time?"

The group is planning an elementary school fundraiser for the American Cancer Association and will post the commercials made by their peers on the DECA Campaign 2017's Twitter site, @DecaAntiSmoking.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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