DECA adviser reflects on 20 years at Olentangy


Mike Rees’ tenure as the adviser of the Olentangy Liberty High School DECA program can be measured in the amount of funds raised for charitable causes during his tenure.

Since the school opened for the 2003 to 2004 school year, the business and marketing-related program has raised $161,800 for organizations and causes such as the Make A Wish Foundation, Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and the Wounded Warriors Project. When he was a co-adviser for the program at Olentangy High School since 1997, the students raised $430,000.

For 17 years, Olentangy High School led the nation in donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“We’ve had a lot of good things happen,” said Rees, who will retire at the end of this year.

Rees has one period for three DECA classes, two of which are juniors and one for seniors, for a total 61 students. The classes can be used in combination with three other business-related courses that would earn them a college credit, he said.

The Distributive Education Clubs of America program at Liberty High School breaks the students into several groups including community service, public relations, financial literacy promotion, entrepreneurship promotion, learn and earn, international business plan, franchise business plan and growing your business. Some of the groups focus on raising funds for a specific organization as it has been done so in the past.

Jonathan Finn and Kevin Coghlan are part of the seniors community service group, which has raised about $9,600 for the American Heart Association. Most of the money came from selling 910 shirts to the student section for a “Red Out” night at an Olentangy football game last year, they said, and was one of the most successful events in school history.

Meanwhile, Samantha Silber, Erin Devine and Ryan Kivett have raised $8,000 for the Columbus-based Stefanie Spielman fund for breast cancer research. The group will be hosting the fourth annual father-daughter dance for Tyler Run, Scioto Ridge and Indian Springs elementary schools at Liberty from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 4.

And Garret Yant, George Christy and Andrew Slawson from the public relations group have raised $500 for The Adaptive Adventure Sports Coalition, or TAASC, a nonprofit in Columbus that provides individuals with disabilities opportunities to participate in adventure activities. But the group’s goal is to improve the nonprofit’s awareness because it has a branding issue, Yant said. The group has improved the organization’s presence on social media and recorded a radio commercial.

“The cause is so great we want people to know about it,” Christy said.

On the other hand, some groups focus on promotion or theoretical concepts. Brett Buzash, Ryan Slawson and Shivani Subbaraja from the financial literacy promotions group have handed out quizzes, utilized social media and coordinated events to raise awareness on the subject. They noted that 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.

Kenna Worcester, Lauren Waldrop and Brynn MtJoy from the entrepreneurship promotion group along with Orange and Olentangy high school’s DECA chapter recently hosted a breakfast that recognized local entrepreneurs.

Waldrop said the program has helped her determine her career and education goals after high school and that a majority of the senior class will end up in business-related majors at college.

Theoretical groups such as the franchise and international business plan are partnering with an actual company such as Java Juice and Geo Lamps, respectively. The franchise group includes Enzo Wielezynski, Brandon Piatak and Miranda Weber, while the international group includes Raaga Daburri, Kaitly Fullenkamp and Aliza Khandelwal.

Madhav Oza is the first Olentangy student to participate in the Growing Your Business group. He started a clothing line, Indigo Industries, and has donated some of the proceeds to the Columbus chapter of Boys and Girls Club of America.

DECA is national program founded in 1946, but started at Olentangy in 1992. The high school division has 200,000 members in 3,500 schools.

Aside from donations, the Liberty DECA chapter has had 61 national qualifying projects in DECA competitions including 23 in the top 16, 18 in the top 10 nationally and six in the top three. The chapter has had three national champions, but is actually international because it competes with other countries such as Canada.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Rees said.

By Brandon Klein

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Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.

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