Voices of Youth: How DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in the art of business

Editor's Note:  This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's Voices of Youth Battle Creek program which is supported by the BINDA Foundation, City of Battle Creek, Battle Creek Community Foundation, and the Michigan After School Partnership. This series features stories created by Calhoun County youth in partnership with professional mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth.

KALAMAZOO, MI — On March 14 to 16, 2024, Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) students attended the Michigan DECA state conference at the Huntington Place Convention Center in Detroit. Kalamazoo students presented business marketing ideas to judges and brought home four total qualifiers for the international DECA conference that took place in Anaheim, California in late April.

Nevertheless, the scholarships and the medals received at the end for qualifying participants are not the main reasons why students choose to partake in DECA. Most DECA participants say they value this after-school activity because they get to spend quality time with friends, learn new business skills, and enhance their proficiency in delivering presentations successfully. 

For 78 years, DECA has been preparing "emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management in high schools and colleges around the globe," according to its website.

Kalamazoo Central junior Wasem Awad says that although receiving awards and experience is part of the motivation, there are many other incentives for participating in DECA. “I enjoy DECA for the various opportunities that they offer which are unique compared to other after-school programs," says Wasem. "With DECA I am able to explore new business topics, find new friends, and explore new cities and/or states that I don't originally have the chance to explore by myself.”    

DECA builds future careers

DECA is an opportunity for both high school and college students to explore a new topic and to prepare them for their future careers. Wasem says, “DECA helps me explore and get an early hands-on experience with what I will major in during college.”

Wasem AwardWasem explains how preparing at an early age will make you feel more comfortable once it comes time to start "the real experience."

“DECA has helped me prepare and have a better understanding of what will come at me in the future during college and when preparing to apply for different jobs," says Wasem.


DECA was established in 1946 and is based in Memphis, Tennessee. DECA's mission is to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. 

Students present unique and outstanding business propositions such as prototype apps, food drive campaigns, pollution management plans, and much more. These projects require creative brainstorming and efficient problem-solving abilities. 

DECA meetings follow the school year calendar from November to May. Kalamazoo Central High School students are asked to dedicate about an hour after school, once a week, and recommend practicing at home as well to further evaluate plans, expectations, and objectives. 

Confidence is key

Mahdi HassnawiKalamazoo Central Junior Mahdi Hassnawi comments on how DECA has improved his confidence in numerous skills. “DECA has helped increase my confidence in my social skills as I have gotten used to presenting to judges, adapted to my academic time management skills, and (enhanced) teamwork skills by learning how to work cooperatively with peers in my group.”

Mahdi shares he also appreciates how DECA could help prepare you for an interview similar to how DECA participants present to a judge one-on-one. 

In-depth perspective

DECA offers a wide variety of events topics in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. Students have the option to pick an event that requires multiple students or they can choose to work as a solo. From there, participants choose their way of exposition for their project and work on it during their own time up until the day of the competition. In order to maximize precision and integrity, students, advisors, and leaders all come together to assist one another and revise and leave feedback for each group's preparations. 

Students commonly use poster boards or Google Slide presentations to present their projects to their judges. Throughout their outlines, students include quotes, visual images, and statistical values, to help their audiences understand their strategic ideas. 

In the past, Kalamazoo Central students have done projects regarding mapping out the popular annual KC Feeds Kzoo food drive step-by-step, a youth charity sports team, holiday drives for the less fortunate, and many other charitable projects.

Fundraising Initiatives

Whatever the activity, costs are inevitable. To fundraise for DECA, there is a school store at Kalamazoo Central that has a wide variety of items for sale such as snacks, school supplies, merchandise, and much more. 

Another key strategy KC DECA students utilize to raise funds is collaborative efforts with a local drink shop, Kung Fu Tea. Affiliation with Kung Fu Tea, allows DECA to successfully make a great impact within the community. All profits from the school store and fundraiser aims to eliminate the monetary barriers that come with traveling to state and international conferences. 

A word from leadership

Kalamazoo Central junior and leader of DECA, Wyatt Greis plays a strong role in guiding our program. He explains how DECA is an exceptional opportunity with lots of freedom. “Regardless of whether you plan on majoring in something business-related or not, DECA is still a fun and great time to bond with fellow students and it may even influence what you would like to do in the future. “

Wyatt GreisParticipation in DECA creates memorable experiences and is a great way to set you up for success in the future, says Wyatt. Wyatt describes how DECA truly can set you up for success, who shares an example: some of his relatives were involved in DECA in the past and now own their own local restaurant businesses. 

“Overall, my family is very appreciative of DECA with the success and knowledge that it has provided them and I also hope to go down a similar path as my family,” says Wyatt. 

Goals for the future

Kalamazoo's current DECA group has two students from Kalamazoo Central and two Students from Loy Norrix DECA who are scheduled to attend the DECA international conference in California. Next year, many DECA students say they hope to have all of Kalamazoo DECA participants attend the international conference. 

Anybody is welcome to participate in DECA. Wyatt, leader of DECA, explains that despite DECA's long history, it is not as popular or well-known as other after-school programs. He says he plans on making it better.

“Our goal for next year is to expand the program by advertising it and spreading positivity in the community of the program. We want to give students a chance to explore new opportunities that are not available elsewhere.”

Anas Elkafrawy is a sophomore at Kalamazoo Central High School. He enjoys playing soccer and likes dealing with animals. In his free time, he can normally be found hanging out with friends and spending time with family.

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