Jenna Cahill and Nicole Seeburger make a good team.

The Lawrence High School seniors were captains for their field hockey team in the fall, and throughout the school year they have been co-presidents of the school’s largest club, its chapter of Distributive Education Clubs of America.

Jenna Cahill (left) and Nicole Seeburger, co-presidents of the Lawrence High School DECA Club, at last year’s conference.

Each year, DECA supports a state community service project that gives students valuable experience in working on a project to benefit the community. This year’s project challenged DECA chapters to raise money and awareness for Good Grief, a non-profit organization that helps grieving children after the loss of a family member or loved one by providing comfort, support and education.

“In years past, they’ve chosen other organizations like Bucks for Books,” Cahill said. “There’s also a national community service project. DECA wants to focus on the other aspects besides just business and wants to get a wholesome student that can be involved in the community and also learn about business.”

DECA is a worldwide program that allows students to explore marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high school. This year, Lawrence has its largest chapter ever (almost 200 members) and the largest chapter of any Mercer County school. LHS students first must be enrolled in a business class to be able to join DECA, and its members come from a variety of backgrounds.

Seeburger said that in addition to its charitable work, the club also competes at the regional, state and international levels in business competitions. The teams are given scenarios and they are tasked with exercising their critical thinking and communication skills with people in the industry. The purpose is to help give them real life experience in the business world.

“I actually had no aspirations for business going into high school,” Cahill said. “I had no clue what I wanted to do. I got put into sports marketing. It was my second choice, and I actually really liked it. It was sports marketing and entertainment my freshman year. From there, I liked marketing and being able to be creative, but I’m not an artist, so it’s a good way to present ideas. From there on, I’ve explored so many different aspects by taking international business, marketing and economics. I like the whole aspect of business.”

Cahill and Seeburger helped Lawrence’s DECA members organize three events that raised a total of $900 this fall for Good Grief. A September car wash at the high school gave them a good starting point.

DECA also organized a research survey on teen and tween interests that earned them a check from Kids Say, a youth marketing company. In October, they helped organize the school’s Fall Fest that divided proceeds among a number of the school’s clubs. DECA will send its $900 to Good Grief this spring.

“It really meant a lot that we were able to use DECA to help a really good organization,” Seeburger said. “We actually learned about Good Grief through this project and had to do research on the company to find out what they’re really about. Once we learned about them and all the good work that they do and the things that they’re involved in, it meant a lot that we were able to help them.”

The combination of business and service appealed to Cahill and Seeburger. DECA members chronicle their fundraising projects to be judged in regional, state and international competitions. Lawrence placed seventh at this year’s regional competition on Jan. 3 and is preparing to enter the state competition in March. The international conference and competition is held at the end of April in Nashville, Tennessee.

Seeburger said that they have a written summary of what they did for the Good Grief project that chronicles the fundraisers they conducted and how they promoted them. That will be sent to judges at the state conference.

“If we pass that, we can go to internationals,” she said. “Also Jenna and I are partners in the normal competition that everyone in DECA competes in. We are in a hospitality and services team competition. We made it to states and we also have a chance to make it to nationals through there.”

Cahill and Seeburger also qualified for the international competition that was held in Orlando, Florida, last year and placed Top 20 in the hospitality division. This year, they are entering again on top of stepping in to be co-presidents of DECA.

“I like being in a leadership role,” Seeburger said. “Jenna and I work well together, and it’s fun to be able to put together all the different fun events and get all the people from different grade levels together. We really enjoy it and having the younger kids look up to us. They ask us questions and we get to help them prepare for their own competitions, which is really fun.”

Cahill is in her fourth year in DECA. She is also in the school’s Operation Smile club, which raises money and awareness for children with cleft palate and cleft lip. Funds raised go toward corrective surgeries, and students can also serve on mission trips to support surgery candidates. She is also in Lawrence’s peer leader organization that helps freshmen and new students acclimate to high school.

“Growing up, my mom and I did a lot of community service projects together,” Cahill said. “She didn’t have to make me, because I just liked helping people. It’s something that makes me feel so much better, even better than getting money. It’s a feeling that I’ve helped someone else that really needs it.Once I heard about DECA and this opportunity, I definitely wanted to do it.”

Seeburger, too, is in the school’s peer leader organization. Outside of school, she is working toward her Gold Award for Girl Scouts. She joined DECA in her second year of high school.

“I started taking a marketing class my sophomore year,” Seeburger said. “I primarily took that class because I wanted to be a part of DECA, because it’s the biggest club in our school. I’d heard a lot about how much fun people have in it, and in general, I’m a very communicative person. I thought it was something I’d be good at and interested in. Once I was a part of it, I loved it and stuck with it and got really involved.”

Taking on the leadership role has given both another level of commitment to DECA. They like being organizers for the club.

“We have officer meetings and in those meetings we plan the activities we’d like to do, the group activities with DECA,” Cahill said. “Since we are such a large chapter we like to help plan events to bring people of all grade levels together. We did a movie night. We just did DECA LHS Idol, which the officers helped to host and run the concession stands. Officers are the ones helping to plan the events for the chapter and helping run them as well.”

Both girls are realizing the benefits of their time in DECA in their final year before they head to college. Seeburger is planning to teach elementary education.

“So not business,” Seeburger said, “but the things you learn in DECA, I’m taking those away, like the interviewing tips and all those things.”

Cahill feels well prepared for her future after being in DECA throughout high school. She has found an interest that emerged through the club.

“I want to go to college and I want to go into marketing with a fashion minor, so I’ll go into fashion marketing,” Cahill said. “I’m interested in clothing and the whole aspect of the fashion industry.”

Their time spent in DECA has played an important part of their high school years. Cahill and Seeburger will leave big shoes to fill next year.

“They’ve really stepped up this year as being role models and leaders,” said Lawrence DECA advisor Diane Schneck. “We have a lot of young kids in there, so these two have definitely been a role model for them to show them what hard work and determination can get you. They took over this project as seniors, because they wanted to raise awareness for a very good group and provide something back to the community.”

Schneck added that she’s proud of Cahill and Seeburger and what they accomplished. “They’re very organized,” she said. “They’re very personable. I put them on stage at the LHS Idol with no script and asked them to be my MC’s for two-and-a-half hours, and they did a great job. I always throw my seniors in and say, ‘let’s see how you do.’ They did great.”