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How the Wamego community supports its YE students

Community support helps Youth Entrepreneurs thrive — and that spirit of partnership is alive and well in Wamego, Kansas. People from across the town have rallied around YE, eager to see students succeed and help make the program possible. Meet two Wamego High School classroom volunteers who are putting their passions to work for YE: Jessica Venneberg and Christian Dodge.

Jessica Venneberg had just completed her Economic Development Finance Professional certification when she was invited to get involved with YE. “I’m a small town girl and I know that keeping people in this area is how we keep small communities alive,” she says. Jessica works for the Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation, which fosters growth in the county where Wamego is located. Her heart for her community drives her YE involvement. “We want to show students that they can make their dreams a reality, and they can do it right here in their hometown.”

She and her team at the Economic Development Corporation share a vision for advancing the county through small businesses and entrepreneurism. “We’re a resource for growth. I always ask students what they want to do when they graduate. Many want to move to a big city. But I ask, ‘Have you thought about staying here and starting a business?’ I want to clear up the misconception and show them that this community is a great place to be an entrepreneur. We have many resources to help, including funding.”

Jessica has been a classroom volunteer with YE for three years now. “YE gets the students’ wheels turning. The program teaches them so well, and in so much detail, everything you need to know to start a business.” By instilling business fundamentals in students today, Jessica hopes to equip them to become Wamego’s entrepreneurs tomorrow.

Christian Dodge, the founder, CEO and President of ECI Systems in Wamego, is also a YE classroom volunteer. While he’s a thriving entrepreneur today, it wasn’t always that way, he explains. “I remember praying for years . . . all I needed was one person, all I needed was a little help. It was just me growing my company through brute force, and I didn’t get help until many years in. I remember being 17 with big dreams and then in my 20s starting my company and just wishing I had help. So I want the opportunity to help someone, and YE gives me that opportunity.”

When he was invited to be a classroom volunteer, it was that drive to help others that led him to say yes. “Young people need more role models,” he says. In addition to helping judge business pitch competitions, Christian has also hosted students at his office for a tour. “The students have a fresh outlook. I remember being a teenager and a dreamer and I always knew there was something special I was supposed to do, but it wasn’t until later in life that I figured it out. If I can connect with even one kid and be the person who guides them, it’s worth it.”

Jessica sees Youth Entrepreneurs as an important piece of the economic development puzzle. She points to a wide variety of resources offered in the community, from support in obtaining funding to business bootcamps and even cash awards for pitch competitions. The Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation partners with the Wamego Chamber of Commerce to sponsor YE. “Youth Entrepreneurs really helps them create a business plan. It’s a real life plan they can use! These students have the opportunity to turn their passion into a reality right now. We can encourage them and challenge them to get their business started, right here in Pottawatomie County. That’s how we can keep these communities alive.”

Both Jessica and Christian look forward to continued involvement as the whole Wamego community rallies around the students in Youth Entrepreneurs. “At the heart of it, it’s about people helping people,” Christian says. “There’s lots of mess and greed in this world and in business. Youth Entrepreneurs offers a chance to share important values with our young people, and that business is about so much more than just chasing success.”

Meet more generous supporters on the YE blog.