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Elmwood Park DECA continues its positive impact as members test their skills at state contest

EP DECA sectional winners
Rayan Lahlou-Nabil, EPHS Class of 2024

Four years ago I joined DECA as an EPHS freshman. I joined because I wanted to be involved in my school, but knew nothing about the impact this club would have on me. 

Now, as a senior, I am excited to share a little more about EP DECA's success so far this year and highlight our participation in the state competition, which began today in Rosemont.

Elmwood Park DECA has been something that has brought great pride to the student body, teachers, administrators and community. In 2003 Karen Bear, a business teacher at the time, wanted to train “the business leaders of the future.” 

“I had been involved in DECA as a high school student and knew firsthand the effect it could have on students,” Bear recalled. “I wanted EP students to have opportunities to develop skills that would help them no matter what career path they took. I had a student who majored in journalism get her dream job because she was able to utilize the presentation skills she honed in DECA.” 

Skip Saviano & Leah Gauthier with Spike for a Cause organizers Nicole Taha and Rayan Lahlou-Nabil.

DECA Spike for a Cause organizers Nicole Taha and Rayan Lahlou-Nabil are joined by
Elmwood Park Village President Angelo "Skip" Saviano and District 401 Superintendent of Schools
Dr. Leah Gauthier at the November 2023 event. (Elmwood Park DECA photo)

According to its mission statement, DECA — which was originally short for "Distributive Education Clubs of America" but now stands alone — is an organization that “prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.” But for EP DECA members, it is a lot more than that. 

For us, DECA is an organization where we have gained valuable experiences that will help us in our careers. It’s where we’ve learned different techniques in public speaking, made friends who became like family not only in Elmwood Park but across the world, and, most importantly, had lots of fun through it all. 

DECA has numerous events that are tailored to everyone and their interests, including competitions that test student abilities in business subjects ranging from sports marketing and entrepreneurship all the way to finance management. 

This vision has been nothing short of a success as hundreds of Tigers have benefited from this opportunity over the years. EP DECA has produced numerous sectional and state winners, international qualifiers and statewide officers who have become better leaders, public speakers and humans all around.

DECA team members ready for the state competition.

Elmwood Park DECA members get ready to leave for the 2024 Illinois Career Development
Conference, also known as the DECA state competition, which will be held today through
Saturday in Rosemont. Good luck, DECA Tigers! (Dr. Amanda Brode-Rico photo)

“DECA was instrumental in shaping my career by installing vital business fundamentals, enhancing my networking skills and sharpening my problem-solving abilities,” said Sam Lepore, an EP DECA alum. Lepore is now a senior associate at the commercial real estate firm Lee & Associates, where he specializes in industrial real estate and credits part of his success to participating in DECA in high school. 

For this year, membership at EPHS has increased from 28 students to 50. In November, EP DECA hosted Spike for a Cause, which raised over $9,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association.

In January, we competed against more than 1,400 students in the West Suburban DECA sectional. Fourteen Tigers placed in the top 10 of their events, including three who finished in the top four, earning them a plaque. This success is because of the preparation that DECA members put in, from doing practice tests to having practice nights where alumni volunteer their time to work with current members.

Here are our 14 sectional winners and their respective events:

• Karolina Wojdyla, 2nd place, Principles of Hospitality and Tourism
• Sarah Pritt, 4th place, Sports and Entertainment Marketing
• Rayan Lahlou-Nabil, 4th place, Retail Merchandising
• Natalia Ciura, 5th place, Personal Finance Literacy
• Justus Escarpita, 6th place, Business Financial Services
• Emily Neil and Michelle Sapeta, 6th place, Sports and Entertainment Team Decision-Making
• Nicole Taha, top 10, Entrepreneurship 
• Robert Konrath, top 10, Apparel and Accessories  Marketing
• Alexa Vateva, top 10, Hotel Lodging
• Eva Mylonas, top 10, Automotive Services Marketing
• Da’Nyla Walker, top 10, Marketing Communications
• Olivia Shipinski, top 10, Automotive Services Marketing
• Liliana Vitacco, top 10, Retail Merchandising

Now, our focus has shifted to the state DECA competition, the Illinois Career Development Conference, which will be held today through Saturday at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont. 

“Prior to even arriving at EPHS, I heard of the robust nature of our DECA group,” said EPHS Principal Dr. Amanda Brode-Rico. “Now that I’m here, they certainly have surpassed what I expected. I wish the DECA team the best of luck, but I know they will be incredible, as they are capable of nothing less!”

EP DECA's nine international qualifiers in 2023.

Last year, nine Elmwood Park DECA members scored well enough at the state contest
to qualify for the international competition in Orlando. This year's international event
will take place in Anaheim, Calif. (Elmwood Park DECA photo)

We are extremely excited for the opportunity to represent our school and community. In all, 39 of our members will compete for the chance to qualify for the international-level competition, the DECA International Career Development Conference, which will be held April 27-30 in Anaheim, Calif. Last year, we had an EP-record nine qualifiers for the event, which was held in Orlando, Fla. 

One of those qualifiers was Olivia Shipinski, now a junior and our VP of member management.

“I’m excited to hopefully go back to internationals and place higher in state than 2023,” she said. “Aside from competing, I’m excited to connect with more people across the state”

The DECA Tigers are indeed hoping to achieve record success and send even more people to sunny California for a chance to win international glass. A special shoutout to our adviser, Karen Bear, who retired in 2021 and then came out of retirement in the fall of 2022 to continue to train the business leaders of the future. We could not do it without her. 

Also the horizon: On March 14, our chapter will go to the Chicago Bulls vs. LA Clippers game at the United Center, first to have a sports marketing seminar and then to watch our home team dominate the visitors. The fun doesn’t stop there as we will be hosting a Daddy-Daughter Dance in May for elementary students. Stay tuned!

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