BALLINGER — DECA is a world-wide career and technical student organization with a chapter at Ballinger High School headed up by teacher Lisa Gibbs.

DECA’s mission statement is, “DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.”

Gibbs helped found DECA at Ballinger High School in 2015. Gibbs is more of a mentor than a teacher when it comes to DECA.

“The program helps students find their niche and become leaders,” Gibbs said. “They have opportunities that they may not have otherwise had. Being part of DECA gives you strength and confidence in other classes as well as in DECA.”

Gibbs says that several groups within the community are benefitted by various DECA projects.

“DECA projects come from within the community,”she said. “We’ve helped organizations from the food pantry to the library. We are at an advantage being in a small town. We’re in touch with the needs of the community. Many of our students are in DECA because of the community service aspect of the group and many colleges look at a student’s community service when they apply.”

Hannah Holcomb, who competed in Texas A&M’s Geo X program over the summer is a founding member of the high school DECA program.

“The strongest part of our program is our involvement in community service,” Holcomb said.

In 2017, Holcomb competed with her project, “BOSS Closet: Business One Stop Shop: Dress For Success.” The project centered around providing students with formal clothing for school performances such as in band or even going for job interviews. Holcomb was a state finalist and an international alternate.

It has also helped students turn tragedy into a learning opportunity. Last year DECA student Emma Cullen’s sister was involved in a critical automobile accident and had to be airlifted to the hospital. Cullen used that incident for her DECA project, “You are the key to your safety.” Cullen’s paper on the hazards of texting and driving was 30 pages long. Cullen’s project not only got her to the state tournament, it lifted her up to the international tournament. Gibbs said that the project did so well because of the personal nature of her sister’s accident.

“It was her passion, to create and to see that project through,” Gibbs said.

The group doesn’t just focus on individual projects, it focuses on the older students mentoring the younger students and preparing them, not only for their competitions, but also for their life after high school.

“DECA blends diverse personalities and types of people,” Holcomb said. “We learn how to deal with each other and respect each other. The older students and officers are supportive of the new members. We offer guidance and look to help them build on their strengths.”

Texas is the largest DECA program in the nation with over 14,000 students currently enrolled. The state competition is in Dallas this year and the international competition will be in Orlando, Florida. Some of the student’s competing have used Holcomb’s “BOSS Closet” program to get professional clothing to wear during the competition.

The DECA competitions dictate a business situation with ten minutes to prepare, a written events portion with a requirement of a minimum twenty-page research paper and then they end with a fifteen minute presentation. The topics cover business, marketing, public relations, finance, hospitality and community service.

“The goal of DECA is to prepare students for real world situations such as presentations, interviews, business etiquette and dressing professional,” Holcomb said.

There is also a 100-question test that the competitors have to take.

Last year 20 students from Ballinger High School competed at the state level. Of those, six were state finalists. Two of them, Cullen and Holcomb were international qualifiers and another student, Nate Gallant, was a state finalist alternate. The district competition is one day, the state competition is three days and the international competition is five days. At the international competition, they have a flag ceremony at the beginning with flags from all sixty countries that have DECA chapters. There are social events, concerts and exclusive DECA events.

This year Holcomb’s project will be to help the food pantry. Gallant, president of the DECA club, will create a project for doing marketing for the Carnegie library. Cullen and fellow student Amber Horton’s project will be on teen dating and relationships and violence. This year the chapter will be helping with the local National Night Out event on Oct. 2.

The group wants to encourage more students to join and to increase their professional development. DECA concentrates on academics and there are DECA scholarships available at the state and international level. Currently there are almost 30 students in the program and 15 that are going to be competing in local, state and international competitions. DECA, like many groups, gets stronger with the more members it has. It gives the new students an opportunity to learn about the professional world and gives the older students the opportunity to mentor and help those younger students. Their role in, and impact on community services and other programs is significant.

DECA gets the funds to travel to competitions through fundraisers and donations. One goal of the organization is to get donations of office chairs and business-type desks for the students to add to the professional atmosphere that the chapter establishes in their program.

ECA will host a dog wash on Sept. 15 at the First Baptist Church of Ballinger at 400 N. Eighth Street. The proceeds go to the Ballinger Humane Society and to San Angelo’s “Cassie’s Place” animal rescue.

DECA is looking for sponsors and if anyone would like to support them or if they need help in business and marketing, they can contact Lisa Gibbs at: Lisa.Gibbs@ballingerisd.net.