Craig Lindvahl never meant to transform the educational process.
The longtime Effingham filmmaker, musician and teacher just wanted a way for students to build basic skills for the future like collaboration, communication and problem-solving.
He found it by connecting high school students with the local business community in a program dubbed Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, that's spread into 15 communities in three states, with plans to add another 12 sites by fall 2015.
Lindvahl brings his message to Carthage next week in a program sponsored by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs in cooperation with Carthage Community Development.
"From an economic development standpoint, it completely changes the way kids look at their home areas. Most kids say there's opportunity but not here," Lindvahl said.
Let those same kids visit 50 area businesses, connect with a business mentor, listen to 100 guest speakers and experience meaningful regular contact with professional people, and "it changes everybody and the way they look at everything," Lindvahl said. "It's completely transformational."
Students start their own business as part of CEO and showcase them in an annual trade show. Effingham County alone has more than 20 new businesses as a direct result of the program.
"Students have the opportunity to really own who they are, what they do, how they act. They're total stakeholders in that, and they get to be in charge of their own learning as well," Lindvahl said.
As executive director of the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship and an Illinois "teacher-preneur" of the year, Lindvahl travels the country to speak about entrepreneurship, CEO and film making.
"Every community that I visit of every size worries about kids leaving. One thing we all understand is we better connect with our young people, but we have no idea how to do it," Lindvahl said. "What we've discovered is when you teach kids how to be engaged and put them in meaningful contact with people in the community, you combine your greatest hope -- kids -- with your greatest resource -- people -- and some incredible things can happen."
Amy Graham, director of Carthage Community Development, wants to make people more aware of entrepreneurship and the thinking behind CEO.
"A program like the CEO class can connect our students with the business community and inspire them to be enterprising individuals who can contribute to the economic development and sustainability of Carthage and Hancock counties," Graham said. "We want to create a community where students will want to come back and start businesses, work and raise families."
It's building for the future -- and it's a concept Lindvahl, like any teacher, takes to heart.
"I love working with kids and helping them be better people. When you help craft a successful person, they're prepared to do most anything," Lindvahl said.
"It's a chapter in my life that I couldn't have predicted, but it completely consumed my life in a good way," he said. "When I look back, it's the perfect thing for me to do."