John Vaile has started a program at Chicago Hope Academy in the North Lawndale neighborhood aimed at inspiring teens to start businesses in their community.

“The goal is to teach kids how to build their own companies. They don’t have to leave town to do it,” said Vaile, president of Vaile Financial Group and chairman of the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities program in Chicago.

Chicago Hope students enrolled in CEO’s early-morning program have spent the first half of their school year creating an event business: a 32-team corporate spikeball tournament Jan. 27. They’ll split the money earned from the event to launch their personal businesses during the second semester.​​​

“They’re learning that ideas that aren’t executed don’t exist. And that the business or event (they produce) will only work if they are diligent and put in the hours of preparation,” Ike Muzikowski said after helping students plan a marketing video for the spike ball tournament.

Muzikowski is the admissions director at Chicago Hope and a facilitator for the CEO program. His father, Bob Muzikowski, founded the private, nondenominational school with 230 students.

CEO members have secured $3,500 for the event, including from business and public affairs consultant Bill Smith. Smith is among the business executives who spent time with the teens, talking about their careers. Other guest speakers were Mike Mullins of Mullins Food Products, Rudy Gonzalez of CIBC bank, and wealth adviser Jay Leonard.

Ike Muzikowski talks to students working on a marketing video for their corporate spikeball tournament.

Jamie Pena, (from left) Samantha Armira, CEO facilitator Ike Muzikowski and Giovany Armira work on a marketing video for the program’s spikeball tournament. | Shia Kapos/For the Sun-Times

There have been field trips to Fox Rothschild law firm, Cushing digital printers and Universal Sports Network — a hit given a number of participants are varsity athletes.

And the students have held their own meetings, learning that it’s OK to disagree. Their collaboration sessions are becoming more productive, Muzikowski said.

Student Daniela Mancilla said she’s seeing the world through a new lens.

“My family is used to being workers. My mom is a manager at a bank. We don’t know CEOs. So this is interesting. I’ve met people who started from nothing. I think, ‘Wow, I can do this,'” Mancilla said.

Vaile was inspired to start the program after seeing its success in downstate Illinois and other parts of the Midwest. The CEO program was created by the ‎Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, which is based in Effingham.

Vaile is a Dixon native who understands well why young people leave home. He calls the program “a good start. You drift away. And then it becomes permanent. You don’t go back.”

Vaile enlisted Tya Lichtie as vice chairman.

“It really resonated with me because I grew up in a very small town which offered little opportunity or exposure,” said Lichtie, who works in real estate.

It should come as no surprise that the economic problems in North Lawndale, where businesses are scarce, are familiar to rural communities too.

Boarded up buildings become the norm in country towns as young people move away.

“We wanted to expose kids to local business leaders. The idea was to encourage them to stay in the area. We want to stop the brain drain,” said Donnie Wilson, president of the ‎Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship.

It’s a similar view in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.

Vaile said millions of dollars in social-service support has been poured into the struggling North Lawndale and the problems persist.

“I thought I had enough entrepreneurial contacts to build a board and interested donors to make the program successful. The principle reason beyond the funding was that I thought I could provide minority students a chance of a lifetime. An opportunity to build a business for themselves versus just getting a job,” Vaile said of bringing the CEO program to Chicago.

“I thought only an outstanding program could accomplish this goal. Education is key.”