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AN EYE ON PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE

Central's national DECA candidate is ready to help other students shape their future.

Michelle Venezia, 17, graduates this year from Central High School, but the fourth-year DECA member is not ready to give up her strong involvement in the club.

DECA, formerly known as Distributive Educational Clubs of America, is an international business club for high school and college students. Michelle is her school's co-president along with classmate Kristin Cooper. Michelle is also a Florida DECA vice president.

She is headed to college but would like to take a detour. She has thrown her hat into the national race for DECA president. She says she is the only student in Florida running for the position.

She did not make the decision to run lightly. She'll need about $20,000 to fund her campaign and, if she wins, she'll have to postpone college for a year to fulfill the duties of the office.

The national president travels to state DECA functions for motivation and DECA support. She would get to know state and region officers.

As a state vice president, Michelle has attended a summer officer leadership training in Washington, D.C. There, she became acquainted with national officers. Now, she would like to be one of them.

Michelle has only praise for the organization she said provides opportunities for scholarships, networking, friendships and travel. "It's just an all-around phenomenal organization," she said.

After four years of benefiting from those opportunities, Michelle said it is time for her to give back to DECA, to help other students with their life skills.

To attain her goal, Michelle and Kristin will spend this year as co-presidents trying to raise Central High's chapter rating.

"We've been a gold level chapter for the last three years," Michelle said. This year she hopes the group can achieve the top diamond level. To do that, her chapter would have to have 10 alumni members and 100 percent membership of students in Central High's business classes. And the chapter must have five promotional activities throughout the year.

She will be fundraising, as well. Working with hers and hopefully other Florida DECA clubs, Michelle hopes to raise the money she'll need to compete at the National Convention in April in Kentucky.

She is working with former Central DECA officers, campaign manager Nick Catroppo, 20, a University of South Florida junior, and assistant campaign manager Dalton Whitelaw, 18, who is a Pasco-Hernando Community College freshman.

She has a golf tournament in October at Southern Hills Plantation Club.

Her campaign has worked out a partnership with Smart Car of Tampa and Mercedes of Tampa, which will provide car washes during the fundraiser. "It's a good marketing partnership," she said.

It may seem like a lot of money, but she said she'll have to set up a campaign booth at the convention and provide two promotional items. In the past she has seen candidates give away all kinds of things including T-shirts and even webcams.

"People give away anything," she said, "just things to get members to vote for you. ... If you're going to run for a national office, go big."

Michelle is open to individual and business sponsors, saying she would be "eternally grateful" for them.

After the year she hopes to be taking off as the national DECA president, Michelle said she hopes to attend the University of Central Florida, where she plans to major in hospitality marketing. She would like to be an intern at Walt Disney World and rise through the ranks of the company.

Michelle is the daughter of Michael and Debra Venezia of Spring Hill.

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