- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—In the summer, the JA World facility in Terrace Heights and its showroom are usually quiet.

On Monday, though, close to 50 middle school students from the Lower Yakima Valley were running the small town inside of it — depositing checks, selling products, services and food and generally keeping the world turning.

The activity took place through Heritage University’s Camp S.E.E.D., a two-week summer camp devoted to teaching middle school kids about entrepreneurship and teamwork.

Eleven-year-old Eric Alejandre found the day entertaining and informative — a good alternative to staying home. Plus, for a day he was “selling” jerky through Washington Beef and promoting the Seattle Mariners through the ballclub’s store.

“It was getting pretty boring at home,” said the Toppenish Middle School student.

Camp S.E.E.D. — short for Social Environmental Economic Development — also targets some of the at-risk youth in danger of dropping out or who have behavioral issues. Nicole Lopez, one of the camp’s college student mentors, said the first group of students three years ago has transitioned well into high school. No dropouts have been recorded from that first group — all from the Toppenish School District — and school leaders took notice.

“There were a lot of principals that showed input into this project just because they’ve seen we’ve made in the past three years,”said the Heritage student;Lopez is a junior in business administration. “That was very helpful to see this project has helped in all the (participating) districts.”

Since then, Camp S.E.E.D. has expanded into five school districts — Wapato, Zillah, Toppenish and Granger, as well as the Yakama Tribal School.

Over the next week, these students will take even more field trips and oversee activities, added Lopez. They will attend a health fair today, visit the Toppenish Community Hospital on Wednesday, and have a market day on Friday, where the kids will sell actual food on the Heritage campus and hope to turn a profit.

On Monday, though, it was about running the small town. JA World storefronts are represented by a number of local businesses, organizations and higher education institutions.

In a phone interview Monday, Junior Achievement of Washington CEO David Moore said while the three JA World locations attract fewer visitors during the summer, they still take interested parties like summer camps wishing to learn about business management.

“The programs that we have that we run during the summer are the most powerful because we are able to spend a more considerable amount of time with the kids than during the school year,” said Moore. “Our focus, though, is to reach as many children during the school year as we can.”

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