Long road to international event pays off for Fordson student

By TOM TIGANI
Times-Herald Staff Reporter
 
DEARBORN — Saleh Yehya’s road to Atlanta had a few bumps in it, but he managed to arrive and, eventually, thrive.
 
The Fordson High School junior went there last month to deliver a presentation at the DECA International Career Development Conference, at which some 15,000 students meet and compete with their peers from around the world who have shown to be the best at their district and state conferences.
 
Saleh came in second in his 10-person flight in the competition for a presentation of his written event about his fundraising effort earlier this year for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
He worked on his written event for five months and says he chose to raise money for MDA because its mission ties in with his personal life.
 
“I have cerebral palsy; I know what they’re going through,” he said of the patients the association serves.
The fundraiser took in about $2,000 in February and March and at one point involved locking up school Liaison Officer Craig Vasileff. The money went to the association to help purchase equipment for MD patients. 
 
MDA “fits perfect,” Saleh said, calling his fundraiser a “fun activity” that helped him to realize what a business plan is.
 
“It draws on the experience of helping people,” he said. 
Georgene Stergalas, Saleh’s marketing teacher and Fordson’s DECA adviser, was gratified to hear from two judges in Atlanta that Saleh did “a phenomenal job.” He scored in the 80s, and the next highest scores were in the 70s.
 
DECA’s objective, according to its Web site, is to support the development of marketing and management skills in career areas such as hospitality; finance; sales and service; business administration; and entrepreneurship. It comprises 185,000 students in all 50 states, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, Germany and Mexico. About 15,000 attended the Atlanta conference.
 
At district, state and the international events, students are asked to use an oral presentation to relate their everyday life to business, after documenting what they do in their business activity. 
 
DECA programs and activities are tailored to the specific career interest of students and include technical skills; basic scholastic and communication skills; and human relations and employability skills, with a strong emphasis on economics and free enterprise.
 
Saleh’s showing at the international conference makes both he and Stergalas especially proud because they realize the judges didn’t cut him any slack because of his condition. She had to wait in another room during Saleh’s big moment, as instructors are not allowed to be in the same room as students during presentations.
 
The triumphant trip didn’t just happen without a glitch, Stergalas said. Saleh lost the flash drive for the PowerPoint file that was critical to his presentation — and then his laptop went belly-up. It was then that Stergalas and his other teachers gave him the motivation to keep going.
 
“The next day they said, ‘You’ve got to make it happen,’” he said. “Everyone was behind me, but I knew then I was the leader.”
 
Stergalas said she’s seen Saleh’s passion for an idea grow, and that he has matured as a student and entrepreneur as a result of his struggle to get to Atlanta for his chance on the big stage.
“Whenever you do something for the first time, you get scared,” he said. “But I felt confident. I went up there and did it, and I came out on top. I had a wonderful time.
 
“People think people with handicaps can’t do stuff. You put your pants on one leg at a time? Me, too.”
Next year’s competition is in Anaheim, Calif., home of Disneyland, a place Saleh says he’s always wanted to see. But he’s quick to point out that he’ll be taking anything but a Mickey Mouse approach to the competition.
 
“I’m going to work harder and get a higher score,” he said. “I want it to go smoothly all the way.”
 
Saleh is especially grateful to Stergalas and Richard Sears, his speech therapist, for his success this year.
“They helped me a lot,” Saleh said. “I had my ups and downs, but I came out on top because of them.
“All of my teachers were behind me, and they still are.”
 
(Contact Tom Tigani at tom.tigani@timesheraldnewspapers.com.)