Breanna Hardy">

Visalians on Saturday can take their business to a hot chocolate stand operated by participants in the first Jr. CEO program run by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce.

published on November 3, 2020 - 1:50 PM
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Over 40 local youth have completed the Visalia Chamber of Commerce Jr. CEO program, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, the community can support the Jr. CEOs’ hot chocolate stands throughout Visalia.

Some students will also sell their own goods, including dog treats, Italian soda, cookies, cinnamon rolls, bookmarks and breakfast burritos.

Jr. CEOs’ stands are located around Visalia, including off of East Noble Avenue, East Main Street, and the corner of Ferguson Avenue and Tamarack Street.

Students paid a $25 tuition for courses on how to raise their own startup costs. Whatever money they raise on Saturday is theirs to keep.

One of the students is trying to raise money for a Washington D.C. trip, and one set of siblings want to use this as a launchpad to start up their own business.

The Visalia Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with ServiceMaster by Benevento, launched the five-class virtual Jr. CEO program on Sept. 16th. Each workshop was led by an area business leader, providing participants with relevant, real-world knowledge. Topics included business fundamentals (filing a DBA, setting up a bank account, and business structures), cost and pricing models, food prep, marketing and customer service, and money management.

This is the first event of its kind, and it was birthed from problem solving during the pandemic.

“It’s never too early to learn basic business fundamentals,” said Visalia Chamber President and CEO Gail Zurek. “Jr. CEO gives our youth those tools during a particularly poignant moment in history. Teaching our youth to start their own business will pay dividends long into the future.”

Zurek reached out to Tony Benevento, the president of ServiceMaster and a chamber member, to start up the program.

Zurek said the Visalia Chamber of Commerce developed this through the challenge of figuring out what’s next for children during the pandemic and online schooling.

“We believe a lot in entrepreneurship and we believe that kids can be challenged during this time,” Zurek said.

Kids lost a lot of extracurricular activities during Covid, and the Visalia Chamber of Commerce brainstormed to provide a way to capitalize on the lack of activities for children. Forty kids signed up for the first wave of online courses.

Zurek said the response has been exciting, both from parents and kids.

“Parents have been reaching out that they love watching their kids get excited about something and look forward to something,” Zurek said.

As of this fall, the chamber has committed four enrollments total for the Jr. CEO program, with the next opportunity being spring 2021.

The course material is aimed at students who are at least in sixth grade, however, students younger than this can still participate.

“I want to thank ServiceMaster by Benevento for stepping up early to partner with the Chamber in this important work,” said Crystal Jordan, board of directors chair for the Visalia Chamber of Commerce. “Having a business invest in our youth speaks volumes about the type of business they run. We’re proud to have Tony Benevento and the entire ServiceMaster by Benevento team partner with us to make this program a reality.”

For more information about the Visalia Chamber of Commerce Jr. CEO program, or to find a hot chocolate stand to support, go to

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