TC’s Budding Donald Trumps

Two enterprising youths launch businesses

aimed to help – and

help feed – animals.

Declan Hilt's wish for a dog led not only to his family getting Bauer, a Jack Russell and Beagle mix, but also the start of a successful business.

"I haven't met a dog that doesn't like my treats," said the nine-year-old of his hand-made dog treats.

Hilt started D's Dog-Gone Goodies about a year ago, not long after his family of five welcomed Bauer into their Lake Ann home.

"It started last March when we caved in and we got a dog," Declan's mom Amanda Hilt said. "Researching what to feed your dog, we were astounded by what goes into some dog foods."

After Declan saw a recipe for healthy dog treats in a magazine, his mother and he decided to give them a try. When they turned out, Declan decided to market them to his neighbors.

They neighborhood dogs gobbled them up, so Declan branched out to the Saturday farmers' market at the Commons and Oryana Natural Food Market, both of which are hot sales spots for him.

While it's unknown just how many young entrepreneurs like Declan Hilt there are in the area, plenty of youth go-getters are giving business ownership a try, said Lianne Somerville, district manager of Junior Achievement of Northwest Michigan in Traverse City.

The local JA branch covers nine counties, following the organization's mission of inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy.

"We must prepare young people to become financially independent, able to take care of themselves and their families as adults," Somerville said.

Jonah Villanueva, 10, is another area student learning the ins and outs of operating a business. He's worked with Books-A-Million in Traverse City to raise money for Wings of Wonder, a non-profit raptor sanctuary located in Empire.

Earlier this spring, Jonah, a fifth-grader at Silver Lake Elementary School, spent the day at the bookstore educating shoppers about Wings of Wonder. He accepted donations for the organization, and BAM agreed to donate to Wings of Wonder a portion of the day's sales: almost $800.

Jonah caught the business bug early on, said his mom, Melanie Villanueva.

"Three or four years ago he did something in our neighborhood-he walked his dog and offered to people to pet his dog for a dollar," his mom said. "It was around $12 he raised, for Wings of Wonder. He's very outgoing … I can only imagine his wheels are turning about what is next."

Amanda Hilt said she's proud of her son for starting his business, and is seeing the Westwoods Elementary School student learn quite a bit about entrepreneurship.

"He does an amazing job selling, he's very motivated," she said, adding that the business "is his thing."

"This is Declan's … we get involved, because we want him to be safe in the kitchen, but he does 90 percent of the work," she said. "It's his business, and that's a good thing for a kid to experience. It's a great thing for us as a learning moment in parenting and for him to learn these lessons of budgeting, managing money. He's really learning the benefits of saving when you're young. That's a cool thing."

Through its programs, Junior Achievement prepares students for future success by addressing three key areas: financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship.

"JA volunteers provide our 20-plus programs to kindergarten through high school students-usually during classroom hours," she said. "Programs are interactive and relevant to the real world. We close the gap between what is taught in the classroom to what is happening outside of it."

Up to 4,300 students in 200 classrooms will be reached this school year in the district, she said.

Elementary school students are introduced to what it means to be a business owner as well as topics such as taxes, zoning and how decisions are made about where to locate a business.

Older students form companies around a product or service, from concept to company termination, Somerville said.

"In our 12-week JA Company Program, students create a concept, capitalize a company by selling stock, elect officers, incorporate, open real business checking accounts, negotiate with vendors, market and sell product, liquidate and terminate the company – and many steps in between," she said. "Students make real money through commissions and participation in meetings and realize that there is a lot of work that goes into a business."

Indeed, Declan Hilt said he's had to work quite a bit to build his business-but it's all been worth it.

"Some nights we do three batches," he said, adding that much of the time he's making the treats about once or twice a month.

He delivers his products, too, which he enjoys. Customers can place orders on the D's Dog-Gone Goodies Facebook page, which he updates often.

Declan said he is always thinking about how to improve his business.

"We're trying to work on other flavors," he said.

While he does keep some money-he's building a college fund-Hilt donates the majority of his profits to the Cherryland Humane Society and to his church.

"That's one of my biggest parts of it," he said. "Giving."

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