The Charm Department Continues Onward

Starting as a school business, the corporate journey has persevered throughout, culminating until the very end.
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Through leading their team for months, the five junior captains, Rubioperdomo, Samper, Vinneccy, Diez, and Montano-Abarca (from left to right) transcended the notion of Croc Charms as a mere temporary business challenge, revealing the full extent of their potential, all due to Daniel Pozo’s visionary idea of the product.
Through leading their team for months, the five junior captains, Rubioperdomo, Samper, Vinneccy, Diez, and Montano-Abarca (from left to right) transcended the notion of Croc Charms as a mere temporary business challenge, revealing the full extent of their potential, all due to Daniel Pozo’s visionary idea of the product.
Courtesy of Mrs. Brown
With an idea of selling Cavalier-Croc Charms, the Charm Dept. has been able to take their products to new heights with the JA Company Program.

Embarking on an incredible journey, the Charm Department has evolved from a student-led business into a nominee contender, earning a place among the 15 finalist companies in the Junior Achievement National Student Leadership Summit. Fueled by creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, what began as a small venture guided by a shared vision and relentless determination, the corporation has seized the opportunities available such as manufacturing personalized Gables merchandise with the University of Miami School of Architecture and being sponsored by investment management company, BlackRock. Through transforming their passion for crafting Croc Charms into a thriving enterprise, now standing after six months since the business founding, the corporation has reached the brink of success from their collective efforts.

With an idea of selling Cavalier-Croc Charms, the Charm Dept. has been able to take their products to new heights with the JA Company Program. (Courtesy of Mr. Creegan)
Becoming an Unstoppable Charm
With the JA Company Program Competition requiring a one minute limit for all companies, the Charm Dept. video showcases how the charms are done. (Trip Beardslee)

The Charm Dept.’s exhilarating journey reached a pivotal moment on April 12, as they concluded the JA Company Program Competition against 35 other schools in the region. Filled with a mixture of excitement, the team eagerly awaited news of their commercial video performance.

Getting the preparation assistance from the BlackRock team in Miami, the Charm Dept. captains were able to get advice from professional corporate officials. As they took center stage, their fervent passion radiated throughout the room during the one hour they presented.

After receiving news as JA Company of the Year, Greater Miami officials, Mrs. Valle and Mr. Brinson, visit Gables on their success. (Courtesy of Matthew Castano)

Through captivating demonstrations, they brought the unique charm and functionality of their product to life. Receiving feedback from the BlackRock Miami team, the five captains were able to utilize the advice towards the question and answer segment of the regional competition.

“It was a really eye-opening experience in gaining so much knowledge. One piece of advice that resonated with me was when they mentioned, ‘You guys are the experts; you know more knowledge about your company than those you are presenting to.’ That advice really helped me become confident in myself when we presented to the judges,” junior Anahi Montano-Abarca said.

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Fast forwarding two weeks later, as Mrs. Brown opened her email mailbox, she was greeted with incredible news from JA Greater Miami Vice President of Education, Mrs. Vanessa Valle. In a message filled with elation, Mrs. Valle informed them that Charm Dept. was announced JA Company of the Year with 62 points alongside Mr. Patrick Creegan and Mrs. Brown being awarded JA Volunteer and JA Rookie Teacher of the Year.

“It was beyond anything I could have ever expected. The more I gave to them, the more it filled up my cup, and I realized that my cup is actually a bottomless reservoir that I can tap into with the more I give. The Junior Achievement organization, particularly the local Miami office, blows me away, and I could not be more proud to represent Junior Achievement in the Coral Gables community with Mrs. Brown. My cup is full,” Mr. Creegan said.

After receiving news of winning JA Rookie Teacher and JA Volunteer of the Year, mentors Mrs. Brown and Mr. Creegan celebrate the report, after six months of hard work. (Matthew Castano)

Going over and beyond as the only company manufacturing their own products, on May 12, Mrs. Valle then informed Mrs. Brown that the six-month-old company had been selected to participate in the 2023 JA NSLS in Washington, D.C.

“This was our first time submitting proposals for consideration in participating up at the national level, so we were really confident in Charm Dept.’s abilities. We saw that they have been working together, had some great ideas and were doing a phenomenal job with marketing and sales. They also performed very well at our local competition, so upon submitting, we always maintained the faith, but upon receiving that confirmation that they had been accepted, it was truly a milestone for JA of Greater Miami for the very first time,” Mrs. Valle said.

Celebrating the company’s liquidation, all students who helped make Charm Dept. grow were gathered at the end of the first year for the company’s closing.

To commemorate this accomplishment, the Academy of Finance JA Company Class came together for a celebration of Charm Dept.’s liquidation. With Mr. Creegan bringing boxes of Miami’s Best Pizza, both he and Mrs. Brown delivered heartfelt speeches, acknowledging the team’s hard work and shared success.

Joining in the achievement, assistant principal Mr. Martinez gave a speech leading to applause from the students. Before concluding the event, all 21 investors were paid for their $15 per stock share investment, and the team sent out 10% of their profits to the Mexican American Council as part of their commitment to giving back.

As the school year drew to a close, the Charm Dept. captains gathered one final time in Mrs. Brown’s class, to strategize and prepare for their upcoming endeavors. Joined by JA Greater Miami officials, Mr. Adam Brinson and Mrs. Valle, they prepared for their forthcoming trip to Washington, D.C.

Having achieved representing Greater Miami as a first for the business, assistant principal Mr. Martinez gave a talk to the captains. (Courtesy of Mrs. Valle)

“We had a meeting where we invited the parents, the school’s administration and everyone who was participating in this venture to make everyone knew the whereabouts of the competition and the skillsets required to maintain themselves in a professional atmosphere. We taught students how to tie their tie, we spoke to the ladies about the pearls, and how their attire represents them and overall how to carry themselves in the competition,” Mrs. Valle said.

With Mr. Creegan using his connections as one BlackRock’s Financial Inclusion Team Network in the companies’ employee networks, the Charm Dept. team had the opportunity to visit the BlackRock office once again to fine-tune their presentation and seek valuable feedback, once arriving in the nation’s capital.

“In our preparation to go to Washington, D.C., what I wanted the students to understand is, ‘Yes we’re gonna be there, we’re gonna have a good time and explore the city, however, we are going on a business trip.’  Because of the that, as a team, I gave the students an option to visit the BlackRock Washington, D.C. office to practice their presentation, to try to get feedback and coaching. I have never been there before, but I have always known BlackRock as an inclusive place to work and inclusivity is a important core value,” Mr. Creegan said.

Practicing one final time before meeting the judges, the BlackRock Washington, D.C. team met Charm Dept. and allowed the company’s captains to present for 30 minutes. Pointing out their business word usage and asking questions, the Charm Dept.’s achievements would not have been possible without the support and guidance they received along the way.

“Our thought on this is, ‘If the students are prepared to come in to BlackRock and deliver their presentation with confidence and conviction and share their story, they can do it anywhere including on the competition in the main stage.’ We were focused on clearing a path and changing paths for these students and that’s what we did. The reason why I brought Charm Dept. to the office in Miami and the office in D.C. and the reason why I involved the University of Miami, I wanted the students to see that in life, ‘You need partnerships. You need to be part of a team,’ and as a class of rising juniors, I also wanted the students to know that they should be thinking about their next step such as wanting to go to college,” Mr. Creegan said.

Spreading Charms Across the Nation
Celebrating a journey of how far Charm Dept. has come, the national team takes a picture behind Capitol Hill, where their next challenge took place on Day 2. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

The Charm Dept.’s journey began as a mere school-graded project, but after just one month of launch, their motivation surpassed the pursuit of a good grade, transforming into an unyielding resolve to succeed, eventually becoming the first company to ever represent Greater Miami.

Starting their journey to Washington D.C., on June 11 at approximately 8 p.m., the Charm Dept. national team composed of junior captains Montano-Abarca, Eros Vinneccy, Jeser Rubioperdomo, Lia Samper and Nathalie Diez, along with mentors Mrs. Brown and Mr. Creegan and JA Greater Miami officials Mr. Brinson and Mrs. Valle.

Excitement filled the air as the Charm Dept. team prepared to board the plane for their journey to nationals. Before departing from the Miami International Airport, Mrs. Valle revealed a surprise she had arranged. Using her position in connecting with one of JA’s sponsors, Delta, the team was able to enter into the all-exclusive Delta Sky Club.

With Delta being a sponsor of the JA NSLS, the Charm Dept. team got to experience the all-exclusive Sky Club lounge. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

Relishing their time before the flight, the team was then called to board earlier than other passengers, with resounding applauses from the flight crew. As the final passengers settled into their seats, the pilot, captivated by the team’s remarkable achievement, took a moment to announce their presence as national competitors, filling the cabin with a shared sense of pride.

“They treated us so well when we left Miami. First, when we got to the airport, their representative was already waiting for us. They had our tickets, checked our bags and took the luggage with them. Then they escorted us to their VIP lounge and when we got on the plane, they made an announcement to everyone saying that we were representing Miami at the JA NSLS, and everybody clapped for us on board. We felt like little celebrities, it was so much fun,” Mrs. Brown said.

Arriving at Hotel Washington, the captains pose in front of the NSLS welcome banner, marking their arrival to the competition. (Courtesy of Mr. Creegan)

During a brief stop in Atlanta, Delta continued to celebrate their success. Thoughtful and generous, the airline presented each member of the team with a gift bag, a tangible token of recognition for their extraordinary accomplishments.

Arriving late in Washington, D.C. around 10 p.m., the team headed over to Hotel Washington to quickly unpack their items and sleep for the next day, awaiting the challenge ahead.


Day One

With a full day at their disposal to explore the nation’s capital, the Charm Dept. team embraced the opportunity to immerse themselves in the vibrant cityscape and revel in the refreshing air. Walking as a bonding activity to landmarks, the team visited iconic structures such as the Statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Enjoying their time, the captains along with Mr. Creegan pose in front of the White House fences. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

As the clock struck 5 p.m., signaling the arrival of all companies at Washington Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, the 2023 NSLS opening ceremony commenced. Jack Kosakowski, the President and CEO of JA, took the stage and delivered a stirring speech, recognizing the collective success of all 15 companies and acknowledging their nomination by their respective JA officials. The room erupted with celebratory cheers, marking the commencement of a networking session where companies had the chance to connect and build relationships.

“Our organization highly values Junior Achievement’s student events as they play a pivotal role in providing our students with invaluable opportunities to apply the concepts they have learned through the JA Company Program. These events serve as a platform for them to showcase their skills in collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication and sound business practices. Witnessing the remarkable professionalism and unwavering passion for entrepreneurship at this summit fills me with confidence in our future,” Mr. Kosakowski said.

To foster camaraderie among the teams, an engaging game was organized, adding a touch of excitement to the event. In this activity, each group had the challenge of delivering a persuasive sales pitch in one minute. The twist was that they had to pitch to a unanimous object, creating a fun and collaborative atmosphere that encouraged teamwork.

Starting the first bonded activity among all 15 teams together in different groups, Head of Marketing and Production Montano-Abarca and Diez, contribute to the sales pitch. (Courtesy of Montano-Abaca)

Building upon the friendships among members established, the ceremony concluded on a sweet note, with everyone enjoying ice cream together. To cap off the ceremony with excitement, the teams engaged in a lively round of the popular card game UNO, creating an environment of shared joy among all participants.

With the conclusion of the ceremony, each team retired to their respective rooms, dedicating themselves to practicing and memorizing their pitches in preparation for the following day.


Day Two

Taking charge, Head of Leadership Vinneccy wrote down possible solutions from his members in the FedEx Seminar. (Courtesy of Vinneccy)

As the second day of the NSLS excursion dawned at 9 a.m., students gathered in the ballroom, anticipating a day filled with educational panels. The proceedings commenced with Delta’s Social Impact Seminar, which aimed to foster awareness of local and global problem-solving solutions. Divided into different groups, each table had the opportunity to showcase their creativity and innovation, engaging in productive discussions with guest speakers Angela Cain and Nivedita Pandey.

Building upon this momentum, the day continued with FedEx’s Global Possibilities Seminar, featuring speakers Julia Chicoskie and Mark Johnson. With their thought-provoking insights, they encouraged students to think beyond conventional boundaries, promoting a global mindset and inspiring them to explore innovative possibilities.

“Both the FedEx and Delta Seminars were very productive. We were split with everyone into groups, so we had to engage with the other competitors and find solutions to the problems the speakers addressed. I thought it was really productive and it was interesting as to see how while it was a competition, they were moments like these where everyone bonded,” Diez said.

With both panels finished, all teams returned briefly to their rooms before departing to Capitol Hill at noon. Exiting in a bus, all teams ascended to present their entrepreneurship expositions. This elevated platform provided a unique opportunity for visitors and judges alike to observe all 15 companies in action.

On Day 2, all 15 companies including Charm Dept. had to present their product and innovation to the judges while simultaneously being scored. Head of Finance Rubioperdomo explains to the judges about 3D printing. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

As the event commenced in the grandeur of the ‘Speaker Nancy Pelosi Caucus Room,’ the entrance was opened to welcome all audience. Judges, with a keen eye for detail, engaged with each of the team’s booths, posing insightful questions and meticulously evaluating their products.

“We were very careful in how we talked to everyone. We treated everyone as a judge whether you were a parent or a student and gave Croc Charm gifts as a token of appreciation for coming to our table. We really tried to give the audience a sense of comfortability and joy,” Montano-Abarca said.

With attentive judges making their rounds, each company was evaluated based on a comprehensive set of criteria. This assessment encompassed a range of elements, including the ability to deliver a compelling product pitch that captured the attention of the offering, a visual presentation of product conceptualization, looking for creativity and a clear understanding of market appeal. Additionally, judges observed how well each team applied their learned lessons to new and challenging situations.

“At first I was a bit nervous since it was my first doing this, and it was the exposition, but once I presented to the first two people and explain the company to them, I was able to hit the groove and I was able to rope that nervousness out,” Rubioperdomo said.

U.S. representative Mrs. Schultz visited the Greater Miami Charm Dept. As a token for visiting the booth, the Charm Dept. team gave Mrs. Schultz a free Cavalier charm (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

While being in Capitol Hill, the teams received a special encounter as U.S. Representatives Chrissy Houlahan and Emilia Sykes, as well as Senator John Cornyn arrived. Among the distinguished guests, the Charm Dept. had the distinct honor of meeting their local representative, Mrs. Debbie Schultz.

“I was insanely happy and felt very privileged to meet Mrs. Schultz, as it’s not something that the majority of high schoolers have the chance to do so. Seeing her as a successful woman in a male dominate field, inspired me to achieve high standards in business,” Diez said.

After an intensive three-hour session of presenting their entrepreneurship expositions to their guests, all team members were allowed to walk around each table and gain information about their competitor’s company.

“At the end, we got to walk around and see our competitors, and while yes, they are our competition, there also are people to learn from and we’re all friends. You truly can really learn a lot from them and it was fun to test them out on their knowledge about their business,” Vinneccy said.

Walking out of Capitol Hill with a refreshed mind on a new outlook, all the teams congregated on the floor of the steps, coming together for a memorable group photo.


Final Day

Showcasing the history of the company, Head of Sales Samper answers a question regarding how the team achieved break-even in the first week of starting. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

With the judges gaining a firsthand experience of each company’s offerings the previous day, it was now time for a closer examination. On stage, the teams would delve into their company’s history, financial statements and the passion that fueled their endeavors.

With an audience of 98 people, each company team took their turn on stage, unveiling their innovative product inventions. The range of ingenuity on display impressed the audience. Finally, it was the turn of the Greater Miami team to present their croc-based Cavalier charms.

From guiding their students for months, mentors Mrs. Brown and Mr. Creegan listen to the captains presenting their products. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

Following the product presentations, the teams proceeded to the next phase of interviews. In a room with one judge, all five captains from the Charm Dept. team engaged in a comprehensive discussion, answering a multitude of business-related questions. The first two questions were designated for a specific captain, while subsequent questions were open for any captain to respond, taking the lead in showcasing their knowledge and expertise.

After all 15  presentations were finished, the stage was set for the judges to commence their evaluation process, engaging in discussions to determine the final award winners. Meanwhile, the teams returned to their rooms, awaiting the announcement of the results later that evening.

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“Something I learned is being accountable. If you made a mistake yourself, it was really something you had to acknowledge, but you always bounce back up and you continue forward,” Rubioperdomo said.

As evening approached, a sense of anticipation filled the air as all 15 company teams gathered at the gala ceremony, savoring their last meal together in the hotel. Conversations buzzed with excitement and hearts beat rapidly with anticipation.

The atmosphere was high as Mr. Kosakowski took the stage again, delivering a speech, reflecting on the program and the incredible national journey that each company had embarked upon. With his final words resonating throughout the room, the award presentation commenced with Mercedes-Benz USA announcing the top companies.

“I’m proud of each and every one of us honestly. If you asked me how we did, I’d say, ‘We did awesome’. Everyone there tried their absolute best, it was our first time presenting in such a large audience. I had nerves like everyone else presenting in that room but it really is accepting that you’re nervous because it shows that you cared for your company and want to tell everyone about it,” Vinneccy said.

While Charm Dept. did not receive an award at this year’s JA NSLS, the team stood proudly, acknowledging the incredible achievement of making it this far in their first year of participating in the program. Both mentors as well as JA officials, experiencing their first national journey in their partnership year with JA, joined the team in celebrating this milestone. Additionally, Charm Dept. had the honor of representing Coral Gables Senior High and Greater Miami for the first time, marking a significant moment for both the team and Gables.

Celebrating how far the Charm Dept. has gone through, the team takes a group picture at their gala dinner before winners were announced later that evening. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

“My experience with other captains has been a rollercoaster ride. Before we began this company, I never in my life would have thought I would be speaking to crowds or actively participating in a company where I’m in charge of marketing. Even though we had different tastes from each other, once this company was rolling, we had no other choice but to bond and discuss. We eventually grew very close to each other to the point they became my new friend group,” Montano-Abarca said.

As the final day came to a close, the teams began packing their belongings, and Charm Dept. bid farewell to Hotel Washington at 8 a.m., continuing on their travel back to Miami. Once again, they were greeted with the unique Delta experience, finally arriving in Miami around noon.


Before parting ways for the summer, Mrs. Valle had one last surprise for the team to acknowledge their hard work and dedication, balloons. Despite the absence of a national award, the JA Greater Miami team designed a special edition newsletter dedicated to Charm Dept. on their success in the NSLS.

Charm Dept. Captain Arriving Miami
After flying for over three hours with Delta Air Lines, the five Charm Dept. captains were each greeted with balloons for their success in representing Greater Miami. (Courtesy of Mrs. Brown)

“We went into the national competition saying, ’It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about that we had a process, we stuck to that process and it was thanks to that we achieved success.’ We exhibited the daily, small compounding of good behaviors that snowballed and grew over that six-month period, to the fact we earned a place in the competition. The moment for me where I could not be more proud of them was them facing adversity. How the students came together and were able to overcome that adversity, by demonstrating our core values of unity and resilience, that was the moment they became champions,” Mr. Creegan said.

Cherishing with memories and growth, the Charm Dept. team looks back with pride at the newfound experience of competing in the JA Company Program.

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About the Contributor
Aaron Rojas
Aaron Rojas, CavsConnect Features Editor
Entering his third year in CavsConnect, Aaron Rojas is the newest editor on the team for Features. As he enters the ranks of rising juniors in the International Baccalaureate program, Aaron dedicates his afternoons to various school clubs such as the French Honor Society, IBHS, Gables Interact and Mock Trial. Aaron is a proud '06 natal year with having the ability to drive now, except for the moments he remembers Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet that same year. Despite his penchant for restful Zzz's, Aaron indulges in taking up the many responsibilities of a young adult, such as by reading text articles on Apple News while sipping a half glass of celery juice every morning. Sensing the countdown to graduation standing at under two years, Aaron's ultimate major choice remains veiled in uncertainty. For now, Aaron hopes to keep his friends and classmates smiling around him before his unshakeable self-assurance points to a path that will undoubtedly be his perfect fit.  
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