March 7, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

For 37 years the American Private Enterprise System Program has shown Hopkins County youths a glimpse of how businesses and governments are organized.

Hopkins County has one of the longest continually running programs in the state, a distinction of which the community is proud.

The American Private Enterprise System, a program of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, is designed for high school students to learn how America is organized to do business. It includes information on individually owned businesses, partnerships, corporations and cooperatives; other political economies and how they work; our economy, how it works, what it provides; consumers; supply and demand, credit and savings; unemployment and inflation; and investments.

The first students in Hopkins County went through the program in 1965, said Larry Mahurin, a retired University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service 4-H agent. Mahurin, who worked at a financial cooperative at that time, assisted with the first group. He became a county agent two years later and continued to be active with APES over the years.

"As far as I know, it's the only county to have a continuous program since 1967," he said.

Over the years hundreds of young people have gone through the program.

Initially, the program was aimed at educating young people on how cooperatives work, but was soon expanded to include all aspects of business, Mahurin said. Most of the instructors initially were from the University of Kentucky, but today the program uses business people from the community while being coordinated by UK on the state and county levels.

The primary objective of the APES program is to provide youth scholars with early exposure to the capitalistic system; to help prepare youth to take an active role in business; to provide an exchange of ideas between youth scholars and local business and professional leaders; and to provide citizenship training for youth scholars and junior leaders.

Mahurin said the program remains viable after all these years because it whets the appetites of young people on business and economics.

The program began in the 1950s in western Kentucky, said Lionel Williamson, state coordinator.

"It's a very popular extension program," he said. "It's a model program in that it belongs to the local people. It's grassroots folks doing the program and that's the way you want it."

In Hopkins County about 50 students recently completed the three-day course for 2001.

Williamson said the program is enjoying growth across the state.

Nancy Kelley, Hopkins County Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences, said she recruits students from area high schools through their school-to-work programs when available. At Dawson Springs High, she relies on the guidance counselor.

"By using school-to-work, we identify students that are thinking about business as a career field," Kelley said. " The best feature of the program is actually letting them hear from people from the community who are working in the fields they are interested in.

"It gives them firsthand knowledge from someone who's been to college, gotten the degree and come back to this community," she said. "It can encourage them that there are things in this community that they can come back to, if they want to do that."

This year's speakers included area business people and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, whose topic was government and business.

Williamson said the students that participate in the program are bright students. "They are very challenging in terms of issues they want to discuss," he said.

Jim McMurtrie, who works in business development and public relations for Old National Bank in Madisonville, said he believes in the program.

"One of the things it does is to get them aware of the free enterprise system," he said. "We hope they see that this is so important to everyday living and not something that will happen only after they get out of college. They can learn concepts to make their lives better and to let them know that the community is behind them. It is just another way of investing time in the community and education. We are very committed to it."

This is not a program for students who want to get out of class, McMurtrie said. There is work involved, tests to be taken and a chance at scholarships.

Students who do well on the county level are invited to participate in a state Youth Seminar where they can win one of 16 college scholarships sponsored by the extension service and the Kentucky Council or Cooperatives program, Williamson said.

Each year 14 from the state are taken to the national program where Kentucky is very competitive. One of the best, in fact, Williamson said, because it has one of the only structured programs. This year's national program will be in July at Atlanta.

While it may be structured, it is also varied at the county level as each county draws on the community for its expertise. Laura Chinn, a senior at Hopkins County Central High, went through the program in 2000 and was a leader for the program this year.

"A lot of the students when they come here have had a couple of business classes but I hadn't," she said. "It was a totally new experience for me. The general information was enlightening in seeing how the community works. It's good to pull students out that haven't had that background and give them an intense business training."

Chinn, who plans to become a psychiatrist, said the most beneficial aspect of APES was learning how businesses work and the different types, and learning how to start your own.

Channing Slate, a senior of Madisonville-North Hopkins High, also participated in 2000 and was a leader this year.

"I wanted to come back," he said. "I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot about enterprises. I have an interest in business."

Slate wants to pursue a career in computer engineering with an ultimate goal of opening his own business.

Going through this year's program was Sanci Canon, a Dawson Springs High junior. She said she went through a leadership program this past summer and her guidance counselor thought she should also participate in APES.

"From here I hope to learn business skills that I can use in the future as I choose a career to pursue and will be good at," she said. "I want to be a physical therapist and through this program I can learn how to start my own practice."


Nancy Kelley, (270) 821-3650; Lionel Williamson, (859) 257-1637