Curriculum and History

What is FELC?

The late North Carolina U.S. Senator Jesse Helms always cared deeply about many things, but among his chief concerns were two things: young people and the future of America. When the Jesse Helms Center was formed over 25 years ago in Wingate, North Carolina, Helms wanted to offer more than just a “dusty old museum.” So, Helms Center President John Dodd founded FELC in 1995 to teach young people about free enterprise and the principles which support it. Since that time, almost 7,000 high school students have graduated from FELC, and hundreds more have participated in shorter versions of the program.

FELC sessions have been conducted in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and even the South American country of Uruguay. In 2002, the Helms Center partnered with Tecnologico de Monterrey’s high school division, Prepa Tec, to take FELC to Mexican high school students. FELC is now a regular part of Prepa Tec’s after-school offerings across its six campuses.

In 2011, the Helms Center embarked on a three-year expansion plan, geared towards adding additional sessions of FELC. While we continue to open the doors of free enterprise training to more students than ever, the personalized and fresh focus of our innovative education has not changed! Typically FELC is offered as a five-day residential summer program for high school students on college campuses. However, the program has been offered in shorter sessions for high school and college students at domestic and international locations.

What do students learn?

The goal of FELC is to educate students about entrepreneurship, the differences between capitalism and socialism, free market economics, personal responsibility, principled leadership and corporate/personal philanthropy. Activities and lessons are designed for students to create meaningful practical application.

Five-day Program

In our five-day summer program, activities are centered on three main focuses
1) A Company Competition is the core activity of the week. In small groups, students form companies to provide actual services and products for other members of the camp. Using real currency, companies borrow from the FELC bank to get started, and are expected to turn a profit by the end of the program. With guided instruction, students work together to create business and marketing plans, commercials, pay taxes and maintain accounting records.

Each company decides the fate of their profits. Proudly, most companies in FELC history have donated their proceeds to charity. Since 2008, FELC students have been contributing their profits to the online micro-finance lender Kiva.org. Through FELC staff, money is loaned to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and when loans are repaid the funds are reinvested in different entrepreneurs. This allows the network of giving to continue years after students complete FELC and helps reinforce the positive message of personal responsibility and hard work.

2) Engaging Group Sessions allow students to participate in a variety of interactive lessons. Each activity has a purpose and greater application. Students participate in the John Templeton Foundation’s Laws of Life Essay Contest where they write about the core values which mean the most to them (cash prizes are awarded for top essays). During FELC, companies complete the Virtual Trade Mission – an internet based research-project which promotes a better understanding of the global economy.

Students also have the chance to participate in modified Lincoln-Douglas debates and persuasive speech contests (cash prizes for top speeches). Additionally, students prepare informative presentations on “core principle” topics. These three activities give students a chance to enhance critical comprehension skills and practice public speaking which are essential to business and college success. Other essential topics covered in group sessions include promoting the development of good character, principled leadership and personal/corporate philanthropy.

3) Speakers provide an exclusive opportunity for students to hear first-hand advice and ask questions about business and leadership. Students meet face-to-face with influential business leaders like Karen Woods, a former welfare recipient who became a successful small business owner. Entrepreneurs, college professors, government leaders and former NFL players have each discussed their business success stories, the government’s impact on business, international trade, technological impacts on business and corporate citizenship. Generally speakers are welcomed on a daily basis during our five-day program.

What is the origin of the curriculum?

FELC has always been at the forefront of free enterprise education. Originally developed by college professor and Sam Walton Fellow in Free Enterprise Marilyn Robertson, FELC offers interactive education for an affordable price. While formal lecture settings can be useful, FELC utilizes experiential learning (learning by experience) which encourages participants’ active engagement in their own education. Activities and lessons are structured in “building block” style – allowing participants to increase their understanding of topics day by day. In 2011, Dr. Peter Frank, BB&T Free Enterprise Professor at Wingate University and the Jesse Helms Center Free Enterprise Fellow, joined FELC as an advisory board member to help oversee curriculum.