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ATL Business Chronicle

Column: Junior Achievement raising funds for Gwinnett discovery center

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on September 5, 2014

Junior Achievement of Georgia has secured major corporate backing for its second JA BizTown and JA Finance Park – this time in Gwinnett County.

The Gwinnett JA discovery learning center will open next fall at the new comprehensive high school campus that will be built on Old Norcross Road near the intersection of Georgia 316 and Sugarloaf Parkway.

The Gwinnett Center is expected to serve more than 25,000 sixth- and eighth-grade students. The first JA Biz Town and JA Finance Park at the Georgia World Congress Center opened exactly a year ago, serving about 30,000 middle school students in the city of Atlanta and the city of Marietta as well as Fulton and DeKalb County schools.

“When the Gwinnett Center opens, we will be serving about a fourth of all of Georgia’s middle school students,” said Jack Harris, president of Junior Achievement of Georgia. “At some point in the future, we would like to be able to serve all the middle school students across the state with this kind of experience.”

The hands-on, virtual lifestyle education that students receive through the JA BizTown and JA Finance Park provide real-world lessons on how to manage a personal budget, how to function in a work environment and how to interact in a “faux” business environment.

The experience has really resonated with the Atlanta business community and educational leaders.

“It has been such a fun and challenging initiative to work on,” Harris said. “The momentum we had with the first one is very motivating. Now the question is how do we think about getting this type of education to other students.”

The Gwinnett opportunity presented itself in an ideal way. The school system will be building out the space for JA BizTown and JA Finance Park, and Junior Achievement will be responsible for the annual operating expenses, which it is estimating will cost about $1 million a year. It is working to get commitments for the next three to five years.

Three leading Atlanta companies have signed up to be presenting sponsors of the new Gwinnett Center — Assurant, Chick-fil-A and Home Depot. Construction of the 45,000-square-foot facility is expected to begin later  this fall.

Harris said that JA already has raised about $2 million, and it expects to raise another $1 million by the end of the calendar year. More than half of the storefronts and business slots have already been secured by companies or organizations.

In addition to the three presenting sponsors, other confirmed partners include: AT&T, Belk, BrandBank, The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Delta Air Lines, Georgia State University, Hire Dynamics, InterContinental Hotels Group, Kauffman Tire, NCR, Nordson, Primerica, RockTenn, SunTrust Bank, Wells Fargo and United Way of Greater Atlanta.

“We have 14 openings left,” Harris said. “Our goal is to have it all sold out by the end of the calendar year.”

About half of the companies that are going to be part of the Gwinnett venture have been part of the downtown Atlanta venture. The rest include companies that may have more direct ties to Gwinnett, which is something that Harris said has worked out really well.

Alvin Wilbanks, the superintendent of Gwinnett County’s Public Schools, called the partnership with Junior Achievement “a tremendously exciting venture for us,” saying he was inspired after having seen other JA BizTowns and JA Finance Parks in different communities.

“JA has been diligent about developing the program to meet our expectations,” Wilbanks said. “And the positive response of local businesses and industries to the invitation to be part of our center has been very gratifying.”

Although establishing the first two centers so quickly, Harris said he was not sure if Junior Achievement could replicate other centers of such magnitude throughout the state. He said JA is exploring the possibility of regional centers or a scaled-down offering to reach students living in areas with less population density.

Georgia Perimeter College turns 50

It was 1964 when the DeKalb Board of Education officially opened DeKalb College, the first and only public two-year college in the state controlled by a local school district.

On Sept. 5, the successor institution — Georgia Perimeter College — will kick off its 50th anniversary celebration at 10:30 a.m. when faculty, staff and retirees will convene at the Clarkston Campus gymnasium.

Special guest speaker will be Houston Davis, the University System of Georgia’s executive vice chancellor. Interim President Rob Watts will give the annual state-of-the-college address, and Academic Affairs Vice President Ron Stark will provide a college update.

Georgia Perimeter has come a long way since it was founded 50 years ago – the same year that the Beatles landed in New York for their first U.S. tour.

Twenty-two years after being established, the college joined the University System of Georgia. In 1997, the Board of Regents changed the name of the college to Georgia Perimeter College to reflect its expanding mission and its service throughout metro Atlanta. The GPC moniker became official in the fall of 1998.

Today, the school has five campuses — Alpharetta, Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody and Newton County. It also is the university system’s largest provider of online education.

Georgia Perimeter currently serves more than 21,000 students and during its history has helped more than 350,000 students toward their dream  of earning a college degree.

Tom Gay to be honored

Atlanta builder Tom Gay will be honored with the Global Community Service Award this year by Villa International Atlanta, an ecumenical ministry that offers short-term residence to persons of all faiths and parts of the world who are visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University as well as other organizations.

Gay, president of Gay Construction Co., is being recognized for his many years of selfless service to the Atlanta community. He has been involved with the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta and the Atlanta Kiwanis Foundation.

Gay also played a major role in the recent renovations of the Villa. A release announcing his Global Community Service Award said that the Villa was honored to have him as a major donor and as a friend of the organization.

The 2014 Viva Villa event, the major annual fundraising event for the nonprofit, will be held on Sunday, Nov. 2 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Villa International at 1749 Clifton Road N.E.

The CDC Foundation will be the presenting sponsor, and John Weatherford, chief operating officer of WABE 90.1 FM, will be the guest master of ceremonies.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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