Junior Achievement: A Legacy of Economic Empowerment
By Helene G. Lollis
In 2002 after declining another corporate relocation, I took a package from my Fortune Global 50 employer and bought a small business. I vividly remember sharing the news with my family, expecting reactions of surprise, but receiving instead commentary that they’d “always assumed” I would be a business owner someday, echoing back to my history as a student and volunteer with Junior Achievement. My personal history with JA empowered me, and this summer I will celebrate 20 years of business ownership, thriving with revenues tenfold since purchase.
While I considered my career change to be pretty significant, my family was right – Junior Achievement had a significant impact on me. So much so, that once I’d been exposed to the power of the JA experience, I really never strayed from it. My student journey in the JA Company Program saw me progress from worker-bee to officer to company president to competitor at the national competition as president of the year. And, my volunteer journey spanned time staffing the national conference, being a Company Program advisor, teaching Applied Economics in high schools, and eventually chairing the board of JA of Georgia.
But, one doesn’t stay involved in something for 40 years because of fond memories of time past. I’ve remained committed to this organization because it has remained committed to innovating and evolving to maximize its impact on our youth. The JA of 2022 looks very different from the model of my student days, as it should.
Here in Georgia, we now reach 45% of middle school students through the integrated classroom and live simulation experiences of JA BizTown and JA Finance Park. The programs’ capstone days bring students and volunteers together in outrageously life-like “cities” built by corporate partners with storefronts that mimic their own retail and business facilities. Students experience life as employees and consumers, learning about the working world as well as personal finance.
Georgia, too, boasts the inception and launch of 3DE – a JA offering fully re-engineering high school education for relevance, authenticity, and experiential learning to prepare students for the economies of the future. 3DE now brings this innovative model to thirteen Georgia high schools, and even more students across six states.
Since its founding in 1919, Junior Achievement has educated young people about financial literacy, workforce readiness, and entrepreneurship with programming that complements traditional education, or perhaps more correctly, it “completes” traditional education. And, while the curricula, models, and delivery have evolved over time, its mission has arguably never been as relevant as it is today. In a 2022 world consumed by inflation and supply chain issues, yet rightly focused on the challenges of income inequality, JA’s legacy of preparing youth for productive participation in society still rings true.
It is the eye to the future that keeps leaders like myself engaged. Certainly there is further growth to come in the middle and high school models, but innovation and creativity abound across the landscape of JA areas. There are new models for career exploration, classroom programs to learn about investing, and even experiences to envision occupations in skilled trades – which interestingly enough, echoes back to the ideals of the founders in 1919.
The magic of bringing together the corporate and education communities to instill knowledge, insights, and experiences into students from all backgrounds is truly a powerful force for equity and opportunity. I’m proud that JA sits uniquely in the position to make that happen every day. And, I know what can happen when you ignite that spark – I’m proof positive of it myself.