JA Abilene Awards $104,000 in Scholarships

Pictured Left to Right in back two rows: Ashlynn Smart, Karson Tutt, Emma Dantzler, Sterling Fahey, Karina Hau, Mikayla Condra, Kari Brokovich, Shelbie Dawson, Kaitlyn Harris, Derryck Peters, Nolan Burke, Luke Quinney

Pictured Left to Right kneeling in front: Evan Simmons (JA Executive Director), Chandler Smith, River Young, Dakota Fannin, Justin Moss (JA Board of Directors Chair)

Not Pictured: Olivia Montgomery & Julianna Mouat

19 Big Country Students Awarded $104,000 in JA Scholarships

Junior Achievement of Abilene is proud to announce the awarding of nineteen four-year scholarships to benefit area high school seniors pursuing higher education. With a combined value of $104,000, the scholarships were made possible through partnerships with Abilene Christian University, Hardin Simmons University, McMurry University, and the Willie I., Wanda, W.F. Martin Charitable Trust Fund managed by First Financial Trust & Asset Management Company.

Junior Achievement’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people for success. One way we at JA provide the opportunity for area high school seniors who have completed a Junior Achievement program while in high school is to apply for a scholarship. Over 100 students began our application process in 2017, nearly 30 advanced to an interview process with a scholarship selection committee, and nineteen recipients were selected.

Congratulations to all of our recipients!

  • A $10,000 award to Abilene Christian University in the form of a JA Scholarship provided by ACU:
  • Nolan BurkeJim Ned High School
  • Noah PruittAbilene High School
  • Karson Tutt – Jim Ned High School
  • A $6,000 award to Hardin Simmons University in the form of a JA Scholarship provided by HSU:
  • Emma DantzlerAcademy of Technology, Engineering, Math & Science (ATEMS)
  • Karina Hau – Abilene High School
  • Olivia MontgomeryCooper High School
  • A $6,000 award to McMurry University in the form of a JA Scholarship provided by MCM:
  • Shelbie DawsonEula High School
  • Dakota FanninBaird High School
  • A $4,000 award applicable to any college or university through the Willie I., Wanda, & W.F. Martin Charitable Trust Fund managed by First Financial Trust & Asset Management Company:
  • Kari Brokovich – Cooper High School 
  • Mikayla Condra – Abilene Christian High School
  • Sterling Fahey – Cooper High School
  • Kaitlyn Harris – Cooper High School
  • Amanda Hernandez – Abilene Christian High School
  • Julianna Mouat – Abilene High School
  • Derryck Peters – Abilene High School
  • Luke Quinney – Jim Ned High School
  • Ashlynn Smart – Clyde High School
  • Chandler Smith – Jim Ned High School
  • River Young – Cooper High School

JA Abilene's Executive Director Evan Simmons says, “Junior Achievement of Abilene is pleased to have awarded these scholarships to the deserving Big Country students. These latest scholarships demonstrate our continued commitment to preparing today’s youth with the skills and knowledge they need today in order to succeed later in life." 

About Junior Achievement of Abilene (JA)

Junior Achievement is the world's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. JA programs are delivered by corporate and community volunteers that provide relevant, hands-on experiences that give students from kindergarten through high school knowledge and skills in financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Since 1983, JA of Abilene has served over 130,000 students in the Big Country including over 6,500 students in 325 classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year.

2017 JA Business Hall of Fame

What makes a community or organization special is very rarely its product, but the people who help produce the culture at the heart of that community. Junior Achievement is honored to host the bi-annuel JA Business Hall of Fame celebration dinner in order to thank and honor the leaders in our community who deserve recognition for outstanding leadership of our business community and, therefore, have improved our community, as welll.

The purpose of the JA Business Hall of Fame was accomplished in a very fun "country" fashion at Celebration Hall on the Silverado. As we aim to celebrate the laureates for their exceptional leadership, the atmosphere for the entire evening felt like a party ... truly celebrating the laureates and their families. Each laureate received a commemorative bronze, a stetson hat (we did hold the event in a barn!), and a custom hat box.

We cannot thank each laureate enough for their support of Junior Achievement, their organizations, and our community.

Ultimately, this event raised over $90,000 to the benefit of Junior Achievement of Abilene!

Tim Lancaster

Tim Lancaster is the President and CEO of Hendrick Health System. The healthcare system includes a 500 bed medical center and employs over 3,000 people.


He has implemented strategies to give employees and citizens of Abilene the opportunity to grow from entry level positions to highly skilled, professional positions while creating a world class work environment. He leads others by example and is an advocate for giving young professionals in Abilene opportunities for greater leadership opportunities and community involvement.


Tim has been instrumental in helping bring the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center to Abilene which includes the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing and Public Health. These educational institutions enable hundreds of students each year the opportunity to learn and grow in their professions, with the hopes of keeping these individuals employed in Abilene.


Tim was also supportive and integral in bringing the concept of a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) to Abilene as ours was the largest community in the state without one.  The creation of this facility in Abilene provides easier access to healthcare for some of our city’s most vulnerable populations.


He is active in community service and is past board chair of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. He also serves on the Board of Abilene Industrial Foundation and First Financial Bank Shares.


He was appointed by Governor Perry in 2013 to serve on the Texas Tech University Board of Regents and was recently appointed to the role of Vice-Chair.


Tim is past chair of the Texas Hospital Association, past chair of the Texas Association of Voluntary Hospitals, current chair of the Texas Purchasing Coalition, and current chair of Lt. Governor Patrick’s Advisory Committee on Healthcare.          


Tim and his wife, Regina, have two sons: Chad and daughter in law Lyndsay and Chris and daughter in law Meredith.  They have four grandsons Jack, Jett, Shepherd and Hooper.


Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith is the owner of Chick fil A - North Abilene. Wesley is very engaged in the community, specifically related to the Abilene Chamber of Commerce (Business EXPO , Business Council, Military Affairs Committee, and Leadership programs), serves on mulitple leadership boards (Communities in Schools, West Texas Rehab, Goodwill, Friends of the Library, and United Way), and serves as a regular JA volunteer.

Wesley's energy and involvement are all-encompassing. What makes Wesley stand out is his effort and intentionality. Nobody can say that Wesley's goes half-way because when he's committed, he's 100% engaged. He is “all in” for his employees, “all in” for his customers, and “all in” for his community. He has found ways to give to each of these three audiences simply to show that he cared. Wesley was listed as one of Abilene’s 20 under 40 in 2008 and was named the recipient of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Award in 2016. Not to mention, he was the Best Dressed Rodeo Man in the 3rd grade at Bowie Elementary. 

Wesley is the dad of Daisy (9) and Fletcher (6).

Kirk and Kristi Thaxton

Kirk Thaxton is the President and CEO of First Financial Trust & Asset Management Company. Kristi Thaxton is an Exceptional Funds Officer with Abilene Christian University.

Professionally, Kirk and Kristi are known to be leaders by example in their fields. Doing their job the right way and leading others in the same direction is natural to them. They are the type of people who people want to immolate. With over 30 years at First Financial for Kirk and over 20 years at Abilene Christian University for Kristi, longevity, loyalty, and consistency are found in their successful careers.

Kirk and Kristi are very committed to making Abilene better than they found it. Over fifteen organizations including emphasis in civic leadership, business, arts, education, youth sports, and community development have benefited from Kirk and Kristi’s involvement. One thing many people may not know is that Junior Achievement has known very few years without the leadership of one of the Thaxtons. Since JA’s inception in 1983, Kirk OR Kristi have served on one of the JA leadership boards for all but five years. In other words, for 29 of JA’s 34 year history in Abilene, either Kirk or Kristi have been formally involved in a leadership role in empowering Abilene’s young people for success.

And this is not uncommon for the Thaxton's. For the past 34 years Kirk and Kristi have been supporting the other in whatever they are involved. Through this process, many people have considered Kirk and Kristi the ultimate team due to their commitment and sincere interest in one another. Their involvement in the lives of their three children (Matt, Kyle, and Kaitlin), their involvement in their community, and their commitment to their organizations has all been completed with the support and partnership with the other. 

Look at the 2017 JA Business Hall of Fame photo album here.

Reverse JA in a Day @ Hendrick Medical Center

Hendrick Medical Center (Abilene) hosted nearly 50 students from Abilene ISD's Holland Medical Early College High School with their members of their faculty and administration during school hours on Monday, September 26. Students learned career preparation skills specifically tailored to the healthcare field. In addition, they learned the necessary of how to look for a job, get hired, and keep a job. Finally, they learned important 21st century skills we call the 4 Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. These lessons are part of the JA Career Success curriculum. The curriculum was taught by Hendrick employees throughout the day.

In addition to the JA program material, students were welcomed to the hospital by Hendrick President & CEO Tim Lancaster and Abilene Mayor (and Hendrick VP) Noarm Archibald, treated to a tour of the facility led by Hend, and access to a Q&A session with Hendrick employees at lunch.

Major takeaways from the day were:

  • Healthcare is not going away
  • Technical skills can me an interview, but strong "Soft Skills" will get me the job
  • A LOT of career options in healthcare
  • Every department must work together / Collaboration is important
  • Tour was very insightful
  • Interaction with Hendrick Professionals was very positive
  • JA inspired me to continue pursuing a career in healthcare
  • JA sessions prepared me to be successful
  • "I want to work at Hendrick"
  • Abilene is a good option for a career in healthcare

Hendrick plans to host underclassmen from Holland Medical Early College High School later in the school year.


JA Awards $102,000 to 18 Big Country Students

JA inspires and prepares young people to succeed in a global economy. 

One way we reach this mission is through local professionals teaching economic education through partnerships with local schools. This school year, 6,228 Big Country students completed a JA program rooted in financial literacy, work readiness, or entrepreneurship.

Another way we choose to obtain this mission is by providing scholarships to area students. In 2016, JA awarded $102,000 to 18 deserving students from the Big Country

Read below to see the partnering organizations who provide the scholarships and the students who received them.

Abilene Christian University
Each recipient will receive $10,000 to ACU

  • Lorenzo Ellis, Abilene High School
  • Katlyn Gosch, Brownwood High Schol (not pictured)
  • David Guerra, Jim Ned High School



Hardin Simmons University
Each recipient will receive $6,000 to HSU

  • Tyler Bradshaw, Jim Ned High School (not pictured)
  • Kayla Oakeley, Wylie High School
  • Claire Shuler, Wylie High School
  • Morgan Zett, Wylie High School



Martin Charitable Trust Fund managed by First Financial Trust & Asset Management Company - Each student receives $4,000 to any university

  • Reese Cook, Jim Ned High School (Texas Tech - not pictured)
  • Owen Crawford, Jim Ned High School (Texas Tech - not pictured)
  • Will Doty, Jim Ned High School (Texas A&M)
  • Jayton Evans, Cooper High School (Georgia Tech)
  • Shelby Irwin, Abilene High School (Trinity University)
  • Ashleigh Jiminez, Sweetwater High School (Texas Tech)
  • Kelsey LaBrenz, Cooper High School (Texas A&M)
  • Andrew Lynch, Wylie High School (Texas Tech)
  • Holly Pettijohn, Abilene High School (Harding University)


McMurry University
Each recipient will receive $6,000 to McM

  • Neah Garza, Cooper High School (not pictured)
  • Jason Williams, Wylie High School


2015 - 2016 JA Educator of the Year - Leslye Roberts

We all have educators who inspired and prepared us to become better people than we were before meeting them. For some, it's a coach, others a music instructor, and classroom instructors affect us all. Sometimes, however, the counselors and administrators don't get recognized due to the nature of a job that isn't on the front lines of education. In the case of selecting the JA Educator of the Year, it was easy to see the impact of the Instruction Coordinator at Abilene ISD's Lee Elementary School.

Leslye Roberts is not in the classroom each day anymore now that she is no longer a teacher, but now affects a larger number of students in her role as the campus' Instruction Coordinator. Leslye also served as the campus' JA Coordinator. Leslye took it upon herself to study the correlations between the JA programs and state standards for each grade level (K through 5th), compare this to the time on the calendar scheduled to teach their financial literacy curriculum, and chose to place the JA in a Day at Lee Elementary School square in the middle of the Spring semester to raise the students' awareness and ability to comprehend financial literacy components.

The relationship between JA and Lee Elementary School began a year ago when JA of Abilene received a $13,000 grant from the Dian Graves Owen Foundation to increase JA programs in AISD's lower income elementary schools. After a thorough selection process, Lee was chosen to be the most recent school added to the JA program mix.

Leslye scheduled an in-person training for each teacher by JA staff, allowed JA staff to present at an in-service meeting, helped JA personel each step of the way, encouraged students and teachers to anticipate the JA experience, and collected same-day thank you cards from each student for their volunteer to receive. Leslye went above and beyond to make Junior Achievement as effective as possible. Leslye chose to inspire and prepare the students at Lee Elementary School to be successful young people.

If you are an educator and would like to see JA at your school, let us know.

2015 - 2016 JA Volunteer of the Year - Casjen Rico

226 adults volunteered in the 2015 - 2016 school year with over 6,200 students in the public school classrooms of 8 Big Country school districts by teaching Junior Achievement’s principles of work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. By sharing their personal and professional experiences and skills with students, volunteers help students understand the skills they will need to succeed in life and proactively manage their finances. The dynamic interaction between the volunteers and students in the classroom is what sets Junior Achievement curriculum apart from others as the information is brought to life.

What separates one volunteer from another ... or, in this case, the other 225?

Selecting a JA Volunteer of the Year is a difficult process because each one brings special and unique qualities and attributes to the classroom. 63 volunteers had been in 2 or more classrooms this school year. And many give to JA in more ways than their time.

In 2015 - 2016, Casjen Rico (pronounced Cash - In) - a Credit Analyst with First Financial Bank - volunteered in 6 classrooms. S-I-X CLASSROOMS in ONE year! Casjen volunteered at Wylie Intermediate School, Lee Elementary School, Cooper High School (once each semester), and was integral in both Reverse JA in a Day programs at First Financial Bank.

Upon being asked about what keeps him going back to volunteer time and time again, Casjen shared, “Actually, my first JA session was a terrible experience. I came back to work and told my boss that I didn't want to go back. But, of course, I did. Each week, I felt like I was wasting my time because the students acted like they didn't care about what we were doing. But, by the last session (of 5), I could tell that it was an 'act' for their friends because I really struggled to find a recap question from the program that they didn't remember the answer. They captured the important peices of learning personal finance! That last session will keep me going back into JA classrooms."

Junior Achievement has so many amazing volunteers like Casjen!

Ultimately, Junior Achievement strives to empower young people to own their future economic success. For as little as an hour per week (for 5-8 weeks), local volunteers can inspire and prepare young people to achieve their economic success in the Big Country! Click here to sign up to be contacted about volunteer opportunities through Junior Achievement of Abilene.


AHS Students Visit First Financial Bank with JA

First Financial Bank in Downtown Abilene hosted 72 AP Government and Economics students from Abilene High School with their teachers during school hours on Tuesday, March 8. Students learned how to budget, plan for their futures, the importance of saving, how to avoid consumer debt, and how to be a savvy consumer. These lessons are part of the JA Personal Finance curriculum. The curriculum was taught by First Financial Bank employees and executives throughout the day.

In addition to the JA program material, students were welcomed to the bank by Abilene area President Marelyn Shedd, treated to a tour of the facility (which included the Bank lobby, the vault, the Trust & Asset Management Company, and the Executive Board Room - the students' favorite part of the tour), and access to a Q&A session with a panel of First Financial employees with expertise in Equity & Investments, Consumer Lending, and the Banking / Finance Industries.

Major takeaways from the day were:

  • An increased awareness of how to budget and why budgeting / saving are important pracitices
  • A better understanding of making good choices with debit / credit cards
  • An increased awareness of selecting a major
  • An appreciation of the finance industry
  • An appreciation for a large corporate environment in Abilene
  • A better understanding of how to access student loans

#JA students from Abilene High at First Financial Bank Texas in the Executive Board Room with SVP Clay Trumble.

Posted by Junior Achievement of Abilene on Tuesday, March 8, 2016

One student said this about her experience: "I've always thought I would study nursing. But after today, I am fascinated about the Finance Industry! This has been a very eye opening experience."

Another student said his experience with the First Financial panel opened his eyes to how compound interest works and said, "I'm taking the advice from the Investments [expert] on the panel ... I'm going to invest the first $70 from my paycheck each week starting now. I never knew how important it was to save for retirement at this early of an age."

Finally, one student gained a better appreciation for Abilene. His takeaway sounded like this: "I have already decided to be a Business Administration major. But I didn't know this was in Abilene. I mean, I knew First Financial was in Abilene, but I didn't know that was First Financial. I could definitely see myself working at a place like this!"

First Financial Bank will host students from Cooper High School in early April.

United Supermarkets Provide Major Volunteer Support for JA Classrooms

 The relationship between United Supermarkets and Junior Achievement of Abilene is not a new one. United has provided financial support to events like the JA Golf Classic in each year of its existence and to programs in classrooms like the commitment they made by providing JA Personal Finance ® - Blended Model to at least the next two years of 12th grade students at Brownwood High School. United has also been a major volunteer provider for JA programs in Abilene schools, as well.

But the "U Crew" (an organized group of United team members who serve alongside one another to meet the needs of the community) rose to new heights last week.

In a week where the JA of Abilene office delivered or began 25% of the 2016 spring semester programs, the team from United Supermarkets provided 19 volunteers who filled 16 classrooms on 3 campuses (Brownwood High School, Lee Elementary School, & Craig Middle School) across 2 school districts. In addition to their classroom support, United also provided all of the refreshments for the volunteers at Lee Elementary School and surprised the classrooms hosted by United team members with additional snacks and treats!

This impressive support in the form of quantity is only met by the consistent quality of the United personnel. Each team member has been prepared for their JA experience, innovative, and exciting for the kids.

Without United, many students in Abilene and Brownwood would not have received JA programs in a very busy week for our office. Thank you!

To join United as a volunteer, please click here.

Pictured Top Left: Derek Orr - United Supermarkets Service Manager at United Supermarkets on N. 10th & Willis St - asks Lee Elementary 1st graders to guess a job title based on its description.

Pictured Bottom Right: Shelbi Carroll - United Supermarkets Assistant Service Manager at United Supermarkets on N. 10th & Willis St - helps Lee Elementary Kindergarten students understand basic concepts of American currency and the principle of saving.


JA at Lee Elementary School

In the spring of 2015, the Junior Achievement of Abilene Board of Directors established a goal: "Junior Achievement is going to lead a movement that will help students who attend elementary schools with a high population of economically disadvantaged students in Abilene ISD to learn how to build their own future."

The first manifestation toward achieving this lofty goal was to get on one such campus. Thanks to a grant from the Dian Graves Owen Foundation, Junior Achievement hosted JA in a Day at Abilene ISD's Lee Elementary School on Wednesday, February 24th.  


I didn't get a chance to post it earlier this week, but I really enjoyed doing this story. Junior Achievement of Abilene is doing a great job teaching these kids what many adults don't even know about money!

Posted by Ashley Gooden KTAB on Saturday, February 27, 2016

Professionals from United Supermarkets - N. 10th & Willis, the City of Abilene, Abilene Police Department, First Financial Bank, Abilene Teachers Federal Credit Union, Abilene Diagnostic Clinic, State Farm Insurance - Joe Walker, Boys and Girls Club of Abilene, and University Church of Christ joined forces under the umbrella of Junior Achievement to teach basic skills in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. 

Lee Elementary is made up of a student body from which 86% come from economically disadvantaged homes. This is an audience who can benefit not only from the skills and knowledge gleaned from the JA curriculum, but also from the inspiration they can receive from their JA volunteer!

During the JA program, volunteers deliver age appropriate level curriculum that correlates with grade level Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (state based standards). Through these programs, students learn basic economic education like: basic American currency concepts, how money enters their home, how to differentiate between wants and needs, why saving money is important, how banks work, hot to use and avoid pitfalls of different forms of payments, how to potentially open your own business, and what types of industries help our region thrive.

On top of the practical “how to” knowledge, the students will all be allowed to dream. Perhaps the most important component of Junior Achievement is to inspire students. The JA mission is “to inspire and prepare students to succeed in a global economy.” It is easy for us to focus on how we prepare students. But, generally, when students talk about their JA experience, they often reflect on the inspiration part!

It is our hope that at the end of JA in a Day, every student at Lee will have a dream of what they can be in the real world! 

The JA of Abilene Board of Directors does wish to expand our programmatic reach to elementary schools with high percentage populations of economically disadvantaged students. Please reach out to our office at ja@jaabilene.org if you are interested in volunteering or being a financial sponsor for a classroom.

Check out additional coverage from local media outlets and organizations ' internal newsletters:

First Financial Bank Provides A New Way to "Do" JA

Students from Abilene High School and Cooper High School will receive a real treat in March. All AP Government and Economics students from Abilene Independent School District's largest high schools are invited to participate in JA's newest implementation model: Reverse JA in a Day.

Traditionally, local business professionals who volunteer with a JA program will take the curriculum and materials provided by Junior Achievement into the local public school classroom once per week each week until all sessions (usually five to eight) are completed. 

The Reverse JA in a Day requires two tweaks to traditional JA programs.

First, all five to eight sessions are delivered in one day - hence the name - JA in a Day! 

Second, we reverse the system. The JA volunteer no longer leaves their professional environment to enter the students' natural learning environment. Instead, the students visit the JA volunteer at work, take a tour of their facility, learn about their industry, and meet multiple volunteers from the same organization!

Pictured above is a group of JA students from Fort Worth attending a Reverse JA in a Day hosted by Apex Capital.

On March 8th and 28th respectively, an approximate total of 130 high school seniors will attend a Reverse JA in a Day at First Financial Bank's Downtown Location. Students will spend the day with multiple high level employees engaged in the JA Personal Finance® program, touring the First Financial Bank building, and learning about the importance of the banking industry. 

An added bonus for participating students? They will now be eligible to apply for a JA Scholarship provided by the JA of Abilene office thanks to partnerships with Abilene Christian University, Hardin Simmons University, McMurry University, and the Willie I., Wanda, and W.F. Martin Trust Fund managed by First Financial Trust & Asset Management.

JA Breakfast - A Success!

Junior Achievement of Abilene is excited to announce that the 5th Annual JA Breakfast was a huge success! As the culmination of our Inaugural Fall Campaign with both a crowdfunding and community-based need campaign, the JA Breakfast served well in the "clean up" position.

The goal for the Fall Campaign with all three of these components was $41,000. Thanks to the generous financial gifts from individual supporters, corporate supporters, and foundations, JA has raised $60,556 to date on the campaign! Please note that nearly $16,000 of this total is restricted to the local community-based need for which specifically raised: Sweetwater High School!

At the JA Breakfast, local elementary school students from Austin and Lee Elementary Schools started off the morning right by swarming breakfast attendents dressed as JA Heroes wielding signs declaring their career aspirations. Guests heard from 8th grade students from various AISD middle school currently receiving JA It's My Future (Clack, Mann, & Madison Middle Schools). These students shared how they could see a brighter future thanks to JA and their JA volunteers.

Finally, Cooper High School students Daisha Gemarino & Michael Thomlison introduced the keynote speaker of the event: Misti Collier of Abilene Banking Center (picture right). Misti shared the reason she is a JA volunteer: she grew up from a difficult background and chose to make her own future through hard work in the banking industry. This quote from Misti's speech shows exactly why guests left with a greater understanding of Junior Achievement: "I tell my students this information about me not so they will feel sorry for me, but to show them proof that they are in control of their future. THIS is JA! No matter where a student is currently, they have the POWER to chase their dreams! I believe sharing some of my story with them allows them to put their guard down and helps them see that I am like them in many ways. It makes us relatable and at that point they realize I am not just another boring speaker they have to listen to. I explain the importance of branding yourself and how to discover that…and that opportunity looks a lot like hard work and there is no such thing as a “free lunch”…ever!  JA isn’t judgmental…it speaks to all walks of life and can change the lives of our young people. JA loves diversity and is resourceful.  We NEED this program in our schools to motivate these students who don’t know what they are going to do in the future or where to begin."

Those of us at JA of Abilene couldn't be prouder of a campaign that exceeded our goals by $20,000 and reached $60,000! Thanks to each of you who made this possible!

8th grade students from Abilene ISD joined guests' tables at the JA Breakfast describing their JA experience. Pictured: Caezar Chavez from Mann Middle School

JA Scholarship Student Highlight - Maggie Branch

Junior Achievement (JA) is excited to reward area students each school year with scholarship opportunities. This past year, JA of Abilene provided 15 students with a sum of $88,000 in scholarship awards. We look forward to introducing the 2015 scholarship recipients through this JA Blog series called "JA Scholarship Student Highlight" during the 2015 - 2016 school year.

Maggie Branch (pictured left) is a 2015 graduate of Jim Ned High School in Tuscola, Texas currently enrolled as a freshman at Texas A&M University. Maggie's accomplishments in high school include graduating as class Valedictorian, President of National Honor Society, Academic All-State in Cross Country and Basketball, Vice President in FFA (Jim Ned), involved in FFA for four years, and served as a Peer Assistance & Leadership (PALS) volunteer. She was also a member of multiple athletics teams, faith related organizations, and other academic clubs. In addition to her long list of accomplishments and activities, Junior Achievement is proud to call Maggie a Junior Achievement alumna having received JA Career Successas a senior.  

Maggie describes herself as a "farm girl raised in a small town adjusting to a huge campus consisting of almost 60,000 students." She says "it will take me a long time to adjust, but the amazing thing about Aggies is that they treat each student as part of a gigantic family. Texas A&M is definitely worth the adjustment!"

We had a chance to sit down with Maggie, ask her a few questions, and record her responses. We hope you enjoy them!

What influence did Junior Achievement have on you and your college plans?

Junior Achievement has helped me to look to the future with perspective. I had always felt that my choice of major would ultimately make or break my future, which put a lot of stress on my decision. However, JA introduced me to occupational opportunities that I didn't even realize existed. They showed me people who were working in fields that were completely unrelated to the major that they received in college. I learned that the important thing is to be passionate about what you are doing, and not to stress about the future. This helped me make the decision to major in Agribusiness. Still, it is one thing for me to know what is going to be my major in college, but a completely different thing to know what I want to do for the rest of my life. The information that I learned from Junior Achievement helped me to piece together the future I have envisioned for myself.

What did you like about your JA volunteer?

Terrie Noland was excited about what she taught us. She always had some creative activity that helped to add perspective to the lesson she was teaching. She showed us how to properly speak in an interview, how to debate efficiently, how to stand up for what you believe in, and so much more! My whole class was always excited to see what we would be doing next.

What has been your biggest surprise about college?

College is basically a restart button. What you did in high school is no longer relevant, and you have to work to rebuild both your social and academic life.

How has JA helped you see the extent of your potential?

JA taught me that I don't have to compromise what I love for a more "practical" life. If I am willing to put in the effort, there are unlimited opportunities in this world for whatever I want to do.

What about your JA class affects the way you approach job opportunities? 

In JA I learned how to act professional in every aspect of my life. Knowing how to make a good first impression is so important, whether in social situations or at a job interview.

How did going through the JA Scholarship process affect your image of JA?

JA truly cares about the future of those they teach. They want to help raise an educated and responsible generation, and their financial contribution only adds to this truth. I am so grateful for the aid JA has given me in paying for my education. The fact that others believe in me has made me more determined in my studies in college.

Maggie, we at Junior Achievement do believe in you. We are excited to see what our future holds with people like you in leadership!

JA Fall Campaign 2015 - "Adopt" a JA Kid for $25


One important life lesson for all kids to learn is the answer to the age-old question, "Where does money come from?" 

We all learn pretty early that money doesn't grow on trees, isn't usually given without cause, and, in general, can complicate things. At Junior Achievement, we like teaching young people financial literacy and work readiness lessons not just to teach them important lessons, but to see them own their future success.

Junior Achievement focuses on providing financial education to children at an early age to prevent them from developing bad habits and becoming financially illiterate adults. Just as vocabulary, reading and communication skills gain in sophistication over the years through sequential and age-appropriate curricula and application, so must financial literacy education begin at an early age to ensure individuals form sound financial management skills and habits that will last a lifetime.

Do you want to be part of the movement to EMPOWER THE FUTURE? Click Here to Donate Now!

At the expense of $25 / student, JA programs will impact over 5,000 students in the 2015 - 2016 school year. Your partnership will support existing JA programs and extend our reach by making new programs possible one student at a time!

Junior Achievement of Abilene (JA) is the Big Country's representation of the world's largest organization dedicated to economic education for young people. In the Big Country since 1983, Junior Achievement reaches about 5,000 Kindergarten through 12th grade Big Country students through about 200 volunteers each school year.

By reaching our goal of $35,000 this fall, JA will be able to provide nearly 6,000 Big Country students with life changing financial skills and knowledge.

JA is on the verge of some really significant progress in Abilene and surrounding communities as we introduce or continue financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship programs in 8 school districts: Abilene, Baird, Brownwood, Clyde, Eula, Jim Ned, Sweetwater, and Wylie.

It's easy for you; Life changing for them. "Adopt" a JA Kid today - www.jaabilene.mydagsite.com.

Empower a Young Person to Dream

This post is written by JA of Abilene Executive Director, Evan Simmons,  and was originally published on September 3, 2015. It has been updated as of January 26, 2016.

People often ask me “what is Junior Achievement?” My quick response is that Junior Achievement (JA) is a non-profit organization seeking to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy through volunteer delivered financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work readiness education programs.

What I hope people do not hear is that I am an expert in teaching teens how to balance a check book. What I hope they catch is that JA is about experienced business professionals who spend their time sharing their expertise and experiences inspiring young people (Kindergarten through 12th grade students) to dream about their own futures. Junior Achievement is about giving knowledge and skills young people need today to succeed tomorrow. But it’s also about opening an entire world of possibilities and potential that students may not have known was available! 

Entrepreneur Maricel Johns said this about her experience after volunteering with JA for her first time teaching JA Our Families® with a first grade class: “I ran into one of the first graders and her mom at a retail store later that evening. Her mother told me that she would not stop talking about the lessons that I taught her that day. It was fulfilling to see that I had an impact in her life.” Later, Maricel volunteered came back, this time in a fourth grade classroom, teaching JA Our Region®. She said she “ … learned that children – no matter their age – can get excited to learn about financial literacy.” A highlight for her is when “one student brought me a flower after recess - so sweet!” 

Another first time JA volunteer – Dean Pye, a Licensed Marriage Family Therapy Associate – said, “I loved the experience of interacting with the students. Their eagerness to learn and creative spirits were apparent as soon as they walked in the room. I was impressed by how much they wanted to learn about business concepts and how quickly they grasped them. I remember thinking how cool it would have been to have received the JA It’s My Business® program when I was in the sixth grade.”

Maggie Branch, Jim Ned High School graduate (2015) and JA scholarship recipient attending Texas A&M University, said this about her JA Career Success® volunteer – Terrie Noland of Tuscola, TX: “Terrie was excited about what she taught us, always had some creative activity that helped to add perspective to the lesson she was teaching, and showed us how to properly speak in an interview, debate effectively, and stand up for what we believe in. My whole class was always excited to see what we would be doing next.

JA is about inspiring people to dream about what they can become. JA is about empowering them to create a better future. Empower the future today by becoming a JA volunteer – CLICK THIS LINK. It's easy for you. It's life changing for them.

Spring 2015 JA Volunteer Needs:

2014 - 2015 JA Annual Report Released

Be sure to check out 2014 - 2015 Annual JA Report. This report highlights JA Abilene's staff transitions and program highlights from last year. There is also a sneak peak at big plans for the future. Thank you for making 2014 - 2015 such a great year!

2014 - 2015 JA Abilene Annual Report

JA Programs Begin in Baird, Texas

Junior Achievement (JA) is very proud of our economic education programs focused in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. Still, we are quick to acknowledge that what makes Junior Achievement special is the use of local volunteers in local schools in order to empower the future! Kelley McLaughlin is no exception.

Kelley McLaughlin of First Bank Texas in Baird jumped at the opportunity to become a JA volunteer this past spring semester. Kelley became the first JA mentor to walk the halls of Baird High School! After an exciting call from JA Alumna, now Baird ISD Counselor – Mrs. Jennifer Bellar, requesting  JA programming at Baird High School last spring, Kelley made the request a reality by bringing JA Personal Finance® to the Senior Economics class taught by Mr. Jeff Campbell.

In describing her experience, Kelley says this:

Kids are far more responsible for their future than when I was a kid. As a parent, banker, and now JA volunteer, I was convicted to put more emphasis on retirement and emergency funds. Still, young people do not think in these ways and I am happy JA gave me the opportunity to bring this to their attention.

This information is so important at the high school level since most 18 year-olds are just beginning. They have a clean slate. We need to warn them against practices that make life difficult. We need to teach them practices that will prepare them for when life happens. No one wants to think about loss of income, loss of a spouse, major illnesses; but that’s life. I hope I taught them how to differentiate between “wants and needs” and how dangerous it is to succumb to instant gratification.

Mr. Campbell added that Junior Achievement was helpful to him as a teacher because it gave him the resource for “the students to obtain a better understanding from someone who is actively a part of the business community in Baird. It helped that [Kelley] had great presentations and supplemental supplies to use with the students that really helped them acquire a greater knowledge of what she was presenting each day. The students and I mutually enjoyed JA Personal Finance.”

When asked why someone ought to consider volunteering, Kelley replied, “Kids are awesome! I had forgotten how much fun they can be. They are eager to learn, creative, and insightful. Personal finance and the best practices are not commonly taught, and I could see the wheels turning in some of the kids’ minds. They wanted to know the information taught in this program!” She added this thought when considering the importance of continuing the JA Personal Finance program at Baird High School next year, “Though most of the kids are more advanced in this area (personal finance) than I was [at their age], some of the concepts were completely foreign to them. As a banker, I can attest that most adults and parents do not practice the concepts taught in this course. If that is not something the kids see from mom and dad, where else would they learn it except for at school?” Now with JA Personal Finance, Kelley has a vehicle through which she can continue teaching financial literacy to Baird’s seniors.

As a result of Junior Achievement’s presence on the Baird High School campus, two students (Garrett Deel and Kara McIntire) applied for and received a scholarship from the Willie I., Wanda, and W.F. Martin Charitable Trust in the amount of $4,000 each, paid out over four years.

Looking ahead, Junior Achievement of Abilene and Baird ISD are excited to introduce three programs in addition to the existing JA Personal Finance program for the upcoming 2015 – 2016 school year: JA Finance Park – Virtual (6th Grade), JA It’s My Future (8th Grade), and JA Career Success (9th Grade).

SIGN-UP NOW to join Kelley in empowering young people as a JA volunteer!

Junior Achievement, Citi Foundation and OneMain Financial Offer Teens New Online Experience to Explore Their Futures

This article was originally posted on the official site of Junior Achievement USA®, www.ja.org.

Colorado Springs, CO - Junior Achievement USA® (JA) unveiled an online experience today that is a one-stop shop for teens and their parents in helping them make decisions that will affect their futures. The new interactive web experience, called JA My WayTM, is made possible by a grant from the Citi Foundation and OneMain Financial.

“Now, more than ever, teens need ideas, guidance and direction when it comes to determining their futures. JA My Way is designed with today’s teens in mind, using the latest web design and gamification to help them explore their futures and find ‘their way’ in life,” said Jack E. Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA. “Junior Achievement is grateful to the Citi Foundation and OneMain Financial for their generous support of this resource.”

JA My Way is an online destination for teens to learn about careers, starting a business and managing money. The experience combines games, rewards, information and social media to help teens explore these topics in a fun and exciting way. The target demographic are teens between the ages of 13-17. The experience is interactive, highly visual, and includes relevant information for teenagers, such as the costs that go along with owning a car, how much money needs to be saved for college, and what is on a W-2 tax form.

The free online experience is mobile responsive and draws teens in by having them take short visual quiz personality test. After they see which of 10 pre-determined personalities they are most aligned with, JA My Way guides them down a track geared toward their interests. Depending on the responses to these questions, the user will go through a pathway to explore potential careers, working with money and starting a business.

Teens can customize the site by creating login information. They can create and save resumes and save jobs that they would be interested in working at some day. Through a rewards system, teens have the opportunity to gain badges that can eventually be redeemed for real-life rewards.

JA of Abilene Awards $88,000 Among 15 Big Country Students

Pictured: JA Scholarship recipients from Clyde High School Preston Loudermilk & Allison Watson with JA of Abilene Executive Director Evan Simmons following the 2015 Clyde High School Award Ceremony.

This post originally appeared in the Abilene Reporter News.

ABILENE, Texas - Junior Achievement of Abilene recently presented 15 area students with scholarships totaling $88,000 for upcoming school years.

Monetary value for the awards were broken up by future university attendance, as well as the trust providing the scholarships.

Abilene Christian University granted $10,000 each to Logan Burke and Megan Lavallee of Jim Ned High School and Naudia Collier of Abilene High School.

Hardin-Simmons University provided $6,000 awards to Brittany Hector of Eula High School, Preston Loudermilk of Clyde High School and Landri Thompson of Jim Ned.

McMurry University also provided $6,000 scholarships to Hayleigh Owens of Jim Ned High School and Ashley Phelps of Eula High School.

The Willie I., Wanda, W.F. Martin Charitable Trust also supplied $4,000 each to Maggie Branch, Makenzie Noland, Holly Noles and Karsten Pippens of Jim Ned High School; Garrett Deel and Kara McIntire of Baird High School; and Allison Watson of Clyde High School.

Junior Achievement of Abilene, which served more than 5,000 Big Country students in 238 classrooms this past school year, provides young people with access to knowledge and skills needed to plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices.

Junior Achievement exists to empower young people to own their economic success,” Evan Simmons, Junior Achievement of Abilene’s Executive Director, said. “We grant these scholarships to area high school seniors who have participated in a Junior Achievement program and excelled academically while in high school.”

JA Abilene Board Member - Changing the World One Kick at a Time


Chip Townsend is a lot of things: 14-time ISKA (International Sport Karate Association) World Title Holder, business owner in Abilene, Texas, and sought after public speaker. Along with his wife, he is also a proud member of the Junior Achievement of Abilene Board of Directors. Chip recently had the opportunity to give a "TED" Talk at ACU encouraging his audience to change the world "one kick at a time." While the owner and operator of Team Chip Tae Kwon Do Centers performed a martial arts stunt, he taught of principles that allow all non-martial artists to better approach the barriers in their lives. This powerful 12-minute TED talk is a great representation of the passion that drives Chip, his business, and everything he touches. Thankfully, Junior Achievement of Abilene is one of the organizations who benefit greatly from his passion and drive to empower Abilene's future!

Chip is no stranger at encouraging people to be the best versions of themselves. It is this determination that draws him to Junior Achievement programs. We were able to catch up with Chip and ask him what it is about JA that keeps him so involved despite his busy schedule. Watch his TED talk above and be inspired by his thoughts concerning JA below!

How Were You Introduced to JA?

During one of my last semesters at Abilene Christian University working on my undergraduate Business Mmanagement degree, I had an entrepreneurship class with Dr Phil Vardiman who required the students during that semester to volunteer for one JA session at a nearby elementary school.

Now, as a non-traditional student with a family, business, and competitive career, I thought to myself that this guy must be crazy! I don’t have time to volunteer! But it was required for the class and had to be done. Dr Vardiman had arranged for all of us to volunteer in a 4th grade class at the time ... and it was a BLAST! I had so much fun that I went back and started volunteering every chance I had after that experience despite the time I was afraid of sacrificing. As I studied through the material that I was to present, I realized that this was a GREAT program!

Why Do You Consider JA to be "GREAT"?

The leadership principles taught and demonstrated through the program are timeless and RELEVANT! You can never start teaching leadership too early to young people. They are our future!

The opportunity for a local person, community leader, or business leader to come in and show the children why the children's education will be so important to them is huge. I remember sitting in classes as a kid and thinking to myself…”why do I need this? Will I ever use this?” And, the answer is a resounding YES on many of those counts! Getting the opportunity, as a local leader, to communicate to these young minds, and help them understand WHY they need to be in school, from an outside of academia perspective is massively important. Showing them concrete examples of how I daily use the things they learn in the classroom is a unique and empowering opportunity!

What Keeps You Motivated in Continuing to Serve the Abilene Community through JA?

As I’ve taught JA for a few years now, I periodically run into young people that will say things like…”I remember you, you taught my JA class!” or they will say, “I remember that JA lesson you gave on financial responsibility, and it has stuck with me,” or “Because of your JA session, I decided to start saving, planning ... for my future!”

It also serves as a great way for our staff and young instructors in our martial arts business to volunteer with JA. In doing so, they experience servant leadership while positively affecting our community, growing in personal leadership, and are challenged to teach in a “different” venue than their norm.

JA Thanks Hero for Memorial Day

Junior Achievement likes to think of all of our volunteers as heroes,  but it is really special when a true hero walks into a classroom with JA. Every day, men and women risk their lives to preserve the values our nation holds dear. It is very special when they also volunteer their time to empower the future.

Recently, Captain Anh-Vu Nguyen with the United Stated Air Force volunteered in Mrs. Ann Nickell’s third grade classroom at Wylie Intermediate School. Captain Nguyen had never been in a classroom with Junior Achievement and learned from the experience that “kids are very bright and full of creative ideas and dreams. The kids’ reactions to the JA activities were very positive. They had a lot of fun and were actually able to internalize a lot of the lessons that were taught.” One example of this is when the kids struggled with the definition of “entrepreneur” upon the initial challenge, but 100% of the students were able to provide the definition verbatim following the lesson.

Mrs. Nickell, in her twenty-second year at Wylie (and no stranger to having Junior Achievement in her classroom), said that the kids were excited as soon as they saw Captain Nguyen, a B-1 pilot, in uniform. His good-humor, interest in the kids, and ability to communicate well made him a very enjoyable and effective communicator. Mrs. Nickell stated that “with a JA volunteer, students have a new face in front of them. They can expect and receive a different type of instruction, information, and energy from the volunteer. It’s new, interesting, and fun for the students.” She found this especially true with Captain Nguyen.

When asked about his experience and whether he gained a better appreciation of teachers, he insinuated that they be considered the true hero: “My takeaway from this experience with JA is that every single kid has the desire to learn. I believe that with the right teacher, every student’s potential can be brought to the highest level. Being an educator is a very difficult job. Trying to keep the students focused and motivated while preparing them to perform at a specific level is no simple task, especially day in and day out. Being a teacher requires commitment. The experience with JA gave me more appreciation as to the job that they do. Mrs. Nickell was extremely helpful. She would help ‘translate’ my instructions into a language that the students would understand. She kept the kids in-line, focused, and on a structured time schedule.”

Perhaps there are many ways to be a hero. This Memorial Day, be sure to thank the heroes in your life. As for Captain Nguyen, you represent the best of the heroes Junior Achievement of Abilene is proud to call our volunteer base. Thank you for your service to our country! Thank you for empowering the future.

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