JA In The News | Junior Achievement of Central Illinois

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Celebrate Impact! About the Honorees & Alumna

Amanda Van Allen

McLean County JA Teacher of the Year 2022

Amanda Van Allen graduated from Illinois State University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She started her teaching career at Bloomington High School the following year. In 2009, Amanda earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on Economic Education.

Over the course of her career, she has taught Economics, World History, U.S. History, Sociology, and American Government to high school students at Bloomington. She has presented at the National Council on Economic Education and traveled to Romania to train teachers and develop partnerships on Economic Education Principles.

Amanda has benefited from the work of and volunteerism from Junior Achievement over the course of her 18-year teaching career. She has hosted multiple volunteers in her classroom who have shared their passion for financial education. Her favorite Junior Achievement program is the stock market challenge. She and her classes have participated in the day-long competition every year it has been offered in McLean County. During the pandemic, she joined the online version of the competition.

Amanda is fueled by a desire to help high school students become successful leaders and prepare them for the ups and downs of life. She loves Bloomington High School and its students.

Chris Hamilton

McLean County JA Volunteer of the Year 2022

Chris has worked his entire 34-year career at State Farm, moving to Central Illinois in 2009 from Northern California. While at State Farm he worked over 25 years in various levels of leadership in Claims and State Farm Bank.

He has been involved in youth education for many years, starting with a Parent Educator Program in California, an elementary school curriculum focused on empowering kids to make good choices in situations involving bullying, tobacco, alcohol, and similar challenges facing children. For Junior Achievement he has taught courses in multiple grades K-8 at Irving and Bent Elementary schools in Bloomington. Since 2016 he has simultaneously served on both the board of Junior Achievement of Central Illinois and the JA McLean County area board.

Chris graduated from the University of California at Davis with degrees in economics and statistics and earned his CPCU, ChFC and CLU insurance designations. He lives in Bloomington with his wife Laura, and they love to travel, hike, eat and play Pokémon Go together. He has two sons – John Ryan, a Boeing engineer in St. Louis, and CJ, a school social worker, counselor, and track/cross country coach at Olympia Middle and High Schools.

Alyson Griffin

JA Alumna

Alyson Griffin is Marketing Vice President at State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Companies®. In her current role, Alyson’s broad scope includes stewarding the State Farm brand and aiding approximately 20,000 independent contractor agents in driving business results from awareness to acquisition and retention. She also oversees teams managing strategic partnerships, analytics, and the internal State Farm creative agency. Alyson is hyper-focused on the customer and passionate about meeting Millennial and Gen Z audiences where they are, in unexpected ways.

Prior to joining State Farm, Alyson was the vice president and general manager of brand and thought leadership at Intel Corporation. Under Alyson’s leadership, Intel’s Brand rose from #14 to #11 Global Brand (as measured by Interband) and increased 10% in brand value. She also spent time in global and regional positions at Intel and Hewlett-Packard.

Alyson is an award-winning marketing, branding and communication executive with experience managing multiple customer segments and markets, including financial services, banking, government, education, and healthcare. In addition to her corporate experience, Alyson currently serves on the boards for AdCouncil, WhiskerLabs, and Junior Achievement Northern California. She previously served on the Google B2B Tech Advisory Board. Alyson was recently recognized by Brand Innovators as a member of the Women to Watch in Brand Marketing Class of 2021.

JA Programming Redesigned to be ASL Immersive for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students Junior Achievement is proud to partner with Gallaudet University

Junior Achievement is proud to partner with Gallaudet University and the Washington Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the JA Hand in Hand video series, which uses American Sign Language (ASL), subtitles, and voiceovers to teach financial literacy concepts to students. The videos, which prominently feature American Sign Language (ASL) with subtitles and voice-over in English, are applicable for a wide variety of students, including those who are and are not deaf. The videos incorporate topics aligned with financial literacy, work and career readiness, and entrepreneurship pathways. Concepts include making choices, citizenship, banking, and money, owning a business, being an entrepreneur, getting a job, and more.


This new series of accessible financial literacy videos has been created through a partnership between the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center (Clerc Center) at Gallaudet University, the Washington Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (CDHY), and Junior Achievement (JA). The videos are available at no cost to students, families, and educators throughout the United States.

Titled the JA Hand in Hand Video Series, 12 videos on financial literacy are now available to JA students, public and private schools, and families. These videos can be incorporated into in-person or virtual classrooms or educational sessions, and for family support or individual learning. Billy Seago, a professional deaf actor, hosts each video and engages with diverse community members to provide real world and relatable examples for students. The videos were filmed at the JA World in Auburn, Washington, home of JA of Washington.

CDHY Literacy Specialist Cathy Corrado recognized the need for visually accessible experiences in ASL for deaf and hard of hearing learners, from which hearing students could also benefit. Corrado approached Pamela Snedigar, Director of the Gallaudet University Regional Center-West (GURC-West), and connected with the Clerc Center which provided resources and material support for the project, and expanded the project nationally.

“Cathy at CDHY approached us at Junior Achievement and her vision for her students was clear, and so completely aligned with our dedication to making our educational content accessible to all students," said Jack E. Kosakowski, President and CEO of Junior Achievement USA.

“These materials will go a long way and have an impact beyond the classroom into real world situations as deaf and hard of hearing students transition into the workforce,” added Nicole Sutliffe, Chief Administrative Officer of the Clerc Center. “We are grateful to Pamela for her role in strengthening our national support network.”

The current set of videos is available now through JA.org, and educational institutions and families across the U.S. are invited to utilize the content. 

New Research Shows Majority of Teens Feel Unprepared to Finance Their Futures

After two uncertain and often stressful years, high school students are worried about their financial futures, prompting more than half (54%) of teens to say they feel unprepared to finance their futures according to new research from Junior Achievement and Citizens. The findings of the JA Teens & Personal Finance Survey indicate wide-ranging concern among teens regarding financial anxiety and the future, highlighting the need for additional resources to assist them in making financial decisions that impact them over the long term.

More than two-thirds of teens (69%) say that rising education costs have affected their plans for additional education after high school. While nearly a third of teens (31%) don’t expect their plans to be impacted, almost as many (28%) say they are now only considering in-state schools, while around a fifth (22%) plan to live at home and commute to college, and one-in-ten (10%) are considering getting a two-year degree versus a four-year degree. Wakefield Research conducted the survey of 1,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 between February 18 and 24, 2022.

Teens said some of these concerns could be addressed with a better understanding of how student loans work (39%), knowing how education ties to jobs (38%), or having access to lower-cost alternatives (32%). A significant portion of respondents (41%) said they have had no financial literacy classes in school, further highlighting the need for educational resources that would address these concerns.

"Based on these survey results, it appears that teens are becoming more aware of the costs associated with higher education and are being more selective in the way they pursue that education," said Mary Pille, President at Junior Achievement of Central Illinois. "This may be the beginning of a positive trend, but it's essential that teens have the information they need to make informed choices about higher education. That's why Junior Achievement works with partners like Citizens to provide this type of information through our learning experiences for middle and high school students."

The digital divide became even more apparent at the outset of the pandemic, exacerbating digital literacy and technology equipment gaps. Of those teens planning to pursue a four-year degree, two-thirds (66%) expressed some level of concern about having the technology needed to complete a degree. Factors that contribute to this concern include the cost of devices (52%) and poor Wi-Fi access/connectivity (28%). This lack of access becomes an inhibitor to young people to learn, work and even go to college.

Both Junior Achievement and Citizens have prioritized the issue in their community outreach work and remain committed to supporting underserved communities through technology, education, and digital literacy initiatives to ensure that all have an opportunity to be part of the workforce of the future. Citizens' commitment to financial literacy has included partnering with Junior Achievement to support the implementation of financial literacy programs in communities where Citizens has a presence. Citizens also helped Junior Achievement enhance different implementation models, such as virtual volunteering and remote learning, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional findings from the survey include:

-        62 percent of teens use mobile or online applications to assist with money management, compared to 48 percent from a similar survey in 2019.

-        38 percent of teens say cash is still their preferred payment method, compared to 2 percent who prefer apps.

-        57 percent of teens say their parents use cash when giving them money, down from 71 percent in 2019, while 20 percent say their parents use apps, compared to 9 percent in 2019.

-        There has been a decline in the use of traditional financial tools by teens, specifically debit cards (59% today vs. 62% in 2019), credit cards (24% today vs. 30% in 2019), and checkbooks (9% today vs. 18% in 2019), over the same period.

We need your story and experience!

JA is seeking spring classroom volunteers to inspire and prepare children to succeed in our community.  Volunteering is a way to tell your story and help the next generation learn from your experience!  We have opportunities ranging from just one visit to a classroom to a series of seven visits (less than an hour each). To explore opportunities or get started volunteering, all you need to do is contact one of our program team members.  We will to walk you through the process and match you to a volunteer experience meeting your goals and objectives.

Although schools are still signing up for spring JA learning experiences, below is a short list of the latest volunteer needs to date (changing frequently!):

McLean & Logan Counties:

K-5 Traditional Programs, Bent & Oakdale - https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0f4eadad2fa3f4c07-mclean

JA Finance Park - "Freshmen Reality Fair" - https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0549a8ae28a1f49-jafinance

Kindergarten/JA Ourselves – 1 volunteer needed at Chester East Lincoln, 5 in class visits, 30 min. each time

Questions? Contact caleb.kant@ja.org

Peoria Area - High Schools:

Quest Charter High School/9th Grade Academy – JA Finance Park & virtual reality simulation, 5 volunteers needed (3 in class visits, one class period each time), 2:15 pm – 3:00 pm

Quest Charter High School, Business Math, JA Titan, 2 volunteers needed, 7 in class visits, one class period each time

Questions? Contact destinee.wilson@ja.org

Peoria Area K-8:

Harrison Community Learning Center, Peoria, 4th grade/JA Our Region, 1 volunteer needed, 5 in class visits, 45 min. each time

Lincoln K-8 School, Peoria, 4th grade/JA Our Region, Bilingual English-Spanish volunteer, 1 volunteer needed, 5 in class visits, 45 min. each time

Jefferson School, Morton – 6th grade/JA Global Marketplace, 2 volunteers needed, 6 in class visits, 45 min. each time

Lincoln Elementary, Morton – 6th grade/JA Economics for Success, 2 volunteers needed, 6 in class visits, 45 min. each time

Quest Charter Middle School, 6th grade/JA It’s My Future, 4 volunteers needed, 6 in class visits, 45 min. each time

Quest Charter Middle School, 8th grade/JA Economics for Success, 5 volunteers needed, 6 in class visits, 45 min. each time

Questions? contact kathryn.diaz@ja.org

Meet the Laureate: Ron Givens, Sr.

Ron Givens, Sr.

President/CEO, GIVSCO Construction/ JM Industrial Supply

Ron Givens is a lifelong resident of Peoria, Illinois. His education began at Washington and Franklin grade schools before moving on to Peoria Central High School. Graduating in the year 1967, he has remained involved as a Peoria Central High School Alumni Association Officer. After high school graduation, Ron worked at a few Peoria businesses and graduated from Illinois Central College in 1971 with a General Education Degree. He is recognized as a life-long learner by ICC due to his continued commitment to learning experiences from the late 60s all the way into the 2000s. In fact, Ron was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019. Later, Ron continued his education by obtaining a Business Management certification through Bradley University and acquiring a Certificate in Construction Management with The Turner School of Construction Management at The University of Illinois, Chicago.
In addition to his academic education, Ron enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1969. With numerous experiences during his nearly 30 years as a Marine, one of the most prominent was being selected to attend the United States Marine Corps School of Warfighting and Management in Quantico, Virginia. Ron retired as a Gunnery Sergeant in October 1998. 
In 1975 Ron entered and completed the Police Training Academy at the University of Illinois in Champaign. That same year, he joined the Peoria City Police Department and served until 1978. In 1980, Ron became a Financial Investment, Planning and Insurance agent and saw great success, but he decided to rejoin the Peoria Police Department in 1982. While working as a police officer, Ron still had a heavy interest in financial advising and continued to carry a book of business while maintaining his career in law enforcement through 1998. After 25 years, he retired as a Detective having received a Peoria Police Critical Incident Valor Award and two Life Saving Awards during his time with the Department.  
In October of 1998, Ron purchased JM Industrial Supply, an international, third party intergrader that sells industrial products and supplies in the United States and all over the world. In 2011, Ron and his friend Richard Scovil founded GIVSCO Construction where he currently enjoys working alongside his son, Ronnie. GIVSCO is a veteran and minority-owned construction business that values integrity and accountability while specializing in painting, carpentry and demolition. 
Ron is married to Carrie and has two beautiful grandchildren, Malia and Cameron from his son Ronnie Jr. and wife, Oneida. He enjoys spending time with his beloved black miniature schnauzer, Bishop Alexander, who is always by his side while, fishing, racing and building race cars. His need for speed earned him a place in the Peoria Speedway Oldtimers Hall of Fame in 2019. He currently serves as a board member for the Community Foundation of Central Illinois, South-West Peoria Kiwanis, Kiwanis International, Heart of Illinois United Way Board of Directors, Peoria Riverfront Advisory board, CEO Council of Peoria Illinois and the Illinois Central College Educational Foundation.

Meet the Laureate: Jay Vonachen

Jay Vonachen

President & CEO, Vonachen Industrial Supplies

Founder, Professional Maintenance/Vonachen Services Inc (VSI)

Lifelong Peorian and entrepreneur, Jay Vonachen started in the business world long before opening his first cleaning service. As a young boy, he would sweep floors and empty the wastebaskets of his father's sales business. He didn't realize it at the time, but those early days would eventually lead Jay to pursue a lifelong career helping other companies look and perform their best.  

Growing up in the janitorial distribution business started by his father, Bob Vonachen in 1945, Jay learned from the ground up what it took to be successful in a very competitive market. Hard work dedicated and talented employees, a solid organizational structure, and a willingness to adjust to ongoing changes in the industry all contributed to the growth of Vonachen Industrial Supply’s 50 plus years in business.   

Jay was involved in several organizations revolving around the industry during those years. His participation as a member of the ISSA enabled him to meet many other professionals in the business – creating several lifelong friendships.    

As Jay continued his career at Vonachen Industrial Supply, he decided in 1968 to open his own company – Professional Maintenance Inc., later becoming Vonachen Services, Inc. (VSI), a commercial janitorial service company. As the first employee (and only employee for a while), Jay started with a commitment to grow his company with dedicated and talented employees, once again.  His loyalty to his customers and employees created the foundation that grew into a multi-level organization.  

Not only has Jay's life focused on his commitment to the growth and success of both Vonachen Industrial Supply and VSI; he also has held firm in his belief in giving back to the community. Jay has served on several financial, and community-based Boards-including University Bank, Commercial National Bank, First of America Trust Company, OSF St. Francis Hospital, Bradley University, Human Service Center, Peoria Chamber, State of Illinois Chamber, Heart of Illinois United Way, and the Howard Young Foundation in Minocqua, Wisconsin to name a few.  

His lifelong work ethic, involvement in his community and VSI are only second to his dedication to his ever-growing family. He and his wife Betty continue to reside in Peoria part-time and have three children, Matt, who is now the CEO of Vonachen Group, which includes VSI, daughters Elizabeth and Molly, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Summers are spent at the family home in Minocqua, WI., in the exact location where Jay spent his childhood days with his grandparents and parents.  In Minocqua Jay can be found fishing, boating, and enjoying the outdoors with many of his family members.   When not in Minocqua or Florida, Jay continues to come to the Vonachen Group office daily, making his a very full, appreciated, and well-loved life.     

“Over the years, VSI has grown into a full-service facility maintenance leader that provides janitorial services, healthcare services, logistics, and support services for a wide range of clients throughout the Midwest. Vonachen Group operates in 12 states and 63 cities, continuing to build upon the foundation created by its founder, Jay Vonachen over 50 years ago.”   

Learn more about the Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame Here

Meet the Laureate: John Wieland

John Wieland

CEO, MH Equipment

John was born in Fort Sill OK, as his dad served as a doctor in the United States Army. John’s childhood was centered in Jerseyville IL where his mom decided to retire from nursing to invest all her time to raise their four children.  John went to college at Western Illinois University where he majored in accounting and passed the CPA exams before graduating. Two more significant events happened to John while in college. He met a young lady named Julie Rahn, and he became a follower of Jesus Christ. After college, John spent 1½ years working in the Quad Cities, before moving to Peoria in the hopes of convincing Julie to marry him.  The gamble paid off.  Julie agreed to marry John and he continued his accounting career with Peat Marwick (KPMG) as an auditor.  John spent 8 productive years at Peat Marwick where he audited the company he would ultimately buy.  In 1988, John accepted Tom Spurgeon’s invitation to become the CFO of Lincoln Office. Tom was gracious to John and gave him an opportunity to be a minority shareholder which turned out to be the seed money he would need for a future opportunity.

John and Julie purchased MH Equipment, a small, virtually bankrupt, company in 1994.   Since then, MH has grown from a small material handling dealer with 50 employees to of one of the largest dealerships in North America with close to 1,000 employees. Starting with   3 branches in 2 states, MH now serves customers from over 30 branches in 10 states.  Following in Tom Spurgeon’s footsteps, John has given ownership opportunities to a dozen of his leaders.

John recently wrote a book – Uncommon Threads – Weaving a Life Through Family, Business, and Faith.  The book is a powerful combination of storytelling, honest self-deprecating, and informative illustrations taking readers on a journey that details John’s experiences and thoughts when it comes to family, business, leadership, faith, community, kindness, and humility. John shares his business principles; unabashedly shares the mistakes he’s made along the way and asks useful questions that will serve as a primer for anyone wanting to live a successful and fulfilling life without losing their perspective on what success really means.

John is the President of His First Foundation that is funded through 10% of the net income of MH Equipment.  John also serves on several boards, teaches college graduates how to handle money responsibly, is a speaker and guest preacher from time to time, is an Elder at Grace Presbyterian Church and enjoys teaching Sunday School.  He and his wife Julie have four adult children and one granddaughter.  John promotes that he still plays basketball, but considering he doesn’t run, jump, or cut, his friends question the validity of the word “play”. 

John is deeply appreciative for the support and grace he receives from Julie, his children, his forum group, extended family, the MH Team, and friends.  But more than anything he appreciates the Grace, Love, Mercy, and Peace he receives from being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Learn more about the Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame Here

A New Chapter In Career Exploration Is About To Unfold

When GP CareerSpark was first launched in partnership with the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council in 2017, we could not have imagined the ways this effort would grow. This school year, over 3,000 students have been impacted through GP CareerSpark & JA Inspire. This virtual career expo focuses on career exploration and is made possible through the many volunteers who work to represent in-demand careers in their industries.
A new chapter unfolds this spring as high school students will not only participate in career exploration but will also be introduced to local employers and job opportunities through CareerSpark - You're Hired! This curriculum and expo updated for a high school audience features employer booths and even allows students to browse employment opportunities. You can view a list of the approximately 30 exhibitors participating below. Among these exhibitors, you'll find our supporters such as Caterpillar, Accenture, PNC, Union Pacific, Bayer, RLI, and Peoria County ROE who allow us to provide this life-changing experience at no cost to students or their families.
CareerSpark - You're Hired will be open to 9-12 grade students February 2- June 5. Educators and administrators can register their students to participate by contacting angie.houck@ja.org
Employers can contact sally.eastman@ja.org regarding exhibitor booth availability
Current CareerSpark - You're Hired Exhibitors
Carlson Exteriors
Children's Home
City of Bloomington
Federal Warehouse Company
Heritage Operations Group
Hoerr Nursery
Illinois Air National Guard
Illinois Central College - Admissions
Illinois Manufacturers Association
Morton Industries
OSF HealthCare
Peoria County ROE
Peoria Park District
Prairie Home Alliance
River City Construction
State Farm
Tazewell ROE #53
Union Pacific
Wildlife Prairie Park




A grant made to Junior Achievement will provide financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship education for K-12 classrooms in central Illinois.

    [Peoria, IL] – Junior Achievement of Central Illinois is pleased to announce it has received a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Central Illinois to support financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work/career readiness programs for K-12 students in the greater Peoria area during the 2021-22 school year.

These resources will be used to implement in-person and digital programs to help students understand how to manage money, how businesses work, and how to prepare for a self-sustaining career. Programs will be delivered by trained community volunteers who serve as role models and help students understand the skills and education needed for jobs in their communities.

“Time is running out as many young people graduate school and find themselves unprepared to make positive financial and career decisions. The need for Junior Achievement’s educational experiences continues to grow as we empower students to manage money effectively, plan for emergencies, and understand how important it is to plan for their careers,” said Mary Pille, President of Junior Achievement of Central Illinois.  “While there is still much work to be done, our organization is fortunate to be part of a tremendously giving community whose members understand and support the urgent and persistent needs of our young people,” added Pille.

About Junior Achievement of Central Illinois

Since 1946 Junior Achievement has been an integral part of the education and business communities in Central Illinois and impacts 16,000 young people each year. Junior Achievement recruits and trains community volunteers and teachers to deliver hands-on, age-appropriate learning experiences to K-12 students. All experiences are designed to show students the path to success, increase their self-confidence, and help them develop the skills needed to chart a successful future. For more information, visit centralillinois.ja.org.


Are "Free Gifts" Really Free?

Perhaps when you started your first job after high school or college, you remember getting lots of credit card offers in the mail.  Or, maybe there were companies enticing you in person on your college campus by offering free items for filling out their credit card applications!  “Free” stuff and “free” money can be very attractive to young people who may not understand how credit works (and non-young people, of course!). 

What if there were a learning experience young people could have early in their educational journey to help them begin to understand the difference between debit and credit while also aligning with their classroom teacher’s learning goals and objectives?  We’d like you to know that such a learning experience exists right here in central Illinois, and JA needs volunteer mentors like you to help young people understand these practical financial literacy concepts through the JA Economics for Success learning experience!

While serving as a JA Economics for Success volunteer mentor, you will not only be helping young people learn how to avoid the perils of credit card debt but will also be helping them learn how to apply their skills, interests, and values to a career path; how to differentiate between gross and net income; how to get and keep a strong credit score; and to recognize the importance of taking financial responsibility for financial decisions.  And, you will get to do this by doing fun, engaging, hands-on activities with the students, such as playing the Be a Success game!

For more information or to sign up to be a JA Economics for Success volunteer mentor, contact angie.houck@ja.org or destinee.wilson@ja.org. We have teachers and students ready and waiting to meet you during the spring 2021 semester!

Welcome New Board Members to Junior Achievement

Junior Achievement of Central Illinois is pleased to announce the election of three new members to the Governing Board of Directors. New board members include Betsy Larson, Chair of the JA Young Professionals Board & Talent Manager at River City Construction, Bill Martin, Learning Manager at Claims Training with State Farm, and Andrew Ngui, Director, Office of Innovation and Startups at Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.

“It takes countless dedicated volunteers and community leaders to make our educational experiences possible each year. From this group, we are excited to welcome Betsy, Bill, and Andrew as governing board members,” said Mary Pille, President of Junior Achievement of Central Illinois, “These individuals bring a wealth of experience and expertise and will be tremendous assets to our organization as we work to move our mission forward and inspire the next generation to own their economic success.”

The Junior Achievement of Central Illinois board is comprised of individuals from a variety of businesses and organizations throughout central Illinois. The board works diligently to guide the organization and serve as advocates of the mission to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.

Wells Fargo awards JA of Central Illinois with $10,000 grant

JA of Central Illinois is proud to announce the long-standing partnership with Wells Fargo will continue this school year!

Thanks to the recently awarded $10,000 grant from Wells Fargo, hundreds of central Illinois students will become inspired and equipped to be financially responsible, workforce ready, and entrepreneurially-minded.

This invaluable partnership ensures that students continue to learn how to pursue career paths, demonstrate stellar employability skills, and create and manage a realistic budget – all critical tools necessary for them to achieve lifelong goals such as choosing a career, supporting a family, and preparing for retirement.

JA BizTown Adventures come to life in McLean County


Junior Achievement of Central Illinois was proud to partner with District 87 in bringing JA BizTown Adventures™ to our area for the first time this summer! The program is an online experience that helps younger students explore business ownership and various job and career roles after participating in classroom curriculum with the mentorship of volunteers. Students gain an understanding of various aspects of running a business as they take on the roles of chief executive officer, chief financial officer, marketing director, sales manager, and consumer via five online, self-guided adventures.

Corey Schieler, a JA Volunteer from State Farm shared with us, “I was blown away by their business ideas…the students each had product prototypes and made PowerPoint presentations with their business plans, their financial and marketing strategies and most importantly were able to answer my questions with thoughtful and often hilarious answers!”

The program showed high engagement from students, expecially when given the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and creativity. Overall JA BizTown Adventures proved to be a great first experience back in the classroom for vaious students as a result of the pandemic. Our educators, volunteers, and staff are all looking forward to seeing more experiences such as this unfold as students return to school this fall!



Students Learning to Build Wealth

Students from Bloomington High School and Normal Community High School showcased their talents as future stockbrokers during the JA Stock Market Challenge. McLean County teenagers took part in the Junior Achievement Stock Market Challenge over the course of 2 weeks, with a virtual celebration to announce the winners on April 29. Over 300 students participated in the educational program this school year and over 200 students were enrolled to compete for the title of top investor during the contest.

The competition was part of the new pilot program from Junior Achievement, JA Take Stock in Your Future™. Students completed a minimum of five in-class lessons prior to the competition. They learned basic knowledge about the stock market and the importance of saving and investing. They also prepared for their futures by planning smart goals. This curriculum gave students the basic knowledge to be successful as investors in the market. Cruise from Bloomington High School noted, “I had a lot of friends who were into stocks but I never really got into it but honestly when I started this I liked it a lot and I wished I had gotten into it before. My background was not much, but I learned a lot and really got into it.”

Each student received $25,000 in fictitious cash to invest in real companies for the virtual competition. Students monitored current events through news outlets and decided if they wanted to buy, sell or trade their stocks on a real-time basis. Organizers tallied the results after the final trading time period was completed. They judged students on their return on investment (ROI), which was symbolized as a percentage based on their initial $25,000 treasure of stocks.

This year, all three top winners were from Normal Community High School

3rd Place: Noah Cleveland with a final portfolio balance of $48,662.55

2nd Place: is Nathan Donahue with a final portfolio balance of $53,655.45

1st Place: Jake Fish with a final portfolio balance of 72,512.66

Special thanks to our partners for bringing this program to central Illinois! This includes Accenture, CEFCU, RSM, Blooming Tree Wealth Management, Bridgestone, Commerce Bank, Eaton Corporation, INB, and State Farm. 

A NIGHT OF INSPIRATION: Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame Re-Imagined

Because of our supporters, 11,073 students will receive life-changing financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship skills. We cannot fully describe how thankful we are to have companies and individuals investing in the futures of our Junior Achievement (JA) students.

In order to meet the needs of the thousands of students JA serves, the JA Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame serves as a platform for a fundraising campaign driven by a committee of JA board members, JA staff, and local community leaders. This campaign allows us to serve the majority of our JA students year after year so, we cannot do, what we do, without this community’s level of generosity.

As the education landscape continues to change, one thing remains: children of all ages and backgrounds need to be prepared to enter the workforce, manage their personal finances and think with the creative spirit of an entrepreneur. JA has been working hard to provide adaptable programming to our schools and students over the past year. We knew, when students went virtual, we needed to go virtual too.

The success of our community depends on how prepared today’s students are to thrive in both - work and life. By empowering today’s students, you are ensuring a robust and sustainable future for Central Illinois. With our supporters, volunteers, teachers - we can do our part to ensure students continue receiving our JA education experience whether it be at home or in the classroom. Thank you for helping us impact 11,073 students in 506 classrooms!

EVENT RECAP: The March 9th Re-Imagined Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame allowed students, parents, school systems, and the business community to convene for an all-inclusive, high-impact virtual event experience. This year’s VIRTUAL Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame induction looked much different compared to previous events, but one thing that stayed the same was the HUGE success this celebration continues to see every year! 

Our co-hosts, Amber Krycka (WEEK-TV 25 anchor) and Bruna Tavares (JA Alum/Univ of Illinois Chicago student) delivered an engaging presentation to viewers resulting in an outstanding, memorable evening featuring the success stories of our laureates - Sister Judith Ann Duvall, Steve Jackson, Doug Oberhelman and our Teacher and Volunteer of the Year - Katie McKown and Troy Schmick. Through their acceptance remarks and inspirational videos, it was clearly proven that each honoree clearly possesses the skills and demonstrates the leadership, values and ethics that we seek to cultivate in today's youth.

For those who have viewed the online event from home, thank you for taking the time to share in the celebration and recognition of our 2021 Teacher and our Volunteer of the Year - as well as - the induction of three deserving laureates into the JA Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame.  If you have not had the chance, I highly recommend watching the virtual event to capture these moments yourself.  Here is a link to the recording, feel free to make comments to share feedback. http://bit.ly/2021HOF. Make sure you watch it through the end to catch the incredibly generous surprises that take place.  You won’t regret it!

Congratulations to our 2021 Honorees

Sister Judith Ann Duvall, Major Superior, OSF HealthCare

Steve Jackson, Owner, Prairie Home Alliance

Doug Oberhelman, Retired CEO & Executive Chairman, Caterpillar Inc.

JA Regional Teacher of the Year Katie McKown, Hickory Grove Elementary School, Dunlap District #323

JA Regional Volunteer of the Year Troy Schmick, Treasury Capital Risk Manager, Caterpillar Inc.

“Junior Achievement teaches students that their opportunities are infinite.”

Bruna Tavares, JA Alum/University of Illinois Chicago student

Entrepreneurs in the Making

This month we’re checking in with our very own group of entrepreneurs-in-the-making who are gaining real-life experience in navigating the startup process. In our February issue, you heard about the new collaborative entrepreneurship experience for high school aged students, Central Illinois Young Entrepreneurs. The diverse group of students has spent several weeks finding their footing and draws determination from their interest in business.

Henry, an aspiring entrepreneur sees this as a path to greater impact in his community. He explained, “I was always interested in becoming a business owner because I want to become a high-value man by working on a product or service that can produce steady income while developing connections with other business owners and becoming an asset to my community.”

Other students, like Rena, highlighted the opportunity to hone their talents. “I wanted to be a part of this group to gain leadership and communication skills as they are very important and can help me in the future.”

Now several weeks into their journey, students have chosen their product and made their first business pitch to their mentors, including Rebecca Shulman, Director of Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum. “This collaboration emerged directly out of conversations we were having with our diversity committee, thinking about how to engage kids with peers they might not normally encounter,” explained Rebecca. “Because of COVID and the switch to digital education, it is actually easier for us to gather a group of teens from around the region, who might not otherwise encounter each other, to collaborate and learn from and about each other.”

Working as a team, students are creating and managing their own business through JA Company Program®. Stay tuned for more updates as they put their business plan into action this spring.

Why We Need to Talk to Teens About the Stock Market (and how you can help)

Many of us closely followed the news surrounding WallStreetBets and GameStop in the last several weeks. Young people, who have received little to no education about the stock market, are also fascinated. In fact, we’ve spotted several young adults on Reddit announcing they just invested for the first time, asking other users for advice.

While the interest from young people in the stock market is exciting, as educators and parents, it’s troubling that they are soliciting advice from individuals who may not have an interest in their success. For years, Junior Achievement and our volunteers have delivered fundamental lessons in investing to high school students through the JA Stock Market Challenge. This year, we're impacting students through our all-new immersive curriculum and an interactive game-based app that gives them the opportunity to practice researching and trading real stocks with “virtual” dollars.


High school students in McLean County will learn how the stock market works and explore responsible financial habits through the all-new classroom program, JA Take Stock in Your Future®.

This new curriculum is immersive with five core lessons and 11 optional extensions to engage students in forming a deeper understanding to build financial wealth. One of the four core lessons, a real-time online stock simulation, helps students gain confidence as they invest fictitious dollars in real stocks for an authentic learning experience.

Students will put their newly acquired knowledge to the test as they compete alongside students across McLean County in the all new JA Stock Market Challenge! Competitors will use fictitious cash to invest in over 10,000 stocks with real-time market data. They will be encouraged to research daily market news within the simulation and make informed decisions on which stocks to invest in.

Join us Thursday, April 29 as we recognize our students’ hard work and honor the JA McLean Teacher of the Year & Volunteer of the Year during our online celebration.


We have already received several requests from educators for this new program, and with young people so interested in the topic right now, we have the opportunity to bring this program to many more students. Your contribution will ensure we can provide them with foundational lessons in the stock market and financial literacy delivered by individuals who are invested in their long-term success. Please make your contribution today.

Meet the JA Regional Teacher of the Year: Katie McKown

Katie McKown

Hickory Grove Elementary School, Dunlap CSD #323

Katie McKown is a fourth grade teacher at Hickory Grove Elementary School in Dunlap.  She has been teaching for 16 years, spending her entire career in fourth grade in Dunlap.  She is currently teaching a class of 29 full-time remote learners, and is enjoying this new challenge.  


Although this school year has been a bit different with remote teaching/learning, her class traditionally centers around a “McKown Town” theme.  She has a classroom economy, in which students can earn “McKown Cash.”  Students each have their own wallets, and can earn cash for good behavior, extra effort, showing kindness, etc.  Cash can be spent on a variety of experiences, one of the favorites being the opportunity to sit at Mayor McKown’s desk for the day.  In McKown Town, every student has a classroom job to keep the town running smoothly, and they take great ownership of this responsibility.    


McKown graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, with a degree in Psychology.  She was a member of the SIUE softball team, and earned All-American honors. She was recently inducted into SIUE’s Hall of Fame in 2018 for her softball accomplishments. McKown also earned her teaching degree from Illinois State University.  Additionally, she has two master’s degrees, one in Curriculum & Instruction, and the second in Administration.  


McKown is married with three children ages 9, 7, and 3, and resides in Edwards. 


Learn more about the Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame and Register to Attend

Meet the JA Regional Volunteer of the Year: Troy Schmick

Troy Schmick

Treasury Capital Risk Manager, Caterpillar Inc.

Troy started his Junior Achievement journey in 2010 and has taught grades ranging from Kindergarten to Senior in High School.  He has become focused over the years on the High School age group (9th-12th) at Peoria Central H.S.  There Troy has formed a partnership with his teacher, Holly Duke-Kupferschmidt, where they deliver a breadth of J.A. programs covering economics, personal finance, and career development. “I greatly admire and appreciate working with Holly for her passion of bringing J.A. into the classroom, her ability to connect with the students, and her skills in managing the classroom.  She clearly cares about her students’ future.” 

As to why Junior Achievement, Troy responds “I like to provide the students a ‘glimpse’ of what their lives can be like – the jobs available, the work performed, the community where we all help each other become better”.   Troy, his wife Lila, and their four children, ages 11 to 24, live in Dunlap.  His family has lived in another country, hosted exchange students, and travelled the world thanks to a challenging and rewarding career at Caterpillar.  Troy gives credit to his employer, Caterpillar, for allowing him the time to pursue such a worthwhile initiative as Junior Achievement.

Learn more about the Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame and Register to Attend

Meet the Laureates: Doug Oberhelman

Doug Oberhelman

Retired CEO & Executive Chairman, Caterpillar Inc.

Doug Oberhelman served as chairman of the board of directors and as chief executive officer (CEO) of Caterpillar Inc. beginning in 2010.  After a 41-year career with Caterpillar, he retired as CEO on December 31, 2016 and as executive chairman on March 31, 2017.

During his tenure as chairman and CEO, Oberhelman led Caterpillar through accelerated business cycles, implementing cost-efficiencies and Lean manufacturing to simplify and improve global manufacturing and operations. He also led the company to renew its focus on customers, and reinforced its dedication to quality, sustainability and innovations critical to the success of Caterpillar employees, customers and dealers.

Oberhelman joined the Caterpillar treasury department in 1975 and worked in or led a wide variety of businesses across the company. He was elected a Caterpillar vice president and chief financial officer (CFO) in 1995; and from 2002 to 2010 was a group president with responsibility for many of Caterpillar’s core businesses. Over the course of his career at Caterpillar he lived in North America, South America and Asia, and travelled extensively throughout the world.  

Oberhelman serves on the board of directors of Exxon Mobil Corporation, Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc., and Bombardier Inc.  He is former chair of both the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers. He serves as vice president of the Wetlands America Trust, is a director on the boards of the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and Intersect Illinois.  He is also chairman of the board of trustees for the Easter Seals Foundation of Central Illinois.  He previously served on the boards of Eli Lilly and Company and Ameren Corporation. 

Doug is married to his wife Diane Oberhelman who is the Chairwoman of Cullinan Properties Ltd. and one of Peoria’s most successful, leading developers. Diane is the Founding Partner of Cullinan Properties, based in Peoria, Illinois, with offices in Chicago and St. Louis. Diane founded Cullinan Properties in 1988 after being in the real estate business since 1981. She is also a JA laureate who was inducted into the Junior Achievement Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame in 2006. For years, Doug and Diane have lived on a cozy, rustic farm with horses, chickens and beautiful alfalfa field that is located on the outer edges of Peoria county. They have four grown children: Kathleen Cullinan Brill, Maureen Cullinan Bennett, Alison Cullinan Unkovich, and Allen Cullinan. They also have eleven grandchildren.

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