Junior Achievement (JA) programs are facilitated by local volunteers ranging from parents to business leaders. Each March, Junior Achievement presents the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which highlights the time contribution individuals representing their employers have given to Junior Achievement. While no volunteer experience is the same, Ericka Williams, a JA alumna and volunteer, gave us an inside look as to what JA has done for her, as well as how she is giving back to the organization.
What has your story or journey through JA from a child to where you are now been like?
During my senior year of high school, my mom opened the local newspaper and noticed an advertisement for high school students to participate in the JA Fellows Program. I immediately signed up because the program would help to cultivate the skills that I would need to use for my future Accounting program. Team collaboration, critical thinking and entrepreneurship were a few of the focal points within the program and they are skills that I have been able to carry with me from then until now.
After becoming a “JA Kid” in 2007, I was honored to receive a college scholarship from JA in Savannah, Georgia. I knew that JA was an organization that was invested in my educational and professional growth, thus it was imperative that I began volunteering to assist in imparting financial wisdom on our next generation of leaders. During my freshman year of college at Savannah State University (SSU), I began volunteering at local elementary and middle schools. Eventually, I was able to convince my fellow SSU classmates that JA is a great organization to volunteer with. With a joint effort between SSU and JA in Savannah, we were able to place 30 volunteers at 3 different elementary schools, which impacted over 600 students in 2010. JA in Savannah never allowed my continuous hard work to go unnoticed, and in 2011 the office recognized me as the John Hodges Volunteer of the Year.
How has JA helped you grow professionally?
Currently as an Internal Auditor, and previously as an External Auditor, skills such as: how to work in a team, multitasking, planning and executing tasks have been crucial to my career development. These are all items that the JA Fellows program assisted in instilling in me.
While searching for internships in college and deciding on the company that I would kick-start my post graduate school career with, it was essential that I worked for organizations that were socially responsible to their communities. And if the company had a relationship with their local JA office(s) it was an added bonus for me. Thankfully, my past and currents jobs have all been heavily involved with JA so it provides me and my colleagues that chance to interact with local students a few times during the school year.
What has been your favorite moment while volunteering for Junior Achievement? What inspired you to become a JA volunteer?
Recently, I have been drawn to the 2nd grade “JA Our Community” curriculum, which teaches students about businesses, products/services and how finances are used in our everyday lives. Within lesson 3, the students learn about paying taxes. All students were given a job description card and subsequently paid $5 for their hard work in the class community. At this point the students were screaming, “We’re RICH!”
As the volunteer, I became the Tax Collector and informed everyone that they had no choice but to pay me/the government $2 in taxes. One student screamed at me, “You’re a ROBBER! You shouldn’t take our money like that.” This became the most impactful teachable moment, for me, because I had the pleasure of explaining to the students that their parents/guardians have to pay taxes on their hard-earned money on a weekly and/or biweekly basis. From that moment on the students had a better understanding of how money works within our communities. Thankfully, the lessons are broken down in a way that the students can remember so that they can share what they learned with their families and others.
These are the moments that make me laugh out loud, smile and continuously volunteer because I can see their imaginary lightbulbs flicker and truly understand how our World operates.