JA In The News | Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City

JA Stories of Impact

“It’s a needed service for a community that’s underserved.”

Eli Colmenero’s first experience with Junior Achievement was during a volunteer day at MarksNelson. With his team at MarksNelson, Eli was excited to head out of the office with a group of his colleagues and spend the day making an impact for Junior Achievement kids. While they volunteered behind the scenes, they made a difference on the front lines.  

“It was a neat opportunity to interact with people who work for the same company that I don't get to see every day,” Eli shares. “We piled into my car, went down to the Junior Achievement office and helped prepare the teaching packets that are used in the field by volunteers.”

During his volunteer day at Junior Achievement, Eli learned just how much goes into teaching a classroom of kids. As he and his team helped assemble each packet and put all the pieces together, Eli got a firsthand look into the depth of JA curriculum.

“Knowing the packets will be used by students who are learning life skills they otherwise wouldn't be exposed to was the most rewarding,” Eli says. “That is also serving a population that needs that information the most. This volunteering experience was very enjoyable. The staff was really great, very nice and helpful. We really had a lot of fun.”

Junior Achievement’s volunteer opportunities are many — from front-of-classroom mentoring opportunities to job fairs and events and everything in between. And volunteers like Eli and his colleagues, who contribute behind-the-scenes, make a crucial impact too.

With volunteer work like this that’s outside the school environment, Eli says, “It’s just the fact that this is an organization that helps kids out. Junior Achievement not only facilitates services that go out to the community, but the organization also encourages kids to think about their communities as well. Anytime we can help the community help itself is very rewarding. We might not see the immediate fruits of that investment, but it’s something we all benefit from in Kansas City.”

When Eli gives back to the community, he looks for organizations with two components: an emphasis on children and the opportunity to support an underserved demographic. “That’s what sets Junior Achievement apart in my mind,” Eli notes. “It’s a needed service for a community that’s underserved.”

MarksNelson’s commitment to serve its clients through financial matters is a perfect connection to Junior Achievement’s goals. “As far as interests go, giving back to JA is almost a no brainer,” Eli explains. “MarksNelson is dedicated to giving back. It's been a part of the firm for quite a long time. We really connect with organizations that need volunteers, not just monetary support. Volunteering with Junior Achievement was a very positive experience and I really enjoyed it.”

During the MarksNelson volunteer day with Junior Achievement, Eli was surprised to see just how much of a team-building experience it was for their group. “Here was my group working hand in hand together,” Eli says. “That was happening for my group and I know it will for others in the future.”

When our community comes together, we all rise. And when you support Junior Achievement — no matter how you help! — you support the next generation of students.

“Junior Achievement is bringing in the real-world piece that our kids need.”

In her role as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum for Kansas City, Missouri Public Schools, Dr. Trinity Davis is laser-focused on the educational needs of students across the school district. “Junior Achievement is bringing in the real-world piece that our kids need,” Trinity shares. “Every kid knows about being a doctor, a lawyer and a teacher. But most students are unaware of the countless other careers you can have. Junior Achievement helps our kids understand different career pathways.”

Trinity’s own career began in an elementary classroom in Topeka, Kansas. She later became a professor in curriculum instruction at Pittsburg State University, where she earned tenure. With so much potential on the horizon for the Kansas City, Missouri schools, Trinity was pulled back by her love of the urban core to assist in creating a positive future for the children of Kansas City as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum.

With her eye on an education that prepares kids for the future, Trinity is always looking for people to come in and help students understand different career pathways. “What I’ve found is that no one organization has the capacity to work with our 24 elementary schools,” Trinity notes. “But Junior Achievement does have the capacity to touch everyone. That made it very important and very easy to say, ‘Yes, this works for us.’”

Equity is important when it comes to supplying curriculum to different schools. “I can’t give five schools one resource and nothing to the others,” Trinity explains. “Junior Achievement gives our students what we need, is committed to all our schools and also aligns with what we’re doing.”

When Trinity looks at potential curriculum partners for her schools, she must ensure that all the pieces fit. “Junior Achievement has a curriculum piece that we’ve been able to include in our teaching units,” Trinity says. “The partnership is so fluid, you can hardly tell where our teaching curriculum stops and JA begins. That really enables our kids to have those connections.”

Not only is JA a fit for curriculum, it’s a fit that’s fun. “Our kids, teachers, and principals love JA,” Trinity says. “That’s not the case for everything brought in, but the feedback is always positive on Junior Achievement.” Trinity sees teachers excited about JA coming to their classroom. “They are engaged in the process too,” Trinity adds. “There’s a welcoming attitude.”

When JA professionals share their experiences in the classroom, students get an opportunity to see careers unlike those they interact with each day. “The professional role models in front of students each day are all teachers,” Trinity explains, but career opportunities for students expand far beyond just the education field. “It’s nice for students to see, for example, what an anesthesiologist does and what they went to school to do. Junior Achievement fills the gap for us of putting real-world professionals in front of our students.”

Junior Achievement is also close to Trinity’s heart because of her own entrepreneurial spirit. “I’ve always had a consulting business,” she shares. “It was my way of growing curriculum instruction throughout school districts. Most recently, my husband and I purchased a laundromat in my hometown. It had closed down and there was nowhere for people to wash their clothes. Now, I’m getting to take that over and help out my community.”

In Junior Achievement, Trinity found a program that works for her entire school district. From the rigorous curriculum to the real-world experiences, JA fills a vital gap in education. When you give to JA, you educate the next generation.

"I feel like I’m going to do better in life now.”

Last school year, as a fifth grader at T. A. Edison Elementary, Ava Guerra participated in Junior Achievement with JA President & CEO, Megan Sturges Stanfield, as her volunteer mentor. “I knew my family and friends believed in me,” Ava says. “Now I know Miss Megan believes in me too.”

As part of their Junior Achievement curriculum, Ava and her fellow students chose their future professions and researched more about the career field, including what it would take to get there. “I picked zoologist,” Ava shares, “because I like learning new things and animals.” Among Ava’s peers, there were future interior designers and lawyers too.

Ava also loved the experiential learning that happened in JA, including the hands-on activities and games. Ava experienced how fun it can be to learn and grow. “We played a lot of games and split into teams,” Ava says. “It was a lot of fun.”

To Ava’s mom, Ashley, the life-changing impact JA was having on her daughter was obvious. “Every day Ava had JA in her classroom, she would come home and talk about it and tell me how much fun it was and all the great things she was learning,” she says. “Ava talked about what they learned and what she wanted to be. She really enjoyed it.”

Ava was both excited and nervous to be chosen as one of several Junior Achievement students to present at the 2018 Business Hall of Fame event. Ava, Ashley shares, is generally not someone who is eager to stand up in front of a crowd. “Ava is very quiet and shy,” Ashley says. “When she was chosen to talk in front of everyone, she was so scared. But all the leaders helped her gain the confidence that she could do it.”

“I got up and talked on the stage after I practiced it,” Ava remembers. “I had to say my name, how old I was and what I wanted to do when I was older. I said zoologist and veterinarian. It was scary going up there, but I learned a lot.”

That one moment of bravery inspired change in Ava’s life. “JA opened Ava up,” Ashley reports. “It’s really changed everything she does in school. She's just more open, she'll answer questions more in class.

“She trusts herself a little bit more. It’s been so nice to see,” Ashley continues. “JA is one of the best programs Ava has ever participated in.”

Now a sixth-grade student, Ava still feels the impact of JA. “I’m more excited about my future because I understand it more,” Ava adds. “I’m ready for after school and what colleges I want to go to. I feel like I’m going to do better in life now.” Through Junior Achievement, Ava discovered the pathway to her ideal future and laid the foundation to take the first steps there.

“Because of my involvement in Junior Achievement, I learned there was nothing I couldn’t do.”

“At the time, I had no idea what Junior Achievement was setting me up for,” Shelley McNair recalls. Today she’s the Director of Sales Support and Account Management at Principal Financial Group — but Shelley still remembers the vital lessons she learned in her JA program years ago as a student. “Because of my involvement in Junior Achievement, I learned there was nothing I couldn’t do,” Shelley remembers. “That’s what Junior Achievement lends to Kansas City today.”

When a classmate asked her to join the JA program that was then twice a week in the evenings, Shelley was excited to participate. Just one problem: she wasn’t quite old enough yet. “But my father worked for John Deere, and he was actively involved as a JA mentor. So he was able to get me involved so I could go and observe my first year!” she smiles.

Once she was eligible to become an active member in high school, Shelley jumped right in. “We had a team of students, plus a sponsor from the manufacturing side of John Deere,” Shelley explains. “Each semester we would choose what our business was going to be and pick a product to sell.”

Each team member had an opportunity to play the CEO role and was tasked with making critical decisions — including getting a loan for startup costs, creating a business plan, navigating the manufacturing process and acquiring supplies. With a product in hand, the team was in charge of implementing their marketing plan to sell all the products.

“We had to figure out how much money we needed to make because we needed to pay our loans back and try to be the most profitable team. The winning team would win a pizza party at the end of the semester, of course,” Shelley smiles.

Shelley’s experience at Junior Achievement was a lesson in the importance of smart decision making. “Everyone was responsible for making decisions,” Shelley says. “You only had so much money to start with and you had to make decisions along the way to pick a price range and sell everything you could.”

While Shelley was having a great time with her friends in JA, she was also building confidence that would serve her for the rest of her life. “It’s not easy to make decisions and take risks,” Shelley says. “Junior Achievement taught me to use logic, understand risk and think through the consequences. That’s a lesson that translates into my business and personal life.”

One of the greatest lessons Shelley took from her JA program was the importance of different perspectives. “I learned that there are so many different departments involved in a product,” Shelley says. “It helped me see that no matter where I worked, I would interact with different players and different perspectives I would need to consider.”

After high school, Shelley earned her degree in Marketing Management from the University of Northern Iowa. She progressed through her career in sales, training and human resources. Today, at Principal Financial Group, Shelley helps develop individuals and sales teams across St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver.

When she came to Principal Financial Group, Shelley was excited to find colleagues who were a part of JA. “Right away, I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I was in Junior Achievement! What is Junior Achievement doing these days?’” From her own experience with Junior Achievement, Shelley remembered how beneficial it was to gain knowledge in business and finance and dove right back into the organization as a volunteer.

As a member of Principal Financial Group, Shelley knows how important it is to the company and her team to build the future workforce. “We are very focused on being future ready,” Shelley says. “We know that the generation in high school today is our company’s future. That’s why it is important for us to understand how they think and what their future looks like.”

Shelley sees Junior Achievement bringing hope, confidence and important life skills to Kansas City students. In JA programs, Shelley sees students gain the knowledge and confidence that they can do anything with the support of a volunteer mentor who believes in them.

“Get involved for your personal joy,” Shelley encourages. “It sounds selfish, but everyone needs passion and joy in their life. At Junior Achievement, you can really truly make an impact.” Through Junior Achievement, Shelley strives to share lessons that improve a young person’s life and give them those lessons for whatever they decide to do. “It’s really positive to leave a footprint volunteering and being able to give back of yourself,” Shelley adds. “I’m looking forward to learning as much from the kids of Junior Achievement and am hoping I can offer them something as well.”

When you give back to JA, you empower the next generation with confidence and essential life skills.

“My Junior Achievement experiences have given me an appreciation for what I do now."

Junior Achievement has been part of Kate Hood’s life in so many ways. From being first a JA student, to hosting JA volunteers in her classroom as a teacher, and finally becoming a member of the JA staff here in Kansas City, Kate has seen many angles of Junior Achievement and experienced great positive change along the way.

As an elementary student in Kansas City, Kate remembers a JA volunteer coming to her classroom at The Barstow School dressed in a suit and armed with fun learning materials. “What had the biggest impact on me was knowing that people from the community were interested in coming to share their experiences,” Kate says. “It was just getting a little glimpse of what it might look like when you grow up. I was eager to learn about the outside world and what possibilities there were.” 

Reflecting on her time experiencing the Junior Achievement curriculum, Kate sees what an impact JA volunteers make. “They’re coming in for just a short period of time,” Kate relates, “but they leave a lasting legacy.” 

After attending Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and earning her degree in elementary education, Kate began teaching in public schools. As a teacher, Kate was excited to welcome JA volunteers into her fifth grade classroom, hoping to give them the same vibrant experience she had as a kid. 

“Anytime a volunteer came in, it was like a celebrity was gracing us with their presence!” Kate jokes. “The kids were so excited to engage with the volunteers and had all kinds of questions. It just meant a lot to the kids, to see that there was another adult out there who wanted to spend time with them.”

While preparing to share the JA curriculum in her classroom, Kate brought in bills and pay stubs to show her students how she balanced it all and made budgeting decisions. From this experience, Kate’s students were able to be a part of the financial success in their homes.

“When parent teacher conferences came around, there were a lot of discussions around this because kids were coming home and applying the lessons they learned,” Kate says. “They were there at the kitchen counter, looking over bills together and working with their parents to figure out how to make ends meet. That was a huge learning experience.”

Resume and job interviewing skills also trickled down from the students to their parents. Kate saw her kids share what they learned to help their parents get a different job or get a job for the first time. “Those were some easy wins that impacted the quality of life for my students,” Kate notes. “What a good ripple effect!”

Today, Kate is thrilled to be a part of Junior Achievement as our Senior Program Manager. Kate loves seeing first-hand how volunteers are vital to grow and change the world of the upcoming generation. “All of my Junior Achievement experiences have given me an appreciation for what I do now, continuing to give kids experiences beyond the traditional classroom setting,” Kate says. “Through JA, kids can grow up to become productive members of society and then give back to the best of their ability. That's the cycle that needs to be in place for our world to work.”

Both as an educator and as part of the JA staff, Kate has seen many kids who aren’t quite sure school is the right place for them. “To see that there is a community behind them, cheering them on and wanting them to succeed, is huge for them,” Kate shares. “They may not get that message at home. To have a new person come in, spend time with them and be that cheerleader shows them all the opportunities that wait for them outside of the classroom when they graduate.” 

For future JA volunteers, Kate recognizes the feeling of hesitancy that comes with stepping foot in a classroom — but the difference volunteers make is far greater than any uncertainty. “The first time a kid makes a connection with you will be your reason for doing this,” Kate explains. “There's nothing better than seeing a kid excited about talking with you, hearing your story and learning from you.” Kate knows firsthand that making an impact on even one child is worth the time and energy it takes to volunteer in a classroom for just a few hours.

In Junior Achievement, students gain confidence and get the tools to think far beyond what’s right in front of them. When you partner with JA, you power possibility. As a part of Junior Achievement today, you have an impact on a student’s future.

"We're going to make JA a regular part of our culture."

As a parent of children on their way to adulthood, the mission of Junior Achievement resonated with Jon Pahl instantly. “As a dad, I’m making sure my kids are prepared for life in a lot of different ways from their career to interacting with people and being good citizens. Schools just can’t get to that all the time and that’s where Junior Achievement fills such a gap,” he says. “And so I fell in love with the mission of Junior Achievement.”




Jon, who serves as the President of the Midwest operation of Nabholz Construction, loves bringing the many lessons he’s learned throughout his career to third grade classrooms around the community — and he’s brought his team at Nabholz along with him.


Jon’s first JA experience was in a third grade classroom. “The third grade JA curriculum talks about entrepreneurship, the value of money and even sales tax,” Jon shares. “These are lessons parents ought to be teaching their kids, but they don’t always know how. It’s important for kids to hear this message, and they’re hearing it in the JA classroom.”


During one of Jon’s JA classroom sessions, the lesson plan centered around creating a restaurant. In small groups, kids named their restaurant, established a menu and developed a pricing structure for the food they had to deliver. “It’s fun to watch the dynamics of these small groups,” Jon relates. “Their products were super creative. It’s awesome to see what concepts they come up with and how they present the end product.”


Through interactive lessons like this, Jon sees students experiencing lightbulb moments when the curriculum really clicks. “The cool part is you can see that moment of understanding,” Jon explains, “but it's also a moment of pride. They're proud that they actually grasp the concept and have come forward in their education. That's the rewarding part for me. They walk away knowing they can approach that problem for life.”


Jon was pleasantly surprised when the session ended with a line of hugs. “I was a bit intimidated when I first walked in,” Jon admits. “As a stranger, I wasn’t sure if I would be welcomed, but it was fun. The second day I came back, the kids were so excited to see me and when I left, I got a bunch of hugs!”




Because one key focus area of Nabholz’s work is K-12 education construction, Jon was eager to bring his employees into the JA classroom. “We are creating these places where education and change happen,” Jon notes. “And so it's rewarding to see some of our folks raise their hands and say, ‘Put me in that experience and let me see firsthand what happens inside the spaces we build.’”


When his employees come back from volunteering with Junior Achievement, Jon sees the joy they experience seeing these kids and connecting the dots between building schools and facilitating the important things that happen there.


Becoming a part of Junior Achievement has been beneficial to the culture of Nabholz construction. “People don't leave companies, they leave people,” Jon explains. “We have to develop relationships and make sure we're all compelled by the same culture and the same purpose. When JA came and told us about their mission and vision, we got to soak that up together as a team and bounce ideas off each other.” Through interacting with Junior Achievement, Nabholz team members got to experience something together, share fun stories and talk about what lessons they learned.


“The volunteers who have done JA raised their hands to do it again,” Jon shares. “We're going to make JA a regular part of our volunteer experience and part of our culture. Part of our purpose statement as a corporation is to build our communities, and Junior Achievement is a beautiful picture of how we can build communities and invest in that next generation.”



Nothing frustrates Jon more than complaining about a problem without bringing forward a solution. While he’s heard many people complain about the next generation, he doesn’t see them offering to help. “JA is such a great solution,” Jon says. “It's an easy way to make a difference on a big scale. With a room of 20 kids, you get to share about what it is to be a good citizen and a good adult. You really can make a difference using the JA curriculum.”


“In my opinion,” Jon adds, “we’re going to fail as a company if we don’t prepare the next generation of builders, professionals, carpenters, engineers and project managers. If we don't prepare those people to be good citizens and good role models, we’re going to fail. We owe it to our future to prepare this next generation and make sure they hear the lessons they need to hear.”


Take the responsibility to prepare the next generation. Teach students today what it means to be a good citizen and a good person in the world. Your help is needed! Become a part of Junior Achievement today and make a difference.

"Junior Achievement established the foundation that I’m still building on today."

Today, Tremaine Duarte is a Trust Officer and Relationship Manager at UMB Bank — and he can pinpoint where his career aspirations started: right in his own Junior Achievement classroom. As a freshman at Northeast High School, his economics teacher utilized the JA curriculum. “That opened up my eyes to an opportunity in the banking industry and helped me identify the career that I was interested in. I don't believe I would be in the position I am today, both personally and professionally, if the Junior Achievement program was not available in the urban school district.”

What contributed to such a lasting impact on Tremaine’s life? “The volunteers that work with Junior Achievement brought real-life experience that really touched me,” Tremaine says. “It wasn't like Mom and Dad telling you, ‘Hey, read these documents when it comes down to personal finance.’ But this was speaking from experience. I began to notice the heart and the desire that the JA volunteers had for young people and that encouraged me to take special note of what they were saying. That really helped me establish the ground for my success.”

Motivated to give today’s students an experience like the one he had, Tremaine has stepped back into Junior Achievement as a volunteer — at the very same high school he attended, Northeast High School. Located in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood, 100% of the school’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Coming from a single-parent home himself and facing financial challenges as a child, Tremaine has made it his mission to encourage young people from the same background. “The opportunity was available for me not only to encourage the young people, but also to shine light on the fact that I've gone down the same path that these young people are on,” Tremaine says.

“Just because you're on this path now doesn't mean you have to stay here,” Tremaine says. “I use my story to let the students know that today is the starting point. I give them a holistic view of my life and am very transparent in the hope of grabbing their attention. I can say, ‘Hey, I may have started at Northeast High School, but you can go through high school, you can go to college, and you can really make great strides in your career, but start making the right decisions at school today.’”

Tremaine was saddened to hear high school students in his class reflect on their school and circumstances. One student captured their uncertainty of their potential this way: “You don’t graduate from Northeast High School.” While stereotypes and certain systems may discourage these young people, Tremaine was able to be an example of success.

“I talked to them and told them of all the opportunities I had at Northeast High School, from National Honor Society and my grade point average of 3.8,” Tremaine recalls. “And hey, I’m an African American male. Some of those stereotypes cause them to think that sort of achievement can’t be true when I told them that I graduated from Northeast High School. My hope is that these young people can be reminded that there is hope if they stay on the right path.”

One aspect Tremaine admires about JA is the focus on urban demographics. “That made me smile,” Tremaine shares. “Because some of the districts in the urban core may not have the test scores or may not have access to various resources. JA is taking more real-life stories to those young people to let them know that there is a future for every single one of them. I just love the way that Junior Achievement has anchored their vision in encouraging and educating and preparing young people, starting at the smallest children up through high school.”

“Junior Achievement established the foundation that I’m still building on today,” Tremaine says. “Being able to take what I've learned and share it with the community, it's reminding myself of those things I've learned and the significance of being very consistent with my decisions in life and finances while I'm encouraging young people to do the same.”

Tremaine also values the big vision Junior Achievement has as an organization. “My hope and prayer is they're able to grab ahold of as many volunteers as possible to make this vision come to fruition. I like to say, ‘If the vision is not bigger than you, it's not big enough.’ Junior Achievement has developed an extremely valuable vision and goal that's way bigger than them and I believe it will be a blessing to many generations to come.”

To future volunteers, Tremaine encourages putting yourself in the shoes of a student who may not have access to the same resources as other students in Kansas City. “It takes a community to help to build a community,” Tremaine says. “We have to get in the trenches together. The tree might not grow immediately, but as long as we're planting little seeds, we can trust that sometime in the future that tree will grow nice and tall and strong.”

Giving to Junior Achievement challenges the cycle of poverty, giving students a new vision and new directions. When you give to JA, you show students that there are no limits to their potential.










JA Volunteers Help Take a Student to the Next Level



Architecture and design firm Gould Evans is known for their projects with Cerner and Garmin — but their team in Kansas City is also focused on education. “Our goal is to try to shape and mold good futures,” says Jay Currie Campbell, Gould Evans associate. And the team at Gould Evans continues these efforts by volunteering with Junior Achievement.

“It’s such a wonderful opportunity for us to engage in different classrooms with different people across the city,” Jay explains. “Junior Achievement is a natural opportunity for us as a firm to commit the time and effort to support students, because we’re supporting education. It’s great to see a partner that’s taking education to another level.”

Jean Stoverink, a senior associate at Gould Evans, teamed up with Jay for a Junior Achievement career fair. “We set up a booth and brought models and drawings to introduce the kids to architecture as a career path,” Jean says. “We had a really good experience there, and the students did too.”

During the career fair, Jean and Jay were both pleasantly surprised when a high school freshman from the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts showed impressive interest in their careers. “We didn’t have anything cool to give away, so we gave away our business cards,” Jay remembers. “A few days later, he reached out to Jean about a job shadow!” Soon after, this student and his uncle were at the Gould Evans office for a tour.

With just a little self-initiative, this freshman got an inside look into Gould Evans. “He got to walk around and meet some of our great people, explore some of the projects in the office,” Jay recalls. “That was really awesome for him. Having set foot in the door, now someday he'll feel confident applying for a job here.”

“Think about the bravery it takes for a kid to call up an adult who they only just met,” Jean adds. “He seemed to really appreciate the walkthrough and he asked more questions than his uncle did. When he left, I said, ‘If you're ever interested, we occasionally do internships and you’re welcome to come for a full day of shadowing.’”

After this exciting experience, Jean decided to volunteer in the classroom for a six-week Junior Achievement program at Comanche Elementary School. “Again, I had a great experience,” Jean says. “I grew up in an arts and theatre family, so I didn’t learn these finance terms until I was working a full-time job. It felt good for me to teach those concepts to kids at a younger age because it’s something I didn’t have access to at that age.”

Jean began teaching her JA class with a personality survey, to help students uncover their interests and skills. The students then considered how those interests and abilities might lead them on a career path. With their futures in mind, the students then learned about insurance, deductibles and budgeting to build the financial foundation they need.

“Each week I came back I would ask, ‘Who remembers what we did last week?’” Jean shares. “They always had the answer. They were very engaged, always raising their hands.”

Jean specifically remembers a session where she asked students the difference between an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree. She was shocked when no student knew the answer. So Jean taught them what was required for each degree and why someone might choose to earn one. When Jean returned for the next session, she was impressed: the students could confidently explain the value of each degree. “I felt like I really taught them something meaningful,” Jean says. “They were absorbing so much . . . they were like sponges!”

At the end of the program, Jean received grateful hugs from several students. “I just had so much fun doing it,” She remembers. “The kids were really responsive.”

Jay reflects that, as a child, he didn’t always enjoy being at school. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who didn’t enjoy sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. So that’s why I think it’s really important to note how Junior Achievement approaches this with their programs. I’ve seen the impact it has. It affects the children, but it also affects the adults just as much.”

“I never took a personal finance class or learned any sort of bookkeeping. These kids have an opportunity to really get ahead in that way and it's extremely important,” Jay says. “Junior Achievement is lifting people out of whatever situation they're in with real-life skills that are extremely important,” Jay adds.

For Jean, Junior Achievement was the most direct way she could have an impact on Kansas City students. “You’re actually engaging one on one with the students, unlike other organizations where you don’t have that direct human connection,” Jean notes. “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to have to volunteer for 7th grade next year, and then 8th grade after that, so I can keep following these students. I got really attached to them by the end of the six week period.”

Jay enjoys seeing lightbulb moments. “The most rewarding aspect is seeing the children's faces light up whenever they understand or ask questions,” Jay says. “I've had sixth graders and freshmen both ask amazing questions. These kids are asking really poignant questions that could shape their futures, and that’s rewarding for me.”

Jean and Jay aren’t the only people in their organization to benefit from their Junior Achievement experiences. “Our colleagues have gotten a lot out of it as well,” Jean says. “We talked a lot about outreach in our office and making architecture more visible to communities of students who may not be even aware that a potential career in architecture exists. The more we can make ourselves visible, the more we can start to include and diversify our profession. In the long run, this will benefit the communities we're designing for.”

Jay sees how volunteering with Junior Achievement has brought their company closer together. “It’s provided an opportunity for a group of us of at all ages and capabilities,” Jay says. “We'll go to these career fairs and come back to the office talking about what we saw and what experiences we had. It really creates a better sense of community in our own office.”

Jean and Jay’s experience with Junior Achievement keeps them coming back. “Junior Achievement offers so many different levels of engagement,” Jay says. “If you only have a little bit of time, there’s a way for you to get involved. If you have more time, you can devote a couple of hours a week or a month. Whatever level you can give, there's a place for you.”

Jean, Jay and their colleagues at Gould Evans are making a lasting impact on Kansas City students. Your time and experience are valuable. When you support Junior Achievement today, YOU inspire the next generation.

“Having that opportunity to mentor is instrumental”

Serving as a mentor to young women is close to Joelsette Hernandez-Jones’ heart — because she knows what it’s like to grow up without one. “When I was growing up, I didn't have any mentors,” Joelsette shares. “I came from a broken, abusive family. My goal was to always help my mom with my sisters in any way I could.” So she jumped at the chance to volunteer as a mentor at Junior Achievement’s Future Women’s Leadership Forum (FWLF). “What I've accomplished, given all that I had gone through growing up . . . it captures my heart when I see these young women.”

After a decade in IT consulting, Joelsette founded her IT and engineering staffing firm Pharos Partners in 2014. And she’s in the process of building a second company — Pharos Solutions Inc., a construction management services firm. Particularly in her field, successful female role models can be hard to find. So when a friend invited her to volunteer as an FWLF mentor, she was excited to participate with an organization she knew to be one of the most impactful in Kansas City.

Future Women’s Leadership Forum pairs young women from high schools across the KC metro with professional female mentors for an impactful day of empowerment, mentorship and learning. “I feel like Junior Achievement creates this collaborative, safe place for these girls, that allows them to foster relationships, and integrate themselves in a room even when it’s hard to walk in a room at that age.”

Once she was assigned her mentee, Joelsette was ready to see what the day would bring. When she noticed her mentee was particularly shy, Joelsette encouraged her to talk with other girls and the pair soon made a group of friends. “It just created this very safe, collaborative space for them,” Joelsette shares. “There was this moment where she felt this level of comfort. She literally took a breath and just engaged. The next thing I know, we couldn't get her to stop talking.”

In only a few hours, Joelsette began to see her mentee transform. “By the end of the day, the mentees were exchanging numbers because they went to different schools,” Joelsette says. “They were taking selfies and laughing together. Even the mentors were laughing! This day brought us all together and we walked away with new friendships.”

One special moment for Joelsette was sharing her passion for construction with another mentee. “I shared that I’ve started a second company, Pharos Solutions Inc., that’s a construction management services firm and one of these girls came up to me and said that she loves construction,” Joelsette remarks. “She told me that her friends think that’s odd, for a woman to be interested in construction, so she reached out to me and asked if we could continue talking because she was in a space where there were not a lot of women.”

This connection from a day of mentorship evolved into so much more. “She and I continued connecting through several calls and texts,” Joelsette says. “One of her goals is to own her own construction management firm someday, so she was trying to learn everything she can asking me questions about how my business was going.”

“I encouraged her to not get discouraged if people don't understand why a young girl is interested in construction,” Joelsette shares. “I encouraged her to learn as much as she can about how to manage your own business.”

Connecting with a budding entrepreneur was a uniquely uplifting experience for Joelsette. “I loved the opportunity to show these girls that in 20 years, this is what you can accomplish,” Joelsette shares. “Having that opportunity to mentor is instrumental.”

Joelsette could see herself in the young women at the Future Women’s Leadership Forum. “I look like them,” Joelsette says. “They look like me. That fills my heart up. I loved seeing the diversity in the mentees and the mentors as well.”

What does a mentor get out of volunteering with Junior Achievement? “It is equally beneficial for the mentor as it is for the mentee,” Joelsette remarks. “It's so awesome to connect with all of these different women. I found that extremely inspiring. They have this energy level and this drive and this curiosity that just gave me so much energy.”

Becoming a mentor can be a truly uplifting experience. Volunteer role models guide Junior Achievement students, casting a vision for the future and showing them what it looks like to thrive as a professional — because every child deserves to believe in themselves, and to have the tools to do it.

“It’s really rewarding to see JA students who have real questions”

According to a study by the Bank of America, only 16% of youth ages 18-26 are optimistic about their financial future. Amanda Campbell, Financial Advisor at Waddell & Reed, is taking a hands-on approach to changing this statistic by volunteering with Junior Achievement.

“I see in my day to day people come in who haven’t learned basic budgeting and credit skills,” Amanda explains. “They don't understand how much that's going to impact them down the road.” From getting a degree to launching a career, making big purchases and saving for the future, the consequences of those decisions carry on for a long time.

At Van Horn High School in Independence, Missouri, Amanda and her co-worker volunteered with JA and taught an open forum class on basic financial literacy — and the lessons prepared students to make ideal financial choices in their future. In just one day, Amanda was able to inspire a positive financial future for the high school students she met. “It’s really rewarding to see the students who have real questions,” Amanda relates. “I mean, they had a lot of questions. When you’re at that age and you have a question on anything that has to do with basic financial literacy, it's benefiting everybody that's listening because they're all now learning about that.”

“Because they were older kids, it was really fun,” Amanda says. “I had a young lady in the class who was living on her own and was interested in banking. We helped connect her with a bank and set up her first checking and savings account.”

Equipping students with the financial tools they need to thrive has never been more important. In fact, recent studies show that 44% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency with cash, 43% of student loan borrowers aren’t making payments, and 33% of American adults have $0 saved for retirement.

“I’m talking a lot about student loans and credit card debt with the people who come in to work with me,” Amanda says. “Once I give them a roadmap and they’re willing to put the work in, we’ll get to a point where they can start building emergency savings and then some sort of retirement savings and wealth. But it’s all about the foundation and that’s why I like Junior Achievement.”

Volunteering in the classroom gives Amanda the opportunity to mitigate the disparity of generational wealth in our country. “Regardless of where you started, you can move forward instead of getting over your head, which is very easy to do as a young person who doesn't know any better.”

Coming into the classroom as a woman and financial expert is how Amanda sparks real change. “It’s empowering,” Amanda shares. “This is something where somebody can really take the knowledge they get and build upon themselves.”

Furthermore, Amanda has seen the impact of Junior Achievement on youth as her own children, Issac and Jocelyn, participated in the program at their school, Académie Lafayette. “They already knew I volunteered with Junior Achievement, so when it came to their classroom for the first time they really loved it,” Amanda says. “Both of them were very excited to participate and wanted to talk about it when they came home.”

The Junior Achievement experience was especially impactful on Amanda’s daughter, Jocelyn. “She probably talked about it even more than Isaac!” Amanda relates. “She loved it.” The hands-on activities of Junior Achievement made Amanda’s kids feel “like grown-ups,” she smiles, and helped them understand more than they did before. They were thrilled to come home with their packet of financial tools and continue to play with the pretend money and checks.

Amanda’s experience as a Junior Achievement volunteer inspires her to come back and donate her time year after year. “The thing that made it easy for myself and other folks I know who volunteer is how organized Junior Achievement is,” Amanda says. “You have everything you need when you walk into the school. It's not a lot of extra time or something you have to come up with. You have all the tools.”

To future Junior Achievement volunteers, Amanda says, “There's nothing you can mess up or be nervous about. In the end, it's super rewarding and the kids have so much fun. You just might get more out of it than the kids do themselves.”

Volunteers, like Amanda, are challenging the cycle of poverty and creating opportunities for future financial security for kids right here in our community. With Junior Achievement’s help, and your support, students have the tools they need to thrive.

Newest JA Board Member Helps Build Connections in the Classroom

When a co-worker and JA advocate invited Wendee Peres and all of Mobank to volunteer with Junior Achievement, Wendee enthusiastically accepted. Since then, Mobank has become a cherished Junior Achievement partner — and Wendee, Corporate Trust Officer and Vice President at Mobank has signed on as a director of the JA Board. But it is not just Wendee making a difference, it’s a company-wide effort, with Mobank associates regularly sharing their time, expertise and gifts with JA students..

Mobank employees have “adopted”  Stony Point South, in Kansas City, KS for their JA investment of time and support. “It’s our plan to continue at that elementary school. We’ll be doing it until they don’t want us to!” she smiles. The days Mobank spends at Stony Point South are full of lightbulb moments, Wendee explains.

“One of the biggest reasons I love second and third-grade curriculum is that it's tied to my job,” Wendee says. “In corporate trust, our biggest clients are cities and school districts because they're mostly the ones issuing bonds. In that curriculum, you’re really tying how important that community is to taxes and government jobs. I am passionate about that because I can relate it to what I do and the students can hear the real world perspective on that. That’s when it really comes to life for them.”

As part of this curriculum, Wendee has each student pretend to own their own business in an imaginary city. “When they get paid as business owners, they have to pay their taxes,” Wendee explains. “The first time we have to take some of their money away, they always get so upset!” But then it clicks for the students — in that same curriculum, there’s a fire at the restaurant they own and no firefighters to put it out.

“That puts it into perspective,” Wendee shares. “When I show them taxes are paying for police officers, firefighters and teachers, that switches on the lightbulb in their head. They see there is a purpose for our city and what it does.” Suddenly, those taxes take on a real, meaningful significance.

As a volunteer and donor, Wendee sees the Junior Achievement experience solidifying what teachers seek to teach in the classroom. “I love that the curriculum complements what students are learning every day,” Wendee says. “It reinforces everything they’re learning. The kids can enjoy it and have fun with it and still learn something. That’s absolutely fantastic.”

Volunteering with Junior Achievement brings together co-workers at Mobank. “The last time we volunteered at Stony Point together, we were sitting at lunch and having a good time while we shared what was happening in our classrooms. It builds camaraderie. Every year when it comes up, everybody is so excited to be a part of it.”

With a mix of new and seasoned JA volunteers at Mobank, there are always opportunities for colleagues to come together and learn from each other. “It really puts everybody at ease that there are people who have already done it and gone through it,” Wendee shares. “We make it a point to have at least two people in every classroom when we do JA so that everyone has a wonderful day.”

At Mobank, financial literacy is a core pillar. “Junior Achievement plays right into that,” Wendee notes. “Coming from any type of business, if you’re wanting to pursue volunteer time, this is a great team builder, being able to experience this [JA] together.”

Mobank’s unique commitment to KC’s entrepreneurial community is also a reason the company supports

JA. “For any startup business, JA is one of those opportunities to share how they started and all the pitfalls,” Wendee notes. “What a great experience as a business to engage kids and let them know that Kansas City has all these great businesses that started and were built for the community. That act of sharing stories with the next generation is really important for a business.”

One of the most exciting aspects of volunteering with Junior Achievement as a company, she says, is seeing colleagues after their first experience in the classroom. “I love being able to bring new people in,” Wendee says, “I have so many co-workers who’ve said it’s so nice to get a hug from the kids and who really embrace that experience. We have a really good time with it. I love seeing people enjoying and being fulfilled from volunteering.”

Even beyond her personal and corporate connections to JA, Wendee has seen the impact that’s happened within her family too. Wendee isn’t the only one passionate about JA curriculum in her household: her oldest daughter loves learning what her mom teaches. “It really has connected the two of us together,” Wendee relates. “I’m able to share with her what we learned in the classroom and that makes it very relevant to my family. I can share the stories from JA with my family and it helps them understand how important financial literacy and entrepreneurship are. I love that.”

When you support Junior Achievement, you give back to the students who need it the most. Volunteer in a classroom, make a gift and share your experience. Your partnership with Junior Achievement makes a lifetime of difference.




JA Helps Create a Ripple Effect in the Community

As both the Principal of Tomahawk Elementary School and Executive Director of the Cloud L. Cray Foundation, Brian Watson greatly values financial literacy and economic education for kids from grades K-12. “Every kid, every family needs to learn about commerce, finance, and how money works and can work for them,” Brian says. It’s this passion that drives the commitment to Junior Achievement.

When JA President & CEO Megan Sturges Stanfield approached the Cloud L. Cray Foundation several years ago to share her view and vision for Junior Achievement, Brian was excited to get involved and work together to support financial literacy.

It’s important to Brian and the Cloud L. Cray Foundation to help children learn to save effectively, stay away from predatory lending and avoid credit card debt. “We feel as a foundation that if we can teach our kids at a young age how to navigate the waters of finance, it will lift all of society,” Brian shares. “Junior Achievement checks that box and we’ve always felt like it’s been a good opportunity for us as an organization.”

With two children who are now adults, Brian knows the challenge that comes with educating your own children on important principles. “It’s kind of like teaching your kids how to swim,” Brian relates. “It’s really, really hard. It’s always positive to have students hear from someone else and learn from them how to manage their bank account, save for college and future needs.”

The statistics on financial literacy in America clearly show that this education must become a top priority. “Junior Achievement brings a ripple effect,” Brian says. “When a student learns a lesson and goes home to share that with mom, maybe they’re able to make smart choices as an adult and end the cycle of poverty. That child sparks a ripple effect.”

“Junior Achievement is making a difference in that capacity,” Brian adds. “I have lots of parents come up to me at Tomahawk Creek Elementary and thank me for bringing Junior Achievement to the classroom. They don’t talk about finances with their kids at home as much as they’d like to, and they value this education.”

As the Principal of Tomahawk Elementary School, Brian sees the impact of JA firsthand. “Their strong curriculum works really well,” Brian says. “These kids are like sponges, so when someone from the community comes in, it’s another perspective and voice for them to hear. I feel really positive about having volunteers in the classroom.”

Brian had a special experience as he watched his sixth graders go through the JA It’s My Future program. The sixth graders were visiting University of Missouri - Kansas City, learning from college kids and touring the campus. “This young man said, ‘Mr. Watson, thank you for setting that up. Nobody in my family went to college and now I'm going to go. It looks like so much fun,’” Brian relates. “He was very enthused about seeing a college campus . . . and that wouldn’t have happened without the Junior Achievement program.”

“What I appreciate about JA is the fact that they utilize volunteers in the community to deliver this information to kids,” Brian notes. “We're counting on organizations like Junior Achievement to deliver meaningful experiences to these kids.” For Brian and the Cloud L. Cray Foundation, Junior Achievement has become an extension of their mission to provide financial literacy instruction and financial freedom to kids in the Kansas City area.

To future Junior Achievement volunteers, Brian says, “Just try it out. These kids will look up to you and they will see nothing but positive.” Besides bringing priceless education to the classroom, volunteers have an impact far beyond that. “You’re having a positive influence on the next generation of kids when they’re not getting many positive outside influences,” Brian adds. “This is a chance to go into the world and have a positive impact.”

At Junior Achievement, volunteers and donors empower the next generation with financial literacy education that makes a difference. As a part of Junior Achievement, you have a positive impact on kids across Kansas City.

“JA has ignited the fire in me to step up and be an influencer to young women"

Underground Social member Caylee Knox calls her Junior Achievement volunteer experience “one of the best I’ve had so far in life. I truly believe in the importance of mentoring young women and showing love and support in hopes they will pay it forward someday.”

Caylee’s first foray into JA was as a mentor through the Underground Social and JA partnership event, “Success Suits Her.” The event paired professional women mentors with high school students and empowered the young women with donated professional attire. Caylee felt uncertain walking into Crossroads Academy this spring as she launched her Junior Achievement volunteer expereince. “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she reflects. “It can be tough to stand in front of a group of high school girls.”

But it all changed when she met the teens. “When the girls walked in, they were excited to see us. They just radiated.”

Despite obvious nerves, the girls at the Success Suits Her Event were all energy. “As soon as you start working with them one on one,” Caylee shares, “complimenting their taste, asking questions about who they are, what they're interested in, they opened up so quickly.”

Caylee enjoyed seeing the girls light up as she coached them to find a professional outfit that would complement their personality. “I could see their confidence grow as we picked up clothes they loved and that they were going to look great in them,” Caylee adds. “They were all complimenting each other, coming out and showing us. That was so much fun to watch.”

Caylee’s own experience with mentorship taught her how priceless the connection could be. “Mentorship has been huge for me,” Caylee shares. “Looking back, my own mentor took me under her wing. I understand the importance of mentorship from a standpoint of shaping you and making an impact that’s lifelong.”

While fortunate to have walked the path that led her to become Client Success Manager at the Coffman Group, Caylee recognizes that many young women don’t have the knowledge they need to achieve their dreams. “All they need is someone to look up to that they respect and admire to encourage them to make better decisions or go for their goals,” Caylee notes. “Another shining light in their lives can give them the support and encouragement to go for it. That was really attractive to me about Junior Achievement.”

Caylee brings a personal touch of kindness to each event she attends. When one of her mentees finally found the perfect blazer with a small tear, Caylee knew what to do. “She didn’t know anyone who could sew, so I just took it,” Caylee remembers. “I was like, ‘Are you okay with me taking it to my tailor and she’ll just fix it?’ She beamed and gave me a hug. When I gave the repaired blazer to her at the Future Women’s Leadership Forum, she was glowing. It was adorable on her. It was probably one of the sweetest moments ever because she was so appreciative.”

While interacting with the Junior Achievement young women at Crossroads Academy, Caylee was impressed by their focus on the future. “I was very moved by my mentee, Nola,” Caylee says. “Her maturity and her drive were impressive. She had already planned her summer jobs and was nervous about her savings plan. She really opened up and had such an open mind about what to do with her money. I was impressed that by her age she had that kind of mindset.”

Caylee’s Junior Achievement experiences have had an impact on her entire life. “It's ignited the fire in me to step up and make it a priority in my life to be an influencer to young women,” Caylee shares. “I'm passionate about bringing up future women because we need to turn this ship around.” Through Junior Achievement, Caylee builds meaningful relationships that motivate her to continue being a leader.

“Every person I've met at Junior Achievement just radiates integrity, support, love, passion, and encouragement,” Caylee adds. “It's just there naturally. Nothing's forced. You have a mission and you live it. You can feel it as soon as you meet everyone in the organization. It's definitely contagious.”

As a mentor, YOU inspire the next generation like Caylee. Giving back to Junior Achievement builds relationships that make a difference in the world.

“All of us left that day feeling like we had an impact."


When Myron King’s entire ad agency shut down for a day of global service, he seized the opportunity to partner with Junior Achievement and spend the day volunteering in a sixth grade Kansas City classroom. And the day was life-changing for Myron and all his colleagues at VMLY&R.

“When I received the packet of information we’d be sharing with the students, I was at first intimidated by the sheer density,” Myron remembers. “How will we be able to master the curriculum? But when we showed up at the school, it was such a warm experience. The JA staff welcomed us with open arms and lowered our anxiety level quite a bit about being in a classroom with kids. They told us to rely on what we know as successful professionals and as individuals with a unique story.” And it worked.

Myron’s mission for the day was to open up to the students and help them embrace the content. Using the tools and preparatory materials JA provided, and his own experience as a Managing Director at VMLY&R, Myron was able to facilitate an amazing learning experience.

Before he knew it, Myron was surrounded by kids engaging in mergers and acquisitions, watching as they embraced the subject matter wholeheartedly. “We were maybe there for seven hours, but it felt like three at best,” Myron says. “We were able to bring some of what we do in our digital profession into the classroom and had the students all build marketing plans for businesses they wanted to build.”

“All of us at VMLY&R left that day feeling like we had an impact,” Myron shares. “So of course, we decided that we wanted to stay involved with Junior Achievement.”

Every kid deserves someone in their corner. “Junior Achievement provides access to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a person like me,” Myron says. “Junior Achievement should be credited for creating this conduit between individuals that have accomplished and overcome and achieved certain things in their lives and the individuals who would be motivated by their lessons.”

As he got ready to volunteer in the classroom, Myron put himself back in his own sixth grade shoes. “Imagine what it would have meant for someone like you — your future self — to come back and tell you things that would help you later in life. It's literally the closest thing you'll get to a time machine,” Myron says. “That's one thing that makes Junior Achievement unique. You’re able to share your experiences and impart wisdom. The students may not remember your name, but they will remember what you said and how they felt when you said it.” Junior Achievement ignites a spark in young people.

Putting the JA business curriculum into play, Myron split the sixth-grade into groups as executive leadership teams of their own companies. And Myron’s fears that the sixth graders would be a tough crowd? He experienced the very opposite: sparks flew. “The whole classroom lit up at times,” Myron remembers. “It was an electrifying sort of experience. I kind of get chills just thinking about how that went.”

For the whole team at VMLY&R, giving back to JA means building their creative pipeline for the future. “I’d like to facilitate these kinds of opportunities so that we are both helping with the mission of Junior Achievement and also extending our recruitment of populations that are underrepresented,” Myron says. “Those voices and perspectives are going to help sustain our industry in the next 5, 10, 15 years.”

For professionals considering volunteering with Junior Achievement, Myron has some inspiration. “Don't underestimate the value of your experiences. Don't underestimate the impact just an hour of your time could have just in sharing your story or your time with the kids who wouldn't otherwise hear it.”

When you give back to Junior Achievement, it’s your chance to ‘travel back in time’ and empower the next generation to reach their full potential. Your advice and encouragement is priceless — because every child deserves to believe in themselves, and to have the tools to do it.

"I learned what I need to do to plan for my future.”

For Martin City Elementary fifth graders, just one day in JA built new ideas for their future and new confidence to accomplish their dreams. And it all happened when volunteers from Fishtech, a Martin City-based company with a global footprint, volunteered in their classroom. “I feel pretty inspired because I learned so many new things,” says fifth grader Daniel Gamboa. “Now I know what I need to learn to have a career like theirs. I learned what I’d get to do in my dream job! I learned what I need to do to plan for my future.”

While learning JA curriculum focused on careers, Martin City Elementary students discovered new career paths and the education they would need to get there. “I really didn’t know these types of jobs existed,” Daniel says. “But JA helped me pick what I want to have as a job.” And with Fishtech’s office just minutes away from Martin City Elementary, it was easy for children to visualize themselves working for the company someday.

Fishtech’s Vice President of Human Resources, Johnna Meyer, was part of a team that taught this curriculum. “We talked to the students about career options and how to get to their final destination,” Johnna remembers. “We tried to encourage them as well, to think about things they enjoy doing and how they can apply that to what their lifetime career selection might be.”

“I'm really into the scientific stuff,” Daniel reflects. “I would be interested in being a scientist, biologist, marine biologist and archaeologist.” The digital aspects of Fishtech were especially intriguing for Daniel.


For Johnna, getting to know the students individually was a highlight of the experience. “These kids were so excited to investigate their options going forward,” Johnna says. “We even started talking about entrepreneurship.”

The lesson extended beyond exploring different career paths, when students learned how to actually get the jobs they wanted. As they discovered what it takes to succeed as professionals, students put the puzzle pieces of their career path together. “It was interesting to learn how you get a salary and what you need to learn, like a master’s degree or medical degree,” Daniel adds. “I learned what type of degree I need to get so I can plan for my future.”

Fifth grader Khari Spaulding also felt inspired to create her vision of the future. And what she learned in JA empowered her. “I know more about what I want to set on for the future,” she explains. “What if I want that job? I was scared that when I got to that point, I wouldn't know what to do. But now, I feel pretty confident.”

Johnna loves seeing the look in a student’s eye when the curriculum just clicks. Students begin to see their future in a new way. “Some of those kids really got into it,” she remembers. “Being able to see that you can make a difference in somebody's life is rewarding.”

Jennie Hanna, Fishtech’s PR and Communications Manager, sees how volunteering with Junior Achievement gives their company a unique opportunity to educate an upcoming generation. “Working within cyber security, we have a real interest in helping to build the pipeline,” Jennie notes. “There are projections that there will not be the talent to fill the number of jobs available in even 10 years. It's fun to be able to talk to kids and say, ‘You can do this.’”

Learning about careers available at Fishtech gave Khari a look into new possibilities. “Those guys have pretty cool jobs, I'm not gonna lie,” she smiles. “I want to work with technology. I could work at Fishtech. I could work at an engineering company, whatever I want, because I’ve got a good hold on STEM.”

And partnering with a school in their own backyard was especially meaningful, Jennie explains. “When I was able to tell the students where I worked,” Jennie says, “there were a couple of little gasps of recognition, like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know, that building. I drive by it.’ I was able to say to them: I walk by your school when I go for a walk at lunchtime. We are neighbors.”

Volunteering with Junior Achievement was an exciting team-building activity for Fishtech. “Everybody was so excited that day, it was just this buzz around the office,” Johnna remembers. “It was great to see the teams working together to prepare for the day.” Fishtech took the opportunity to encourage people from different departments to work together, build relationships and unite as a total organization. “It was great to share our stories at the end of the day and say, ‘Okay, how did you feel like you made an impact today?’ Everybody was just happy and excited.”

To future Junior Achievement volunteers, Johnna says, “It's not only developing a relationship with the students and seeing that they really appreciate you coming there and talking with them, but it's also developing a relationship with the teachers. They appreciate the fact that you are coming in and sharing your life experiences with these kids and giving them something that they can look forward to someday,”

Every kid deserves to believe in themselves — and to have the tools to do it. When you give back to Junior Achievement, you give kids like Daniel and Khari the chance to envision a new future for themselves and the world.

“Every job in the world, a woman can do."

Without positive role models, it can be difficult for young women to envision themselves being successful. But for Crossroads Academy sophomore Imani Berry, that all changed at Junior Achievement’s Future Women’s Leadership Forum. “I see now that women can do everything,” she says. “Every job in the world, a woman can do. Future Women’s Leadership Forum opened my eyes to new jobs I didn't think were possible. I learned that there are people out there who are trying to help me, and who want to see me fulfill my dream."

Imani isn’t alone in her transformation. Young women from high schools across the KC metro were paired with professional female mentors for a day of empowerment, mentorship and learning at the Future Women’s Leadership Forum on April 9, 2019.

“When I met my mentor, we clicked almost instantly,” says sophomore Mari’Sōl Johnson, who also participated in FWLF. “We were very similar. It was exciting to find someone who made me feel comfortable from the get-go.”

During the forum, students spent one-on-one time with their mentors and listened to a panel of expert women professionals during breakout sessions. This group interaction was a highlight for sophomore Julia Bond. “It was cool that we each got our own specific mentor, but all got to sit as a group,” she shares. “We had one-on-one time, but then we also got to meet a bunch of other people and hear different perspectives.”


Quiran Banks, also a Crossroads sophomore, formed a special connection with her mentor Klassie Alcine, Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships at Central Exchange. “She was so nice. I loved her. She told me what she did and all the steps that it took to get where she is today.”

Throughout the day, these young women learned important concepts that would determine their success in the near future. “The entire day consisted of us picking up different skills,” Mari’Sōl says. “I enjoyed learning how to manage money because I suck at saving! But I learned how to start doing it right now.”

In addition to financial and career and business-related topics, young women were educated on health and mental wellbeing in a session by Dr. Michelle Robin. “That was the biggest thing for me,” Quiran reflects. “It made me care about myself a lot more, my mental health and my body. These things are going to catch up to you at some point and then you're going to be stuck in a position where your health is declining. That really put things into perspective for what I need to change now.”

As professional women navigate the very real challenges of the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling, finding this kind of empowerment is priceless. “Future Women's Leadership really changed my perspective on the progress and work that women have put in,” Quiran shares. “Women had always been on the forefront, but they worked behind the scenes. They are finally being highlighted for the work that they do.”

Julia agreed. “Normally, when I think of banks, I just think of a whole bunch of old white men,” Julia explains. “But my mentor worked at one of the banks downtown. It's cool to see women like my mentor in the field and to know a woman in that field.”

Every young person deserves someone in their corner, and students found just that at FWLF. “When you have someone right there with you, helping alongside you,” Quiran says, “it doesn’t make you feel like you’re in this by yourself. You can always count on somebody else. It helps you go places and shows you that you mean something.”

“Future Women’s Leadership Forum showed me the importance of having older mentors,” Julia comments. “It was a really good experience to have people that have actually been through some of the stuff you have been through to listen to you.”

For Mari’Sōl, all the day’s lessons added up to a fresh, new perspective. “I learned things that I could apply to my life now and in the future,” Mari’Sōl adds. “Before, I wasn’t really thinking about the next step. But at Future Women’s Leadership Forum, I started to change my thinking.”

And for people who want to give back through Junior Achievement, Mari’Sōl has a message: “You shouldn’t be scared to be a mentor or a volunteer, because you don’t know how much of an impact you’re going to have on a young girl’s life. You could really change their perspective on everything. It can push them to be better than they were that day. So don't feel like you need to limit yourself when you really can make a change in someone else's life.”

When you give back to Junior Achievement, you have an impact on the next generation. Thank you for empowering young women like Imani, Julia, Quiran and Mari’Sōl when you support Junior Achievement.

"You'll get more back than you'll ever give."

Vercie Lark is on a mission to inspire a million millionaires. “People think I’m crazy,” he says. “It won’t happen in my lifetime, but it’s not hard to set the seeds in motion.” And he’s planting those seeds with Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City. As a former Executive Vice President and Head of DST Financial Services, Vercie has witnessed firsthand the great need for financial literacy and career education. This drives his dedication and passion to inspire and support Junior Achievement students.

While leading the financial services sector of DST Systems, Vercie reviewed the balances of millions of financial accounts and saw just how unprepared people were for retirement. “It opened my eyes to the problems people in America face,” Vercie shares. “Most people don’t get good financial advice early in their lives and they don’t have investments to secure their living.” Vercie spent time with executives in the financial industry and saw them struggle to solve this problem.

“I want to teach people to take care of themselves, to be philanthropic enough to take care of their families and communities, and to create businesses and new jobs that are self-sustaining,” Vercie says. Junior Achievement supports Vercie’s mission as he strives to empower youth with financial literacy and business knowledge.

When Vercie was in high school, he was involved in Junior Achievement through his electronics class. Vercie learned business principles as he and his classmates built products to sell at a JA conference. Years later, Vercie transferred those skills into his entrepreneurial business and also applied them to his day to day career. “Junior Achievement was a way to get engaged with something I was exposed to in high school,” Vercie explains. “I wanted to reconnect there and help spark in the minds of the youngsters that they can be an executive or start a business.”

Vercie recently presented financial literacy principles as a Junior Achievement volunteer at William Chrisman High School in Independence, MO. He encouraged students to see education as an investment in their future, empowered them to look at their own spending with a critical eye and ultimately helped them with practical tools for their futures. As he instructed students on investment principles, he told them, "If you start now, you can become wealthier than you can even imagine someday. I want you to become wealthy, come back to William Chrisman in your 40s and tell your story to those students. That's how we create real change in our communities."

Vercie came from humble beginnings but quickly learned that knowledge is the key to success. “My father said, ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ I took that to mean, ‘I did the best I could with what I knew.’” Throughout his career, Vercie saw examples of those who were ready for retirement and those who weren’t. When he was asked to be the executive sponsor of his organization’s young professionals network group, Vercie was overwhelmed with countless questions about career and finances from the group’s young members.

“I wondered, how can I take knowledge from my life and impart that?” Vercie’s answer was to write his first book, Make it Rain, a guide to increasing wealth and financial security. As he’s able to teach more and more people, Vercie looks forward to a financial literacy ripple effect. “If I can reach 5,000 people directly,” he says, “in a few generations, we’ll see a million millionaires.”

Junior Achievement is a forum for Vercie to have a direct impact on the next generation. “We’re catching young people at an impressionable age,” Vercie remarks. “If I can help these youngsters, that’s a good thing. I will spend my time trying to help these young people avoid the mistakes I’ve seen made, create a better life for themselves and be able to re-invest in their community.”

Vercie took the leap and made a difference with Junior Achievement. Today, he encourages others to do the same. “If you’re on the fence, give it a try,” he says. “You’ll get more back than you ever give.”

When you volunteer give back to Junior Achievement, you share priceless knowledge with the next generation. Every kid deserves a mentor in their corner. Share your insights and ensure a better future for everyone. Become part of Junior Acheivement today.

"To light that fire in students... is what keeps me coming back."

When Jackie Loya-Torres became Community Development Officer at Commerce Bank, she leaned into her responsibility of creating relationships in the community and leading the bank’s inclusivity efforts. Determined to practice what she preached, Jackie became a bilingual Junior Achievement classroom volunteer.

For many of the children Jackie teaches, understanding that banks can be helpful for managing money and paying bills effectively can be a big learning curve.  “Junior Achievement is really looking to impact classrooms with the most economic need, and that’s in perfect alignment with our efforts at Commerce Bank,” Jackie says.

Financial literacy is critical for success as an adult, but data indicates what a challenge it is. A 2018 study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that nearly half of the emerging adults participating in the study were financially precarious (32 percent) or financially at-risk (36 percent). Children are entering adulthood without the adequate financial abilities they need for their future — and one reason Jackie volunteers with JA is her drive to equip children for success.

Through her work in the Kansas City community, Jackie understood that many economic groups had no relationship with financial institutions. These families may include immigrants or refugees unfamiliar with how the United States economy works. “For me, it was so gratifying to see the diversity in the (JA) classroom,” Jackie relates.

“These children live on the fringe of our economic system,” Jackie explains. “So I do a lot of education around what U.S. banks do and how they can be helpful. I’ll ask, ‘Do you know what a bank is? Have you ever been inside a bank?’ and describe what Commerce is and why banks are important. It was very appealing to me that I could have an impact in that role.”

While volunteering with second and fourth grade JA students at M.E. Pearson Elementary in Kansas City, Kansas, Jackie discovered that some of the children weren’t proficient in English — and that’s when her Spanish came into play. As a bilingual volunteer, Jackie was able to meet her students where they are and educate them in a familiar language. “It was fun to utilize my Spanish and my experience as a daughter and granddaughter of immigrants to teach,” Jackie says.

As she led a Junior Achievement lesson that discussed businesses in the community, Jackie was able to show her students the role models in their own neighborhoods. She pointed out nearby stores owned by people with similar backgrounds as the children in class — people who came to the country the same way as many of them did — in order to bring the lesson home and help the students see themselves in some of the success around them.

“In one instance, we started talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up,” Jackie shares. “This little boy said he wanted to be a roofer like his dad. I said to him, ‘Hijo, that is a wonderful job because everyone needs a good roof on their house. But did you ever think that maybe you could own the roofing business?’ To light that fire in students, that they could be the employers instead of being the employees, is what keeps me coming back.”

For Jackie, the most rewarding part of being a Junior Achievement volunteer is inspiring a child to see a life they hadn’t seen for themselves before. With easy-to-understand curriculum and flexibility to ensure that the commitment fits in her work schedule, Jackie continues to make an impact on classrooms with Junior Achievement. “The great thing about the Junior Achievement curriculum is that it’s so easy for a volunteer to pick up and do,” Jackie shares. “It’s also flexible enough that you can pivot to make the lesson relevant to your class. Junior Achievement makes it so easy to volunteer. The curriculum is easy to follow. Anybody can do it. It’s really so simple. It gets you out of your head for an hour and it’s an important reminder of what matters as we go about our day.”

As a volunteer, Jackie appreciates the flexibility of Junior Achievement. “You can work out when you teach with your teacher and spread lessons out over a longer period of time or do them all more closely together,” Jackie explains. “You can even do the curriculum in a day if you can’t commit long term. Getting it done in a day with a team of people you work with is also a great team builder.”

When you volunteer with Junior Achievement, you help the children who need it most learn life-changing financial and entrepreneurial skills. Do your part to teach the next generation and become a part of Junior Achievement today.

“If I wanted to be a professional basketball player, this was like having NBA stars in my classroom."

Mrs. Meeks Class at Lee A. Tolbert

After pitching her business idea to a panel of real business owner judges, Zoe Scott earned the title of aspiring entrepreneur.

Thanks to several weeks of Junior Achievement curriculum, Zoe knew just what it took to formulate a viable business idea and successfully pitch the product to investors.

Zoe’s idea came from a challenge she faces every day: a way-too-heavy backpack. Wouldn’t it be great, she imagined, if there were a solution to carrying home all my textbooks? Her solution is an app called Excellence, a digital textbook platform that allows students to access their textbooks anytime, anywhere.

“You don’t have to worry about forgetting your textbook,” Zoe explains. “That actually happened to me yesterday!” With her digital textbook app, Zoe would help kids just like her take a load off their backpacks and always have textbooks available.

With three entrepreneurial judges in the sixth grade classroom to hear her idea, Zoe’s Junior Achievement lessons came to life. “It was amazing,” Zoe says. “They were talking to me about what to do. That motivates me to actually do it and be better.”

Having real-world entrepreneurs in her classroom was transformational for Zoe. “If I wanted to be a professional basketball player, this was like having NBA stars in my classroom,” she reflects. Seeing men and women who have achieved what she hopes to achieve someday was life-changing.

Entrepreneurs at Lee A. Tolbert

Among the other entrepreneurial business ideas Lee A. Tolbert Academy students created were an indestructible phone company, an interactive car seat company and an animal care company. Supporting her students throughout their entrepreneurial journey was their teacher, Mrs. LaTonya Meeks. “As a teacher, my goal has always been to build personal relationships with all of my kids,” Mrs. Meeks shared. “Having Junior Achievement come in and seeing my students’ interests go off the radar was amazing to me! Without JA, I never would have learned that I had students interested in entrepreneurship,” Mrs. Meeks added.

In the JA It’s My Business! program, Zoe and her classmates learned to use critical thinking and problem solving as they developed entrepreneurial skills like understanding customer needs, launching effective marketing, and creating detailed business plans. “We are blessed to have this opportunity,” Zoe says about her Junior Achievement class. “We can discover what we want to do to change the future for all of us.”

One of the lessons that stuck with Zoe is the concept of consumer testing. She remembers a video about the product testing McDonald’s uses to select menu items. “They ask people to see which one they like best and get the community’s opinion,” Zoe explains. “That way they don’t just put something out there that no one’s buying.” In this segment of the curriculum, Zoe examined the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs in order to learn from their experience.

Lamonte Stanfield, a JA classroom volunteer-mentor, led Mrs. Meeks’ class through the JA curriculum. Lamonte works professionally as an engineer and donates his time as a JA volunteer. Zoe and her teacher were impressed with how open Lamonte was in the classroom. After learning Lamonte has been an athlete and overcame many obstacles to get where he is today, Zoe was excited to ask questions and learn more. “I don’t have anyone to tell me that stuff,” she says. “It’s a privilege for me to understand how to overcome a challenge so I can actually accomplish my goals.”

Zoe at Lee A. Tolbert

As a Title 1 school, more than 90% of students at Lee A. Tolbert Academy are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Some students deal with troubling circumstances like homelessness or abuse. “You name the obstacle, we probably have a few kids who’ve been through it,” Mrs. Meeks shares. “It’s amazing when someone takes their time to come out to help us. Sometimes our school is overlooked. With all the things these kids have been through, this is another way to take their mind off that and be happy.”

“Junior Achievement is so beneficial to them because they don’t get lessons like these at home,” Mrs. Meeks says. “If they aren’t exposed to concepts like entrepreneurship and financial literacy, they don’t know. That exposure inspires them to create our future.”

In addition to learning business concepts, Zoe came to understand powerful principles she can apply to her life. “You don’t have to have your whole idea at once,” Zoe notes. “You can take your time. It’s like writing a book. You write a little each day. Then, you edit. It’s a step-by-step process.”

Many students find that what they learn about entrepreneurship can be applied to whatever dream they have for the future. “Mr. Lamonte taught us that if you follow what you’re told and do what’s right, you’ll get there,” Zoe says. She learned to apply this same lesson to her schoolwork and increased her drive to continue learning and growing.

Zoe Scott is one of the 80 million students Junior Achievement has touched since its beginnings in 1919. “We appreciate Junior Achievement so much because they took a chance on Tolbert,” Mrs. Meeks says. “Sparks were made and those gaps in the future are filled all because of JA.”

When you give to Junior Achievement, you give kids like Zoe and her classmates a chance to thrive. Help empower our youngest generation to make a difference in the future and become a part of Junior Achievement today.

From JA student to JA board member

Nearly two decades before becoming a Junior Achievement board member, Aladdin Ashkar was a JA student at Immaculata High School in Leavenworth, KS, and the President of Raider-Aid. “The premise of the Junior Achievement class was that we were going to create a business, from A to Z, and compete with other classes to see whose business could be the most successful,” Aladdin remembers. This idea excited him immediately. Raider-Aid, a school-themed sports drink he and his classmates created for their high school Junior Achievement class, made a lifelong impact on Aladdin.

As the type of kid who expanded his corner lemonade stand with snacks to boost his profits, Aladdin had always thought entrepreneurially. He loved the idea of building revenue in a fun way. From mowing lawns in the summer to shoveling snow in the winter, Aladdin had the entrepreneurial spirit to take initiative and solve a problem.

Voted by his classmates to be President of their new venture, Aladdin led his JA team to create a new sports drink for their school named after their mascot, the Immaculata High School Raiders. “It was really fun to create a business from scratch,” Aladdin remembers. “We started by doing homework on how to get this idea to a product level.”

After exploring beverage distribution companies in Kansas City, these high school students started making calls and figuring out details like pricing and label production. Step by step with the support and guidance of Junior Achievement’s curriculum, they learned how to create a sports drink that they could market and sell at high school events.

“We had to raise capital to buy our first shipment, so we collected money from the class and everyone became a shareholder,” Aladdin adds. “We tripled, quadrupled and quintupled the initial investment money. It took off so well that at the end of the session, the school incorporated the product full time into their concession stands.”

Because of his Junior Achievement experience as a student, Aladdin knew he wanted to have a career in the business world. As Vice President and Principal Relationship Manager at Wells Fargo, Aladdin is a champion of small business owners. “Not everyone knows that bankers are a great resource for business knowledge,” Aladdin points out. He enjoys seeing his clients do well in their entrepreneurial ventures and offering his input to help them succeed.

Junior Achievement taught Aladdin that you can create something of your own. “When you’re in high school and college, you’re told to get a job,” Aladdin says. “But success doesn’t have to be the status quo. There are so many ways to succeed if you understand the basic concepts of business that Junior Achievement teaches.”

His JA education also taught him the kind of legacy a little ingenuity can leave. Raider-Aid’s popularity didn’t stop when Aladdin graduated. While the school closed its doors in 2017, Raider-Aid was a staple at concession stands for many years. It’s one of many reasons that he gives back to Junior Achievement, today as a volunteer and member of the Junior Achievement Board of Directors.

As a Board member, Aladdin enjoys teaching financial literacy and entrepreneurship to a new generation of students. In Kansas City schools, including Center Elementary and George Washington Carver Elementary, Aladdin teaches the basics of budgeting, saving money and financial life skills that change a child’s future.

“When we volunteer, Junior Achievement provides the lesson plans and we meet over five or six sessions of class to teach these concepts,” Aladdin explains. “Not only is it rewarding, but it’s also really cool to see their eyes light up. Junior Achievement makes it fun to teach kids.”

As a previous student of Junior Achievement, giving back as an adult has given Aladdin a great feeling of fulfillment. “Early in your career when you’re just trying to get ahead, it’s all about you. Now, I’ve had success in my career. It’s time to give back,” Aladdin shares. “If you can give back a little bit of knowledge to help even one person make a difference in their life, you’ve had a greater impact than you could ever dream of.”

What means the most to Aladdin about being a part of Junior Achievement is the focus on children. “What more could you want than for kids to have access to all the advantages anyone could have?” Aladdin asks. “Junior Achievement provides the lessons for kids to have a chance. They will create a better future for everyone.”

Aladdin’s own Junior Achievement class was the trigger for what he would do for the rest of his life. “All of that has driven my career up to this point,” Aladdin relates. “If I can inspire one kid to explore a new career, that would be a rewarding impact.”

Give back and make an impact like Aladdin. Become a part of Junior Achievement and inspire young people to succeed in a global economy.

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  • "Junior Achievement exposed me to different careers and opportunities and it was very inspirational."

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