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.