Step Out of Your
Comfort Zone with JA
JA volunteer Dave Levine of IDEXX Laboratories in Westbrook has volunteered for JA for many years - read along to learn his story of getting involved and how he has remained dedicated to the mission throughout the years.
It all started for me with a posting on the IDEXX bulletin board looking for volunteers to help with the Junior Achievement Job shadow days. All I had to do was take some middle school students around for a couple of hours and show them the cool things I do. Lunch would be provided. Little did I know that my love for pizza and cookies would lead me to over 13 years of supporting JA and learning just as much from the kids as they have from me.
I was a little nervous for the first Job Shadow day, but I had a feeling it would be easy to impress the kids that came in with the robots, lasers, and other automation we use at IDEXX. I had done numerous tours before with customers and other employees but never with kids, or for this long. Any trepidation I had was instantly eliminated once I met the kids. Their enthusiasm resonated with me in a way that I was not expecting. They were so excited to learn, asking questions about everything. They quizzed me on the coolness of the equipment, why I liked my job, and even what they had to do to become an engineer like me. At that point I was hooked. I was able to enlist a couple of coworkers the following year to help and a new team was born. To keep with the eagerness the kids brought with them, we named ourselves “Team Awesome” and the name has stuck. Over the years, the Job Shadow day has grown, and we have added more and more activities for the students to perform and learn what it is like to be an engineer. The “Team Awesome” reputation grew to the point where students were requesting to join our group before even arriving. Just to know that kids were excited to come to IDEXX to learn makes me smile.
I enjoyed my experience so much, I wanted to find a way to do more. The problem I was facing was that the Job Shadow day only happened once a year. Waiting until February rolled around again was difficult. It was then that I found out about the JA Titan Challenge. I had heard about the level of competition and desire to win so when I was assigned a team after a brief training session, I was anxious. Helping high schoolers with a financial simulation game where you run a business in differing market conditions was not in my wheelhouse of skills. Being an engineer, I have never really had exposure to the business side of an organization, and I was worried that I would not be ready to help guide them appropriately. I was correct, in a way, but not for the reasons I thought. The three Juniors that were assigned to me had already played the game multiple times and arrived at IDEXX with their strategy in place. They taught me how to run the simulator and where to get all the reports to make sound decisions. Their Walmart strategy of medium quality product for a low price was good enough to place seventh in the state. I didn’t need to teach them, they taught me. What I could provide was the everyday experience that they had yet to acquire and be that sounding board they needed.
Next came a meeting with Jenna Jeffrey, the marketing and events coordinator for JA. If you have ever met Jenna, you will know that she can be very persuasive, in a good way. She pitched me a new opportunity, volunteering for the traditional in-classroom program. I have always loved teaching and had I not studied to be an engineer, I believe I would have followed a path to education. I jumped at the opportunity and selected the “JA Our City” program targeted at third graders. The program focuses on how money moves throughout a city and what someone would have to do to start their own business. I was able to share my personal experiences from within a company to bring practical importance to the classroom. After just the second of the five classes with Ms. Hamel’s students at Saccarappa Elementary School in Westbrook, I knew I had made a good decision. The kids were excited to have “Mr. Dave’” come in and teach. They asked so many insightful questions and we had wonderful discussions about the topics. They surprised me during the annual Maine Business Hall of Fame dinner when they stood up in front of hundreds of adults and described their experiences, their joy of learning. They even personally thanked “Mr. Dave” for helping and spending time with them. I have continued teaching 3rd graders at Saccarappa and look forward to many more years.
Being part of Junior Achievement has been a central part of making me a more complete and well-rounded person. I believe that JA has taught me as much as I have taught the students. Being with elementary students for the in-classroom program, middle schoolers for the job shadow and high schoolers for the JA Titan Challenge has opened my eyes to the additional needs of students that traditional school does not provide. JA fills that gap providing real-world experiences to all ages of students. The JA goal is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed, dream big and reach their potential. It would be appropriate to add that JA also teaches adults in the workforce to step outside of their own comfort zone and, in doing so, exceed their own potential. The future is bright as JA is preparing the youth to flourish. I feel honored to be part of such a fantastic organization and contribute, in my own small way, to the betterment of Maine students.
Dave's dedication to Junior Achievement has earned him the title of "2018-19 JA Volunteer of the Year". JA, our supporters, educators, and volunteers will convene to celebrate his honor at the 5th Annual JAM Fest event hosted on Tuesday, October 15th at Oxbow Brewing Company in Portland. For more info contact Jenna at email@example.com and sign up for the free event here.
JA is grateful for all that Dave, others at IDEXX, and all of our volunteers do to support Maine students each school year. To learn more about how to get involved with JA, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.