Our Start

In the Beginning

Junior Achievement (JA) has been teaching kids "how business works" in southwestern Virginia since July 1957.  Beginning under the chairmanship of Clem Johnston of Johnston-Vest Incorporated Junior Achievement of the Roanoke Valley successfully launched the Company Program which was held after school in several of the Roanoke Valley high schools reaching approximately 100 students.

An Era of Growth

The area board of directors had representation from at least 30 companies.  JA of the Roanoke Valley served five counties and their respective school systems.  The staff was only three strong with the bulk of the work on the shoulders of the President.   In the 1970s, the number of JA students continued to grow.  In recognition of the need for children in our country to gain as much knowledge as possible, the JA concept grew to include all ages.  Starting in 1975, JA nationally designed elementary and middle school program materials, now providing for grades K-12, with volunteers delivering programs in the classroom.

Reaching the Young

Research supported JA's move into elementary schools. "Starting to change a person's attitude, you have to start early making students realize the importance of an education and what positive roles they play in the workplace and community."   The elementary and middle school programs got their foothold in the country by the mid-1980s.  One of the first major increases for JA of Roanoke Valley in terms of student numbers took place between 1982 and 1986, with the number of students rising from 400 to 1,015 during that time. In 1992, the elementary programs were first launched in 14 public and private schools in Roanoke and surrounding communities.


Between the months of June and September of 1989 the JA board and staff realized their potential to serve students in a larger area and, in line with the national JA strategies to expand, the name JA of Roanoke Valley was changed to JA of Southwest Virginia.  This change increased the territory five counties to twelve and today JA of SWVA encompasses seventeen counties.


The 1990s showed us that anything was possible.  With the enlarged territory, new board members were added, bringing the number to 50. An advisory committee was formed to increase the JA program in the New River Valley.  It was the decade to launch signature special events: the Business Hall of Fame (AT&T sponsored), the "Par for the Kids" golf tournament (sponsored by Allstate), and the "Party in the Alley" bowlathon, which began in 1983 and has had sponsorship for the last five years from Kroger.  The century ended with over 400,500 students being served. 


Y2K created quite the buzz about a "new normal" based on the fear that technology based businesses may not make the seamless transition to a new century.  Thanks to our many entrepreneurs, statisticians, economists, bankers and "cool heads" we celebrated the many strategies that eliminated any major hiccups.  Nationally we experienced 09/11 and locally we dealt with a tragedy on the campus of Virginia Tech.  Each of these events made us pause and reassess how we would endure. Junior Achievement (JA) programs helped children and their families with dialogue about the strength of our country and the systems in place to keep our nation in tact.  JA's team of researchers and educators continue to develop relevant program content for grades K-12 that complement the Virginia Standards of Learning, and promotes personal finance as a result of the recession of 2007.  JA programs support project based learning, blended learning and JA Job Shadow experiences. They are the tools for young people to embrace owning their economic success.  This trend lends to increased high school graduation rates and post-secondary planning for high-growth careers. 

July 2017 marked the start of sixty years of Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia (diamond anniversary) and WXFR/Fox television captured the story of 60 individuals who participated in JA over the decades.  There have been 508,000 students impacted by our operation as we continue to focus on personal finance, work readiness and entrepreneurship.  

Making The Opportunity Possible

Historically, JA programs are the first to expose a child to the work world and for that reason, we want to make certain students get the exposure to lifelong lessons that will shape their adult life choices.  The JA program is offered to the schools free of charge and for that reason we are actively securing funds throughout the year.  JA of SW VA does not charge membership fees nor is it funded by the United Way, but is dependent on funding from corporations, foundations and individuals and public support from participation in our three scheduled special events: Bowl A Thon, Golf Tournament, and the Business Hall of Fame dinner.