LOCATION: Junior Achievement of Chicago
Has the team had to overcome any obstacles to be successful and get to the national competition?
I think the biggest obstacle for this team was the fact that this is the very first year that JA Company Program was implemented at our school, so the learning curve for both the students and myself was tremendous. We set our goal (Mandy Austin, our local representative, Harry Bond, our JA Volunteer, and myself) to pilot this program as an in-school program at our Career Center to demonstrate the learning potential for not just our school, but for the sixteen regional high schools that fed into our Career Center. Mandy and Harry had the goal of bringing the program to additional schools, and involving more businesses in our area in the future, so the expectations were very high for the small group of students piloting the program this year. Since I had never done the program before, it was a “learn as you go” and the students were faced with very real "on the job training". There were weeks where the structure we planned was totally redone as we learned a better, more effective way to teach the concepts while still meeting the JA schedule structure for the program.
Since we are a regional career center, students involved in this company did NOT attend the same high school, nor would they have the opportunity to meet after school to run this company. The company was small -- only 10 employees total – and the students represented 6 different schools from three different counties. They came from multiple ethnic, financial and cultural backgrounds, coming together for two hours per day in a blended setting. Geographically, they were 20-40 miles apart, with different district schedules. This meant that all of the production, marketing, financials and report writing had to occur during regular class time and work around the schedules of multiple school districts that were not the same. This meant an extreme amount of shared responsibilities of management and production departments. One of the special things about this team is the fact that under normal circumstances, these students would be unlikely to ever meet, let alone work on a project of this magnitude together. They truly represent real miniature business, and the student gain significant insight into how they will need to work with people who come from very diverse backgrounds and with very different talents and personalities in business.
Have the teams faced any significant hurdles that they had to work together to problem-solve as a team?
This team did 100 percent of production in class for their product. They learned every step of the production process and developed an organized system of assembly, quality control and customization to keep track of their inventory. The product sold easily and quickly and one of their biggest hurdles was dealing with the sheer volume of custom orders and how to keep track of when the orders were needed by, whether the customer had paid or not, and who sold it and actually produced it. They quickly developed a custom order form to track colors, covers, customization and quality control. Their vice president of production spent much of his time learning a database system to track everything from order date to product number. This taught them the importance of detail in the paperwork they did. The experienced lost paperwork, incomplete paperwork and ultimately made a company decision to sacrifice individual commissions for about $85 in sales because they could not reproduce accurate records that matched sold product numbers with sales slips for their first week of sales.
Their other big problem-solving situation was determining how to split their net profit between the shareholders and their donation. At the point they had to make that decision, they had learned the importance of their board meetings in enabling every person to have a voice in the decision making process. It was a joy to watch them present the issue, discuss all the options, respect each others' opinions, and reach a consensus in an organized meeting.
Do the teams have an innovative, original product that they will be showcasing at the JA Company of the Year competition?
Their product was small, but proved to be extremely versatile. It was an adaption to a product seen in a fundraiser catalog, and they changed its features to allow it to match their mission of customizing their communities. They wanted to offer a product that really allowed for customization and that related to the individuality of their customers. They were proud of their "clip-its" and ultimately learned the real meaning of market segments, discovering they had a great deal more customers than they originally thought. They also realized the meaning of providing value through their donation. Being able to market their product with the added benefit of donating a portion of the profits to a local charity dramatically increased their sales. A 100-page, circular notepad that can clip onto a purse or be used as a child's doodle pad on a long car trip was a simple idea that turned out to have much more appeal that they thought.
Do you know of any personal stories from the students that you think are compelling that they would be willing to share?
This is perhaps the most amazing thing about this team. A small group of students who set out to make an impact learned so much about themselves in the process – their ability to make a difference, learn about each other and experience "walking a mile in someone else's shoes." The students always wanted to donate a portion of their profits and searched for the right organization. They discussed the usual charities, and because it was October, considered donating to Breast Cancer awareness. One of the students shared a very personal story about domestic violence and an organization that offered shelter to victims of that violence. She asked the students to consider giving back to that organization, because she had first-hand knowledge about the positive impact of their services. Most of the students had no idea about what the organization did or even what the term "domestic violence" really represents. It was an educational experience for them, and they felt they could really make a difference locally by choosing this organization. So the student that suggested the organization, the president and vice president of public relations attended a Harbor House Board meeting and shared their story and desire to donate to the organization. I asked the student, Megan, and her mother if they were willing to share their story, and Megan typed her personal story for you below. It is an example of how a student went full circle from a victim to a survivor to someone who now feels a sense of duty to continue the work of an organization that made a difference in her family.
Other personal stories also exist with this group – tremendous success at the local, regional and national level as a first year program, a JA Volunteer who was part of a JA Company when he was in high school 40 years ago, extreme diversity in a very small company, creative thinking and real teamwork. I saw the benefits of this JA program first hand in a very small group of students and have become a huge advocate of what these young people experience and the amount of pride they take in sharing that knowledge.
Insight from a C2 Team Member: Megan Pilbeam
When I was younger, I went through things that children at such a young age shouldn’t go through or even witness. I lived in an abusive home and, though the abuse was aimed more toward my mother, my sister and I still saw it every day. We were afraid to do or ask for anything. Living in fear like that can really damage a person, especially the mind of a child. Fortunately, my family got out of that situation with a lot of help from Harbor House. Harbor House is a domestic violence shelter close to where I live. They provided my family with counseling, clothing, food and shelter. Though we didn’t stay at Harbor House long, we still got treated like family. I was young when I went, but I can still remember the help we received. That’s something I’ll never forget. My mom was a member with Harbor House for two years. My sister and I got to attend many events held there, but the one I remember most was a Halloween party. My sister was dressed as a pumpkin and I was a Dalmatian. At that party, I saw the smiles on my mom and sister’s faces and that alone let me know that everything from there on out was going to be okay.
As I got older and understood more about what Harbor House is and does, I made a promise to myself that I would do the best I can to, in my own way, help out. I know what it’s like to be in a position to have to go to Harbor House. I wanted other people there to know that they weren’t alone. I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to do a lot for Harbor House. I’ve donated lots of clothes there. I even participated in the “Telephone Tuesday” project at my school. When we started the JA Company Program and I found out that we could pick a charity to donate any extra profit to I immediately requested Harbor House. Being the Marketing Vice President, I also made sales goals for our company that would exceed the break-even point so Harbor House could get a donation from us. In the end, we were able to donate $202.10 to Harbor House. Giving them the check was the most exhilarating moment in my life, and I can only thank Junior Achievement for allowing me to do so.