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JA BizTown Alumna Returns to Junior Achievement to Pay it Forward

Kelli Sullens 1Among the most committed of Junior Achievement volunteers are typically JA alumni. Those who have experienced a personal transformation because of a JA experience in their youth often become powerful advocates as adults. Tawnya Hambly, public relations director of Junior Achievement of the Heartland, recently shared an article about just such an alumna: Kelli Sullens. The article appeared in the Jan. 15 edition of the Davenport, Iowa, Quad City Times.

When Sullens sees the inspiration in the students she teaches, she is reminded of the wonderful Junior Achievement experience she had when she was a student. Her fifth-grade year was highlighted by her participation in JA BizTown®. So when the opportunity arose for Sullens to volunteer with Junior Achievement, she quickly agreed to teach fifth-graders at McKinley Elementary School in Muscatine, Iowa. 

“The result has been an amazing experience in paying it forward,” Sullens said in the article. “When they asked for volunteers to teach JA, I signed up right away. I remember being very influenced by it when I was a student. It was truly fun, and I absorbed a lot of information from it. It was really a great experience that changed my life.”

Kelli Sullens 3

Sullens helps prepare students for participation in JA BizTown. Her own experience of running a newspaper in her elementary school’s version of JA BizTown helped her decide to major in journalism and public relations and to minor in entrepreneurship in college. Sullens likes the idea of “returning the favor and having an influence on young minds. The whole paying it forward idea and giving kids a reason to be excited were both very important to me.”

She seemed to have an immediate effect on the students she taught. “After the program, the students sent me cards about their impressions of it, and it was amazing to me to read them and see how it impacted them, the same way it had impacted me when I was that age,” Sullens said.

Sullens recommends becoming a JA volunteer to anyone. “JA is an outstanding program. It gives kids direction in life. I’m proof of that,” she said. “I would never have guessed that a one-day JA activity in fifth grade would have such an influence when choosing my degree and my career.”

Kelli Sullens 2

Photos courtesy of Quad-City Times. 


Corporate Volunteer Finds JA Experience Rewarding and Uplifting

classroomFirst-time JA volunteers often have no idea what to expect when they first step foot in a classroom. However, usually after just a few minutes of working with students, volunteers see how much their time and talent is appreciated and valued. Judy Knocke, senior operations manager for Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas, shared the sentiments of an excited volunteer who had just completed her first experience at JA Finance Park®.

JA Finance Park helps students build a foundation for making intelligent, lifelong, personal financial decisions through hands-on, realistic simulation experiences. The program includes in-school activities, culminating in the JA Finance Park simulation followed by a post-simulation assessment. Lillian German, a new JA volunteer and the director of U.S. Government Relations for Talisman Energy USA Inc., was assigned to a volunteer team at Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Texas, about 40 miles north of Houston.  

“We had an awesome day at Oak Ridge High School,” German said. “The day began at 7 a.m. and ended after 4 p.m. because we couldn't tear ourselves away from these students! The teachers and volunteers were outstanding and made us feel very comfortable with our four classes. While we were able to follow the JA curriculum, we tried to tailor our lessons to fit each class. Prior to each assignment, we were able to relate to the students our own backgrounds, challenges we overcame and how we achieved successful careers, as well as the fascinating work that Talisman does.”

German shared her perspective that for half of the students she worked with that day, their family and circumstances will ensure future success. But for the other 50 percent, programs like Junior Achievement are essential.

“I was amazed and deeply touched by the outpouring of personal experiences and shared ambitions, and have rarely seen such a great need for such mentoring. Please count me as an absolute fan and future volunteer,” German concluded.

Teens Continue Business Adventure Long After JA Program Ends

Extraordinary effort calls for extraordinary recognition. So when the board of directors and staff of Junior Achievement of San Diego County were preparing for their annual recognition gala, they immediately thought of two young men who deserved the remarkable recognition of induction into the area’s Hall of Fame.

Tanya Johnson, education manager, explained. “It was very clear to our staff and board members that these two young men were natural entrepreneurs and leaders. So for the first time ever, we inducted two bright, young gentlemen into our Hall of Fame and honored them at our annual gala in November as Young Entrepreneurs of the Year.”

According to Johnson, Andre and Josh enrolled in a high school class that participated in the JA Company Program®. JA Company Program provides entrepreneurship education for high school students as the students organize and operate an actual business enterprise. Andre served as president and Josh as the vice president of finance for “Place-Mate,” a company that creates and markets educational placemats for preschool-aged students. The customizable placemats are laminated and come with dry-erase markers. Place-Mate competed in the U.S. Company of the Year Competition in Washington, D.C., this past summer. Andre and Josh lead the effort to market their company’s products by approaching preschool coordinators at local school districts. At the conclusion of the experience, Andre and Josh didn’t want to quit.

Johnson said Andre and Josh decided to buy the remaining assets of the business and continue running it. “They formed an LLC (Limited Liability Company), found a manufacturer to produce their product more efficiently to increase market share, and they are currently having a website built.”

At the recognition gala, Josh and Andre were surprised to learn of their honors. Josh’s mother said the event was a night that Josh and Andre will remember forever. “The incredible honor that was bestowed upon them during the wonderful program and lovely evening was truly a milestone in their young lives,” Josh’s mom said. “Through JA Company Program, Josh has found his future direction, knowledge, and the confidence to pursue it.”

“Imagination at Work" with JA Alumna

ImageWhen Lauren Goldstein walked into GE for the first time as a high school junior to participate in the JA Company Program®, she had no idea she would end back up at the company six years later—this time as an employee. Lauren is now in her third rotation of the Financial Management Program (FMP), based at GE in Fairfield, Conn. She has come full circle in the JA program, now acting as a mentor to students as GE employees were to her. Jan Ursone, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest Connecticut, shared Lauren’s story.

“The JA program engaged my interest in business,” Lauren explained. “It really influenced my career path.” 

Lauren was introduced to Junior Achievement during elementary and middle school. During her sophomore year of high school, she participated in the JA Company Program, where she learned how to start her own business venture. Lauren was placed at GE her last two years and served as president of her JA company during her senior year, working with GE employees to create weekly agendas, develop the company’s strategy, and complete basic financial statements.

“I looked up to the volunteers and found a mentor who provided great insight and guidance during my early college years,” she said. “I had a deep respect for the company as whole. The GE culture is so committed to giving back to the community. We can’t even begin to understand the impact we are making on these students. To us, it is one day or a few hours out of the office, but it means so much to them.”

ImageLauren’s story is just one example of GE’s long-standing commitment to Junior Achievement. Through a combination of grant funding, skills-based volunteerism and employee contributions, GE works with Junior Achievement to support educational needs around the world; tutoring and mentoring in 27 countries. Over the last eight years, GE has given JA Worldwide more than $11 million, engaging more than 31,000 volunteers to impact more than 600,000 JA students. They recently pledged an additional $1.8 million and 6,100 volunteers for the 2013-2014 school year.

Lauren concluded, “If you have the time and really want to make an impact, volunteer to get involved with JA. It is great experience for students as well as yourself. JA is a great place to harness leadership skills and there is a lot to learn from the students.”

Photos courtesy of General Electric.

JA Company Program Experience Sparks Longstanding JA Engagement

Junior Achievement of Alaska’s president Flora Teo recently shared an article from the Alaska Business Monthly, which highlighted the many successes of the organization. Especially important was mention of a Junior Achievement of Alaska alumnus whose JA experience was so impactful, that it drove him to become a life-long volunteer and board member.

When high school student Rick Whitbeck first moved to Anchorage, he didn’t know anybody. So he signed up for a JA class and besides making new friends, he was instantly captivated by learning about business. JA Company Program® provided Whitbeck with entrepreneurial skills. By organizing and operating an actual business enterprise, he and his friends not only learned how businesses function, they also learned about the structure of the U.S. free enterprise system and the benefits it provides.

When Whitbeck was a senior in high school, he had the opportunity to attend the national JA conference where he met Donald Trump and Lee Iacocca. Business and economics have been his path ever since. His JA Company Program experience inspired him to join the board of directors of Junior Achievement of Alaska while he was in college—a position he still maintains. Additionally, he has spent hundreds of hours volunteering in the classroom, an experience that he said has been empowering.

One of the important lessons that Whitbeck learned from teaching Junior Achievement was that it isn’t always easy to make an impression on students. He remembers teaching a class in which one boy was particularly quiet while most of the other students asked and answered questions and participated in the discussion. After class, Whitbeck could only hope the boy had absorbed some of the knowledge he tried to share.

Several months later, the same boy recognized Whitbeck in public and approached him, thanking him for helping him understand that sometimes you have to give up something to get something else. The boy had put that realization to good use: He had been doing odd jobs for neighbors for a while and had saved his money to buy a brand new bike! He planned to use the new bike the next year as he started middle school.

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