The Heat Is On

How would your teenage-self make a change for the future of your home state with $10,000?

This was part of the challenge the high school students involved in Junior Achievement of Northern California’s Social Innovation Camp encountered when they were brainstorming ways to bring about public awareness to the effects of climate change on the San Joaquin Valley.

The heat was on as 10 teams of high school students, who were complete strangers, gathered for 30 minutes to come up with a plan to address the issue at hand with a limited budget. They then were tasked with creating a presentation to display their plan to a panel of student and teacher-chaperone judges.

The high schoolers showed their innovative thinking by coming up with solutions that ranged from envisioning matching-grant social networking challenges and PSAs to conceptualizing recycling programs that targeted elementary schools.

Dina Siebenaler, an economics teacher at Kingsburg High School, commented, “It was a great experience for the students and they definitely learned a lot about public speaking, working with students from other schools, and researching a difficult social issue to inspire our community to make changes.”

The winning team came up with a plan that addressed the drought issue of the San Joaquin Valley, which has plagued this California region for many years. The San Joaquin Valley, according to Suburban Stats, is home to over 685,000 people, all of whom depend on water to drink, bathe, grow crops, and hydrate livestock. The solution of student Noelia Avila’s winning team revolved around an app that could track real-time water usage in homes so that households could be more aware of their water intake.

The winning team benefitted from more than the financial and climate challenge when they were asked about their experience. “I enjoyed how we were treated as adults to make the choices about our project. I also enjoyed that our group was independent to make our own decisions. I learned that it is difficult to put yourself out there in a situation where you don’t know anyone besides people at your school,” Avila said. “I also learned how important it is to work with everyone in your group, even if it is sometimes difficult to agree on the direction of the project.”

The runner-up team planned to implement an educational campaign, which included an app to teach elementary school children about the drought in the valley as well as learning the ways they could save water.

Throughout the competition, one thing was certain, California’s future looks brighter with the help of these innovative students.

To learn more about students who have made an impact on their community click HERE


Brown, Laura . "Students tackle climate change ." The Kingsburg Recorder . N.p., 21 July 2017. Web. 8 Aug. 2017.

The Present Teaching the Future

How would you feel standing in a class of 30 students teaching them principles they would use for the rest of their lives? Honored? Nervous? Excited? Empowered?

In the 2015-2016 school year, a total of 237,680 volunteers across the nation stepped up to teach 4,803,046 students from kindergarten to high school real-world concepts in areas of financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship with programs provided by Junior Achievement (JA).

For a group of Business Honors Program (BHP) students from the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce, studying advanced principles of business was not enough. The BHP students decided to take a reverse role, going from college student to teacher for their local community of Tuscaloosa.

The Culverhouse Business Honors Program “provides opportunities for outstanding Culverhouse undergraduates to enrich their business education. The program emphasizes class presentations by students, faculty, business leaders, and campus recruiters, as well as independent research and project work over two years of undergraduate study.”

These bright business students; studying accounting, marketing, management, finance, and economics, dedicated a total of 1,500 volunteer hours to various nonprofits in their community. Fortunately, one of the nonprofits was Junior Achievement in Tuscaloosa. College students who participated in teaching students in their local schools not only shared their passion for business but they were also able to impact the future of the Tuscaloosa community.

Senior and finance major Cameron Hudson’s experiences through BHP taught her more than just how to calculate the time value of money or financial ratio analysis. “BHP has been a wonderful opportunity to network for my future career, gain hands-on experience through project work and make a difference in the Tuscaloosa community,” said Hudson.

It was through their hands-on experience that these college students saw an area for further involvement. At the end of teaching their JA program, the BHP students found another way to give back by taking it upon themselves to recruit more Junior Achievement volunteers. Their volunteer recruiting efforts brought in enough volunteer power to cover more than 400 JA classes, which meant even more students in their community would learn the necessary life skills through financial literacy programs and work readiness curriculum.

Carla Harris, the senior program manager with Junior Achievement in Tuscaloosa, stated, “The reason that I love Business Honors is because of that group of students—they’re self-starters; they’re dependable.”

With BHP continuing their fourth year of volunteering with JA in Tuscaloosa, the past and present business owners can rest easy knowing that the future is bright.

To learn more about making an impact in your community, click HERE


Grider , O. (2017, July 29). Students in UA's Business Honors Program gain real-world experience by helping nonprofits improve operations and complete projects. Retrieved August 08, 2017, from

A Community Powered By Caffeine

Who’s making your venti soy latte?

Meet 26-year old Washington Starbucks store manager, Steven Perez. Not only is he the store manager for the South Hill Starbucks in Washington and the coach for the Emerald Ridge High School’s football team, but he is also an advocate for Junior Achievement.

His community involvement was acknowledged earlier this year when Starbucks’ executive vice president, president U.S. Retail, Kris Engskov and company leaders applauded his hard work to establish community connections throughout the Washington Puyallup area.

Perez responded, “Wherever we are, our mission is to be involved in the community. We don’t want to just be a coffee company, we want to be a people company.”

Coach Perez became even more involved with his community when he volunteered in the Puyallup School District’s “Ignite the Future” program which teaches students in junior high basic skills for the working world. His involvement in the local high school aligns with Starbucks avocation for Junior Achievement’s ability to teach students skills for the working world. Topics taught in this school program range from balancing a checkbook to practicing interviewing skills, the soft skills that are highly important in today’s workforce.

To honor Perez’ impact on the Puyallup region’s youth, Perez was recognized by the Puyallup School District’s chief operations officer for his success in helping teach students life skills and being awarded the honorary Starbucks Pacific Northwest coin by the Starbucks executive vice president.

From managing a community-focused Starbucks to teaching high school student’s football and skills for the working world one thing is for certain, Perez has made his mark on the future of Puyallup community.


Want more uplifting community impact stories? Click HERE


Needles, A. (2017, July 18). Starbucks shines spotlight on Puyallup store manager. Retrieved August 08, 2017, from

Junior Achievement Transformation: From Bakery to Community Education Leader

Sometimes the sweetest things in life come with hard work.

Earlier this summer that’s exactly what the 2nd graders at Lost River Elementary realized as they dove into Junior Achievement’s lesson program, “JA Our Community.”

Students received a hands-on approach with this lesson taught by JA volunteer Les Stevens, Senior Resource Supply Chain Leader at Country Oven Bakery. The program captivated the students with engaging topics ranging from work-readiness, how local businesses work to how to contribute to a community’s success.

Stevens stated, “This is not about me, it is about giving back to make a positive change. If we all pick up our corner in the community we will see a positive change.”

To explore the fundamentals of production methods, business decision making,  and the way money flows through an economy Stevens had the students “work” in the donut shop during the third session of their JA Our Community program.

 From the hair nets to the gloves, the authentic donut experience changed the community of Bowling Green Kentucky for the sweeter.

Check Out The Original Story Here

W. (2017, May 31). Kayleigh Embry's 2nd grade class. Retrieved August 07, 2017, from

The Future of Business

As eighth-grade students prepared for their College and Career Readiness course final exam, Junior Achievement volunteers rallied to provide help to Ben Franklin Junior High students with the seven-week course of “ JA It’s My Future.”

During this Junior Achievement course, students experience the importance of presenting themselves in a professional manner in various business settings such as exploring potential careers, the factors to consider when choosing a career, job hunting tactics and how to interview for a job.

Junior Achievement district director, Serena Sblendorio, commented, “Many business owners tell us they can teach the technical aspects of the job but it is the soft skills they see as missing in their new employees.”

By the end of the seven-week course, local business volunteers noticed a remarkable difference among the students. Kayla Rombalski, one of the observers and director of talent development at the Portage County Business Council, stated, “Many of the interviewers were impressed by the professionalism and caliber of these eighth-grade students.”


Click Here To Find Out More About Ja It’s My Future Program!

City Times Staff. “Ben Franklin Teams Up With Local Professionals for Mock Interviews.”Stevens Point City-Times, 30 May 2017, 

JA Abilene Awards $104,000 in Scholarships

Pictured Left to Right in back two rows: Ashlynn Smart, Karson Tutt, Emma Dantzler, Sterling Fahey, Karina Hau, Mikayla Condra, Kari Brokovich, Shelbie Dawson, Kaitlyn Harris, Derryck Peters, Nolan Burke, Luke Quinney

Pictured Left to Right kneeling in front: Evan Simmons (JA Executive Director), Chandler Smith, River Young, Dakota Fannin, Justin Moss (JA Board of Directors Chair)

Not Pictured: Olivia Montgomery & Julianna Mouat

19 Big Country Students Awarded $104,000 in JA Scholarships

Junior Achievement of Abilene is proud to announce the awarding of nineteen four-year scholarships to benefit area high school seniors pursuing higher education. With a combined value of $104,000, the scholarships were made possible through partnerships with Abilene Christian University, Hardin Simmons University, McMurry University, and the Willie I., Wanda, W.F. Martin Charitable Trust Fund managed by First Financial Trust & Asset Management Company.

Junior Achievement’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people for success. One way we at JA provide the opportunity for area high school seniors who have completed a Junior Achievement program while in high school is to apply for a scholarship. Over 100 students began our application process in 2017, nearly 30 advanced to an interview process with a scholarship selection committee, and nineteen recipients were selected.

Congratulations to all of our recipients!

  • A $10,000 award to Abilene Christian University in the form of a JA Scholarship provided by ACU:
  • Nolan BurkeJim Ned High School
  • Noah PruittAbilene High School
  • Karson Tutt – Jim Ned High School
  • A $6,000 award to Hardin Simmons University in the form of a JA Scholarship provided by HSU:
  • Emma DantzlerAcademy of Technology, Engineering, Math & Science (ATEMS)
  • Karina Hau – Abilene High School
  • Olivia MontgomeryCooper High School
  • A $6,000 award to McMurry University in the form of a JA Scholarship provided by MCM:
  • Shelbie DawsonEula High School
  • Dakota FanninBaird High School
  • A $4,000 award applicable to any college or university through the Willie I., Wanda, & W.F. Martin Charitable Trust Fund managed by First Financial Trust & Asset Management Company:
  • Kari Brokovich – Cooper High School 
  • Mikayla Condra – Abilene Christian High School
  • Sterling Fahey – Cooper High School
  • Kaitlyn Harris – Cooper High School
  • Amanda Hernandez – Abilene Christian High School
  • Julianna Mouat – Abilene High School
  • Derryck Peters – Abilene High School
  • Luke Quinney – Jim Ned High School
  • Ashlynn Smart – Clyde High School
  • Chandler Smith – Jim Ned High School
  • River Young – Cooper High School

JA Abilene's Executive Director Evan Simmons says, “Junior Achievement of Abilene is pleased to have awarded these scholarships to the deserving Big Country students. These latest scholarships demonstrate our continued commitment to preparing today’s youth with the skills and knowledge they need today in order to succeed later in life." 

About Junior Achievement of Abilene (JA)

Junior Achievement is the world's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. JA programs are delivered by corporate and community volunteers that provide relevant, hands-on experiences that give students from kindergarten through high school knowledge and skills in financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Since 1983, JA of Abilene has served over 130,000 students in the Big Country including over 6,500 students in 325 classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year.

Giving Kids a Sense of Purpose

This note was sent from the President of Junior Achievement of Northeastern New York (Albany, NY) to their Board of Directors

“Today just epitomized our JA mission and the Proof of Impact. I genuinely left inspired after National Grid hosted a tremendous Job Shadow to over 20 Freshman students from Watervliet HS.

This is what JA is all about… Giving Kids a Sense of Purpose. Our dedicated volunteers and passionate community leaders are truly demonstrating “mission in movement” and opening these kids’ eyes to their boundless potential.

A very special thank you to Laurie Poltynski and JA Board member Renee Devine for making this great day possible for these kids.

We appreciate you more than you know.”

For One PWC #JAHERO, JA Programming Allows for Giving Back, While also Challenging Oneself

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Greater Washington

             “Life-enriching experience!”

When asked to choose two or three words to describe Junior Achievement (JA), these are the words Piyush Arora came up with, based on his experience volunteering in a 6th grade classroom with JA at Westland Middle School in Bethesda on November 18, 2016.

Arora works for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), where he helps government agencies improve their organizational and accounting business processes. Luckily for Arora, at PwC, volunteering and giving back to the community is at the core of the company’s corporate culture and PwC is also a longstanding partner of Junior Achievement.

“I’ve always wanted to participate in programs like Teach for America, but couldn’t find the right mix of time and courage,” said Arora. “Junior Achievement makes this opportunity to teach kids accessible for all adults.  And because it breaks this opportunity into bite sized pieces -- a one-day commitment and a choice of teaming up with a partner -- it was the perfect way for me to test the waters and determine if the skills and personality needed to teach and teach kids is right for me.”

And test the waters he did. He quickly learned what it takes to command a classroom for an entire day and gained a new respect for teachers everywhere.

“What I found the most challenging about this experience was just the skillset and energy it takes to teach 6th graders,” said Arora. “I felt pretty helpless a few times, especially towards the second half of the day, when the class was getting tired and I could see some students slipping away.  But with that said, these challenges provided me with thoughts and ideas that will help me be better next time.”

Challenges of the day aside, Arora said that his favorite part of the day were “the moments where the lesson, the students, and I connected.”

“The questions they asked that tied their personal experiences with the lessons were so fascinating,” said Arora.  “And perhaps more importantly, the excitement that they portrayed when engaging in even the most simple of activities like the choice game – whereby, I offered them two choices: Twix or M&Ms, and they would stand or sit to vote for their favorite chocolate, was really great.”

Arora claims that the structure of the JA lessons and the materials offered to volunteers took some of the pressure off of him as he led the classroom and helped to calm his nerves. Read more...

He Proudly Announced, “...I Got the Job!”

Blog entry from Megan Sturges, President and CEO of JA of Greater Kansas City

On the last day of class, Marcus wasn’t there. He had been the most engaged of the ten students in this session of JA Personal Finance at Wyandotte High School. He was the wise guy of the group. An intelligent young man with insightful questions and sarcastic remarks. He was always joking about something, but he led his classmates in participation. I’ll admit, I was disappointed in his absence and the missed opportunity to say goodbye and wish him luck.

Earlier in the course, we discussed each student’s career aspirations and the education needed to achieve their goals. These students, all male and all minority, dreamed of success as accountants. As the first in their families to attend college, planning and funding an education was uncharted territory. Our lessons covered budgeting, saving, investing, and the many expenses associated with attending post-secondary school. To say these young men were overwhelmed would be an understatement. However, their discouragement slowly transformed into determination as we worked through budget exercises, conducted mock interviews, and practiced negotiation tactics.  

Taking my advice, Marcus decided to apply for his first job to begin saving money for college. I knew he had an initial interview with a clothing retail store, but on this last day of class, I had not heard if he was offered the job. Ten minutes after the start of class, Marcus confidently strutted into the room. He proudly announced, “Ms. Sturges, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have to tell you… I got the job! And I used what you taught us to negotiate my pay!”

The pride I felt in that moment is the pride our volunteers feel in the classroom every semester.  Many times, the results of our work at Junior Achievement are seen many years later in the collegiate and professional success of our students after graduation. But on this day, I witnessed the immediate effect of the lessons on Marcus’ future. Our curriculum and volunteers prepare and inspire students to take control of their financial health - building the next generation of leaders, and in this case, well-educated accountants.


Positive Female Role Models Impacting the Future Generations

Original Story from Junior Achievement of South Central Kentucky in Bowling Green, Kentucky

On March 8th, JA of South Central Kentucky hosted their first JA Girl$ event. Sponsored by Citizens First Bank and in partnership with the Young Athenas, they brought in 125 7th grade girls from the local middle schools for a JA in a Day using the “JA It's My Future" curriculum. The girls were surrounded by positive female role models who focused on teaching them that the decisions they make now impact their future. The following is an email sent from one of the schools that attended the event.

"I just wanted to say thank you for a great day at the JA Girl$ event. Our young ladies loved it!  While loading the bus back to school, one of our girls said, ‘After the lady (Dr. Sales) spoke to us at lunch, I feel like I could do anything.’  

That afternoon when we returned to school, Mr. Reed, one of our Social Studies teachers, told me about something exciting that happened in his classroom. He said that T.C. (a young lady who attended the event) rarely wants to present in the classroom. They have been doing classroom presentations and she has been dreading it. However, when she returned to the classroom, she approached him and asked if she could be the next to present. She said that she had been inspired by the women she met at the JA event and that she was more than ready to present to the class.

I couldn't let the week get away from me without sharing with you. Thanks for hosting such a wonderful event for our girls who so desperately needed to hear the words that were spoken on Wednesday! Please share this with the presenters who invested their time to make this such a wonderful event for our girls. We are thankful for each of you!”

Junior Achievement Rock Star

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana

When the Lauri Wade, Counselor at Kerrick Elementary School in Louisville, tweeted “Best day ever!” along with her student’s photo, she could never have imagined the chain of events that would occur.

The photo of her 5th grade student, Dallas, dressed as the JA BizTown utility Meter Reader, showed a young man whose face just beamed from the experience he was having in the learning laboratory. Within a few hours, the JA of Kentuckiana staff determined that Dallas should be on the cover of the 2017 Annual Report, which was a single day away from being sent to the printer.

 JA staff sent an email to the JA  BizTown teacher liaison asking the  school to try to obtain permission  from Dallas’ parents. After a flurry of  late night emails, the teacher  reported back that Dallas’ aunt gave  this permission. The graphic  designer scrambled to change the  cover and the printed annual report  was delivered two weeks later.

When JA of Kentuckiana president Debra Hoffer took copies to Dallas’ classroom, Ms. Wade pulled her aside and said, “You know, he almost didn’t get to come because of his behavior. I had to bring him in my car.” When Dallas was handed the annual report, he let out a loud, “Yay!” All of his classmates surrounded him and, rather than being left behind and forgotten, he is now a rock star.

Imagine if we could empower a generation to transform “I can’t” into “I can.” We can. Together.

Making a Difference in One Life

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana

This is a testimonial from Dan Copelan, a Board of Directors member for JA of Northern Indiana.

“In November I spent an hour in a classroom at Northrop High School as a Junior Achievement volunteer. In celebration of Entrepreneur Week (November 14-20) as one of 100 volunteers, our mission was to share knowledge with students about entrepreneurship.

This was not my first time as an adult in a classroom, but it was the best classroom experience I’ve had. The students were respectful, interested and asked a lot of questions. In fact, the class ended before we could get to all of the questions. And, it wasn’t just a few students; most of the class showed interest in the topics we discussed.

The classroom teacher is Lisa Arnold. From the collective response of the students, I firmly believe that Ms. Arnold is an excellent teacher. Her students showed a level of maturity that you don’t typically see in high school freshmen.

The other day I received a number of handwritten notes from Lisa’s students. As I read them, I felt grateful that I am in a position to be invited to participate in this type of event. Those notes tell me that I made some impact on them. If I was able to connect with just one young person, it was worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I have already been back to Ms. Arnold’s classroom to visit another of her classes.”

            Dan Copeland, President & Publisher of Business People Magazine in                         Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Power of a Mentor

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Wisconsin

Our JA Business Challenge was held on February 16, 2017.  Haley Gandara, one of our student team mentors, shared this story about her experience with Junior Achievement:

“I was involved with JA as a student at Memorial High School in Madison, Wisconsin. Dan Pacetti was a JA volunteer in our personal finance class and came each week to speak. He and my personal finance teacher, Mr. Thomas, were the first to point out my business skills and made me truly consider business as a career. I always had an interest in entrepreneurship, but they were the first to encourage me to consciously think about it.

When my class partner and I won the JA Titan Challenge in our classroom, we had the opportunity to compete at the same Business Challenge we are volunteering for on Thursday. I remember trying a new strategy that didn’t work and then catching up at the end to win a scholarship. We went on to the Wisconsin JA Business Challenge to compete against others from across Wisconsin. Dan Pacetti became a mentor to me after that.  He helped me as I looked through business programs and decided where to attend. I still appreciate that relationship to this day, and I have JA to thank for it!”

Haley is now the Director of Client Relations and Marketing at Empower Wealth Management in Madison, WI.


AT&T Job Shadow - A Glimpse Into the Future

Original Story from Junior Achievement of South Florida

The following is a Blanche Ely High School teacher’s reflection of an AT&T Job Shadow.

“Thank you for the awesome opportunity you provided to our students to get a chance to visit AT&T this week!

The students were exposed to a whole new world. It was very educational and  the students appreciated the hands-on activity. They got a chance to learn different types of positions available within AT&T. I myself was amazed by how much I learned about how responsible AT&T employees are to the customers they serve without knowing any of them.

One of the AT&T staff members mentioned that the students did not all have technical backgrounds but the questions that they asked were very logical.

It was awesome for them to see a career field that they can apply for and move up in the company by having a good work ethic and being willing to learn. I believe this opportunity provided our students with options that they never considered before.

I sincerely thank you!”

-Nicole WIlson

2017 JA Business Hall of Fame

What makes a community or organization special is very rarely its product, but the people who help produce the culture at the heart of that community. Junior Achievement is honored to host the bi-annuel JA Business Hall of Fame celebration dinner in order to thank and honor the leaders in our community who deserve recognition for outstanding leadership of our business community and, therefore, have improved our community, as welll.

The purpose of the JA Business Hall of Fame was accomplished in a very fun "country" fashion at Celebration Hall on the Silverado. As we aim to celebrate the laureates for their exceptional leadership, the atmosphere for the entire evening felt like a party ... truly celebrating the laureates and their families. Each laureate received a commemorative bronze, a stetson hat (we did hold the event in a barn!), and a custom hat box.

We cannot thank each laureate enough for their support of Junior Achievement, their organizations, and our community.

Ultimately, this event raised over $90,000 to the benefit of Junior Achievement of Abilene!

Tim Lancaster

Tim Lancaster is the President and CEO of Hendrick Health System. The healthcare system includes a 500 bed medical center and employs over 3,000 people.


He has implemented strategies to give employees and citizens of Abilene the opportunity to grow from entry level positions to highly skilled, professional positions while creating a world class work environment. He leads others by example and is an advocate for giving young professionals in Abilene opportunities for greater leadership opportunities and community involvement.


Tim has been instrumental in helping bring the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center to Abilene which includes the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing and Public Health. These educational institutions enable hundreds of students each year the opportunity to learn and grow in their professions, with the hopes of keeping these individuals employed in Abilene.


Tim was also supportive and integral in bringing the concept of a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) to Abilene as ours was the largest community in the state without one.  The creation of this facility in Abilene provides easier access to healthcare for some of our city’s most vulnerable populations.


He is active in community service and is past board chair of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. He also serves on the Board of Abilene Industrial Foundation and First Financial Bank Shares.


He was appointed by Governor Perry in 2013 to serve on the Texas Tech University Board of Regents and was recently appointed to the role of Vice-Chair.


Tim is past chair of the Texas Hospital Association, past chair of the Texas Association of Voluntary Hospitals, current chair of the Texas Purchasing Coalition, and current chair of Lt. Governor Patrick’s Advisory Committee on Healthcare.          


Tim and his wife, Regina, have two sons: Chad and daughter in law Lyndsay and Chris and daughter in law Meredith.  They have four grandsons Jack, Jett, Shepherd and Hooper.


Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith is the owner of Chick fil A - North Abilene. Wesley is very engaged in the community, specifically related to the Abilene Chamber of Commerce (Business EXPO , Business Council, Military Affairs Committee, and Leadership programs), serves on mulitple leadership boards (Communities in Schools, West Texas Rehab, Goodwill, Friends of the Library, and United Way), and serves as a regular JA volunteer.

Wesley's energy and involvement are all-encompassing. What makes Wesley stand out is his effort and intentionality. Nobody can say that Wesley's goes half-way because when he's committed, he's 100% engaged. He is “all in” for his employees, “all in” for his customers, and “all in” for his community. He has found ways to give to each of these three audiences simply to show that he cared. Wesley was listed as one of Abilene’s 20 under 40 in 2008 and was named the recipient of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Award in 2016. Not to mention, he was the Best Dressed Rodeo Man in the 3rd grade at Bowie Elementary. 

Wesley is the dad of Daisy (9) and Fletcher (6).

Kirk and Kristi Thaxton

Kirk Thaxton is the President and CEO of First Financial Trust & Asset Management Company. Kristi Thaxton is an Exceptional Funds Officer with Abilene Christian University.

Professionally, Kirk and Kristi are known to be leaders by example in their fields. Doing their job the right way and leading others in the same direction is natural to them. They are the type of people who people want to immolate. With over 30 years at First Financial for Kirk and over 20 years at Abilene Christian University for Kristi, longevity, loyalty, and consistency are found in their successful careers.

Kirk and Kristi are very committed to making Abilene better than they found it. Over fifteen organizations including emphasis in civic leadership, business, arts, education, youth sports, and community development have benefited from Kirk and Kristi’s involvement. One thing many people may not know is that Junior Achievement has known very few years without the leadership of one of the Thaxtons. Since JA’s inception in 1983, Kirk OR Kristi have served on one of the JA leadership boards for all but five years. In other words, for 29 of JA’s 34 year history in Abilene, either Kirk or Kristi have been formally involved in a leadership role in empowering Abilene’s young people for success.

And this is not uncommon for the Thaxton's. For the past 34 years Kirk and Kristi have been supporting the other in whatever they are involved. Through this process, many people have considered Kirk and Kristi the ultimate team due to their commitment and sincere interest in one another. Their involvement in the lives of their three children (Matt, Kyle, and Kaitlin), their involvement in their community, and their commitment to their organizations has all been completed with the support and partnership with the other. 

Look at the 2017 JA Business Hall of Fame photo album here.

AIG Success Story - JA in Action

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Dallas

Junior Achievement really had an impact on Jose L., a 4th grader at William L. Cabell Elementary School. According to his teacher, Maria Soto, Jose had talked a few times about writing computer programs when he grew up, but after learning about entrepreneurship and what it takes to run a business, Jose decided to become an entrepreneur. Jose was taking a computer coding class and he decided to use what he learned in that class to create an app. The app would help people organize and create playlists of their favorite music and he could sell it to his friends. Ms. Soto, who also taught the coding class, said that from March until the end of the year Jose worked hard designing the app, and writing and refining its code. She saw a new determination in Jose.

However, Jose developed more than an app during those last three months of school. He was developing himself and learning the soft job skills that employers look for such as a strong work ethic and problem solving. He used what JA taught him to think like an entrepreneur and fill a need he saw among his group of friends. He learned that success is a result of hard work. Hours of writing and refining computer code helped Jose develop strong work habits.

The Junior Achievement class was the beginning for Jose. When asked how he can apply what he learned from JA at home, Jose said without hesitation, “I learned I can start my own business.” The lessons he learned from JA and his journey creating the app will be with him for a lifetime. From JA Jose learned that it is his education that will allow him to further his ambitions and become the entrepreneur he wants to be. From his coding class and experience building his app, Jose now has the experience and knowledge to take on even greater challenges. Now in the fifth grade, Jose is looking for his next great opportunity.  

Donors Provide Opportunity

Original Story from Junior Achievement of the Palm Beaches & Treasure Coast, Florida

Below is an amazing letter of support from a JA Alumnus, who also happens to be a member of JA of the Palm Beaches & Treasure Coast’s education committee and a Dean at a local college that they work closely with.

I am writing to express my support for Junior Achievement. As an alumnus of JA’s Company program, I cannot express enough how the leadership skills, in addition to the business and free enterprise knowledge I gained, shaped my life.

During three years in high school I was part of a JA company sponsored by General Electric (GE). Each week those of us involved would meet with a team of four GE mentors who would teach us about the various aspects of building a successful company. From product development to manufacturing, raw material purchasing to marketing, and human resources to sales, we learned the ins and outs of America’s free enterprise system.

In addition, I took advantage of numerous leadership development opportunities offered through special programs and conferences. All of this taught me valuable leadership skills such as conflict resolution, active listening, self-confidence, and team management.

I used the skills and knowledge gained to become a successful college student, even earning a Ph.D. in education. I have been teaching at the university level for over 20 years now, and currently serve as a college dean. I attribute much of my success to the principles I learned in JA.

The only reason I was able to take part and benefit from Junior Achievement is that it didn’t cost me a dime. I was raised by a single mother and lived in a small house trailer at the time. We did not have extra money for me to take music lessons, join clubs, or participate in much of anything. Because JA was subsidized by local companies and fundraisers, I had the opportunity to be part of something special.

I was company president for two years. My senior year of high school, our company was named JA company of the year in Indiana, and I was president of the year. We competed at the national level, where we finished in the top five.

As an adult, I have enjoyed opportunities to give back to Junior Achievement as much as possible. Now that I am a dean at Keiser University, I am able to help find points of connection for JA and our faculty & students. Whether it’s in assisting with a fundraiser, helping to recruit volunteers, or simply finding ways to make JA better known on campus, I value being a small part of a team that is promoting JA in the Palm Beach County area.

To me, it is obvious that JA, and specifically the Company program, is changing lives and helping students prepare for successful future. I am proud to support their work.


Dr. Dan Lambert

Keiser University

            West Palm Beach, Florida

Remembering Mr. Pedigo

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia

During JA Alumni Month in January, WFXR-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, featured a story about Dr. Jim Sears. Dr. Sears, who is the President and CEO of the city’s Center in the Square, a regional cultural and arts center, discussed how Junior Achievement impacted his life in the 1950s when he participated in the JA Company Program.

“You got your product materials, you made your product, you sold your product, you accounted for it and then you closed it out at the end of the term. It was a fantastic experience. It taught us all about business," said Sears.

Dr. Sears then when on to talk about his JA volunteer during the news segment.

"Well, 50 years later or more I still remember his name. Now who do I remember 50 years ago?  I remember Mr. Pedigo. He obviously made a strong impression on me about volunteering and helping people in the community, particularly children," said Sears.

The segment played on the local news in January. And while you might think that would be the end of the story, Dr. Sears later shared with JA that something unexpected happened:

“As a FYI, 88 year old, Mr. Pedigo walked in on the 11:00 PM news (at home) when I mentioned his name.  He tracked me down and asked, ‘am I the Mr. Pedigo to whom you referred’? We compared notes down to the products we produced as a company and the car in which he drove the Junior Achievers to neighborhoods to sell their products.  We talked for 30 minutes and I could tell it enthused him to reach back to his younger days and to be told that he made a positive impact on the lives of many kids. His daughter texted me later telling me what a miracle it had been for him to see the TV broadcast and that I returned a call to him as his wife of 60 plus years had died just six months before and he was down in spirits. She said this whole episode lifted his spirits and communicated to him that God still had things for him to do. I have invited him and his family to visit Center in the Square and to lunch.  If I find that he is able, I might ask him to volunteer at our visitor services desk. I have two other 90 plus year olds and people love them.”

Students Giving Back as JA High School Heroes

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Chicago

This fall semester, we were able to begin implementing a truly impactful initiative in Hammond, Indiana. Through a partnership with the School City of Hammond school district, JA programs will be taught in every 8th, 11th and 12th grade classroom in Hammond, Indiana this school year. One of those schools participating is George Rogers Clark Middle/High School (aka Clark).

On October 25th, Junior Achievement volunteers presented “JA Career Success” to 13 classrooms of juniors and seniors at Clark. What the Clark students didn’t know was that there was a second part to the High School event. Certain students would be chosen to participate in JA themselves as a JA High School Hero.

We decided to not automatically send the honor roll kids- we wanted to give every Clark student a chance! To do this, we left it up to the JA volunteers. While implementing “JA Career Success” to the juniors and seniors, we asked our volunteers to pay attention to who was really engaged and participating, and at the end of their JAID, each volunteer selected 2 students from their class that stood out.

As I sat with my Clark contact going over the list of students, she was shocked at who’d been selected. Sure, there were some students she’d expected to be on there, but at least half of the names where students that she did not expect!

In the end, 15 juniors and seniors from Clark High School were able to participate in the JA High School Heroes program at the neighboring Franklin Elementary School. They worked with the Kindergarten-2nd grade classes, and had a FANTASTIC time!

As I watched them in action in the elementary classrooms, I felt extremely proud to be a part of Junior Achievement. This was a life changing experience for many of these Clark students. First, they were told by a complete stranger that they had earned the privilege to participate, based on their behaviors. Then they were trusted with a lot of responsibility while preparing. Finally, they got to experience that warm fuzzy feeling our volunteers love so much when you give selflessly and help impact youth.

I know that JA programs have a number of wonderful benefits, but one of the challenging things is that most of the time we are only planting the seeds for many of those benefits, and we don’t get to see them bloom. I often see firsthand that our programs educate students on financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship, but this was the first time I saw it impact self-esteem and self-worth. It was an incredible experience from beginning to end, and I can’t wait to do it again in the spring!

Enhancing Education

Original Story from Junior Achievement of Upstate South Carolina

A JA volunteer from India taught JA Personal Finance to students at a charter school in Greenville, SC,  where 100% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. He then sent this tribute to the volunteer, the educator, and the students. “Tom” is the teacher.

I finished my last class this morning. I've got to tell you that I immensely enjoyed working with Tom. He ad-libbed with me, showing the kids that we were a team, throughout all of the classes. At the beginning of the second class, he had his entire class rise up, bow with both hands folded and greet me with the words, Namaste, a formal greeting in India. I was touched! And the greetings continued through all sessions. Very nice touch. This morning, as we handed out the certificates, Tom played the classical graduation piece, Pomp and Circumstance. How can anyone top that? The next time Tom has a JA course, sign me up. Period.

Thank you to both our wonderful volunteer as well as educators for enhancing education around the world.

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  • "Junior Achievement has given me a sense of what adults go through with budget issues."

    -Junior Achievement Student
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    -Junior Achievement Student
  • "I thought the experience was amazing. The presentation was unlike anything I've seen."

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