Our Junior Achievement Volunteer Experience
I am now retired, but I began my Junior Achievement experience during ‘The Great Recession’. During an unemployment networking meeting, a staff member from the local JA office came to speak to our group asking us to consider ‘giving back’ to the community while we were searching for our next employment opportunity. It was during this networking meeting that I met my JA classroom teaching partner, Earle Lusk. We have been a Junior Achievement (JA) classroom volunteer since 2008 and we still volunteer as a team to this day.
I first became involved in Junior Achievement over 50 years ago when I was in high school. At the time JA was only offered at the high school level, and my school’s version was as an after school company program. We elected officers, decided on the name of our company, decided what product to manufacture and sell (aluminum cookie sheets), etc. Our company “employees” sold stock in our company to raise money to buy materials to manufacture our product. After selling the cookie sheets, we had our accountant figure out what our revenue was, subtract expenses, and calculate our profit. It was a good year! The experience was so rewarding and enlightening that I wound up doing the program for two consecutive years. It had a positive effect on me and helped shape my future career plans.
Earle and I are opposites on everything from politics to education. I was a Mathematics major and ‘Rocket Scientist’ in my Information Technology programming and management career working in 15 different cities on three continents and moving my wife and three children seven different times. Earle had a business education and worked as a buyer for a major department store and a national drug store as well as a salesman at a few other companies. Earle also extensively traveled to Asia as a buyer. As a result of our JA partnership and mutual respect for one another, Earle and I have become very close friends. We are a testament to the fact that opposites attract. In fact, the local JA office refers to us as either “The Odd Couple” or “Dynamic Duo” depending on the point they want to get across.
However, we are of one mind in our support and admiration for Junior Achievement. Their curriculum is FANTASTIC with a different aspect of financial literacy taught in each grade–K through 12. The material is taught using videos, lectures, workbooks, exercises and games. The material is ‘refreshed’ every few years to keep it relevant and up to date with current trends in business and the economy.
As any teacher will tell you, the teacher gets more out of the material than the students. This is true of Earle and me. We have learned a great deal over the years. Our ‘reward’ comes in the feedback we get from our listeners—seeing the spark of interest light up within. More than occasionally, we provide the teachers with information previously unknown to them and in the end we are ‘thanked’ for bringing this material into their classroom because they do not have the time or resources to teach the important concepts we present.
Our favorite module is Grade 5 – Our Nation. The key messages in this module include entrepreneurship, staying in school to get the STEM skills you need to compete in the global economy and no nation is self-sufficient in all aspects of raw materials production, manufacturing, finance and knowledge. So, we have to work with one another.
This curriculum highlights key entrepreneurs from the present and the past that had ‘Big Ideas’ and turned them into great success stories; Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Ray Kroc and others like Willis Carrier, a Buffalo engineer who invented air conditioning because he was looking for a solution to remove humidity from printing plants to keep the ink from smearing and Sylvan Goldman, who invented the modern shopping (grocery) cart.
It was in this lesson that Earle and I first learned of Madame C. J. Walker about 10 years ago—truly a remarkable woman with a remarkable story.
Now in 2020, Alan and I have countless stories to tell about JA classroom experiences. We have been impressed by hard-working students, motivated by the dedicated teachers, and treasure the experience with JA. Making a difference and helping kids learn about business is sorely needed by our country, and we thank Junior Achievement for allowing us to be involved with that process.