Non-profit of the Year Nominee
Submitted by: Ed Grenier, President and CEO
1. What is your mission and vision?
Junior Achievement inspires the next generation to be financially capable, tenacious, and equipped with the 21st century skills to manage risk effectively, solve problems creatively, and welcome opportunity in the complex modern economy. Through our experiential financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship programs and capstone experiences taught by volunteer role models from the community, we empower our region’s youth to answer the demands of the 21st century economy with “ I can.” At JA, we believe that a student’s future must not be determined by where they came from, but by their desire and ability to work hard, dream big, and change our world.
2. How does your organization achieve its mission?
In partnership with our dynamic school system partners and volunteer role models, we create a continuum of knowledge throughout a student’s educational experience that takes learning beyond the classroom— education that is steeped in experiential learning that motivates students to learn, boosts interest in higher education and careers, reduces dropout rates, and improves academic achievement. This approach, punctuated with in-depth, capstone experiences at the middle and high school levels, as well as interaction with volunteer role models from the community, give students fundamental skills and perspective that they’d otherwise be unable to gain during their formative K-12 years and sets them on the path to workplace engagement and well-being. An example of our deep-rooted history of success in this community is the JA Finance Park® program.
In Fall 2010, in partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and the local business community, Junior Achievement of Greater Washington opened the doors to the first JA Finance Park® in Greater Washington in Fairfax, VA. JA Finance Park® Fairfax County brings in-depth, experiential financial literacy education to 14,000 8th grade students each year. In partnership with Prince George's County Public Schools, JA Finance Park® Prince George’s County opened during the fall of 2015 in Landover, MD and serves approximately 9,000 students annually. A third facility, JA Finance Park® Montgomery County is scheduled to open in 2018 and will transform another 12,000 students annually into Finance Park graduates. It will be located on the fourth floor of the new Thomas Edison High School of Technology building in Silver Spring.
3. How have your programs directly impacted the regional community?
In its 50 year history, Junior Achievement has inspired over 800,000 of our region’s youth with our innovative financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship programs. During the 2015-2016 school year, we’ll serve over 63,000 students through over 4,000 local volunteers from over 430 of our region’s businesses and organizations. Just through the JA Finance Park® program alone, we’ve transformed over 60,000 students from 8 area school systems into financially capable JA Finance Park® graduates, representing over 1 million hours of learning! Some examples of how JA programs have directly impacted our kids:
4. What inspires or drives your team to stay committed to your mission?
Junior Achievement is driven by its belief in the boundless potential of young people—and in our desire to provide children from kindergarten to 12th grade with a clearer vision of what’s possible... a ladder from the classroom to the future. At the elementary school level, they need exposure to career opportunities and a foundation in economics. And, in middle school and beyond, when youth are developing spending habits and making decisions like staying in school and whether to pursue college, it becomes critical. Studies show that educational engagement is rooted in our ability to show students why their education is relevant to their future; to make education relevant, we must expose them to mentors and role models from their own communities. We must show these youth a clear vision that exposes students to a variety of professions and skills that are in demand and will help them succeed in a rapidly evolving economy. In doing so, we can close the gap illustrated by recent reports that an alarming 40 percent of students are prepared with the 21st century skills to be successful in workplace. We are driven by our belief in the boundless potential of our region’s youth—and in the idea that every kid is one caring adult away from a success story.
5. What advice would you give to other nonprofits trying to make an impact in their community?
Remember that our region’s success will be determined by our ability to come together to transform each of our missions into a true, regional movement. Strength comes in numbers. When you think about your nonprofit, don’t think about what you want to do. Think about what problem you want to solve. Think about the knowledge, skills, abilities, and partnerships you need to solve that problem. Surround yourself with people who know more than you do about solving that problem... the smartest people in the room—and innovate to do it better than anyone who ever set out to do it. Be passionate. Be driven. Be tenacious—and never ever give up.