Finding a Passion, Changing the Future

Junior Achievement changes lives

By Melissa Andrews

Photography by Jeff Amberg

Finding passion gives life purpose. And certainly seeking to teach the next generation of business leaders is a worthy passion, found by many in the Midlands who endeavor to change the lives of children by spending one hour a week volunteering in a classroom. Think of the child who lacks the skills to write a “thank you” note or who understands a good, firm handshake. There are teenagers who have no idea how to craft a resume to land a job. Imagine being the person who teaches a rich life lesson that sticks with children throughout their entire lives.

Junior Achievement is on track to help school age children learn such important abilities. Certainly, becoming a Junior Achievement volunteer is for the betterment of the children, the community and the future workforce. But without question, for those volunteers teaching Junior Achievement courses, it becomes just as rewarding for them as it is for the children. 

Junior Achievement has been molding the lives of children in South Carolina for nearly 100 years. It’s the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial leadership. By taking a hands-on approach, volunteer teachers deliver practical examples that enable students to truly experience real-life situations that can help them form opinions about business, government, budgeting and, most importantly, themselves.

Times have changed. Teenagers, even elementary school children, walk around with their heads down engrossed in the next big online game, on social network, or texting feverishly — never even knowing what a rotary dial was or actually having to place a phone call to reach a friend. Voice mail is becoming a dinosaur. The lines are blurring between a want and a need. The ever-important soft skills, such as manners, social graces and face-to-face interaction, are being lost on this generation of children. This lack of emotional intelligence is going to have a lasting impact on children as they look to become leaders, communicators and motivators when they grow up.  

While the need for soft skills is imperative, so is the need for a fundamental understanding of basic finances, entrepreneurship and a general readiness for the work place. “Our goal is to deliver these children and make them ready for a global workplace, and anything we can do as a society to help that goal is worthwhile,” says David Moore, senior commercial loan officer at Capital Bank, Junior Achievement executive committee member and volunteer teacher. 

In order to meet both sets of needs and skillsets, the leadership at Junior Achievement delivers a blended approach to learning. They complement the teaching of  those imperative soft skills and financial readiness courses while also understanding that technology plays a tremendous part in the way people communicate and do business. “Issues with financial literacy and work readiness continue to be prevalent among school-aged kids,” says Stephanie Stuckey, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina. “Teachers request our programs because they see the value we bring to the classroom. Businesses want to support us because they see the importance of providing work readiness and financial literacy to their future employees. We need to make sure Junior Achievement is modifying our programs to meet the changing needs of businesses.”

Columbia is a global workplace with a global economy, and it is imperative that children — the city’s future leaders — succeed in this ever-changing business landscape. In order to do this, Junior Achievement underwent a comprehensive strategic planning process to ensure the organization is keeping up with the evolution of the education system. “How you budget today is different than it was 20 years ago. How you balance a checkbook is different than it was 20 years ago,” says Lanny Lambert, Junior Achievement board chairman. “We need to make sure we are staying ahead of the curve to educate our youth, to prepare them for the workforce and to instill a good work ethic, so that they can have success as they step into their careers — whatever they may be. Thanks to our very active executive committee, we are more than up with the times on what needs to be done to push kids forward.” Junior Achievement is paving the road for kids and education, recognizing that one size does not fit all. 

For John Hall, a member of the Junior Achievement South Carolina Business Hall of Fame Committee and former Junior Achievement student, it was the “divine hand of Providence” that brought him to Junior Achievement. As a boy who wasn’t academically inclined, John wasn’t sure what path he would take in life. As he crossed the campus of his high school, he heard an announcement over the loudspeaker mentioning a Junior Achievement class being held at the school. The next thing he knew, he was in the gym learning about the organization. He found his calling — economics. He became an economics major and eventually an economics professor and has used this experience in his 37 years at SCE&G. Now, John is helping the Junior Achievement Board with its strategic planning and vision. 

“I had never done anything like Junior Achievement before. I absolutely loved it and had a great experience. Fast forward to the first day of college, as I trudged to my 8 a.m. class. I sat down with my economics book, opened it up to the definition of demand, and it was like the music started playing,” says John. “I thought, ‘This is what I need to be doing.’ I had been guided down this path and Junior Achievement was the starting point. If this program can do that for even a handful of students every year, imagine our future.” And imagine the elation of businesses like SCE&G, Palmetto Health and others that support Junior Achievement. Uncovering the stone that leads a child down their future path not only benefits the student, it will also impact businesses looking for future leaders.

These businesses that are investing in Junior Achievement are investing in their future success and solvency as well. That workforce readiness approach has been extremely beneficial to the Society of Human Resource Management, the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management, as the Columbia chapter’s Workforce Readiness Chairman, Jill Menhart, has had a hand in bringing on Junior Achievement as the organization’s volunteer initiative. Seeing the value Junior Achievement brings to future employees was very appealing to SHRM. Teaching the importance of communications skills coupled with the need for the hard skills of budgeting and finance are critical to the success of this generation. The organization hopes to have more than 1,000 volunteer hours in the classroom each year to help educate the future workforce.

“Students need to understand that formal communications are still necessary in an interview. Being able to communicate and work as a team, writing a solid resume and sending a thank you note are still so important,” says Jill. “Recognizing the importance of staying out of debt and having even the most basic knowledge of setting a budget will make an enormous difference in these children’s lives.” Employers are running credit checks, and these factors can be the difference between an offer letter or a disappointing rejection.

In order for Junior Achievement to continue to deliver the highest-quality instruction to students, they must have first-rate volunteers. “Junior Achievement is a partnership,” says Stephanie. “We can’t do it by ourselves.” Stephanie and her team are continuously looking for volunteers that are willing to give of their time and talents to go into the classroom and teach children from kindergarten up to seniors in high school. 

“I have always been a volunteer, for personal satisfaction and for networking, but when you become a parent, your priorities change,” says Jennifer Suber, volunteer teacher, mother and business owner. “Your volunteering shifts toward things that have to do with your children. At this point in my life, I want to be involved in what they are involved in and to be a good role model. Junior Achievement offers that blend of being able to go into my kids’ classrooms and spend time with them, while also giving back to the community and to my children’s school. And you don’t have to have any teaching experience to do it.” 

The beauty of Junior Achievement in the classroom is its age-appropriate perspective. An 8 year-old may learn about voting or the communities in which they live by cutting out and coloring pictures, whereas a senior in high school may walk away from their Junior Achievement sessions with an actionable business plan. Junior Achievement programs are continuing to evolve in ways that capture kids’ imaginations. 

“Volunteering for Junior Achievement can become contagious,” says Lanny. “It takes a huge volunteer base to try to deliver the programming that is requested by the school.” That’s why the partnership with businesses in Columbia is critical to the success of the program — not only for financial support but also for volunteers.

As a businessperson and volunteer, David has the opportunity to work with Junior Achievement’s framework and supplement the lessons with real-life examples. “I see business plans in my line of business, so I know what has worked and what hasn’t,” he says. “I can share the most common mistakes that I have seen. Junior Achievement is a good marriage between the curriculum and my experience level. We get to complement and support the lessons, while elaborating and digging deeper.”

Volunteers interested in Junior Achievement need only have enthusiasm and a desire to make a difference. Junior Achievement provides the training and the curriculum and, if necessary, the classroom. For families whose schedules are packed and to-do lists are long, it’s a meaningful way to make a difference. It requires a short amount of time but offers an immeasurable return. “Volunteering probably takes an hour of my time each week for the five-week session,” says Jennifer. “Junior Achievement gives you a briefcase full of materials, and you just have to prepare. You can’t do everything; you have to do impactful things.”

Volunteers at Junior Achievement are thrilled to be a part of the evolution of education, to be a part of the dialogue and to have the opportunity to work directly with the schools and businesses in Columbia that are so eager to play a vital role in the accomplishments and future success of children. “For children that can take these skills and marry them with an entrepreneurial spirit, the sky is the limit,” adds Lanny.

But it takes passion — from volunteers, businesses, schools and the community. Children can sense the enthusiasm and the desire to help them succeed. “It amazes me how many people are impacted by Junior Achievement. Student speakers come in to talk to us, and it’s wonderful to see how successful they are. So many people who have been students of Junior Achievement come back to be volunteer teachers,” says David. Lanny agrees, “What always gives me pause and makes me smile is when we bring in students and teachers to tell their stories of how Junior Achievement has helped them or how the class reacted to it. To hear those practical stories tells me we are doing something good.”

Finding that passion by changing the lives of children is not always an easy thing, but it’s well worth the time, dedication and effort. The future of Columbia’s children is counting on it.


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