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Making a Difference Through Junior Achievement

This past year I have had the opportunity to volunteer with a program through Junior Achievement called the JA Fellows Program. This program gives high school students the chance to have a better understanding and appreciation of the role that business plays in our society. Over the first 12 weeks students begin the process of organizing and operating an actual business. They develop a product and marketing strategy; sell actual stock; produce and sell their product; analyze their results; and liquidate the company. The second 12 weeks is devoted to developing success skills such as: building rapport, influencing others, and teamwork. It also focuses on teaching the students about finances and ways they can make smart decisions about effective ways to use their income to reach goals they have set.
I have to admit that after the training night, I was a little nervous going in for the first meeting. I was thinking to myself, “I have never started or run my own business. How am I supposed to teach others how to do it?” However, during our first meeting, the students spent time learning more about each other. As I listened to everything they had already done, I was so impressed. It really made me excited about what we were going to do over the next 12 weeks. I walked out of the meeting thinking I would learn just as much, if not more, from these students.
After the first week of selling stock, most of the students had not even sold the minimum of what they committed to sell. We discussed the importance of capital and the impact it would have on the business. At the end of the meeting, when it was time to handout more stock to sell over the next week a couple of the students stood up and really motivated the rest to sell more over that next week. When the students returned the following week, they all had sold 2-3 times what they did the week before. Situations like this and many others have really made this experience worthwhile. It has been interesting to work with the students as they have handled the decisions, frustrations, and hurdles they have had to overcome to run their business.
The second 12 weeks is where I felt much more comfortable going in because it aligned a lot with what I do everyday. Teaching the students skills such as resume writing, interviewing, communicating effectively, establishing teamwork are all things that I discuss with and help individuals improve upon daily. Another great opportunity during these 12 weeks for the students was to job shadow someone in the field they are interested in. This gave the students the chance to really see what it was like in a profession they have considered pursuing.
One of the great things about this program is the materials it provides for the volunteers. Having a detailed outline of topics and activities to cover each week really helped me keep the students focused and on track with their business. A second great thing about this program is that it is set up for students that want to be there. They have gone through an application and interview process to be in the class, meaning that they are motivated and excited about what they are going to learn. Through the weeks I have seen these students come together to motivate each other about their company and selling their product, mini bags with a logo.
Working with these students and teaching them the concepts and importance of operating a business, as well as about success skills and personal finances, has been an experience that I will never forget. I did not fully realize the impact this would have on the students’ lives until the end of the program. Watching how each of them grew in their confidence of understanding everything they learned was amazing to see. The gratitude they expressed to each of us as volunteers at the end was an added bonus. I would encourage anyone to make the commitment and be part of such a valuable and rewarding program.        

To learn more about Junior Achievement and helping to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy please visit www.georgia.ja.org

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