Growing up on a family homestead that dated back to 1864, which was a gathering place for students, professors, priests and friends, shaped the dynamic of Anne Conroy-Baiter’s early life. Her mother was an accomplished artist and her father, who is in the Irish Football (soccer) Hall of Fame, was a professor of modern languages at St. Bonaventure University in western New York.
The vibrancy and enrichment of that environment birthed a passion inside her, which as president of Junior Achievement of the Space Coast, has spread like a virus into the hundreds of JA volunteers. Their common mission is to share the adventure of entrepreneurialism, the fulfillment of discovering a meaningful career and the lifesaving fundamentals of financial literacy with thousands of young people across Brevard County.
After graduating from Tuff’s University in Boston, as she put it, “With an ability to write, analyze and communicate, skills that have never let me down,” she eventually found herself working for a consulting company in Washington D.C. The firm experienced meteoric growth. “When I joined, they had 200 people, in four years they had 2,000 and I was running the creative services division, overseeing 35 employees. It was the perfect setting to blend my aesthetic and managerial sides,” she said.
She later moved back home to care for her parents and became the executive director of the Cattaraugus County Arts Council for eight years. “I immediately gravitated towards teaching artists business skills and creating markets to help the artistic community sell their work,” Conroy-Baiter said.
Moving to the Space Coast was her first exposure to Junior Achievement. She saw the opening for the director position, studied the organization and submitted her resume.
“I began to think about my three daughters, and I said to myself, ‘I don’t want my daughters to just survive a recession, I want them to thrive.’ What I realized was that a lot of the skills they needed, I as a parent and our school system, wasn’t equipped to teach. That is what drew me to JA’s mission,” she said. “We make learning about financial literacy a skill, not a stress.”
In addition, in a world where the global competition for a competent workforce is at an all-time high, teaching young people the skills to help identify and prepare for a career is paramount. “Most students are exposed to just a few careers. The ones their parents are in and those associated with education or medicine, the rest is an undiscovered country. At JA we give them a window to see all those opportunities out there on the horizon. We provide personal access to understand those jobs in a way they have never heard,” she said.
Her sharp mind, quick wit and eyes that sparkle with enthusiasm have helped her win over an army of volunteers and leading CEOs in the county. “The goal we are continually shooting for is to stay relevant in an ever-changing environment and always playing well with others who may be advancing the same mission,” she said.
JA enjoys a number of strategic or “common ground” partners, as Conroy-Baiter calls them: the Brevard Public School system, Eastern Florida State College and organizations like United Way and the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast. It is, however, local corporations and businesses of all sizes, that provide much of the financial and volunteer support. In 2019 alone, 73,797 hours were donated by over 435 volunteers, to reach and educate some 13,149 students from Mims to Malabar. This is an increase of 22% over 2018.
“We want to plant the idea of entrepreneurialism early in the education process. But of equal importance, almost every JA volunteer walks out of a classroom more encouraged about the future of America and about the potential this next generation has to offer,” she said.