Empowering Young People to Own their Economic Success
It’s often said that young people are the “leaders of tomorrow.” But what if they were the leaders of today, too? Junior Achievement of Central Florida (JACF) believes that it’s never too early, and you’re never too young, to get started in business.
JACF has been helping students better understand business and economics for over 50 years. A group of local business leaders, with the support of the Rotary Club of Orlando, launched JACF in 1961. By 1982, there were 8,000 students involved, and in 1995, the organization reached 40,000 students and has grown steadily ever since.
JACF’s volunteer-delivered K-12 programs prepare all graduating students to be financially literate and grounded in free enterprise; teach leadership and entrepreneurial principles; and ready students for the workforce. What makes it work? The programs make a connection between lessons learned in the classroom and real-world application.
Kathy Panter, president of JACF, has had the opportunity to experience its influence firsthand. “When you talk with teachers and hear the impact our volunteers and programs have on the student, you know that you are truly teaching our future leaders the concepts of free enterprise that made our country so great,” she said.
All of the programs have been developed in partnership with educators and volunteers to make them most age appropriate and sequential. This makes the programs specific to the needs of each stage – from stories and hands-on activities in kindergarten, to starting an entrepreneurial venture in high school.
The JA Leadership Academy
In addition to serving over 60,000 students in signature classroom programs, JACF launched the nation’s only JA Leadership Academy at Oak Ridge High School in partnership with Orange County Public Schools. The vision: that every student will not only graduate from high school as a competent, ethical, curious, and caring individual, but have a personalized career plan in place either to attend post-graduate education or to pursue other business opportunities.
Now completing its second year, there are currently 250 freshmen and sophomores in the program, and an additional 125 students will enroll next fall. Students are also provided a business mentor and offered internships, job shadowing experiences and involvement with the UCF College of Business.
Community Makes It Work
This year, JACF provided programs in about 250 schools in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties. Next year, the organization will offer financial literacy programs in every high school in Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties, and many in Osceola County.
JACF programs are made possible by community volunteers. In 2014 to 2015, there will be a great need for this support, especially to deliver personal finance programs in high schools. The organization provides the curriculum, training and support to ensure a volunteer’s success in the classroom. There are also opportunities for mentors at the Academy, as well as internship requests for companies interested in shaping the future workforce.
Those at JACF have seen much of their work come full circle when past participants find success in the “real world” of business, proving that the programs truly do shape students’ futures. Panter said, “I met a physician who has expanded her practice to include a book and speaking opportunities, as well as other entrepreneurial endeavors directly related to her commitment to health and her patients. And she gives Junior Achievement all the credit for teaching her to think about the possibilities in a more ‘entrepreneurial’ way.”