Junior Achievement (JA) is the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs. Junior Achievement of Central Illinois is a member of JA USA and part of a global organization that operates in 123 countries and reaches 10 million students.
Junior Achievement has made an impact on more than 75 million students since it was established in 1919 by co-founders Theodore N. Vail of AT&T, Horace Moses of the Strathmore Paper Company and Senator Murray Crane of Massachusetts.
Fueled by a vision to empower youth to understand business and the economy, Moses asserted, “The future of our country depends upon making every individual fully realize the obligations and responsibilities belonging to citizenship. Habits are formed in youth…what we need in this country now…is to teach the growing generations to realize that thrift and economy, coupled with industry, are necessary now as they were in past generations.”
In 1956, Caterpillar CEO Louis B. Neumiller founded Junior Achievement of Central Illinois, with an office located in downtown Peoria. In the 1960s, JA of Central Illinois’ territory was expanded to include 11 counties, including Fulton, Knox, Logan, Marshall, Mason, McDonough, McLean, Peoria, Tazewell, Stark and Woodford.
A New Direction
In the past, JA programs mainly consisted of the JA Company Program, a program aimed at giving high school students practical business experience through the organization and operation of an afterschool business enterprise, guided by volunteer advisors from the business community.
The programs allowed teams of students to create, produce and sell a product of their own design. Don Bauer, a current JA volunteer classroom consultant, remembers participating in the JA Company Program when he was in high school in the early ‘70s. His team manufactured a snack mix called Crunch Brunch, which was sold in eight-ounce bags for 50 cents each. Don calls it, “An opportunity I’ll never forget.”
After the creation of a research and development department in the 1970s, JA transitioned its program efforts to bring JA curriculum and business realities into school classrooms via corporate volunteers.
Locally, JA struggled to grow during the 1980s; nationally, the company moved its office from New York to Colorado Springs and registered one million student participants. During the 1990s, significant international expansion for JA took place.
But in 2004, a local renaissance occurred through new staff, a new board of directors, a new office and a new mindset, resulting in several local and national awards. Since then, JA has experienced 286-percent growth in the number of students served, with rocketing participation from volunteers and schools. Additionally, new events were introduced, including the JA Business Hall of Fame, JA Titan Business Strategy Competition, Peoria and McLean County go-kart events, and the annual Online Holiday Auction.
School administrators advocate JA programs because they align with the Common Core Standards and 21st Century Learning Skills. Teachers desire JA programs because they bring fresh faces into the classroom to teach students economic concepts and real-world applications. But the catalyst behind the growth is “what’s in it” for the volunteer who delivers the JA experience, not the “actual” schoolteacher.
In central Illinois, about 16,000 students in 65 schools will participate in JA’s experiential programs during the 2012-13 school year. Today, your local JA carries on the spirit in which the organization was founded 93 years ago: empowering young people to own their economic success. iBi