The Operation Round Up Impact:
As part of our ongoing "Operation Round Up Impact" series, we are thrilled to shed light on the work of Junior Achievement, one of the local organizations that recently received a grant through our Operation Round Up program.
Junior Achievement (JA) was founded nationally in 1919 with a mission to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Over the past century, JA has become one of the world's largest organizations dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy.
JA operates in all 50 states, engaging millions of students through a variety of programs delivered by volunteers from the business community. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Courtney Whetstone, the Development Director for Marshall and Kosciusko Counties at Junior Achievement.
Whetstone has worked with JA for seven years. Whetstone said she previously worked in banking, so the role with JA was an excellent fit for her.
“When I first started, I was an area manager for Kosciusko County. As time progressed, I transferred into a development role. So, I work specifically with the boards now to fundraise for the classes that we implement in the school,” said Whetstone.
JA in Kosciusko County is also supported by program manager Ashley Bruner. According to Whetstone, Bruner organizes the volunteers who are the backbone of the organization.
“She finds people from all different walks of life, background, and career experiences and she partners with them to go into the schools,” Whetstone explained.
JA provides a range of programs tailored to different grade levels, equipping students with practical skills such as financial management, entrepreneurship, and work readiness. These programs are designed to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application.
The success of JA's programs relies heavily on the volunteers who bring their expertise and experiences into the classroom, fostering a direct connection between education and the professional world.
Whetstone said a volunteer usually goes into a classroom once a week for four to five weeks to teach a lesson. Those lessons take about 45 minutes and build upon each other week after week.
“We start at a very young age with ourselves. What can we learn about ourselves? Then, they learn about families. Then, they learn about their community, their city and what they can do to help their community and city,” Whetstone continued.
Whetstone said JA teaches the kids about taxes, how starting a business works, and what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
“We really work to take our key focuses and build on those year after year - so that when they get into middle school, they’re learning about economics and more advanced budgeting,” explained Whetstone.
“The ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ they learned in kindergarten still apply when they’re in 6th grading and talking about budgeting making a salary work for a year,” Whetstone elaborated.
JA wants people from all walks of life volunteering in their program. From business owners to restaurant workers to manufacturing, all bring something different to the table for the students, Whetstone said.
“Those volunteers going into the classroom have a huge impact on these kids when it comes to retaining the information and being able to build relationships with other people outside their family and classmates,” she continued.
According to Whetstone, JA has made the programs simple for the volunteers to teach.
“The curriculum has everything written out so it’s easy to follow and teach. It can be a little intimidating, but once you’re in there it’s just so fun to be able to connect with those kids. So, we really need volunteers who are willing to give their time to go in and be a mentor to these kids,” she emphasized.
Other than the ongoing need for volunteers, fundraising is a big priority for JA. The organization funds its programming with their annual campaign, grant funding, and several special events held throughout the year. According to Whetstone, the events are probably the biggest fundraiser. And of course, any donation is impactful.
“Every dollar helps us reach more kids. It really does,” Whetstone said.
At this point, Whetstone has worked with JA long enough that she has seen and heard examples of the long-lasting impact JA programs can have on students. One JA volunteer shared such a story with her.
“They ran into a student they had had in a high-school level class years before. The kid was now in his mid-20’s. He saw his volunteer and said ‘Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I really heard what you said about credit cards and your credit card debt that you had and the struggle that you had.’ The former student then said it had stuck with him and he had chosen not to use credit cards,” Whetstone described.
“That volunteer was deeply impacted by that interaction and saw how his vulnerability and honesty with that student had made a difference in his life,” Whetstone said.
For more information on Junior Achievement, becoming a volunteer, or how to donate, visit: https://kosciuskocounty.ja.org/