Like thousands of other area students, Kylie Havens visited JA BizTown® as a fifth grader. In 2001, she and her classmates spent a day taking on the roles of consumers and workers in the fourteen businesses of this mock city. Havens’ role at the town’s broadcast center allowed her to produce commercials for her BizTown customers. Today she serves as a morning show host for local radio station K105, and Havens credits her experience at JA BizTown with not only helping her find her passion, but also laying the foundation for financial responsibility.
“I really think Fort Wayne is lucky to have a BizTown,” says Havens. “It offers such a unique chance for students to see what it’s like to have a job and to both earn and spend an income.”
Havens’ experience represents just one of the ways Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana will reach more than 135,000 students in 30 counties this year. JA strives to prepare kids for adulthood by teaching them life skills that go beyond the classroom. Its most effective tool has been first-hand experience through simulations like JA BizTown and its sister program for eighth and ninth graders, JA Finance Park®.
“It’s one thing to understand budgeting,” says President Lena Yarian. “It’s another to understand its implementation. Once students own that, they’re all about going after it.”
Many adults remember JA as an after-school program where students developed a microbusiness, but today’s curriculum is much more robust. Now JA is integrated into the school day with programming that stretches from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. Its efforts focus on three pillars: financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship.
“JA programs start very early because people begin to develop their values and lifestyles early,” says Yarian. “We believe all kids, regardless of their background or future plans, need to learn to make good decisions and understand the benefits of those decisions.”
Early elementary programs address all three pillars, but as students get older, programs revolve around a singular pillar. The finance focus, for example, engages students with budgeting, credit and debit cards, and privacy issues. The workforce readiness focus reinforces communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. All programs incorporate as much hands-on learning as possible.
“We’re a natural part of the school day for the kids,” says Yarian. “For example, 70% of students in Allen County have some JA programming in the classroom every single year.”
Ranked second in the nation for market penetration and sixth for total number of students served, JA of Northern Indiana serves as a model for other JA offices. Yarian believes the organization owes its success to a passionate corps of more than 7,000 volunteers.
“One of the uniquely special things about this community is that we have multiple generations giving back,” says Yarian. “Every time an adult works with a student, it is an opportunity to inspire and be a role model. It’s sometimes difficult to articulate the true impact.”
Tony Tranquill, who is president of Wayne Pipe & Supply and serves as a volunteer at Carroll High School, agrees that his experience has been especially rewarding. “For me,” says Tranquill, “there is no better feeling than having a positive impact on a student where something you have shared has made a life-changing impact on their future. I have also realized how much this generation has to offer in the workforce and how much they have taught me.”
JA of Northern Indiana recently garnered national recognition as a recipient of Junior Achievement USA’s Five-Star Award and the Peak Performance Team Award. These awards celebrate student impact and growth, respectively, while maintaining the financial sustainability and operational soundness of the organization.
Still, it’s all about the kids, says Yarian. “I get most excited about the individual changes that happen with volunteers and students. And as a parent, you really hope someone is doing that for your kids.”
Owner(s): Lena Yarian
Address: 601 Noble Drive Fort Wayne, IN 46825
Phone: (260) 484-2543
Years in Business: 65; founded in 1952
Number of Employees: 35 full-time, 27 part-time, 7100+ volunteers
Products & Services: Empowers young people to own their future economic success.