Casting the Vision

Building financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship through Junior Achievement of Northeast Indiana
Jennifer Blomquist
Jeff Bell

“In terms of size, we’re the sixth largest Junior Achievement operation in the nation and the second largest in terms of student market share,” says Lena Yarian, President of Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana. “There’s a real history of significance for JA in Fort Wayne and we credit our success to the tremendous legacy of our founding members.”

Junior Achievement of Fort Wayne was founded in 1952 and was the first JA to be incorporated in the state of Indiana. Today, it encompasses a total of 30 counties, including two in Michigan and one in Ohio.

Yarian says the early board members set a high standard with their expectations and, as a result, the local organization is recognized nationally as a model with the majority of national programs piloted here in Fort Wayne before being implemented in the more than 120 JA organizations throughout the country.

“I got involved with JA in Fort Wayne in the early 1970s,” says Jim Johnston, who has been a board member for more than four decades and is also Chairman of the Junior Achievement Foundation. “JA is important because we’re shaping young people who are going to be college ready and career ready for the workforce in northeast Indiana.”

Johnston is a big admirer of the three pillars that are the foundation of JA: workforce readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. 

“If you look around northeast Indiana, you’ll see a lot of companies that have been formed by entrepreneurs. If we influence young people at an early age to have an interest in entrepreneurialism and they go on to create the next new company here, then it’s a win-win, for everybody.”

Former Chairman and CEO of Lincoln National Corp., Ian Rolland, has been involved with JA for twenty years and says he became an advocate and volunteer for the organization because of its support and commitment to free enterprise. 

The demands of today’s business world are greater and the effects of a business owner’s decisions are far reaching. Through the programs at JA, young people receive invaluable hands-on training and exposure to the situations they will face beyond their school career, according to Rolland. 

Both Rolland and Johnston agree that students are often limited when it comes to career choices by what they see their family members doing. Rolland believes by showcasing the plethora of businesses and career opportunities in northern Indiana, these young people are more likely to stay here and work here, instead of leaving upon graduation.

The JA BizTown® facility is named after Rolland and his wife, Mimi. Located within the JA building on Noble Drive, it’s a fully interactive free-market lab where elementary school students spend the day running an economy and taking on the jobs of a city.

Middle school and high school students can visit Finance Park at the second JA location on North Clinton Street. Here, the students are given the opportunity to manage a career, salary and meet the financial obligations of an adult, including housing and debt.

“It’s often a huge and rude awakening for the students,” says Johnston. “Most of the young people who go there probably have a smart phone, but they have no idea how much it costs. And they’re always surprised to learn that when you buy a home, you have other things to worry about like water and sewer rates and taxes. JA shows them how to successfully juggle all that, which is why it’s such an important program.”

Plans are underway to develop an entrepreneurial center where students can be paired up with real-life entrepreneurs through internships and job shadowing experiences.

“Helping kids establish and enhance entrepreneurial skills early on in life can be transformative as it allows those students to have a new thought process when looking at potential career mapping once they’re ready to enter the workforce or pursue a higher education degree,” says Doug Wood, Chief Administrative Officer, SVP at Sweetwater Sound and Board Chairman of Junior Achievement. “Having a regional economic culture that embraces and supports entrepreneurism will be a differentiator in the race for talent that every major region of the country faces. This new, state-of-the-art facility will inspire our youth for the next several decades.”

The entrepreneurial center will be located in a new JA building that is yet 

to be constructed. It will also house the BizTown and Finance Park centers. 

“We’ve been at our Noble Drive location since 1972 and, while it’s been a great space, it’s tucked away behind the Northcrest Shopping Center and not very visible,” says Yarian. “It’s also not very efficient to operate out of two separate locations. We don’t own either of these buildings and after discussing it thoroughly, it just made sense for us to relocate and build something new.”

Local developer and JA Foundation board member Don Steininger says they’ve looked at nearly a dozen sites and have narrowed it down to three.

“It’s a big decision that will affect many future generations,” says Steininger. “The single most important factor is access because we have thousands of students coming to the facility every year by bus and easy access to our building is a must. Visibility is the second most important factor. We want the new building to be impressive and it will, but being a non-profit, we also have to be good stewards of the dollars generously given to us through the capital campaign.”

“Casting the Vision” is the name of the campaign about to get underway. 

“We are so excited to embark on this new, very meaningful journey for JA,” says Yarian. “We have more than 7,100 wonderful volunteers and a terrific staff. That’s a lot of people who share a vision to help our kids by working together.” 

Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana

Owner(s): Lena Yarian, President

Address: 601 Noble Drive Fort Wayne, Indiana 46825

Phone: (260) 484-2543



Years in Business: 65

Number of Employees: 35 full-time, 27 part-time and 7,100+ volunteers

Products & Services: Junior Achievement empowers young people to own their future economic success by enhancing the relevancy of education at every grade level.

Hall's Catering Fort Wayne Indiana

Related Stories