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Future Hall of Famers learn the ropes in JA

When the Rochester Business Hall of Fame was founded eight years ago, it became one of only two permanent exhibits of its kind in the nation. The idea was to create an institution that honors the entrepreneurs and business leaders who have contributed in a lasting way to the economic and civic life of Rochester. 

For its first five years, the Hall of Fame resided in Strong Museum. When Strong reopened three years ago as the National Museum of Play, the Hall of Fame moved to Rochester Museum & Science Center. The Hall of Fame fits in well at RMSC, where history exhibits celebrate Rochester’s legacy of innovation and invention. 

The Hall of Fame is a joint initiative of Junior Achievement of Rochester, New York Area Inc., the Rochester Business Journal and RMSC. 

When members of the Hall of Fame’s selection committee evaluate possible inductees, they look for three attributes: contributions to the individual’s organization, business, industry and community; an excellent reputation and recognition as a source of inspiration and encouragement for others; and leadership qualities, shown in outstanding and enduring contributions to improving the products, processes, efficiencies or human relations of business. 

The 2009 class will be inducted Oct. 7 during a reception and dinner at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. Proceeds will benefit Junior Achievement of Rochester. 

Junior Achievement came to Rochester in 1968. It began with one after-school program for high school students, who learned what goes into starting, operating and sustaining a corporation. Today, students of all ages in JA’s programs learn about financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work force readiness. 

Patricia Leva is president and CEO. She discussed the local organization and its goals in a recent interview with the Rochester Business Journal.     
ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: The mission of Junior Achievement is "to prepare and inspire youth to succeed in a global economy."  How do you do this?
PATRICIA LEVA: JA is the world’s largest organization of its kind dedicated to educating students about financial literacy, work-force readiness and entrepreneurship through experiential, hands-on programs in kindergarten through 12th grade. 

For more than 40 years locally, volunteers from the business community have been visiting area classrooms, transforming the key concepts in our lessons into a message that inspires and empowers students to believe in themselves and to learn the value of being contributing members of our community.

This year, almost 600 teachers invited JA into their classrooms, and hundreds of JA volunteers donated more than 4,000 hours of their time to help make students’ lessons in core subjects applicable to the real world. 

Our current education system is designed to focus on hard skills like math, reading and science, but our global economy now requires many more soft skills to be successful, including teamwork, collaboration and entrepreneurial thinking. Children get to practice these skills in JA programs with a real-world mentor, who can also describe how the hard skills are applied in the workplace. 

RBJ: Have you made any program changes or new offerings in the last year? 

LEVA: To ensure program relevance and effectiveness, JA continually reviews and updates existing programs and develops new ones, plus other tools and supplements, to meet the needs of educators and the business community. 

We recognize the significant need for an entrepreneurial mind-set-for students to take initiative and put into play new ideas that can help our economy grow. In a Gallup survey released this summer by JA, more than 60 percent of employees and managers said that entrepreneurial attitudes are important for workers of any kind, whether starting a business or thinking innovatively within an organization. 

It is with this in mind that JA this fall will be launching a high school program called "JA Be Entrepreneurial." The idea is to help students recognize characteristics and practices of successful entrepreneurs, evaluate entrepreneurial ideas and demonstrate business-planning skills. 

Earlier this year in response to global economic issues, JA released a series of interactive lessons around financial literacy, called "$ave USA." These lessons can be downloaded from our Web site by parents and educators to help kids deal with a world of increasingly complex financial matters. These new teaching tools complement JA’s in-school financial literacy programs. They are meant to foster dialogue about sound personal finance practices. The goal is for families to put these practices into action. 

Other program supplements have been developed this year that extend the traditional JA classroom experience, including tools to help students understand the current economic climate and ways they can succeed regardless of it. These programs also are available through our Web site. 

RBJ: What are key goals for the local Junior Achievement in the next few years? 

LEVA: The primary goal for JA is not only to increase the number of students we reach in the nine-county region we serve but also to reach these students throughout their schooling. This will require increased involvement with the academic and business communities as well as more collaborations with other agencies. 

A record number of 11,000 students received JA programs in the last academic year. But this is only a small portion of the student population in the counties that we serve. We also know, through national and local evaluations, that when kids receive multiple JA programs, it can have a significant impact on their attitudes and learning. If we want to reverse the trends of financial illiteracy, help improve economic self-sufficiency in this community and create a work force that is equipped to compete globally, we need to reach more students and reach them numerous times throughout their school years. 

RBJ: How has the economic recession affected your operations? 

LEVA: The current business environment has no doubt been challenging. However, the increases we experienced last year in three critical areas-students, number of classes and volunteers-is a testament to the dedication of our donors, volunteers, educators and staff and to the relevance of our programs. 

Many of JA’s corporate donors tell me they choose to work with us because they see the value in preparing kids for the real world and in helping to eliminate negative perceptions about business. Ultimately, they want to create a stronger work force and local economy. We have been very fortunate that many of our steadfast supporters have found ways to continue to support our programs as they manage through the perils in the economy. 

One of our challenges has been to keep our volunteers engaged as they work through changes within their organizations or even lose their jobs. Increasing awareness of the work we do with businesses and associations in tough economic times is crucial to delivering an increasing number of programs requested by principals and teachers. 

RBJ: Financial experts say that children and teens need more instruction in personal finance-for example, saving and handling credit-in order to successfully handle their finances as adults. Does Junior Achievement have programs to help prepare young people? 

LEVA: One of the key components of JA programming is teaching youth how to be fiscally responsible, both personally and in business. Research indicates that this type of education is not occurring in the home, and many parents incorrectly assume that learning basic money management skills is part of school curricula. As a nation and as a local community, we must do a better job of teaching kids how to read and write financially, not only so they can avoid the financial pitfalls into which many adults have fallen, but because our kids will someday run our businesses, governments and financial institutions. 

JA programs allow young people to have more exposure, at all stages of their education, to formal financial literacy training. As early as kindergarten, JA students learn to distinguish between needs and wants, the basics of budgeting, the discovery of the economic roles of consumer and worker, and even concepts of teamwork, ethics and giving back. JA’s middle and high school programs continue to build on these concepts while covering more in-depth topics of insurance, credit, investments, identity theft, financial choices, goal setting, ethics and career choices that match their skills, values and desired lifestyle. 

RBJ: What commitment is required of Junior Achievement volunteers? How can people become involved? 

LEVA: A unique aspect of the JA model is the curriculum that we provide to our volunteers. We ask volunteers to bring their own life experiences to the lessons we provide and to infuse examples from the workplace into the interactive activities contained in each of these lessons. JA provides all the relevant training, and teachers and volunteers will work together to schedule the most convenient time for a volunteer to visit the classroom. While the time commitment varies based on grade level, a volunteer will schedule five to eight visits of approximately 30 to 45 minutes each, totaling about four to six hours of time over the course of an academic year. 

Our volunteers continually share with us the benefits they receive as they watch their students grow under their guidance. Business owners and managers encourage their employees to volunteer; they believe the experience helps to hone presentation skills and improve time management and leadership skills, while it enhances the well-being of this community. 

To learn more about how you can become a JA volunteer, please call the office at 327-7400 or visit our Web site at rochesterny.ja.org.



(c) 09/25/09 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.


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