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Honoring the best, benefitting who’s next

ja-patricia-leva-photoEvery year the Rochester Business Hall of Fame inducts new members who have helped shape our Region as business owners and innovators. They have made extraordinary contributions to their industries, given generously to our community, and serve as excellent role models for the next generation.

Junior Achievement takes great pride in helping prepare and inspire the next generation to follow in the footsteps of the exceptional men and women of the Rochester Business Hall of Fame.  The 2018 class is a special one for JA, as we celebrate our 50-year anniversary this month.

It was October 1968, when 33 individuals, representing business, government, education and clergy, rallied around a vision for the next generation – one which not only provided the skills to be successful in a burgeoning manufacturing economy, but also the inspiration that would fuel the continuation of invention and innovation that Rochester had become known for. With a $50,000 investment from both Eastman Kodak Company and Xerox, and a commitment of their employees to share their expertise, Junior Achievement of Rochester, New York Area, Inc. was born.

Over the next decade, business and education converged, as JA matched tens of thousands of students with industry mentors, after school hours, to help them develop and run their own small businesses. To this day, I hear countless stories (and sometimes I am even shown the actual products!) from alumni of the JA Company Program, many of whom credit their success to this single JA experience.

In the early 80’s and beyond, Junior Achievement took the basic tenants of the JA Company Program inside the classroom, developing a K-12 continuum of programs focused on preparing for success in any career – including financial literacy, workplace readiness and entrepreneurial skills, all delivered by a community volunteer.

Today, we reach over 14,000 student in 25 counties, and continue to focus with earnest in the Rochester City School District, where the need for skills and inspiration is greatest.

We have also introduced digital program delivery, and have more student-based events, competitions, opportunities for networking and scholarships than ever before. We continually collaborate with educators to help fill their needs, as evidenced by this year’s launch of the JA Youth Entrepreneurial Summit, and the upcoming launch of the JA Stock Market Challenge.

While we demonstrate the impact of our programs by testing for knowledge gain and behavioral changes, we know we can do more in the years ahead. We have a bold vision for the future, one that takes an even more active role in helping to reduce poverty, increase graduation rates, and fill the gap of skilled workers in a variety of industries.

As part of our anniversary, we have launched a capital campaign that will bring a state-of-the-art, hands-on learning lab for 12,000 middle and high school students in our region. The 17,000 square foot “JA Discovery Center” will be located in the historic former firehouse at Eastman Business Park, and will showcase “replica” businesses and organizations – providing students with an engaging learning environment that reflects the workforce demands of our local economy, and empowers them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to unlock greater economic opportunity. The JA Discovery Center has had measurable impact on over 400,000 students in cities such as Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Detroit, to name only a few. It will be the first of its kind in New York State.

In the future, we will continue to explore additional proven opportunities, like the JA Discovery Center, that provide a collective impact approach to meeting the needs of the community. An example is the recent introduction of 3DE by JA USA, a unique JA-run high school that integrates curriculum, professional development and business partnerships into the daily academic experience.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that our 50-year milestone is even more meaningful as we share it alongside our national partner, JA USA, which marks its 100th anniversary this year.  As I am often reminded, when you start marking your age in centuries, it doesn’t mean you are old, it means you are adaptable, innovative, and ready for the future.  Special thanks to all of our stakeholders who have supported JA throughout the last 50 years, especially those members of the Rochester Business Hall of Fame, who are the role models for this bold vision for the future.

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