When Donna Buchanan, president of Junior Achievement of Georgia, says that her job is more a way of life than a vocation, her own history serves as evidence: Buchanan was a “JA kid” when she was in school. Back in the day, she says, the organization had one offering – the company program, where high-school students started their own companies and sold their wares door-to-door.
The organization has expanded its programming significantly since then, with curricula designed and presented in classrooms in grades K-12 to teach students about business and free enterprise. “What Junior Achievement is all about, then and now, is the American dream,” Buchanan says. “I lived it and breathed it. I knew if I took the initiative, I could choose my life and take the opportunities to succeed in. It was up to me to find my niche, my career, but I knew it was there for me.”
Junior Achievement of Georgia was founded in 1943 (the national organization started in 1920) and last year reached more than 100,000 students in 589 schools throughout the state. District offices are located in Savannah, Dalton, Columbus, Gainesville and Augusta, with state headquarters in Atlanta. JA programs connect the worlds of work and school, focusing on economic education, teaching students about personal financial literacy, global business perspectives and entrepreneurial thinking.
Volunteers – about 5,000 across the state – from the business community are trained in the curriculum, then teach students in a series of five to eight lessons in the classroom. “Ideally, we seek situations where a business has formed a strong partnership with a school,” says Heather Laird, senior director of volunteer operations and marketing. “We see ourselves as the bridge between the business and education communities.” One program, called JA Hispanic Outreach, began as a pilot effort in Georgia to put more Hispanic volunteers in the classrooms and is now being rolled out nationally.
Another popular program is the JA Fellows. Laird describes it as a “leadership development program for high-school students,” which includes the old company program and also provides students with opportunities to meet business leaders and participate in a “job shadow” exercise, spending a half-day at a volunteer’s workplace. “The kids meet here, and just seeing their energy and excitement is a shot in the arm,” Buchanan says. “These kids just want to reach out and grab all the possibilities in their lives.”