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Photo by Dante Fontana
It has become convenient, even popular, to label the current generation of young people as “apathetic” and “entitled” – they lack the drive, work ethic and ambition of their parents and grandparents.
It can be fairly argued, however, that today’s youth have fewer opportunities than their forebears. College is financially out of reach for many families and scholarships are in short supply. No matter which side of the debate one lands, the truth is that countless kids give back as much as they receive, are motivated by aspirations greater than self and have dedicated themselves to making a difference in the world.
Locally, this crop of go-getters is affiliated with Junior Achievement of Sacramento (JA), a nonprofit with a mission to “inspire and prepare youth to succeed in the global economy.” Julie Rooney, Director of Community Relations, explains that the core values of JA – a belief in the boundless potential of young people and the power of partnership and collaboration; a commitment to the principles of market-based economics and entrepreneurship; honesty, integrity and excellence; respect for all individuals, and conviction in the impact of relevant, hands-on learning – are keys to its astounding success and longevity. Another is the organization’s K-12 student participant, an individual for whom “entitled” is a knee-jerk categorization stemming from uniform stereotype – or, more to the point, grossly inaccurate.
Facilitating the industriousness of the organization’s young participants are JA educators – members of the local business community who volunteer their time. Through their real-world expertise and the JA curriculum, students learn financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship. Sample lessons cover the consequences of identity theft; jobs and salaries; cash versus credit; translating dreams into action and mock interviewing. Consisting of five to 12 sessions per class, the JA program supplements state-mandated curriculum.
In addition to receiving sustained volunteer support for the 50 years it has been in operation, JA’s success can be traced back to the interactive arm of its program, which emphasizes a “learn-by-doing” technique through hands-on activities “designed to empower students to feel and be in control of their destinies,” notes Rooney. This includes complementing classroom presentations with job shadowing at area companies, such as AT&T. Equipping students with crucial, future-defining skills, confidence and motivation cultivated through the program, preps them to contribute positively to the economic health of our region in the future. “The goal,” explains Rooney, “is to help the next generation thrive.”
Last year, 380 volunteers from the local business community assisted more than 8,900 students in 378 Sacramento-area classrooms fulfill this goal. “During the next five years,” notes Rooney, “we aim to dramatically expand the number of students ages 14 to 18 who exit the education system hopeful for the future, ready for work and prepared to manage themselves financially. By focusing on personal financial management and job skills development, this multi-year initiative is designed to impact the root cause – helping end the cycle of poverty in our community.”
For more information, visit jasac.org.