The Junior Achievement champions young people with work readiness programs

The Junior Achievement champions young people with work readiness programs.

Tracye Funn, manager of corporate contributions and supplier diversity for Washington Gas, still chuckles when she remembers one particular eighth grader she met while volunteering with Junior Achievement of Greater Washington. After working on a simulated household budget, the young girl had a revelation about her future.

“I am not getting married and having kids until I can afford them!” she exclaimed. 

For Funn, it was a reminder that her time with Junior Achievement is well spent.

“I loved seeing the world through her eyes, that after this experience she really grasped the concept of being a financial steward over her life,” Funn said.

For more than 20 years, Washington Gas has worked with Junior Achievement, a nonprofit that teaches students in kindergarten through grade 12 about work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Junior Achievement partners with school districts and local businesses for its volunteer-driven efforts, which are tailored to age-level and school curriculums.

“Junior Achievement overall inspires kids to think big, achieve big and achieve their own American dream,” said Chelsea Soneira, vice president of education for Junior Achievement of Greater Washington. It serves about 70,000 students per year in 22 counties and independent cities in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, and has worked with nearly 800,000 students since its founding in 1965.

Junior Achievement of Greater Washington’s programs reach schools, community groups and school systems, with volunteers working in classrooms to lead hands-on activities and share their personal and professional experiences, “to give some real-life gravitas,” Soneira said. Other programs include job shadowing and giving students experience operating their own company outside the classroom.

Washington Gas works with Junior Achievement in a number of ways, including participating in and supporting an annual bowl-a-thon fundraiser. They also send about 80 employees each year to JA in a Day, a day-long Junior Achievement program for elementary schoolers.

“Our employees love working with children,” said Daminique Branch, community outreach manager and volunteer coordinator for Washington Gas. “We try to engage the students in knowing how important it is to be professional, how important education is.”

Perhaps one of the most exciting ways that Washington Gas works with Junior Achievement is through JA Finance Park, a program for middle schoolers that includes a series of teacher-taught, in-class lessons and culminates in a visit to an interactive learning facility that immerses students into a simulated economy.

JA Finance Park facilities are set up like malls, with storefronts representing different aspects of financial life, such as buying a home, a car, furniture, grocery store, utilities, community college and philanthropy.

Junior Achievement of Greater Washington has two JA Finance Park facilities in Fairfax, Virginia, and Landover, Maryland, which serve a combined 26,000 students per year. A third location, slated to open in 2018 in Silver Spring, Maryland, will serve another 12,000 students annually.

At JA Finance Park, each student receives a tablet computer to use and a life scenario: they might be a single mom with three kids and an annual salary of $30,000, or a married dad with one child and a dual income of $120,000. Based on their “life,” students must create a household budget and visit the storefronts to learn about and check off line items for running their households.

Washington Gas, together with Potomac Electric Power Company, sponsors the storefront dedicated to utilities. Thanks to their volunteers and the space’s interactive features, like an electronic touchscreen game and a miniature house with buttons to turn lights on and off, kids not only learn about managing their household utilities budget, but also about being smart with energy usage and conservation.

“It’s just getting them to conserve and use natural gas wisely in the home,” said Funn. “We’re teaching them the simple things that they have power over that make them better consumers.”

Soneira said that deep involvement at JA Finance Park is just one of the ways that Washington Gas has gone above and beyond in its partnership with Junior Achievement.

“They’ve been a creative partner to work with—they have never just taken us at face value. They have always said, ‘How can we get some of Washington Gas’s culture and mission into this,’ ” Soneira said. “How they bring creativity and are really able to get their folks personally engaged in Junior Achievement is pretty remarkable.” - Alexandra Pecci

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