Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan

There’s been a lot of energy in Detroit around small business development and entrepreneurship.  From incubator and accelerator programs to potential funding opportunities, there are resources abound.

There’s also an increased emphasis regarding young people.  Through volunteering, for example, people and businesses are reaching back to help Detroit’s youth by providing enhanced educational opportunities in conjunction with various non-profit relationships.

For example, Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan (JASEM), www.jamichigan.org), is a non-profit focused on helping young people succeed by teaching them money management, entrepreneurship and work readiness as part of the basics of life. The organization, which serves 50,000 students with 2500 volunteers from Monroe to Genesee (Flint), is preparing the region’s youth for their future.

And nearly half of these students reside in Detroit.

As she completes her first year, Margaret Trimer-Hartley, JASEM President & CEO, talked to me recently regarding new programming, small business support and its increased efforts focused on youth entrepreneurial development.

Lee:  Last time we talked, you were just getting settled into your new role as the CEO.  How’s it going so far?

Trimer-Hartley:  I’m 11 months in, and I could not love this work more.  I have an incredible board, a dedicated staff and committed investors.  We are growing by at least 4,000 students this year and we are engaging youth in all sectors of our work—financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness.  That’s a big change from the last decade, during which JA, like many non-profits, struggled with the depressed economy and low visibility.

We are also developing some amazing partnerships with organizations like Greenpath, Operation HOPE, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, MINT Artists Guild and many others.  Partnerships enable us to create a continuum of service in the community and ensure that, together, we are teaching real-world skills for success to whole families in our neighborhoods so they can participate in and help sustain Detroit’s economic boom.

That kind of collaboration and coordination intensifies the impact of our work.

Lee:  A core area of emphasis is financial literacy among youth.  Since the beginning of the academic year, what new programs have been developed and implemented to address this opportunity area?

Trimer-Hartley:  This school year we launched the three-year JA Financial Freedom Project, an effort to reach every 7thor 8th grader—about 8,000 more students—in the city of Detroit with our JA Finance Park personal finance curriculum and a field trip to our awesome Quicken Loans JA Finance Park facility downtown. There they have a one-of-a-kind, hands-on, high-tech personal budgeting experience.

We are signing up new students at a record pace. General Motors Financial, Lear Corp., Ally Financial, Inc, Warner Norcross & Judd, the Ratner Foundationand the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA) have stepped up with more than half the funding needed for this year.

We need another $100,000 to fund that project fully for this school year.

We also launched the JA Journey 2 Jobs (J2J) initiative, and it is proving very popular.  J2J is a job shadow/career expo on steroids.  The real differentiator is that JA delivers work readiness lessons in the classroom before and after their experience at the expo or the work site, including how to interview, write a resume and how to understand the culture of the workplace. This approach allows the students to retain more of their experience and aligns with the Common Core and state academic standards.

We just completed the JA/Sachse Construction Academy during which 500 high school students descended on Eastern Market to learn about 30 different skilled trades careers—and the entrepreneurs who created businesses around their skills. It was an amazing success for Sachse, which is trying to fill jobs in the skilled trades, and for the students, who are looking for opportunities.

Lee:  Small business development is continuing to expand across Detroit and beyond.  How is JA supporting these efforts?

Trimer-Hartley:  JA supports small business development by teaching youth about entrepreneurship, exposing them to local business owners and encouraging them to start businesses of their own.  We are looking for alumni, especially alumni who are small business owners to share their experiencesduring November, which is National Entrepreneurship Month. We also are looking for alumni to volunteer to help students gain the skills necessary to open and run businesses in the future.

You can’t be it if you can’t see it.  Many neighborhoods in the region are still lacking small business development.  JA’s goal is to expose students to as many small business owners as we can and inspire them to consider entrepreneurship as a career option.

Lee:  Recently, you shared with me the importance of educating youth on entrepreneurship.  Why is this important to JA?

Trimer-Hartley:  Teaching youth about entrepreneurship is important to JA because it is important to Detroit and the region.  We are living in optimistic economic times here because of the energy, the excitement and the jobs created by entrepreneurs. They are literally starting new businesses in the city every day.

JA’s purpose is to empower young people to own their economic success. Every student needs to feel that sense of possibility—and power—that creating something from nothing brings.

Lee:  And specifically, what programs are being developed and launched?  

Trimer-Hartley:  This year, our JA office received a grant from the Achievement Foundation to reintroduce the JA Company Program (JACO), which is what the organization was founded on almost 100 years ago. This entrepreneurship program is our most intense and exciting offering. Students learn to start and run a business by doing just that.

We are also creating a museum of products our alumni built over the years.  So far we have a teddy bear night light, a bunch of mugs, scarves and other school spirit items.

I know alumni—or their moms—saved these relics.  We want them!

Lee:  As your first year as JA’s CEO ends, let’s look to 2017.  Where will be JA’s key priority areas next year and beyond?

Trimer-Hartley:  Any business owner will tell you find your niche, and be the best at it.  JA’s niche is teaching young people the business of life. No other youth-focused non-profit does what we do at the level we do it with the results that we get.

We will spend the next three to five years working with our board, our partners and our investors to intensify our impact in our core work and feel a great sense of urgency to ensure that youth in the region are equipped to participate in the local economy.  Their engagement is essential to a peaceful and prosperous region.

Lee:  How can people help?  Other thoughts?

Trimer-Hartley:  We need investors—and volunteers.  We are not a charity that receives sympathy or guilt money; we don’t fix broken children, we prevent them.  Our programs are cost effective—about $35 per student per program—and we bring them to the schools at no charge.  More resources mean we can get more kids ready for the business of life.