Detroit-based Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan (JASEM) has been empowering young people to own their economic futures by providing robust, real world financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship education since 1949. With 2,200 volunteers from banks and large and small companies, it currently serves about 45,000 students in the region, almost half of them in the city of Detroit. In fact, JASEM would be the second largest school district in the state, only behind Detroit.
Margaret Trimer-Hartley, President & CEO, has been with JASEM since January and brings three decades of experience in non-profit, education and communications. As a founder of various non-profit initiatives, Trimer-Hartley is poised to take the organization into the future as it continues to focus on youth, financial literacy and preparing them for the workforce–whether, in entrepreneurship or in a chosen field.
I recently caught up with Trimer-Hartley and asked for her thoughts on JASEM–specifically, its past, three-year vision and potential impact on neighborhoods and entrepreneurship.
Lee: Junior Achievement is an organization redefining itself, but staying true to its mission. What are the organization’s vision and top priorities for this year?
Trimer-Hartley: JA’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Our vision is to empower young people to own their economic futures.
Taken together, JA gives youth the tools to play the game of life and put their education to work for them. We instill the skills and attributes that matter in the workforce—character, problem-solving, communication, punctuality and business savvy—and serve as the connective tissue between school and life.
JA fills the gap that overworked and under-resourced school counselors cannot fill.
Our priorities for this year are: increase the visibility and impact of JA in the region; strategically grow the entrepreneurship sector of our program; continue to be part of the solution to the region’s financial illiteracy problem; intensify the engagement of our board and volunteers so that everyone involved in our work is transformed by the experience.
Lee: What does the brand represent today and what is JA’s vision in three to five years?
Trimer-Hartley: The JA Brand is well respected in the region, but what we do is not well known. Almost everywhere I go people say, “JA. Great organization. What do you do?”
My goal over the next three years is to spread the word that JA is strengthening our neighborhoods and our region by putting young people on the path to career and life success and giving them the economic power to control their destiny.
Lee: Why change?
Trimer-Hartley: It is a tragic waste of opportunity and potential for JA to be unknown and underutilized as it is. JA’s programming and mission are more relevant today than ever. But our notoriety and, thus, our impact are not as great as they can be because we are operating under the radar and outside of the important conversations in the community.
JA should be front and center in today’s conversations at the city, region and state level about financial literacy, workforce development and entrepreneurship. We should be a critical partner in all the youth initiatives such as Mayor Duggan’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent summer work program and John Hope Bryant’s Operation Hope efforts to improve adult credit scores in Detroit.
It won’t take long, and we will be.
Lee: As we’re all aware, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is an issue which needs to be addressed. What specific programs are being offered by JA to help prepare DPS students for their future?
Trimer-Hartley: JA programs are well suited to students no matter what their demographic. Every young person should know how to manage money and create wealth, but those are especially critical skills for low-income youth to rise above their circumstances.
Our JA Finance Park budget simulation is particularly powerful for urban learners because it is downtown, hands-on, and real world. Students receive an identity when they arrive, such as married, two children and a job earning $34,000 a year. They must budget for food, clothing, housing, transportation, entertainment and their own savings. They have to balance their budget to pass.
It’s exciting to watch the light bulbs go on when students realize that taxes affect earnings, credit cards are not money, eating out all the time is costly and that children are expensive.
Lee: Financial literacy is a challenge for our youth. However, it’s a high-priority for the organization. What specific programs do you offer addressing this issue?
Trimer-Hartley: JA has a host of K-12 programs that teach young people how to effectively manage their money. Our programs align with the state’s Core Curriculum and reinforce critical skills at critical times.
JA’s Personal Finance and Finance Park are two popular options for teaching money management to students in grades 6-12. Our courses can actually count toward the half credit students must earn in economics in high school.
Lee: Entrepreneurship is hot in Detroit right now and many millennials have an interest in starting small businesses. Why is this important to JA and how is the organization supporting entrepreneurship for youth?
Trimer-Hartley: Millennials will have to reinvent themselves many times over throughout their lives. They need the skills necessary to understand gaps and opportunities and how to create wealth in an ever-changing marketplace.
JA’s K-12 entrepreneurship programs are designed to not only give young people the skills necessary to create and run businesses, but also stimulate an entrepreneurial culture. Cultivating entrepreneurship is important to JA because it strengthens communities and builds economic stability. It also reaches and excites many of those students who do not see the value of school or who don’t fit into the traditional box.
JA’s entrepreneurship programs are in high demand, but we have not been implementing them aggressively over the past decade because we have been more focused on financial literacy. I plan to enlist a corps of entrepreneurs to help us identify which opportunities we should seize and then help us deliver our programs.
Lee: Anything else?
Trimer-Hartley: Come to JA’s Family & Friends Day at Quicken Loans/JA Finance Park April 16, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. See what we do and how we do it, and then jump in. Get involved in building a better future for Detroit and the entire southeast Michigan region.
For more information, please go to www.jamichigan.org