Investing in the Future

Junior Achievement plays key role in workforce, entrepreneurial development

By Kevin Gale

Junior Achievement is doing a lot more than exposing busloads of children to the world of business and finance at BizTown in Coconut Creek.

President and CEO Laurie Sallarulo says the broader mission is: “Investing in the future of our community. Investing in the next generation of consumers, employees and job creators.”

Fulfilling that vision involves a multipronged approach that teaches financial literacy, fosters entrepreneurialism, prepares students for careers and encourages business leaders to provide mentorship and internships. January is a great time to volunteer; it’s National Mentoring Month.

JA is addressing some of the biggest issues in the news, such as young people struggling with their finances and debt. Many young people find it difficult to get entry-level jobs, and one reason is because some baby boomers haven’t saved enough for retirement and are working into their 70s—even in jobs historically dominated by teenagers and young adults, such as bagging groceries, Sallarulo says.

Another problem is many employers want experience and yet don’t offer internships to help provide that. “We complain that they don’t have those soft skills coming out of schools, but employers don’t want to give them the experience to get those soft skills,” Sallarulo says.

Career Bound’s Deep Dive

One of the most influential programs at JA is Career Bound, an 88-hour, 10-month program that allows high school students to learn the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

“That’s a lot of impact. That’s the level and depth of the training and programming that makes JA different,” Sallarulo says.

Students meet once a month with senior business leaders who talk about their career paths and the type of skills that students need to succeed.

That includes hearing about the soft skills that so many business leaders find lacking in job candidates: specifically, the four Cs: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication.

Industries that students are learning about in the current program, which ends in March, are automotive, information technology, marketing, public relations, banking, finance, aerospace, human resources, construction and marine.

For banking and finance, students visited a SunTrust Bank office in Miami. JA worked with Royal Caribbean International on two different days—one about jobs in ports and on ships, and the other about vessel engineering and architecture.

One of the benefits of the programs is students get exposure to industries they might not have considered for their careers.

“At the construction one, we asked at the beginning, ‘How many of you kids today would think about a career in construction?’ Maybe two raised their hands. At the end of the day, we asked the same question. A lot more of the kids raised their hands,” Sallarulo says.

JA Fellows: Creating a Small Business

In the JA Fellows program, teams of 15 to 20 students work at least two hours a week, sometimes in classrooms and other times at after-school clubs, to conceptualize, capitalize and manage their own small businesses. Students also work on résumés and interviewing techniques.

Teams of volunteers work with each group to help guide them through the 18-week program.

Students come up with ideas, developing financials and taking the products to market. Students present their pitches to investors in a session called “Spark Tank.” Shares typically sell for $25 to friends and family. Just like the real world, any profits are distributed to shareholders.

Teams compete in a local “Spark Tank” finale; the program has grown from four to 20 teams of students. Then there’s the national competition at JA’s National Student Leadership Summit. South Florida had three of the top 15 teams out of 700 nationwide in the June summit. South Florida’s Alpha Necessities was selected as company of the year for its concept of a tiny garbage can that fits in automotive cupholders. Each team member received a $4,000 scholarship.

Working with Schools

Many students get a taste of the world of business at JA World’s BizTown. The program for fifth-graders brings thousands of students to what looks like an indoor city filled with various businesses, including BB&T, Comcast, Ernst & Young, FPL, Gunster, Ikea, Local 10 WPLG, the Miami Dolphins, Nova Southeastern University and Lifestyle Media Group, the parent company of SFBW.

Before visiting JA World, students learn how to manage their personal bank account, participate in job interviews, and discover what their mock workplace is like and the job they will perform.

JA Finance Park gives eighth-graders the experience of creating and maintaining a personal budget, including health care, real estate, cars, home improvement, banks, supermarkets, restaurants, stock brokers and utilities. Students visit each business to get the information to create their own personal budget.

Broward County’s school board is working with JA to visit classrooms, too, Sallarulo says.

One pilot program helps make digital skills classes more engaging by integrating an “it’s my business” theme.

The JA Experience at Lauderhill 6-12, a magnet school with a science, technology, engineering, math and medical focus, engages high schoolers with JA’s curriculum and its fellows program

For example, students working on a business plan might learn how to do research in English class, Sallarulo says. Budget and cost analysis can be done in math class. “It’s showing them why algebra is important. If I am going to do a cost analysis, I need to know some algebra,” Sallarulo says.

Making an impact

Two of JA’s biggest supporters are James and Cathy Donnelly, who also are JA Business Hall of Fame Laureates. James is founder and CEO and Cathy is director of community relations for the Castle Group, which provides property services. They were JA volunteers in their sons’ classroom and became big supporters of the organization.

“JA BizTown and JA Finance Park have made learning very experiential, which is the best way to learn. Our children need to be financially literate and there are not many places to learn these skills if they are not taught at home,” James Donnelly says.

His role as chairman of the Broward Workshop, a group of top business leaders, has given him insight into how JA is addressing issues of concern to businesses.

“We have identified workforce readiness as a big issue in Broward,” he says. “JA has great programs to help prepare our children for the workforce. Jobs as we knew them are not as plentiful today, and our children may have to create their own job by becoming an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is part of the curriculum at JA.”

How to help JAMentor a JA Fellows team

Contact Martha Rios, director of Work Readiness and Entrepreneurship Initiatives,, 954-979-7103

Donate money or goods

Contact Ashley Sharp, vice president of development,, 954-979-7100


Contact Stephanie Canino, volunteer coordinator,, 954-979-7100

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