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How Junior Achievement Is Changing Gen Z's Lives

By Jason Moser – Updated Apr 21, 2019 at 11:49PM

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With money skills taught less in school, and a general taboo around talking about the family budget, Junior Achievement gives kids a grounding in personal finance.

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In a world where too many people finish high school without being taught how to balance their budget, Junior Achievement works to improve kids' financial literacy around the world. In this week's Industry Focus: Financials, host Jason Moser interviews Patti Senft, manager of program engagement at the greater Washington, D.C., Junior Achievement, about the program. Learn about how JA's Finance Parks teach kids about budgeting and purchasing with a hands-on, unforgettable experience; the Shark Tank-style entrepreneurship program where high schoolers launch real businesses; Junior Achievement's $20,000 scholarship essay contest; how the organization works; and much more. To learn more about Junior Achievement, visit To contact Patti directly about volunteer opportunities, you can email her at [email protected]

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Jan. 21, 2019.

Jason Moser: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market each day. It's Monday, Jan. 21. I'm your host, Jason Moser. The markets are on holiday today, but that's OK, don't worry. We've got a special interview lined up for you.

With its purpose to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in the global economy, Junior Achievement is the nation's largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices. With its core content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy, they ignite the spark in young people to experience and realize the opportunities and realities of working life in the 21st century.

Patti Senft is the manager of program engagement with Junior Achievement here in the greater Washington, D.C., area. This week on Between Two Fools, Patti and I sat down to talk more about all of the great things Junior Achievement is doing for today's students.


Moser: Patti, tell our listeners more about Junior Achievement and your role with Junior Achievement at Finance Park.

Patti Senft: Thank you, Jason! And Happy New Year to you and your listeners! Really excited to chat with you and your listeners a little bit today. 

For those of you that may not have ever heard of Junior Achievement, true story, we're a global nonprofit educational organization that serves students K through 12. Our focus is on teaching students to make good money decisions, so, good budgeting choices, good spending habits, so they don't get crushed with debt. We also teach them to be good stewards of their money, how to be a successful entrepreneur, and how to prepare for a successful career. We're a nonprofit supported through public and private partnerships. We rely on the generosity of our volunteers to help guide and mentor our students K through 12 through all these various programs that we have. 

My role is to make sure that we have enough volunteers every day at Finance Park to ensure that the students have the best experience possible. This is a great public-private partnership that we have, and we rely on the generosity of our volunteers to make it happen.

Moser: I'm glad you mentioned the financial literacy aspect, working with students. I tell you, obviously, here at The Motley Fool, we work very hard to bring personal finance and investing advice to the masses in plain language that people can understand. Fortunately for me, my career here at The Fool, I've had the chance to speak with some folks about the state of financial literacy, the state of financial education in a lot of our schools countrywide. I was fortunate enough to interview with the secretary of education at the time, Arne Duncan, and he had the same advice in that parents need to be very open with their kids about these subjects. I think there's this perception out there that speaking with your child about how much your mortgage payment is per month, or how much that insurance bill is, is taboo. But really, it couldn't be more of the opposite. Parents need to open up and talk with their kids about those types of things. And that, I think, was what impressed me so much. Our listeners will know that I chaperoned a field trip to the Finance Park where we met.

Senft: You did.

Moser: I was just taken aback by how impressed I was with virtually every aspect of it. It's Adulting 101. It's all of this stuff rolled into what was a really fun day. You talk about your job being coordinating volunteers, making sure you guys are fully staffed on a daily basis. I want to dig into that a little bit. When I thought about this, and I thought about the class that my daughter attended there that one day, the numbers associated with what you all do there at Finance Park here in Fairfax on a daily basis, I think, is fairly astounding. It's not like you have every couple of days, a couple of classes go through this facility. How many students run through your facility every week during a given school year?

Senft: So many students. Thanks for the question! It's impressive what the teachers do to prepare their students and the parents and all of that, just by way of preface. We host roughly 15,000 students at Finance Park in Fairfax each school year. And that's between September and June, it doesn't even count the summer months. We mirror the Fairfax County public school system's school hours. When you came in with Robinson Secondary, we probably had upwards of 130 students that day. We average between 120 and 152 students every day, Monday through Friday. That comes out, I think I mentioned, about 15,000 students per school year. 

We have two other Finance Parks I want to make sure that I let your listeners know about. That's in Prince George's County by FedEx Field, that park opened in 2015. They host about 12,000 students a year. And then our newest park in Montgomery County just opened in Silver Spring, colocated with the Thomas Edison High School of Technology. They're on track to host about 10,000 students.

In our region, the total number of students we serve is probably going to be close to 67,000 between all our different programs. But here, because we've been operational in Fairfax with our Finance Park since 2010, we're very well established, the school system is familiar with us, so it's about 26 middle schools that we're hosting, along with the city of Falls Church, City of Arlington, and then we also host the Arlington archdiocese school system.

Moser: That's amazing! I mean, I knew the number was big, but I was not positive what the number was. I'm astounded by that. To be clear, you're talking about region here. Junior Achievement is a national organization. There are more Finance Parks around the country, right?

Senft: There are. On a national level, I think we're bumping up to about 18 to 20 Finance Parks. We're all organized by chapters. We're the greater Washington area chapter of Junior Achievement. We're fortunate that we alone have three Finance Parks. In other areas of the country, there may be more of a hybrid model, which is like a virtual Finance Park. But the actual experience of coming in to this location, which I know you saw firsthand, looks like a mini-mall, and each storefront represents a budget line item that your adult listeners, you and I, we take for granted. Yeah, we pay the cellphone bill, and we have to pay for groceries, we have to pay for recycling and water and sewer and trash and all those sorts of things. But you don't really get that in a virtual program or just a standard classroom program. So, coming here and seeing it live and in action, I think it really brings that program home to the students. 

It's a really, really exciting program. I'm so glad that you got to come through because your enthusiasm was contagious. That's what we love about this, our volunteers really help bring this program alive for the students as they're going through it. You're using your adult experiences to help mentor those students and guide them and go, "Well, you need to budget a little bit more for groceries," or, "Maybe you can't afford that sports car on that salary."

Moser: [laughs] Yep. I remember telling a student or two to think about reallocating a few times.

Senft: Yeah. It's that online shopping experience. You have to return things.

Moser: It's an eye-opener. I tell you, this concept really hits the nail on the head in a number of ways, but I appreciated the fact that not only did the students have to go through with their tablet and budget all their money out over the course of a month, but then they actually had to go through the transaction. They had to go back through the mall and go to the storefronts, and they would either do an online bill pay or they had a fake debit card, where they would actually have to enter the debit card number into their account online to make that payment. I think that was a really nice way to bring it home, the actual act of paying. As many of our listeners know now, and a lot of our subscribers and members, we're in this period of time where cash is becoming a secondary way to pay for things, and electronic payments are taking over. The benefits of that are great. You don't have to carry the cash around, it's easier to manage. But it's different when you're spending money, and you don't really actually hand over any money. You don't feel that loss. 

Senft: That's right. 

Moser: I think that running them through the actual process of making the payment at least helps bring that home. 

I wanted to ask you one thing here before we go on. You said that with Finance Park being one of the offerings that you have, and when you and I were talking, you were also telling me a little bit about a Shark Tank-like offering that you all have, either with Junior Achievement or your particular chapter. Could you tell our listeners a little bit really quick about that Shark Tank concept?

Senft: Yeah, absolutely. The Finance Park program is geared specifically to middle school-aged students, typically in eighth grade for Fairfax, seventh grade in Montgomery County and eighth grade in Prince George's. We have additional programs for our high school students. That's starting ninth grade through 12th grade. We have several programs. One of them is our Junior Achievement Company program. That's where we're teaching students how to actually stand up a business, where they're actually going to sell a product or service. They go through it with a cohort. It started in October and it runs through April. It's student led, student driven. 

I've had the fortune of being able to work with our team here in Fairfax on Thursday nights. The company team has come up with a product. Their company name is Sipsy, and they're going to sell reusable straws. They've had to determine what kind of material, what kind of initial investment. They're standing up a company. They have leadership positions. They've filled a CEO role, a head of finance, a head of marketing, a head of sales, and a head of supply chain. The team is about 15 students or so. 

We have five of these cohorts that are running at the same time throughout our region. Each one of them have come up with their own unique product or service that they're going to sell. So when you and I were talking about it, these student-led companies were just preparing to come in and pitch for an investment in their company. Shark Tank-style, we had a fantastic team of sharks that volunteered their time from various organizations in the metro area. They were evaluating the students on various factors, and then they made a decision whether or not they were going to be able to make any kind of investment, what amount, what type of equity they might take in return for that investment. The investment could have also been on a nonmonetary basis, where they might have been providing their expertise in marketing or sales or connecting them with other businesses and using their circle of influence to help the students reach out to build their customer base. 

It was really exciting. They did a fantastic job. Remember, these are high school students. They got up in front of -- I think we probably had close to 100 parents and supporters that were there for all these student groups. And they pitched. It was a two-minute pitch about their product, what it was, who they were selling it to, for how much, what their initial cost was, what they projected their breakeven to be, their price per unit. 

When you think about all these things that we have to help these students find their way to being able to very succinctly and powerfully express these ideas to these sharks, it was super exciting.

Moser: That sounds phenomenal. It really sounds amazing. I have to believe you have a waiting list for folks to be sharks, but if you ever run into a buzz saw and you need a shark, you've got my number. I'll absolutely jump in there!

Senft: Absolutely! This is actually our entrepreneurship program that we've been growing year over year. Finance Park is well established. We're putting a little bit of emphasis into growing the innovation aspect of our entrepreneurship program. We're trying to spark interest out in the broader community for organizations that might be able to sponsor a Shark Tank event, or individuals that have areas of expertise where they might want to lend that expertise to students. Maybe they're experts in supply chain or manufacturing or what have you. I just want to put a little plug out there for that. The person that heads that up is Gayle Robinson, our director of innovation and entrepreneurship programs. We work very closely. Happy to connect anyone. But first you have to come volunteer for me at Finance Park. [laughs] I can't give that up.

Moser: Seems like a reasonable trade-off.

Senft: [laughs] Or at one of our other two parks. No, seriously. It's this pool of talent that you never know where it comes from. The fact that we connected, I saw your email address, and I'm like, "Well, we're Motley Fool subscribers. Let's go chat." And here we are. It's just leveraging the expertise that people bring to the table, and your generosity in coming into volunteer, because the focus really all goes back into the students and preparing them to be successful in a 21st century global economy. If they're successful, our communities are successful, and it has this really positive ripple effect.

Moser: You're right. Speaking of well established, it's an exciting time for you all there. You hit some big round number anniversary or something this year, right?

Senft: We did! How did you know? [laughs] I think I probably started talking about this. Yes, Junior Achievement is celebrating its centennial anniversary, 100 years of the founding of Junior Achievement. We're incredibly excited about that. That dovetails really nicely with the fact that not only are we national, we are global. We're in 100 other countries, in addition to all these chapters that we have throughout the United States. We're very excited. We're starting to -- your listeners or you may start seeing some ads running that celebrate and showcase what Junior Achievement has accomplished over the years. 

Every year, we have a Hall of Fame event in November where we highlight and celebrate four distinguished businesspeople from the greater Washington area. Normally, in the past, we've had this great event we hosted at the National Building Museum. This year, 2019, it's going to be at the brand-new Anthem theater down on the waterfront. We're pretty excited. We're going to have a variety of different events throughout the year celebrating our 100-year anniversary. In particular, if any of your listeners are from Springfield, Massachusetts, my understanding is there is a huge fair every September called the Big E. That's the founding location of Junior Achievement. They'll be having a special booth event around the anniversary.

Moser: Very nice. Going back a little bit and talking about the different types of programs and offerings you all have there, one of the things I really love about the Junior Achievement brand is you have so many different levers at your disposal to create more interest, get students involved, incentivize certain types of behavior. I see offers for scholarships and things like this. Could you tell our listeners a little bit more about some of the contests and those types of events that you all sponsor?

Senft: Yeah, absolutely, Jason. One of the events that we have coming up, and this is one of my favorites for volunteers out there, is that you can do it from anywhere. That's our 2018 essay contest. I know it's 2019. We always run a few months behind. It's open to high school students anywhere in the country. Students have until February 15th, 2019 to submit an application. It's an essay, 1,000 to 1,500 words. They would answer this question: "What would make your high school experience more relevant to your future?" That's the question. If any listeners out there have high school students and you're looking for scholarship money, have them take a look at this as a possibility. Again, the question: "What would make your high school experience more relevant to your future?"

Last year, we had a tremendous response on this essay contest, which we've held for a number of years. We have a particular partner that sponsors the award. The prize is a $20,000 scholarship. That's pretty significant.

Moser: That's very significant!

Senft: Very significant, for a 1000-word essay. I had the privilege of reviewing a number of essays last year. They were fantastic! I think last year's question was along the lines of, "Bill Gates didn't graduate from college, Steve Jobs didn't graduate from college. How important is it or is it not that you stay in college, and why? Can you be successful with or without a college degree?" I'm paraphrasing it. 

This year, we've taken it back a step and said, "What would make your high school experience more relevant to your future?" That might be something like experiential learning, hands-on learning, job shadow program with Junior Achievement, any number of things. That's one opportunity. 

I did talk about our JA Company program that runs from October through April. We also have a one-week Entrepreneurship Summit every summer. It's really more of an entrepreneurship boot camp, where high school students learn the hypothetical components of starting a business. It's a really immersive deep dive, but they're not competing, they're not actually physically selling a product. But it does give them those concepts. They may decide, "Hey, I really like this. I think I'm going to start a business someday."

Moser: Very cool! I have to believe, with two daughters myself, and they're 14 and 12 and a half, I have to believe I'm going to be prodding them to maybe get one of these essays turned when they need to. That $20,000 scholarship is very significant. That's a good one!

Now, I'm going to go back to my visit to Finance Park really quick. I noticed when I visited there the picture on the wall with Ben Bernanke cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony. I believe that was the opening ceremony for that Finance Park. 

Senft: Correct.

Moser: Granted, I was an econ major in college. I'm a stock nerd here at The Fool. So I noticed that picture. Probably not a lot of other people really cared. But it struck me. I have to believe you probably meet some cool people along the way for as long as you've been there. Have you been able to forge any noteworthy relationships? Were there any people you were really excited to meet along the way that made you say, "Wow, this is really cool!"

Senft: Thank you for appreciating the photo! You did spend a little extra time and I love the fact that you're a stock nerd. That's fantastic! I think nerds and geeks rule. 

Moser: They do. We do! [laughs] 

Senft: [laughs] Yes, we do! You'll find us being able to retire comfortably, and that's part of the goal.

Moser: Yes, ma'am. 

Senft: We've had so many fantastic, significant people come through our Finance Park. We're always super excited when we get folks through the State Department that might be bringing dignitaries from other countries. We've had Pakistan come through, we've had Latvia come through. We hosted a delegation of teachers from South Korea over the summer that wanted to get best practices and learn about our financial literacy programs and the type of programs we have that teach people to be good stewards of their money. And then, a lot of times, we get folks that keep it under the radar. "I'm just here with my students. I'm just here with my child today. Don't make a fuss over me." Folks like yourself, right? 

We have any number of extraordinary folks that have come through. Again, we can't do this without our public-private partnerships. As a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of all these folks that help make this work. Getting folks from other countries has been a key point of interest for some of us, because it's interesting to exchange those ideas, and the fact that they're looking at us as a model for what they can do, I think it's really been exceptional. 

And then, if you look at some of our YouTube videos, we've got some other names that your audience I'm sure is familiar with. Mark Cuban has gone through Junior Achievement. He's an alumni. We've had some kind words in one of our videos from former president Ronald Reagan. Any number of folks that are familiar with us. 

Moser: That's super. All right, last question, then I'm going to let you go. I want you to take this opportunity to tell me, tell all of our listeners, tell everyone listening out there today, how can we learn more about Junior Achievement, Finance Park, what you all are doing? And how might we be able to help you guys fulfill what you're doing today?

Senft: You know, I really appreciate this question. [laughs] 

Moser: Good!

Senft: Absolutely. One of the easiest ways is to go to our website, Or reach out to me directly if you're interested in volunteering. I think you'll have my contact info out there?

Moser: Sure. 

Senft: Or reach out to any of us at our Finance Parks. All of our names, our contact information, is out there. We want to make sure that the folks that participate with us, that we make it easy for you. We want it to be geographically convenient. If it's easier for you to travel to Landover, Maryland, or Silver Spring, Maryland, rather than coming to Fairfax, that's great. If you have time and availability, but let's say it's only in the evenings or on weekends, then you might want to consider looking into being a volunteer for the essay contest. Volunteers are what makes this program come alive to our students. That would be the greatest help, is letting us know if you have time and capacity. We have a number of days where we know that it's going to take groups of volunteers to make it work. So, if anyone out there is interested in bringing a team to volunteer, please let me know. I will put you in touch. If it's for Fairfax, I will coordinate directly with you. If it's for one of our other locations, we'll get you connected. 

Group volunteer dates serve a dual purpose. It's a feel-great activity. Depending on what type of industry you're in, there's the possibility of getting credit through the Community Reinvestment Act. This goes for a lot of our financial institutions. There are days of service that folks could use Finance Park as a way of giving back to the community and also having a team-building event. There's a ton of opportunities and possibilities. 

Connecting with me, [email protected], is a great way. You can go to and look at the opportunities and connect with us that way, or through whatever links you might be able to provide.

Moser: At the very least, if you can't remember anything else, if you just go to Google and Google Junior Achievement, that will get you on the road to where you want to go.

Senft: Right. Hopefully. [laughs] Depending on which one you click first. Look for the one that says greater Washington. That would be our region. We'd love to have you. It's a really positive experience. You will know immediately that you made an impact on students. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities to choose from, and a lot of things you can get involved with. I think you know yourself, Jason, from your experience and your enthusiasm, you knew right then and there that you made a difference in those students' lives. You didn't go home and go, "Well, that was fine. I gave up five hours of my day, but I wonder if I really made a difference." You knew it right then and there.

Moser: Yep, it was quite obvious from the moment I stepped in the door that morning. I really enjoyed that day. I've really enjoyed today, and I appreciate you taking the time here to speak with me and tell our listeners more about Junior Achievement and all of the great things you all are doing over there. Patti Senft, thank you so much for taking the time today!

Senft: Jason, thank you! Thank you to Motley Fool and to your visitors! I really appreciate the time and the opportunity to chat about Junior Achievement.


Moser: That'll do it for us this week, folks. As always, people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. This show is produced by Austin Morgan. For Patti Senft and the entire awesome Junior Achievement organization, I'm Jason Moser. Thanks for listening! And we'll see you next week!

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