The world's largest and fastest-growing nonprofit economic education program, Junior Achievement (JA) of Elk and Cameron counties is seeking volunteers from throughout the area to serve on the organization's Board of Directors or as classroom volunteers.
JA provides students in grades K-12 with programs that are age-appropriate. Elementary students learn about their roles as individuals, workers and consumers while middle and high school students learn about key economic, ethical and workforce issues that they will face as working members of society.
"We are happy to be here in Elk and Cameron counties and help students learn about such opportunities," said Gordon Conn, vice-president of district operations for Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania. "We have a curriculum that is a realistic mode of implementation, with volunteers bringing life to the program by sharing their life and business experiences with students. Volunteers give real-life examples and bring a different perspective to the classroom."
Within Elk and Cameron counties, JA programs are reaching approximately 1,400 students in 71 classrooms during the 2010-11 school year. About 55 community volunteers, ranging from business executives, government and community leaders, entrepreneurs and industry personnel (laborers) to retired educators and parents, donated their time in classrooms teaching the JA curriculum.
JA is offered in St. Marys Catholic, South St. Marys Street, St. Boniface, Johnsonburg and St. Leo elementary schools, as well as in St. Marys Area and Catholic middle schools and Cameron County Junior Senior High School.
"We want to get into more high schools," Conn said. "Many of the JA classes are done as electives."
"Financial literacy is the number-one issue that we must address with our young people. They need a basic understanding of budgeting, saving, and investing. Kids want real-world scenarios and examples that they can relate to," said Elk County Commissioner and JA Board of Director member Dan Freeburg. "The volunteers that come into the classroom portray everyday life as working adults outside of school and discuss what students can expect as adults entering the real world in a very positive and realistic way."
Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania reached 65,000 students throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia. On a broader scale, JA is offered in over 113 countries worldwide and reached 9.6 million students, 4.5 million of those in the U.S., during the 2009-10 school year.
Locally the JA program is under the direction of a nine-member Leadership Board of Directors representing education, business and industry. These individuals oversee the program's operations and activities within Elk and Cameron counties.
The board consists of Mark Appleton, Cortney Carlson and Amy Floravit of GE Sensing; Blythe Brunner of North Central PA Planning and Development Commission; Dan Freeburg, Elk County Commissioner; Donna Kilhoffer of Butler County Community College at Upper Allegheny; David Larkin of Elk County Real Estate; Bob Lininger of the Cameron County School Board; Donna Nelson of PNC Bank; and Rebecca Pasquinelli of Northwest Savings Bank.
"The boards help us network in the community, set strategic direction and are very valuable to the organization," Conn said.
Individuals interested in serving on the board or as classroom volunteers can find additional information at www.jawesternpa.org  or by contacting JA Board Development Chairman David Larkin at firstname.lastname@example.org .
According to Conn, Junior Achievement is an approved EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit) organization.
"We are looking for the business community to support us in our efforts," he said.
"We consider ourselves the bridge between business and education," added Richard Orzechowski, district operations manager for JA of Western PA.
In an effort to raise funds for the program, the local JA of Elk and Cameron counties is hosting a chicken barbecue on Thursday, May 5 at Ridgway Bilo from 11 a.m. until sold out. Patrons can choose from a chicken or rib dinner.
In addition, each year volunteers are recognized at the Junior Achievement Community Breakfast.
The goal of Junior Achievement is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. JA originally began as an after school program and has evolved into a K-12 curriculum, with over 25 programs offered both in and out of school.
Typical class periods last from 45 minutes to one hour each week for six weeks.
JA’s main focus is on subjects such as economics, social sciences and math. A majority of the material being taught is in line with state curriculum guidelines, enhancing a student’s educational experience.