Junior Achievement Eyes Worcester Students

Junior

BERLIN — A new program is aiming to give students in Worcester County a chance to develop business and financial management skills at an early age.

Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore (JA) is a non-profit organization whose three main goals are to promote workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy in young adults.

“It’s real skills that they [students] need,” said JA President Jayme Weeg.

Weeg explained that JA lessons begin with a volunteer visiting a classroom and speaking about their career and personal financial experiences. After that, there’s a short activity meant to teach practical skills like check writing, filling out a job application, or determining how to fund a family vacation. JAES, which has operated in several counties on the Eastern Shore before coming to Worcester this year, targets students in grades K-12 in both public and private schools.

“It’s an introduction during the early learning years,” said Christine Selzer, Resident Director for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in Ocean City who is serving as chair of the Worcester Advisory Council.

As a wealth management adviser, Selzer has years of experience in the field and, according to Weeg, was instrumental in bringing JAES to Worcester.

“She made it happen,” said Weeg of Selzer.

With the program set in motion for the 2011-2012 school year, Weeg revealed that the influx of volunteers hoping to contribute has been impressive.

“They are really engaged volunteers … Everybody wants to be a part of it,” she said.

“Our community is wonderful,” agreed Selzer.

Though each volunteer brings new perspective to students by sharing their personal career experiences, all classroom activities are developed by JA.

“It’s quality programing that has been tested for years … In affect, it can change a child’s life,” said Weeg.

Weeg added that all activities are “age-appropriate” and built to cater to students by grade level.

Weeg stressed that county schools are already doing an excellent job in preparing youth for careers.

“The school gives them that core strength,” she said.

However, Weeg recognized that many schools don’t have the funding or infrastructure to impart focused financial awareness to their students.

“That’s a problem,” said Selzer.

And it’s because of those natural limitations on schools where JA comes in, said Weeg. Currently, Selzer is working to generate an advisory board for Worcester County with the intent of overseeing all local JA operations. Once completed, the board will consist entirely of residents of the county.

“It’s more effective and more successful,” said Weeg. “It’s a group of people from this community.”

With the board localized, she explained that it will be easier to attract and distribute funding where it is most needed. Consisting of community leaders, entrepreneurs, and financial advisors, Weeg expects the board, which is made entirely of volunteers, to effectively coordinate everything JA does in the county.

“It [the board] will probably define itself as we go,” she added.

While Weeg and Selzer encourage anyone with an interest to volunteer, they both pointed out that the program also needs corporate and private sponsorship to reach its full potential.

“It’s about the fundraising,” said Selzer.

She noted that the average cost per JA lesson was about $30. With hundreds of classrooms and thousands of students in the county, it takes a significant effort to bring the program to everyone. Weeg explained that in other counties involved in JA, businesses and corporations would often “adopt a school” every year and become responsible for funding achievement programs for that particular group of students. It’s a system that Weeg is hoping will transfer to Worcester.

In an attempt to raise awareness and reach out to potential donors, JA will host an Adopt-A-School Dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Marlin Club in Ocean City. Included in the event will be both a live and silent auction, a 50-50 raffle and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes as guest speaker. The dinner will likely be the first of two events held over the course of the year focused on supporting the JA program.

Weeg and Selzer stressed that all funding goes directly back to helping students, whom Selzer called “our future leaders.”

“We think it would be better for the country if every student in every county has a Junior Achievement program,” said Selzer.

Beyond assisting students develop critical fiscal responsibility skills for later in life, Selzer also mentioned that youth who take part in JA lessons will often take that information home with them to share with the family.

“We encourage kids to go home and talk about the program with their parents,” she said.

For more information about JA, contact Jayme Weeg at 410-742-8112 or 410-430-1640.

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