Empowering Students for Real-World Success:

by Lindy Regan

Nothing brings us together and brings out our best the way being of service can do. We all want to help; we all hope to inspire. But how do you fit a good dose of do-gooding into an already too-crowded schedule? Or find team-building options that have instant appeal within your organization and genuine long-lasting value beyond it? Wonder no more. Serendipity has delivered a wonderful answer right to your company’s door.

Junior Achievement (JA) of New Jersey has recently set down its roots within Raritan Center, in a fabulous, theme-park-like headquarters from which more than 68,000 schoolchildren will be given the wings to their future financial and business success during this year alone. Accomplishing that depends in large part on businesspeople like you and your colleagues simply sharing your presence, your experience, the knowledge and skills you already carry to work with you. Imparting to children what you take for granted, for even one 6-hour day, “can be life-changing for the students,” says JANJ president Catherine Milone. “It’s an experience that they will never forget.” And neither will you.

For nearly 100 years, Junior Achievement has served and continually expanded its mission of “inspiring and preparing young people to succeed” through a variety of activity based, no-cost educational programs and mentoring initiatives that instill and encourage financial literacy, career readiness, entrepreneurship, wealth building, and leadership, for students in grades K-12.

Two of those programs, Finance Park and Biz Town, will be in full swing here throughout the school year, and typically enlist about 2,000 adult volunteers to join in the fun and guide small groups of students through the challenges of managing a budget and running a business. “We make volunteering easy. The training is done in the morning before students arrive, so there’s no pre-work that has to be done. And once the students are here, our team makes sure the volunteers are comfortable and have a great experience.” You are welcome to volunteer as an individual or as a group with your colleagues and clients.

Finance Park is the on-site capstone experience of the financial literacy curriculum middle and high school students have been studying in their classrooms. Each student receives a tablet [donated by Capital One] containing a fictional life scenario, and a faux debit card to pay their bills. As Catherine explains: “The tablet might say that you’re single with a child, making $30,000 a year as a bank teller; or married, no children, making $90,000 a year as a controller.” Through the course of the day volunteer mentors help participants come up with a budget, learn about 23 real-life expenses, save and invest, allocate discretionary funds, handle emergencies, and try to end the day with a balanced budget after paying their bills.


“They have to make some really tough decisions (‘Do I rent a home or buy? What phone package should I get? Wait, I have to pay for water? Electricity? what?!’) and think hard about the easy ones as well.” Just because you can afford that Z4, four kids means you’ll need a backseat. Bills are paid at interactive kiosks provided by corporate sponsors like PSE&G, Allstate Insurance, and State Street Investments. “They have to really play out being an adult for the day, understand how their credit score affects them, and that’s huge! I know adults that don’t really understand how their credit score affects their economic success.”

Biz Town is just what it sounds like, a bustling pretend little city comprising 14 cheerful storefronts, media outlets, a restaurant, and municipal “buildings” where children experience running the show for the day. They act as managers, CFOs, salespeople, bankers, there’s even a mayor of Biz Town. At least one adult volunteer is assigned to each “business,” to advise, encourage, and keep things moving smoothly.

When Catherine took over Junior Achievement of New Jersey she was known among the national organization as Captain of the Titanic. Twelve years later she and her team, along with an exceptionally involved, and dedicated board, have completely transformed the formerly fractured, nomadic state operation into a vessel much more akin to the QE2. JANJ won the prestigious national Hook Award, and has established at Raritan Center the statewide organization’s first Junior Achievement headquarters and permanent education center located within the business park.

An ideal opportunity to welcome Catherine and her colleagues is coming up Tuesday, December 6, when JANJ will host a Holiday Benefit to help fund their remarkable High School Heroes initiative. [Please see box below for details and link here to online auction now in progress!] High School Heroes, some of whom you will meet on that evening, are 2,700 ninth- through twelfth-graders who are trained in the JA curriculum, then go out to teach and inspire 27,000 elementary and middle school students throughout the state. “We’ve got young people who start out so shy, risk getting involved in the program, and wind up gaining enormous confidence and self-esteem along with their financial knowledge.

“Every child needs to understand how to prepare for their future opportunities and career paths. I don’t know how many parents teach money management or are able to do so. Our programs can level that field.”

Support the JAEC Holiday Benefit

Click here to visit the auction page!

Organization Name:
Junior Achievement of New Jersey
Catherine Milone, President
Business Type:
Non-profit, privately funded educational outreach
New Jersey
Population Served:
Public and private school students, grades K-12
Years in Operation:
97 years nationally; 63 years statewide
At Raritan Center:
Number of Employees: 14
360 Pear Blossom Drive, Edison, NJ 08837
Email: Stephanie.Karpowicz@ja.org
Stephanie Karpowicz, Director of Capstone Programs
Website: janj.org
Interview Date:   September 2016
Photography By:   Insight Photography