Special to AFN

As a young woman in Detroit, Michigan, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack crafted blue-and-white peace signs and sold them to neighborhood merchants.

The Ahwatukee resident learned early these and other business, marketing and advertising skills through Junior Achievement USA, the Colorado-based organization that empowers young people through programs on entrepreneurship, financial literacy, work-readiness and success.

Throughout the year, Junior Achievement of Arizona is hoping to re-engage its alumni statewide and celebrate their stories. Since 1919, more than 100 million students have participated in JA programs nationwide.

The local chapter, JA Arizona, a not-for-profit organization, since 1957 has taught the knowledge and skills young people need to manage money, plan for their futures and make smart academic, career and economic choices.

“I was always trying new things, and JA taught me that it wasn’t bad to have a business mind,” Jennings-Roggensack said.

Today, the JA alumna is associate vice president cultural affairs for Arizona State University and executive director of ASU Gammage, one of the nation’s most successful university-connected performing-arts venues. Her husband, Kurt Jennings, is a volcanologist at ASU.

When she was just out of college, her Chandler neighbor, Karen Quick, made wooden wishing well planters and woven breadbaskets as part of a JA-formed company that her employer had sponsored. 

“Both companies were successful earning a profit and returning the $1 stock price-plus when we liquidated the companies,” she recalled. She is now director of internal controls for Accenture, a global professional services company providing business services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations.

Dhruva Moudgal, also an Ahwatukee resident, participated in the JA BizTownprogram in fifth grade, and through middle school he volunteered at JA, helping to prepare educational materials.

During high school, he participated in the annual JA Student Stock Market Challenge and attended the JA You’re Hired event, where he learned interviewing, networking and other business skills.

He’s now an ASU student majoring in accounting.

More than 9,500 corporate and community volunteers in Arizona schedule age-appropriate groups such as the JA Company Program, an entrepreneurship experience for high schoolers in which students start and run their own businesses, much as Jennings-Roggensack and Quick had done.

During the 20152016 school year, JA Arizona reached nearly 94,000 students.

Other JA alumni include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, comedian Amy Sedaris, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and AOL founder Steve Case.

In spring 2016, 700 JA alumni were asked by JA to determine the impact the experience has had for them.

Among the results: 62 percent are working in positions that are “manager status or above”; 90 percent claim to be confident in money management; 75 percent favor entrepreneurship; and JA Alumni earn nearly 20 percent more than the general population.

Because of such success, JA wants to disseminate their stories, connect with young people and inspire more adults to be involved.

“Our alumni are an important part of the Junior Achievement of Arizona family. Our goal is to engage with alumni to help empower today’s students and equip them to succeed,” said Katherine Cecala, president of Junior Achievement of Arizona.

Quick, a New York native who came to Phoenix in 1970 with her family, has been volunteering with JA since 2007, when she started teaching the sixth-grade lesson, “Global Marketplace,” in a local school. 

She introduced JA to her sons’ Montessori school where she presented the kindergarten curriculum for two years, and from 2008–2016 she taught the first- through sixth-grade programs in their classes. 

“I also volunteer teaching JA high school programs such as JA Career Success, JA Economics for Success, JA You’re Hired and brought Personal Finance and Economics for Success to a local junior high,” she said, noting that she is a member of both the Arizona Central District and State boards.

Focused on his studies now, Moudgal volunteers at JA occasionally. He even inspired his mom, Jyothsna, to work for JA: “I wouldn’t stop talking about how much fun my fifth-grade field trip to JA BizTown was.”

Partnering with 250-plus schools in the state, the program introduces middle-school students to economic concepts, workplace skills and finances at its Tempe location.

He told friends, too: “I’m sure Junior Achievement played a part in many of my friends enrolling in business schools as well.

“Junior Achievement allowed me to learn about the business world at an extremely young age, and it is a major reason why I’m going to business school today,” Moudgal said.

Today, Jennings-Roggensack speaks publically about how JA allowed her to chart her path and be financially responsible, which has been essential in her 35-year arts career and her guidance of a venue with the stature of ASU Gammage.

She supports the group through her Rotary chapter as well as JA BizTown.

“All of us got where we are today because someone else was there, a mentor, a teacher, a friend, a supportive community,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before –– and our young people stand on ours.”

Those who participated in a JA program as students can share their stories and join the JA alumni network, jaaz.org/shareJAstory, or on the JA of Arizona Facebook page, facebook.com/JAArizona. More information is available at ja.org.

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