Make a Difference, Volunteer with Junior Achievement

volunteer with junior achievementI’m currently living in St. Louis, Missouri, home to an incredible startup community that helped create my shockingly successful student loan business. Real talk: it’s also home to some of the greatest socioeconomic and racial inequalities anywhere in the country. I realized that I needed to do something more than just write articles to help people learn about personal finance. Many of the young, mostly white professionals we met in St. Louis told us never to venture into the North part of the city above Delmar Boulevard. After hearing that, I decided that was the most important place to help. I challenge my fellow bloggers and anyone who has received financial education through Millennial Moola to give back and volunteer with Junior Achievement. 

Junior Achievement As an Avenue for Social and Racial Justice

Junior Achievement is a financial education non-profit, and there are few places better suited for its mission that St. Louis. The metro area here is infamous for Ferguson. One of the parts of the report issued by the Department of Justice several months ago that really stuck with me was the number of financially related arrest warrants in Ferguson. African Americans would be pulled over by police in highly disproportionate numbers and then be fined for various infractions to fill the city coffers. Because many of the residents did not have emergency funds to pay for such an expense, the civil violation turned into another fine, then a bigger fine, then a criminal offense.

How are you supposed to know about emergency funds though if your mom and dad never learned about them because their mom and dad were never taught about them. Even today, the school I volunteer at appears to be more than 90% African American. In many St. Louis schools, you would never know Brown v. Board of Education was decided for the plaintiff. The teacher whose classes I volunteer for told me that the high school had no funds for field trips or even many basic expenses.

The reason? The combination of white flight and population decline from St. Louis decimated the tax base. Rather than help, much of the business community fled across the natural barrier of Forest Park outside the city limits to Clayton and beyond. The crime there is far less, the taxes are lower, and the schools are not burdened with the social problems that go with extreme poverty. Regardless of your political views, we as a country are failing poor, mostly minority communities in places like St. Louis. I’m hopeful that a funding change for schools and perhaps something like a voucher program will allow true desegregation to occur in places like St. Louis. Until then, I believe I have a duty to help as someone who was fortunate enough to be born in the right zip code.

Why Junior Achievement Impressed Me

Junior Achievement is well known for teaching workplace readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurial skills. As an early retiree at the time, I had no time constraints, so I decided to teach three classes and requested a placement in the north part of St. Louis. The program asked me to teach how to be an entrepreneur, despite my mildly successful personal finance blog being my only entrepreneurial qualification at the time.

Since I started working with the kids at Soldan High School, I’ve become a more confident person, and they’ve inspired me too. I started Student Loan Planner, LLC, and I received over 20,000 views on one of the articles I wrote there in just 2 days. Suddenly, I was an entrepreneur and got to talk about my experiences to the class.

My Student Are the Only Ones in the Region Who Know How to Program Excel and They’re Really Good at It

One of the days, we had some extra time so the teacher asked me to teach the kids some excel skills. I used to be a bond trader, and I used excel programs that I built every day to add value to the portfolios. Sometimes I spent late nights at the office programming risk modeling tools to help the portfolio managers receive better information.

I wish I had learned how to program in the Excel language of VBA when I was in high school, so I decided maybe the kids would like to learn it too. We learned how to use the record button and look through to the code. One of the boys even built a program that made his name flash in blinking lights.

I’d put my classes’ programming skills against that of any suburban middle class high school in the region. They were quick to pick up what I taught them, and some would make excellent Wall Street traders themselves. They were stunned when I told them some of the people I traded with on the Street made $3 million a year.

You Too Are a Financial Expert, Share Your Knowledge with Someone Less Fortunate and Volunteer with Junior Achievement

I do not make very much money on this site. Sometimes I’ve thought about drastically slowing down content articles, but whenever I’m tempted to I’m reminded a lot of people are better off because I write. There are literally thousands of people who will save thousands of dollars over their lives thanks to me quitting my job and becoming a personal finance blogger.

I have a personal favor to ask. It’s not enough to just pass down the financial education you receive to your own children or kids from your neighborhood. Our nation will be entering uncharted territory in the future with Social Security benefits dropping, Medicare and Medicaid spending pulling away from other social services, pension funds defaulting on their promises, and ACA insurance premiums causing health insurance to no longer be affordable. Living a stable life financially is going to get harder, not easier.

High school students from poor neighborhoods MUST be educated on the dangers of pay day loans. They need to hear that the pawn shop will take 10 times the fees from them that the credit card companies charge. The students deserve to know about Roth IRA’s, compound interest, and Vanguard index funds. They should know about robo-advisors and why saving is so important. The only way this happens is if we take risks and step outside our comfort zones.

Junior Achievement provides all the curriculum. You don’t have to create anything yourself, the schools just need you. Please visit this link and find a program coordinator near you. Every child deserves access to holistic personal finance education. Even if you only have a little bit of time to donate, every interaction could literally save someone from a life of poverty.

Questions for You

  1. How did you learn about personal finance?
  2. Have you volunteered or benefited from Junior Achievement? 
  3. Have you experienced other financial literacy programs? What were the benefits in your life?

2 thoughts on “Make a Difference, Volunteer with Junior Achievement”

  1. This is awesome Travis! I’ve been involved with JA in the past and LOVED it. This was a really good reminder for me today. Sometimes as bloggers (especially those of us who are paying off ENORMOUS amounts of debt) we can be wrapped up in ourselves and its so great to get out and do something for others– especially spreading financial literacy, etc. I’m totally looking up my local JA program right now.
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