Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta and Northwest Territories (JA AB-NWT) is celebrating 55 years, but it is as relevant and necessary today as it was when it launched in the 60s. With Alberta’s changing economy and artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other tech and automation transforming businesses, the need for progressive thinkers and entrepreneurs – along with mentors to guide them – is at an all time high.
The long-term impact is seen in the first-hand accounts of program participants, volunteer mentors and donors.
“JA has had an astounding impact on me as a person and a leader,” says Ghalia Aamer. “I joined the program in 2017 during grade 10 and participated for three years. I have gained essential skills, made lifelong friendships, and been empowered to take action in my community. Everything I’ve learned is applicable to many areas of my life; I do not think I would be as confident or ambitious as I am now if it were not for JA.”
Student Minoo Soleymani is also happy to share her involvement. “JA has allowed me to experience the tremendous growth that comes with entrepreneurship. Working with other students, developing a company from the ground up, and meeting lots of Edmonton’s business leaders are just a few of the many benefits that students carry with them beyond the program.”
It’s not just students that are transformed. Mentors and donors feel the impact too.
Shad Smereka, general manager, people and store innovation at Fountain Tire, says, “JA prepares our youth for the next step in their career as well as offering them key life skills. It gives them experience in forming a company, presenting their ideas, selling products and themselves, understanding financial statements, decision making, marketing, conflict resolution, interviewing and production. In life skills, they learn teamwork, budgeting, diversity and advances in technology. All of these experiences and learning opportunities are preparing the next generation before they strike out on their own. These skills are an important precursor to post secondary education as well.”
As a host of one of JA’s company programs, Fountain Tire has four associates that act as advisors. The company also provides meeting space within its corporate office.
“The advisors are energized by the achievers’ enthusiasm and often gain new perspective on the challenges we face in the workplace,” says Smereka. “Another benefit is the connection to other business leaders in Edmonton. Many important members of the Edmonton business community are partnered with JA and place similar value on the development of the next generation of leaders.”
Ian McDonald FCPA, FCA, partner, Grant Thornton LLP, also shares how JA changed his life.
“In 1973 and 1974 I was a high school student who signed up for the JA company program. I was the VP manufacturing of a student business called J.A. Crafts. We were sponsored by the Edmonton Journal.”
McDonald continues, “We sold shares to fund and operate a business. It helped me understand how hard it was to run a business and how many different skills and talents were required to make it successful. It also taught me how important business is in the community as it pays the taxes that fund schools.
“Before JA I was planning to become a corporate lawyer and then a politician. With the knowledge, contacts and experience from JA, I instead took business at the University of Alberta where I graduated with distinction. JA fueled my passion to become an entrepreneur who takes risks, employs people, and has a chance to do better in life.”
McDonald went on to become a Chartered Accountant and is now a partner at Grant Thornton LLP.
“In addition to being a part owner of Grant Thornton, a firm with over 200 partners and 2,000 employees, I am a part owner of a business called J.C. Boiler Services Ltd. I am also a part owner of SmogBuster, a business supplying confined space air and climate control to plants being shutdown and maintained. My career has enabled me to give back to the community in many ways including supporting JA financially and with my volunteer efforts.”
McDonald served on the board of JA AB-NWT from 1988-2010 and volunteered in classrooms for more than 20 years. To further support the program, he encouraged Grant Thornton LLP to become a Junior Achievement sponsor (providing $10,000 to $20,000 per year from 2004 to date) while also providing Grant Thornton advisors to volunteer in classrooms.
JA AB-NWT President and CEO Jennifer Martin, a long-term media personality and philanthropist in Edmonton, is excited to have recently joined the organization.
“It’s incredible to think about how these programs literally change the course of people’s lives,” says Martin. “When you consider that JA AB-NWT alumni create companies, hire staff and typically have higher revenue than entrepreneurs who have not been involved in the program, it’s clear that this is a very powerful program for Alberta’s economy.”
Martin praises the volunteers, donors and corporate sponsors that are changing youths’ lives. “They are the heart and soul of what we aim to achieve. It’s so inspiring to see their support and their understanding of the impact and the importance of the program.”
This year sees a change to the annual gala. After conferring with business leaders, Martin has moved the format from a gala to a celebration. The event is now an interactive networking experience where CEOs, guests, donors, students and volunteers will learn and be inspired.
“The gala has been around a long time; we wanted to continue the rich legacy, but we also want to be in tune with what the community needs and wants,” Martin explains.
For more than half a century, JA has been changing the lives of youth by providing an incredible opportunity to learn career and life skills. Those youth take those skills and return the value tenfold into the economy by becoming strong employees, entrepreneurs, and community-minded individuals. Now, more than ever, JA is making an impact – one that reverberates today and decades into the future.
You are invited to be part of this success. By volunteering, donating funds and providing mentorship, you have a long-term impact on a student. Learn more at janorthalberta.org.