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The Drive to Make a Difference

The President & CEO of JA Northern Alberta inspires people, businesses, and communities

Jennifer Martin, President & CEO of JA Northern Alberta.

Jennifer Martin is the President & CEO of Junior Achievement Northern Alberta.

Martin has been a staple in the local and national media for over a decade. Her credits include being a reporter for CTV Toronto, an anchor on A Channel/Citytv and Alberta Primetime, co-host for CISN 103.9 FM’s Morning Drive show, manager of programming for Shaw and a director of advertiser integrations for Corus Entertainment.

After being in the media for her entire career, what inspired the switch to working with Junior Achievement Northern Alberta (JA)?

“There are so many things that happen in our city and our world that are not only interesting, but that we should be aware of so we can take action in our own lives or businesses, or ensure we have a say,” says Martin. “The switch to JA stems from that same concern for our community’s welfare that I had as a journalist. I think as members of our society we all have a contribution to make. When a business or organization can provide real value, whether its for profit or not, I like being able to be of service and deliver a meaningful impact for people.”

Her meaningful impact extends to giving back in the community.

“I don’t have piles of money to give but I have time and ideas,” Martin smiles. “Imagine our city, our province, if no one stepped up to make life better for others? When a place gives us so much opportunity, I think it is important to try to ensure as many people as possible are included and have support to be successful too. So many others in our community set that example. I have lived in other major Canadian cities; this area is so generous. I call Edmonton a city with a soul.”

It is that soul that helps inspire her despite a deep, personal loss – and keeps her moving forward with determination and strength despite the tragedy.

Martin shares, “Tragically, my husband, a former police officer, took his life. I have dedicated a lot of time to speaking about mental wellness and concussions and currently volunteer as chair of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) – Canada. It provides peer support and resilience programs for public safety personnel. It’s good to see more support and less stigma in general around mental wellness but there’s more to be done.”

In addition to supporting ICISF, Martin dug deep to overcome the challenge and move forward in a positive way.

She continues, “It may surprise people to know that self worth was something I had to work on, especially after my husband’s difficult years and ultimately his suicide. Events and influences happen to all of us that are beyond our control and we often don’t realize how they impact us. As a grieving and solitary parent, I realized my kids would only be as well as I was, so being self assured and resilient became a real focus. You would be surprised at how many successful people don’t value themselves enough or have that nagging voice of criticism inside their heads.”

When she is not leading people or organizations or giving back in the community, Martin relaxes with her circle of friends, golfing in the summer and skiing in the winter. She also loves to combine her love of travel with her love of football by checking out NFL games in places she has never visited before.

She’s travelled the world but for Martin, Edmonton is home.

“To me, the people are what make Edmonton so special. You don’t have to look far to find support for a worthwhile project if you need it. This city punches above its weight on giving, on spirit and unique endeavours. We’re also super humble, but I’d like that part to change!”

Part of that change, in putting Edmonton on the world stage, is to showcase the achievements in our business community and with our enterprising youth. Martin points out how JA is pivotal to this need.

“JA has been operating in Canada and around the world for over 100 years. We prepare youth to become financially capable adults, ready for the world of work and entrepreneurship. When it comes to non-profits, there is often a desire to help as many people as possible but that must be balanced with the resources you have available. JA Northern Alberta is being run like a business. We keep our eye on cost savings and sustainable growth. We make sure our donors know our business plan, where their investment is creating value for youngsters and making a lifelong impact. Transparent relationships build trust. Stewardship is also key; we want our stakeholders to know how much they are appreciated.”

JA, like every other business, was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Martin, in her signature way, took the challenge head on and used it as a way to continue evolving the organization.

“In light of the pandemic, like most things in life, its important to be nimble. That’s how you survive and also find the silver lining,” she says. “JA was able to pivot from having volunteers from the business community deliver our programs in schools, to online. That allowed us to reach many more students in many more Alberta communities and at less expense. Now, we’ll always keep a virtual option available.

“Moving forward, we’re working to get more Albertans to understand that JA fills a gap in the school curriculum and is critical in preparing our next business leaders and dynamic workforce. You can’t complain about a lack of talent unless you’re willing to do something about it! Those who support JA know the things we teach are foundational. We want to grow our reach and give more young Albertans the skills and confidence JA provides. We want to equip more youth for success; that will help build prosperity for all Albertans.”

She continues, “The pandemic proved why JA is critical for kids. We never know what may come at us. COVID underscored the need to always maintain a strong balance sheet and the skills and confidence to meet unforeseen challenges. We teach both personal finance and business acumen, so JA students are better equipped to face whatever comes in their generation.”

JA is pivotal for children but has just as big an impact on the volunteers and mentors. Martin explains, “JA volunteers bring our programs to life! In JA kids learn by doing, they have fun with interactive activities that teach concepts of spend-save-give, a want versus a need or how to build a small business plan for shovelling snow or selling cookies. Teachers sign up their classrooms and our volunteers go in and provide the real world experience and inspiration. There is nothing more magical than seeing businesspeople turn on a lightbulb in a youngster’s mind!”

Martin is loving her time at JA, watching both children and business owners evolve while helping to usher in the new century of organizational impact.

“Many people don’t realize that the JA program is free of charge for teachers and their students,” she points out. “They also should know that youth who get JA have less household debt, achieve middle or upper management jobs more often, start more companies – and when they do – hire more staff and create more revenue. What a gift, and what results!”

Another thing many people don’t realize about JA is how many famous alumni have come out of the program.

“Billionaire entrepreneur and media proprietor Mark Cuban took JA, as did the founders of Subway Sandwiches, The Home Depot, Domino’s Pizza, AOL and the western Canadian brothers who started Skip The Dishes and became millionaires… yup, JA.”

The need for JA in classrooms is only outpaced by the need for volunteers in the program.

“Get involved!” Martin encourages. “Teachers are clamoring for JA. We need volunteers from the business community to just give a few hours of their time to make lifelong impacts on the youth they’ll lead through our programs when they come into classrooms, virtually for now but hopefully soon, back in person.”

Interested in volunteering? Learn more here: www.janorthalberta.org/volunteer.

Although she’s been instrumental in the current direction and success of JA, Martin is very humble and thanks the Laureates for their long history of supporting and growing the program – and the people within it.

“JA supporters launched our Northern Alberta Business Hall of Fame in 1980 – that’s a long tradition and a venerable honour! Our Laureates include J.R. Shaw, Max Ward, Robert Stollery and many others. These very accomplished businesspeople are also incredibly generous to our mission of empowering young Albertans. JA would not be what it is today without our Hall of Famers.”

What comes next for JA? Martin says it will be “100 more years equipping our future workforce and business leaders to reach their full potential, creating prosperity for all Albertans as young JA alumni work toward achieving their dreams.”

As for her own future, Martin is leaving her options open. “I’m happy at JA but I feel I have a lot of unique experience and ideas to offer when the time comes for a change. I’m interested in corporate boards and transformational leadership. I gravitate to new things that are energizing, where I know I’m making a positive contribution.”

She concludes with a smile, “It’s a real cliché but ‘you only live once’ resonates with me. Those who know me will be the first to tell you I don’t muse about doing things at work or in my personal life. I like to make stuff happen. I don’t want to look back and wish I’d done more. On my first day at JA, I walked to our office and noticed a mural on the side of our building that says, ‘Take a Chance, It’s the Most Edmonton Thing You Can Do.’ I like that. I like that a lot.”

Learn more about JA at www.janorthalberta.org online and @JANorthernAlberta on Facebook.