Junior Achievement of Arkansas Inc.

City: Little Rock
Category: Nonprofit Organization of the Year
Year: 2008

Since 1987, Junior Achievement of Arkansas has taught children to value free enterprise, business and economics to improve the quality of their lives.

Junior Achievement has about 650 volunteers from the business community who use hands-on, age-appropriate activities and programs to give children in kindergarten through the 12th grade the tools and understanding they need to succeed.

The nonprofit is now in about 50 schools, teaching some 13,500 Arkansas youths the basics of financial knowledge that are not mandated for schools in the state.

Citing a study that showed that 60 percent of teenagers didn't know the difference between cash, credit cards and checks, Sharon Thomas, president of the state organization, said, "We teach them that money really doesn't grow on trees.

"We teach them about earning money, spending it and saving it," she said, "as well as the need to budget for emergencies." The program also covers how to get a job and how to start a business. At the high school level, the teenagers actually start their own company.

"With today's challenging economic climate," Thomas said, "it's more important than ever to learn about financial matters."

Junior Achievement programs provide a much-needed link between education and business, and it's free for students and schools that participate.

The foundation of Junior Achievement's work is its elementary school programs, which introduce the fundamentals of economics and business through hands-on activities and real-world stories from business volunteers.

Middle school programs develop a deeper understanding of the free enterprise system, while focusing on career options and personal skills and interests.

High school programs focus on work force readiness and important economic concepts. Students starting a "business" learn the fundamentals of free enterprise: setting and achieving financial goals, problem solving, teamwork and critical thinking.

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