Less than a year from celebrating its 50th year of partnership with area school systems in tutoring students in living skills and financial literacy, Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region has launched its annual fundraising campaign.
This year’s goal is $30,000, an amount that will assure the local JA affiliate of being able to purchase sufficient materials from Junior Achievement USA to continue to supplement the education of 4,500 students via 200 classroom programs.
Locally, JA partners with the Cleveland and Bradley County school systems, but also reaches out with different campaigns to students in McMinn, Monroe, Meigs and Polk counties, according to Rick Platz, JA board chairman who is nearing the end of his two-year term.
JA’s local community drive — which is coupled with a handful of other fundraisers like the annual Bowl For Education and Monster Ball — is integral to bankrolling the nonprofit’s ongoing work which supplements Cleveland and Bradley County classrooms.
“Each year at this time our annual campaign raises the funds we need to operate for the next fiscal year,” Platz said. “This is when we ask the community to help us with the support we need to continue to help educate the young people of Cleveland and Bradley County.”
JA partners with several local companies and individuals who are longtime supporters. One is Lonza, formerly recognized as Arch Chemicals. In keeping with that tradition, Lonza a few days ago became the first major contributor to this year’s JA drive.
Janice Baker, a 35-year associate of Lonza which includes a long stint with Arch Chemicals, serves as Human Resources manager. Not only is she a believer in the JA cause as a personal donor and corporate partner, she also is a longtime volunteer who serves on the organization’s board.
While making the check presentation to Platz, Baker urged other Cleveland and Bradley County companies to show support for the organization. Like Platz, she encouraged existing JA partners to continue their gift while also inviting companies and individuals to consider the start of a partnership.
“I believe in JA and I volunteer because I see the impact the organization has on the community,” Baker said. “I see the need students have for financial literacy and their need to be able to compete in a global economy.”
She added, “I recognize students’ needs to develop their own personal skills, and their need to provide for themselves and their families.”
A veteran supporter who has served JA as a donor, board member, board officer and president, and who has served as a volunteer classroom instructor, Platz said he sees in today’s classrooms a need for the kind of expertise that JA can provide.
JA does not replace conventional classroom learning. Instead, program volunteers work with teachers to supplement existing school system efforts. The whole idea is to better prepare students for a life after their education years — a life that includes entrepreneurship, financial literacy, workplace skills and ethics, and career awareness.
“Anybody who believes in the young people of this community and who wants to see them succeed after their school years, those are the kind of volunteers and contributors we encourage to seek us out,” Platz said.
JA is also seeking them out, as evidenced by recent mailers that were forwarded to existing donors and partners, as well as to some companies that have never before partnered with the respected nonprofit.
“In this campaign, we want companies, businesses, industries and individuals to feel comfortable in contacting us for information about Junior Achievement, about what we do and about how we work to partner with school systems and area businesses,” Platz said.
He added, “It’s only with the help of the community — including large corporations, small-business owners and committed individuals — that we can achieve this goal.”
A well-rounded education for students can benefit area companies in the long-term, he noted. That’s because students who have a better understanding of real-world skills and a healthy dose of financial literacy have a better chance at succeeding in the workplace and in their personal lives, Platz pointed out.
JA of the Ocoee Region is an established 501(c)(3), meaning that all donations are tax-deductible. The nonprofit is not a United Way of Bradley County Inc. member agency; therefore, it conducts its own fundraising campaigns. As a school system partner, JA provides programming for students in grades K-12.
Like past drives, JA’s campaign is open-ended; that is, it includes no deadlines or cut-off dates.
Platz said JA remains flexible with corporate givers because fiscal years sometimes differ and in other cases charitable giving is limited to a certain time of year.
“Ours is an ongoing campaign, as far as its conclusion, because we work with so many different fiscal schedules,” he explained.
Platz acknowledged the Cleveland and Bradley County community has many worthy nonprofit causes, and each is reaching out to some of the same corporate partners.
“There are many very worthy local nonprofit organizations,” he said. “In many cases, we are all requesting contributions from the same group of businesses, foundations and individuals. Local support for Junior Achievement has been great, but as the U.S. economy continues to rebound we all continue to face challenges in meeting our goals.”
As a believer in JA, Platz admitted he’s a little prejudiced toward the organization. That’s because he recognizes its positive impact in area public classrooms.
“Teachers and school administrators understand the value of having well-researched programs that can supplement what they are teaching in their classrooms,” Platz stressed. “JA programs have an excellent reputation and we have an outstanding group of volunteers who go into the classroom and deliver these programs. We have a strong working relationship with all the schools in our area.”
JA is conducting its primary fundraiser for the first time from its new home. In late 2013, the local operation left Cleveland High School — its host for many years — and moved to a standalone location on the Cleveland State Community College campus. JA now operates from the former CSCC Security office building on Adkisson Drive.
The new location is easily accessible and even easier to find, he said.
“Everybody loves our new location,” Platz beamed. “Our staff has worked hard to decorate it and now it really looks nice. Our volunteers love it. Our board members love it. Our partners love it. We can’t thank Cleveland State enough for making this facility available to us.”
JA’s new telephone number at the CSCC site is 423-614-8777. The new fax number is 423-614-8778.
JA of the Ocoee Region was chartered locally in 1965 as Junior Achievement of Bradley and McMinn counties. Since that time, it has grown to include Meigs, Monroe and Polk counties.