From the Heart of the Workforce to the Heart of the Classroom

Karen Coplin LogoThe Junior Achievement organization was founded nearly 100 years ago (in 1919), and took on its current and longstanding name in 1926. As with many cities across the country, this organization has a home in Naples as well as numerous counterparts across the globe. In the United States, the organization reaches four million students and educates them about entrepreneurial topics. Overall, its world presence aids nearly 11 million students in over 100 countries. So it is no surprise that Naples, retirement home of many CEO s and those who make their way here seasonally while still working, has a vibrant and active local presence with Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida, Inc.

I relocated to Naples in 1994, fresh off a stint as a Junior Achievement (JA) volunteer while living on the East Coast of Florida. JA was just getting started in Naples, and like many local not-for-profit fledglings, it would soon soar. From a somewhat by Karen Coney Coplin heart to heart humble inaugural class of about two dozen Naples High School students in 1994, countless volunteers have since taught and mentored students in all pre-college grade levels throughout Collier County.

Karen Coney CoplinThe Junior Achievement organization teaches financial literacy to elementary, middle, and high school students, to help children and teenagers understand economic concepts which will propel them to success at work – and in life. As with many non-profit organizations, volunteers are at the heart of this organization. They serve as role models teaching practical lessons for goal setting and success in the work force. The mission statement proclaims: “Let their success be your inspiration.

A dedicated team of staff, volunteers, school teachers (who initiate contact with the JA to request JA instruction to supplement formal education programs) coordinate the JA curriculum in grades K-12 throughout Naples, at, for instance, my youngest daughter’s school, Lake Park Elementary. She remembered the “Our Community” series of classes, which, in her case, were taught by Lisa Van Dien, Esq., a partner with the Cheffy Passidomo law firm, and, the present Chairperson of the JA Board of Directors (now, that’s dedication to a cause!).

This program is introductory in nature as it is geared to younger pupils – and focuses on the interactions of workers within a community, as well as the role of the government in collecting taxes and providing various essential services. A chapter also develops the role of personal responsibility in making informed decisions after analyzing the choices which are available to individuals and groups. (Don’t we all wish we had lessons on group dynamics at a tender age?) Hands-on activities reinforce the skills and concepts taught: months later, my daughter remembers Ms. Van Dien’s sessions, especially the class on productivity and making choices for the company formed (for instructional purposes) as Sweet “O” Donuts.

three great essential thomas edison quoteThis wasn’t Ms. Van Dien’s first foray into the classroom. She enthusiastically stated: “I started volunteering in the classroom through my involvement as a member of the Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida Board of Directors. I was very apprehensive about it as I do not have a teaching background, but JA provides the curriculum and materials and makes it really easy. I was surprised by how much I love it! I have taught the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th grade curriculum, and they are all designed to be very interactive. I am always amazed at how engaged and creative the kids are and how appreciative the teachers are – just as I am to see a different ‘side’ to business and law through my classroom visits.”

If you are interested in volunteering, there are many ways to share your business experiences with students in Collier County. An application is available online (Volunteer Information form:, or contact the JA directly at 239.225.2590. The Naples office is located at 661 Hillway Circle, Suite 202; the web address is:

The roster of business and individual supporters of the local JA office crosses all industry lines and includes Naples based companies as well as those headquartered here (with a far greater geographical reach) or elsewhere. Many of these supporters have been recognized at the JA’s signature event, the Business Hall of Fame. This year’s event will be held October 29. 2013, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to honor forward-thinking entrepreneurs and accomplished community leaders. The honorees are noted both for contributions to economic growth in Naples and surrounds, as well as for their inspiring service as role models for area students.

JA also has sporting events (bowling and golf) which raise program funds and sponsors and volunteers for these events are needed and welcomed by the organization.

The school year is beginning anew in Naples. Might you share the JA vision for a positive future in which today’s students are on track for a productive future? Supporting JA has other benefits, however, noting Ms. Van Dien’s heartfelt comment: “I’m not sure who gets more out of it – me or the kids!”

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