Financial Fitness

Junior Achievement has helped Chippewa Valley kids gain money smarts for 25 years

Barbara Arnold

TEENS WITH SCREENS. Volunteer Chris Brooke of WESTconsin Credit Union works with local students during a Junior Achievement event at the Chippewa Valley Technical College Learning Center.
TEENS WITH SCREENS. Volunteer Chris Brooke of WESTconsin Credit Union works
with local students during a Junior Achievement event at the Chippewa Valley
Technical College Learning Center.

When I was growing up, my family provided me many “courses” in financial literacy. My mom was a saver and thrifty; my dad was a spendthrift. My three older brothers taught me about paying yourself first, the time value of money, and living beneath your means, respectively.

April is national financial literacy education month. And you may ask: Who needs it?

“Money and its role in the family household do not get a lot of discussion. The result is youth are unprepared to meet real life
when they leave home.” – Chris Brooke, Junior Achievement volunteer

In the Chippewa Valley today, second-graders through high school seniors have Junior Achievement of Wisconsin of the Northwest District and its three-pronged partnership of school teachers, community volunteers, and businesses to help them become financially literate. Last year alone, the Northwest District  chapter – now in its 25th year – helped more than 17,900 students participated in 962 programs in 111 schools facilitated by 701 teachers and 751 volunteers, who include enthusiastic parents, college students, and business people.

The number of youth learning how to manage money will grow in the Chippewa Valley thanks to a three-year grant totaling almost $105,000 awarded recently to the JA Northwest District by the United Way of The Greater Chippewa Valley.
The JA financial literacy programs geared toward middle school will become part of United Way’s Financial Stability Partnership, according to local United Way Executive Director Jan Porath. “After years of strategic planning and research by dedicated volunteers, we have organizationally changed how we allocate our funds,” she said. “JA’s financial literacy programs align well with United Way’s income plan with an emphasis on improving financial stability.

“A little over one-fourth (27 percent) of Chippewa and Eau Claire County households earn less than $25,000,” she continued. “Basic financial skills are critical to economic stability, but many people lack these skills. So why not start with their children in middle school and potentially get their parents and siblings involved?”

All Chippewa Valley schools offer some kind of financial education as part of other courses or on its own. The Eau Claire school district offers personal finance as an elective credit. Altoona, Elk Mound, Fall Creek, Mondovi, Menomonie and Regis high schools are among the handful of Wisconsin schools that require a personal finance course to graduate.

At Altoona, every student is required to complete one semester or one-half credit of personal finance. Kelly Ostrander, who has worked with JA for close to 20 years, is their business education teacher. She works with a trio of JA volunteers; among them is Chris Brooke, a senior business loan officer with WESTconsin Credit Union. Brooke has worked in banking since 2001 and has taught personal finance and business ethics, which are part of the JA curriculum, since 2002.

“My role as the volunteer is to take the JA material and curriculum, align them with the teacher’s expectations, and interject my real-world experience,” he shared. “Every classroom is different. My goal is to always connect with 100 percent of the students I teach. I encourage participation with their parents and ask the kids to become involved in money matters now before they leave school. ...

“Because of my work life, I am well aware of the unfortunate financial illiteracy in the world,” Brooke concluded. “Money and its role in the family household do not get a lot of discussion. The result is youth are unprepared to meet real life when they leave home.”

Ostrander shared that Brooke’s real life experience and blunt storytelling style really touch her students. “When Chris explained the value of saving money, the time value of money, and (that) the sooner you start saving, the sooner you can become a millionaire, several of my students went right out and started a Roth IRA and contribute $100 a month to it from their part-time jobs,” she said.

Twenty-five years ago, JA started as just an idea among some interested citizens in the Chippewa Valley. Since then, our country has experienced at least three major financial crises. “In light of the problems that have arisen in the subprime mortgage market,” then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in 2008, “we are reminded of how critically important it is for individuals to become financially literate at an early age so that they are better prepared to make decisions and navigate an increasingly complex financial marketplace.”

Junior Achievement seems like a good place to start.

Arnold, a Volume One contributor, is former director of the northwest district of Junior Achievement of Wisconsin. Learn more about Junior Achievement by visiting www.facebook.com/JuniorAchievementintheChippewaValley or by calling (715) 835-5566.

This was made by

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.