After a job shadow day at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, students flocked to Martha Carlson, vice president of National Accounts and FEP Marketing, to tell her how much they appreciated the event. They explained to her how they had no idea how many careers there were in the health insurance industry, and they knew they had learned a lot. One high school student even told her that he now aspired to work for an insurance company in data analytics. For Martha, this moment stands out as the most rewarding of all her time with Junior Achievement.
Junior Achievement (JA) is a national organization whose mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. JA educates more than 4.4 million students annually and is the largest and oldest organization to provide career and economic education to youth. Martha is a board member for Junior Achievement of Arkansas Central Region. She is joined by Danny Beck, regional executive in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who is a JA Chairman for Northwest Arkansas.
Danny started his journey with junior achievement when he became a regional executive for Arkansas Blue Cross and was advised that it was important for leaders in the company to be involved in volunteer work. He joined JA as a board member and began to do more frontline JA volunteer work with foster children at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
“I think the message and the education JA provides the kids is really important,” Danny said. “It teaches them about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, credit card debt, how to budget and other things like that.”
Martha was first introduced to JA through another Arkansas Blue Cross executive: Jim Bailey, senior vice president. Jim has served on the board since 2003 and served as chairman on the statewide board from 2013 to 2015. In a 2014 interview, Jim attributed his motivation to work with JA to; “coaching and helping others be successful.” Jim helped Martha be successful when he suggested to Martha that she might enjoy the group as a fiscally minded person.
“I have been able to teach elementary school students how to think about careers, business and entrepreneurship,” Martha explained. “I have also participated in fundraisers, through our company, such as the ‘Turkey Bowl’ which is a bowling tournament held in the fall. We had a great team of employees that volunteered their time to compete against other area companies. While our employee team did not win the trophy for highest bowling score, a member of our team won the award for Most Funds Raised by an Individual!”
Martha also recently participated in a JA sponsored job shadow day where North Little Rock High School students came to Arkansas Blue Cross to learn about careers. They covered everything from sales and marketing to actuarial science.
“It’s a great program that’s about career readiness and fiscal responsibility,” Martha said. “I don’t think you can start helping young people understand the importance of money management too early.”
Though Martha and Danny work with JA in different parts of the state, they share the rewarding experience of working with students who are excited about the knowledge the executives have to share.
“You can see that the kids really appreciate when people that don’t know them and are not a part of their daily lives take time out of their day to come help them,” said Danny. “If we are able to reach just one of those kids, then everything is worth it in my opinion.”
Martha and Danny both foresee the future of JA focusing on expansion. Martha sees JA building a stronger focus on at-risk youth.
“There is an immediate need to help students, particularly those in junior high, understand the importance of choices and personal responsibility as it relates to what they choose to do to contribute to society,” Martha stated.
Danny sees JA expanding to reach more children in more areas of Arkansas. In order to achieve that and allow JA to continue in what they are already doing, there are certain needs that need to be met.
“Our biggest needs are for money and volunteers,” Danny explained. “We are working on a strategic plan to address how we are going to raise money and recruit and retain volunteers.”
Volunteers are always in need at JA. Visit the Junior Achievement website to learn how to become a volunteer.