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"Junior Achievement sparked an entrepreneurial fire in Samaiyah!"

Samaiyah Crawford is a soon-to-be 8th grader at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy Middle School. She is looking forward to her last year as a middle schooler. Her priority? Like many students her age, enjoying time with her peers. While chatting with her back in April, she remarked, “I want to hang out with my friends as much as I can before high school. We’re probably going separate ways and have different schools we want to go to.” Samaiyah has big plans for her high school career that will hopefully keep her connected to her besties. “I want to start a business, then sell things with them at different places so we can still meet up.” Not something you hear often from a thirteen-year-old.

Also unique were Samaiyah’s plans for the summer at that time. She confided, “I want to take one of Johnson County Community College’s Business Entrepreneurship classes, so when I do go back to school, I have more skills!” Samaiyah’s mother, Samara Crawford Herrera, works as the Director of Community Partnerships at SchoolSmart Kansas City and credits Junior Achievement with fostering her daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit.

It is of note that this conversation with Samaiyah and Samara took place during the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown last spring. The Crawford Herrera household was still adjusting to online learning, working from home, different expectations for the future. Samara weighed in from the caregiver’s point of view, “The first couple weeks as a parent were very anxiety driven. We, gratefully, are in a good place. She already had a laptop from school, and we have broadband internet. But it took time to figure out how the class schedules worked.”

Learning online this past Spring gave Samaiyah an early look into the upsides and downsides of the college experience many people recall: wearing pajamas to class and struggling to build the discipline necessary for self-managed learning. “The good part of learning from home is I can wear sweats and not be judged! The hard part is I get distracted more easily by my computer, my phone, my dogs, the snacks in the refrigerator…that kind of stuff.” Another frustration of the lockdown was that it stifled a blossoming philanthropic business Samaiyah had started with her peers. “Back in January, me and my friends wanted to help with the bush fires in Australia, especially to save the baby koalas.”

Months before the shutdown, the cohort gathered to brainstorm how they could help Australian wildlife. Empowered by what she learned in Junior Achievement programs during elementary school, Samaiyah pitched her idea to sell baked goods, “I bake a lot and so do my friends. What if we sold stuff that we made?” JA primed her to lead her team in important foundational work for the project. “I told them we have to figure out how we are going to sell it and how much we’re going to sell it for. We decided to sell our goods on school grounds and mostly had to buy the materials ourselves.” The group figured their parents could help them fund their materials costs, which came as a surprise to some of the intended funders.

Samara remembered, laughing, “Suddenly me and the other parents were part of a startup!” She quickly put some guardrails on the project, “When Samaiyah asked about purchasing things, I asked her for a budget. I told her I wasn’t going to let her have cart blanche with the shopping cart.” Working together, the two devised a process to nail down a budget. They defined how much the girls wanted to make from selling the first batch of baked goods and researched to find the cost of ingredients for those items. Samaiyah explained, “We broke it down by time and per round of selling, capping the budget at about $25 per batch. Then we figured out which team member would buy which ingredients.”

When the team went to sell their product at their school, they encountered an unexpected hurdle. Samaiyah learned a less glamorous part of entrepreneurship is working within location regulations. “The school stopped us and said they needed a cut of the profit and that I had to get administrative permission to sell on school grounds.” She did not let this stymie her momentum and the group pushed forward with a project proposal. “We had to write a memo about why we were starting the business, who was in it so they could contact us, what we needed from them, and what we were willing to do for it.” After running it past Samara’s experienced eyes for proofreading and professionalism, they submitted their report. This taught Samaiyah another valuable lesson. “We sent it in and didn’t hear back. Then we re-sent it, again no reply. Finally, someone told us they would meet with us and we scheduled a time. Then last second she told us she was double booked!”

Samara encouraged her daughter to persevere. “Samaiyah had to learn how to effectively advocate for her business and get that meeting time.” But before the saga could continue, life was put on hold as schools transitioned to online learning. “COVID-19 happened, and the wheels came off the world. It turns out this busines was definitely not Coronavirus-proof.” Samaiyah was still game, but like many entrepreneurs have experienced, her funders pulled out of the project. Samara chimed in, “I had to tell her that mommy is going to the grocery store for essentials ONLY. Toilet Paper. Eggs. Milk. Heavy whipping cream isn’t making the list.”

Samaiyah is not discouraged though. She is confident the skills she learned from Junior Achievement equip her to seize on other opportunities in the future. She said, “My JA volunteers were really nice and gave us a lot of support. They helped me further the business ideas I had then. I still want to do a lot of stuff and they helped me learn how to manage my finances so I can do those things.” Her mother is grateful for the tools passed onto her daughter through JA programs, “I love it. I never had that kind of business foundation understanding as an eight- or nine-year-old. Junior Achievement has stoked an entrepreneurial fire in her!”

Now several years since her JA experiences, Samara has had the chance to view first-hand the long-term impact of the programs. Samara expanded on the impact JA has had on the future of her daughter. “She’s working on saving money. When she gets her allowance for chores, she thinks about what she wants to do with it. How she can save it. How she can spend it. Whether she goes into business in the future or not, JA helped us have conversations about money. The concepts were easier to talk about because they were introduced as part of her class.”

The uncertainty brought by COVID-19 runs over into Samaiyah’s plans for her future. Right now, she is not quite sure what she wants to be when she grows up. “I know I want to do something that helps or works with people. I really want to own a business at some point.” Samara commented on a couple previous aspirations her daughter has considered, “At one point she wanted to be an attorney, at another point a writer. But it always comes back to helping people.” Samaiyah’s current favorite subject could be the next step in defining her path. “My favorite class is Chinese! If we start now and continue learning all the way through senior year of high school, we get to go to China over spring break!” Despite the uncertainties she faces in the coming year, one thing is certain:  Samaiyah will be using what she has learned in Junior Achievement to define her success in her own way.

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