"To light that fire in students... is what keeps me coming back."


Students learning about needs and wants

When Jackie Loya-Torres became Community Development Officer at Commerce Bank, she leaned into her responsibility of creating relationships in the community and leading the bank’s inclusivity efforts. Determined to practice what she preached, Jackie became a bilingual Junior Achievement classroom volunteer.

For many of the children Jackie teaches, understanding that banks can be helpful for managing money and paying bills effectively can be a big learning curve.  “Junior Achievement is really looking to impact classrooms with the most economic need, and that’s in perfect alignment with our efforts at Commerce Bank,” Jackie says.

Financial literacy is critical for success as an adult, but data indicates what a challenge it is. A 2018 study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that nearly half of the emerging adults participating in the study were financially precarious (32 percent) or financially at-risk (36 percent). Children are entering adulthood without the adequate financial abilities they need for their future — and one reason Jackie volunteers with JA is her drive to equip children for success.

Through her work in the Kansas City community, Jackie understood that many economic groups had no relationship with financial institutions. These families may include immigrants or refugees unfamiliar with how the United States economy works. “For me, it was so gratifying to see the diversity in the (JA) classroom,” Jackie relates.

“These children live on the fringe of our economic system,” Jackie explains. “So I do a lot of education around what U.S. banks do and how they can be helpful. I’ll ask, ‘Do you know what a bank is? Have you ever been inside a bank?’ and describe what Commerce is and why banks are important. It was very appealing to me that I could have an impact in that role.”

While volunteering with second and fourth grade JA students at M.E. Pearson Elementary in Kansas City, Kansas, Jackie discovered that some of the children weren’t proficient in English — and that’s when her Spanish came into play. As a bilingual volunteer, Jackie was able to meet her students where they are and educate them in a familiar language. “It was fun to utilize my Spanish and my experience as a daughter and granddaughter of immigrants to teach,” Jackie says.

As she led a Junior Achievement lesson that discussed businesses in the community, Jackie was able to show her students the role models in their own neighborhoods. She pointed out nearby stores owned by people with similar backgrounds as the children in class — people who came to the country the same way as many of them did — in order to bring the lesson home and help the students see themselves in some of the success around them.

“In one instance, we started talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up,” Jackie shares. “This little boy said he wanted to be a roofer like his dad. I said to him, ‘Hijo, that is a wonderful job because everyone needs a good roof on their house. But did you ever think that maybe you could own the roofing business?’ To light that fire in students, that they could be the employers instead of being the employees, is what keeps me coming back.”

For Jackie, the most rewarding part of being a Junior Achievement volunteer is inspiring a child to see a life they hadn’t seen for themselves before. With easy-to-understand curriculum and flexibility to ensure that the commitment fits in her work schedule, Jackie continues to make an impact on classrooms with Junior Achievement. “The great thing about the Junior Achievement curriculum is that it’s so easy for a volunteer to pick up and do,” Jackie shares. “It’s also flexible enough that you can pivot to make the lesson relevant to your class. Junior Achievement makes it so easy to volunteer. The curriculum is easy to follow. Anybody can do it. It’s really so simple. It gets you out of your head for an hour and it’s an important reminder of what matters as we go about our day.”

As a volunteer, Jackie appreciates the flexibility of Junior Achievement. “You can work out when you teach with your teacher and spread lessons out over a longer period of time or do them all more closely together,” Jackie explains. “You can even do the curriculum in a day if you can’t commit long term. Getting it done in a day with a team of people you work with is also a great team builder.”

When you volunteer with Junior Achievement, you help the children who need it most learn life-changing financial and entrepreneurial skills. Do your part to teach the next generation and become a part of Junior Achievement today.

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