Author: Erika O'Shea
Published: Friday, 21 Feb 2020
There’s been a new face around the water cooler recently. Jennie Masuch joined the JAKC team in January as a Program Manager, leading volunteer and school coordination efforts with secondary programs serving middle school and high school students. A Kansas City area native, Jennie grew up as a student in the Independence Public School district and graduated from Truman High School. She continued her education at University of Missouri-Kansas City and worked during college part-time with Girl Scouts. “I originally thought I wanted to be a teacher. But after comparing my work in different classrooms through practicums to my time with Girl Scouts, I decided non-profit might be a better space for me.” After shifting her degree focus and graduating with a diploma in Liberal Arts, she continued working in the non-profit space after college.
Having not had the opportunity to experience Junior Achievement as a student, her first introduction to the organization came through a bit of serendipity. “I had never heard of JA until Kate Hood started working here. She introduced me to it and when a position opened up, I applied.” Kate, Director of Programs & Experiences, had previously worked with Jennie and knew her passions for both education and non-profits would make her a good fit for the open Program Manager position. Jennie found the role offered a balance between her desire to make an impact in learning environments and her love of working in non-profits. “It was a chance to get back into the education space without directly being in the classroom, which was what I wanted.”
The source of Jennie’s passion to work in both sectors spurs from experiences in her own childhood. “The people who got me to where I am now are the volunteers I’ve interacted with throughout my life. My Girl Scout leader had a big impact on me, and I was involved in a lot of different volunteer groups in high school.” She identifies her early exposure to generous mentors as a defining moment. “I got to be around people who genuinely wanted to be around me. I got to interact with so many different people who I wouldn’t have otherwise - people besides my teachers and family.” Now, working with Junior Achievement, she sees the same spirit resonating in JA volunteers. “These volunteers are choosing to go into classrooms and teach. When there is a new face in the classroom, kids are so excited to learn from them and get to know them.”
Thinking of her own exposure to the crucial topics JA covers, Jennie reflects, “I had a personal finance class in junior year of high school, but that was pretty late in the game.” She continued, “Before that, my parents had some conversations with me, but it wasn’t anything I actively thought about.” Jennie appreciates how her work with JA makes an impact with students of all ages. “That is why Junior Achievement is so important. It starts in kindergarten.” She expanded on the impact JA Champions have on students long-term by adding, “kids may not realize what they’re doing is financial literacy and career readiness, but volunteers are planting a seed that will grow every year.” Jennie hopes her work now will enable other kids define their path to success earlier. “I wish I had JA growing up. Our volunteers get students to think about what they want to be and how they want to succeed in life.”
As a JA staff member, Jennie develops strong relationships with Kansas City educators. She finds their excitement to host JA volunteers in their classrooms very rewarding. “They see Junior Achievement as a wonderful supplement to what they are doing in their classrooms. They see how volunteer interaction with students makes a difference.” On the flip side, a challenging part of her week is finding volunteers willing to teach middle and high school students. “We need more passionate people willing to work with these age groups. I personally love the programs for older students because they are tailored to certain areas.” Middle and high school JA students dive into more complex activities involving entrepreneurship, business plans, and economics. Jennie stressed the importance of this exposure for older students sharing, “the concepts they are learning are important. They’re getting ready to go off and start their real lives.”
Understanding the anxiety some potential volunteers face, Jennie wants to allay concerns regarding qualifications. “Anyone can volunteer. Junior Achievement is great because there are so many different opportunities. There is something for everyone.” She detailed the most important characteristics needed in a JA mentor. “You just have to be open and honest with them and yourself. You must have a desire to leave a lasting impact on a student. Be willing to form relationships and get to know your students and their needs.” She wants volunteers to believe in themselves and their experience. “Tell them who you are and how you got to where you are at in life and they will look up to you. They will be inspired.”