Author: Erika O'Shea
Published: Tuesday, 21 Sep 2021
Image caption: Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City participated in JA BizTown's pilot sessions in August!
Poll any citizen of the newly opened JA BizTown, presented by CommunityAmerica Credit Union, on what one word describes their time in the simulated city and you’re likely to get the same enthusiastic response: FUN! In August, more than two hundred young people from Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City became JA BizTown Citizens for a day as part of the program’s pilot sessions. The students came from club locations across the Kansas City metro and participated in Junior Achievement classes before taking their field trip to JA BizTown, located in the new Junior Achievement Youth Learning Lab, presented by the Mallouk Family Foundation, in Kansas City, Kansas.
As busses rolled into the parking lot each morning, volunteers familiarized themselves with the tasks and responsibilities that they would shortly be helping students through. The adults in the mini-city were just as excited as the kids to get the day going. Rich Carr, retired and former Director of Training at Associated Wholesale Grocers, was impressed, “I love this building...I mean you cannot beat it.” As each child entered the DEG Reception Hall, they received a job assignment at one of sixteen different JA BizTown stores.
Noises of wonderment escaped kids’ mouths as small groups saw JA BizTown for the first time. “Wow...this is like a real town!” and “I can’t wait...this is going to be so cool!” A brief moment of calm settled over JA BizTown as kids read through their duties for the day, quickly replaced by excited interjections as they explored their stores. “Don’t forget to put on your apron!” and “We have to sell ALL these yo-yos?!” and “Let’s make some money!”
After each business held an internal kickoff meeting, the entire group gathered in the town square. The Unified Government Mayor gave a short welcome speech and invited each CEO to talk a little about their shop. Afterwards, kids left for their first shift and quickly found a rhythm. JE Dunn employees darted from shop to shop, providing building inspections. City Hall workers canvassed the town square, encouraging individuals to vote in the election. Children’s Mercy doctors gave checkups and prescribed medicine. Price Chopper and the Cafe sold snacks to the hungry throngs. Laura Jones, who works at CommunityAmerica Credit Union and also volunteered at the JA BizTown CommunityAmerica branch, couldn’t believe how quickly the kids found their footing, “I was amazed by how fast the kids caught on to the technology. Making deposits, transfers, checking balances – it was really instantaneous how they adapted to that.”
Image caption: Kids lining up in front of CommunityAmerica Credit Union while on break to cash their first check.
Many children agreed that their favorite part of the day was their break, when they were finally able to spend their hard-earned paycheck on goods and services at other shops. Adrianna, JA BizTown CFO at SelectQuote, shared that she wished she could work another shift, “I like that we get to buy things, but I wish we could get three paychecks! My favorite store was the cafe!” Some storefronts provided services rather than goods. Jackson, a JA BizTown CommunityAmerica employee, proudly showed off a small goldfish stuffed animal, “I got a pet goldfish for buying pet insurance from SelectQuote!” he explained, continuing, “I also signed a paper at Evergy saying that I would save energy and turn out lights!”
For other kids, the highlight of their day was being a producer, rather than a consumer. Ta’marro, JA BizTown CEO of Hallmark, shared that he loved working in a retail environment. “I like doing the sales. It’s fun to ask people what they want, find it, and then swipe their debit cards!” Xanthe, JA BizTown CEO of Children’s Mercy, also connected strongly with her role. “I really like when customers come in. I feel pride. I’m excited to help them get back to proper health.”
The day gave kids a look at some of the perks of being an adult. Getting a paycheck. Buying fun toys and tasty snacks. Having the freedom to explore their community on breaks. Making sure their voice was heard by voting in the City Hall election. But the experience also gave the children a look at some of the less fun realities and responsibilities that come with being a productive member of society. Nabil, JA BizTown CEO of Barkley, said, “It feels good to be the boss, but it’s also hard. All the tasks are harder.” Is it fun to pay bills? “Not so much,” shared Takiyha, a JA BizTown Evergy employee. Selena, the JA BizTown Price Chopper Pharmacist, commented, “It would be hard working everyday, but you need a lot of money to have kids!”
Staff of Boys and Girls Clubs got a firsthand look at the growth of their young counterparts over the course of the day. Jamel, Member Engagement and Special Programs Coordinator, said, “It’s enlightening seeing young people take advantage of their roles and job. They take it seriously. Whether they’re a CEO or a sales associate, seeing them connect and lean into their work was cool to see.” Jamel also valued the intentionality behind showcasing local brands in JA BizTown. “I am seeing the students connect with different storefronts across the town. Now when they’re with their mom, their dad, on the school bus going to school...they’ll see Hallmark, they’ll see Evergy, and they’ll make that connection.” Alondra, Membership Coordinator and Community Support Liaison, shared a few more things the kids were learning, “Working with their classmates was really good. Them being able to deposit money. They’ll take that with them.”
Jamel explained how smoothly the JA classroom learning tied into the capstone JA BizTown experience, “The programming side of things, especially leading into the actual visit is by far one of the best experiences I’ve had as a professional facilitator. Very easy to deliver and talk about. Come here - it’s a no-brainer!” Time and again, the kids expressed their gratitude for having the opportunity to come to JA BizTown and practice their adulting skills. Tashaun, a sales associate at the JA BizTown Price Chopper, had a special message for the volunteers and donors who made his JA BizTown experience possible. “Thank you! We would not be here right now if it wasn’t for you. THANK YOU!!” Makayla, JA BizTown CEO at Children’s Mercy, shared a similar appreciation for the supporters who made JA BizTown a reality, “Thank you so much! This was really fun and I had a great time. I learned so much about saving.”