"What does Junior Achievement mean? Little people doing big things!"

Darren Cacy and Dan Anders have a long history of teamwork at IBM. Twenty-four years to be exact. Darren provides support to the cloud solutions sales team on all things technical. A natural problem solver, Darren is passionate about his work. “It’s really interesting to talk to people and see what problems they have. I can bring ideas from one group and apply them to another. It is so rewarding!” But his path to his career was not a direct one. “I have a liberal arts degree and kind of talked my way into my first programming job.”

Image caption: Darren Cacy, JA Volunteer

In the early 1990s Darren found himself surrounded by others from non-traditional paths in the relatively nascent field of computer programming. “There weren’t a lot of people who graduated with computer science degrees back then. A lot of my peers were like me. They were teachers or architects or something else. We just happened to have an affinity for computers and built a career out of it!” One of those fellow programmers turned out to be Dan Anders.

Image caption: Dan Anders, JA Volunteer

Dan works as part of the Watson Artificial Intelligence sales team helping financial services clients. Dan identified his chosen field after looking for something that piqued his interest more than standard high school curriculum. “I wasn’t strong at math and I struggled to read long amounts of text. My final two years of high school I took a split curriculum where I spent half my days at a vocational tech school.” It was that decision that ignited a spark. “Some kids learned plumbing, heating and air conditioning, or welding. But I did the computer programming track. Learning about programming and creating software clicked with me.” Looking back, Dan reflected on how it felt to finally enjoy learning, “It was interesting enough that I wanted to understand it. I felt successful at it.”

In 1996 the pair were fortuitously hired at IBM’s Kansas City location within just two weeks of each other. Both found themselves in the office, rather than the field, the day Junior Achievement gave a workplace presentation. They were drawn by the opportunity to make an impact on their community. “We thought it sounded kind of cool. We decided to lock arms together and make it our thing,” Dan reminisced. Darren said, “23 years later we are still doing it. Every year…we haven’t looked back! It is a reunion every time we see each other.” Thinking of the years of service together he added, “we know how the other one works and each of us have different skills. Having that kind of teamwork makes it so much easier to have fun with it.”

The pair have delivered JA programs at various Kansas City area schools over their many years. For the past five years they have been inspiring young minds at Scuola Vita Nuova, a charter school in historic North East Kansas City. Dan reflected on his own time as a Junior Achievement kid, “I remember doing Junior Achievement when I was a kid decades ago. I still remember the project – we were making candles. I was maybe eight or nine years old.” Now as an adult, leading JA programs for kids allows him to ignite a spark like the one that was lit in him adding, “I feel like it has come full circle. I want to do something to give kids the experience I had gotten.” Dan also hopes that he can give kids perspective. “I worry kids in school feel there’s only one right answer. I want to try to encourage students to just get started with something. Find out what you enjoy and have a talent for…you can always adjust and change later.”

Darren didn’t have a JA experience as a kid but found motivation to pass on the importance of learning from his parents, saying, “they were both strong believers in the power of education. Higher education was expected for me, my brother, and my sister, and it has paid off for us.” Darren recognizes that for students, part of enjoying education is celebrating your knowledge. He tries to give children confidence during his and Dan’s time in the classroom. “They want to show off what they’ve learned. We’ll hold up flash cards and they jump out of their chairs to show us they can read words like ‘Neighborhood’ or ‘Business’ or ‘Entrepreneur’.” Darren continued, “we tell them that right now they have the opportunity to learn where someone is going to take the time to teach them things, so learn as much as you can.” Darren loves seeing his former students still learning year after year. “We see older kids and they’ll wave at us or run over and give us a hug. We’re only in their classroom five times, but they remember us. They feel important because we pay attention to them…it’s a great feeling!” Darren told us.

Darren and Dan want to show JA kids the power they have to direct their futures. Dan added, “It excites me to make them think about the role they have to play. Show the kids they can have an impact in their little area and the importance of investing in themselves. I want to expose them to the types of careers that will give them options for their lives.” This tone is set from the start of each JA session. “We tell them Junior means someone who is small. Achievement means doing something. Every time we visit we hold up the JA sign and ask ‘What does Junior Achievement mean?’ and the kids say ‘Little People Doing Big Things!’” Darren explained, grinning.

For these two JA volunteers, the opportunity to show kids their potential is at the core of their drive to make an impact. They encourage anyone looking for a way to create change in their community to give JA volunteering a shot. Dan commented, “We all wonder: Where are we at in our country? What direction are we heading? JA is a prime example of something you can do to make an investment.” Darren offered, “People want to make a difference, they want to be part of something bigger. When you are a JA volunteer, you show kids that little people do big things.” He finished, “There is a first grader we spent time with twenty years ago. That person is an adult making decisions now. I like to think they are making better decisions, are a better contributor to the community, are a better citizen, because of the time we spent with them. That is the vision I have. It is what encourages and inspires us to keep going."

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