Author: Sarah Koci Scheilz
Published: Tuesday, 09 Jul 2019
When a co-worker and JA advocate invited Wendee Peres and all of BOK Financial to volunteer with Junior Achievement, Wendee enthusiastically accepted. Since then, BOK has become a cherished Junior Achievement partner — and Wendee, Corporate Trust Officer and Vice President at BOK has signed on as a director of the JA Board. But it is not just Wendee making a difference, it’s a company-wide effort, with BOK associates regularly sharing their time, expertise and gifts with JA students..
As part of this curriculum, Wendee has each student pretend to own their own business in an imaginary city. “When they get paid as business owners, they have to pay their taxes,” Wendee explains. “The first time we have to take some of their money away, they always get so upset!” But then it clicks for the students — in that same curriculum, there’s a fire at the restaurant they own and no firefighters to put it out.
“That puts it into perspective,” Wendee shares. “When I show them taxes are paying for police officers, firefighters and teachers, that switches on the lightbulb in their head. They see there is a purpose for our city and what it does.” Suddenly, those taxes take on a real, meaningful significance.
As a volunteer and donor, Wendee sees the Junior Achievement experience solidifying what teachers seek to teach in the classroom. “I love that the curriculum complements what students are learning every day,” Wendee says. “It reinforces everything they’re learning. The kids can enjoy it and have fun with it and still learn something. That’s absolutely fantastic.”
Volunteering with Junior Achievement brings together co-workers at BOK Financial. “The last time we volunteered at Stony Point together, we were sitting at lunch and having a good time while we shared what was happening in our classrooms. It builds camaraderie. Every year when it comes up, everybody is so excited to be a part of it.”
With a mix of new and seasoned JA volunteers at BOK, there are always opportunities for colleagues to come together and learn from each other. “It really puts everybody at ease that there are people who have already done it and gone through it,” Wendee shares. “We make it a point to have at least two people in every classroom when we do JA so that everyone has a wonderful day.”
At BOK, financial literacy is a core pillar. “Junior Achievement plays right into that,” Wendee notes. “Coming from any type of business, if you’re wanting to pursue volunteer time, this is a great team builder, being able to experience this [JA] together.”BOK’s unique commitment to KC’s entrepreneurial community is also a reason the company supports
JA. “For any startup business, JA is one of those opportunities to share how they started and all the pitfalls,” Wendee notes. “What a great experience as a business to engage kids and let them know that Kansas City has all these great businesses that started and were built for the community. That act of sharing stories with the next generation is really important for a business.”
One of the most exciting aspects of volunteering with Junior Achievement as a company, she says, is seeing colleagues after their first experience in the classroom. “I love being able to bring new people in,” Wendee says, “I have so many co-workers who’ve said it’s so nice to get a hug from the kids and who really embrace that experience. We have a really good time with it. I love seeing people enjoying and being fulfilled from volunteering.”
Even beyond her personal and corporate connections to JA, Wendee has seen the impact that’s happened within her family too. Wendee isn’t the only one passionate about JA curriculum in her household: her oldest daughter loves learning what her mom teaches. “It really has connected the two of us together,” Wendee relates. “I’m able to share with her what we learned in the classroom and that makes it very relevant to my family. I can share the stories from JA with my family and it helps them understand how important financial literacy and entrepreneurship are. I love that.”
When you support Junior Achievement, you give back to the students who need it the most. Volunteer in a classroom, make a gift and share your experience. Your partnership with Junior Achievement makes a lifetime of difference.