What started out as a lemonade stand by Brainerd Family YMCA summer camp youths could become a nationwide initiative by Junior Achievement.
The Junior Achievement Company Program will be revamped next week to suit local 9- and 10-year-olds and instead focus on "social entrepreneurship"-raising money for a good cause or nonprofit. It will be called "JA Junior Entrepreneurs at the Y."
"Instead of 'for profit,' we wanted to have them build a business where whatever they did was something that was going to benefit the community," said Shane Riffle, Brainerd Family YMCA CEO.
The JA Company Program has traditionally provided high school students the chance to fill a need or solve a problem in their community by launching their own start-up business, "unleashing their entrepreneurial spirit."
"But it's a real company, it's real money," said Amy Gray, district manager of the Brainerd regional office of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest. "They run it just like it's an actual company."
"Meeting-specific, student-friendly materials enable students to identify the key elements of organizing and operating a business and to consider creating their own start-up business," according to the Junior Achievement website.
"It's a pilot program that Junior Achievement national has allowed us to pilot this and develop it, so it could have national implications where other groups get to use it, so that's kind of cool as well," Riffle said.
Riffle participated in the JA Company Program when he was in high school, so he approved offering two five-week sessions last summer related to Junior Achievement that were sponsored at the Y for children and made possible with a $1,000 donation from RiverWood Bank.
"Last summer for camp, I reached out to Amy because we were looking to do upgrades, enhancements, fun learning activities for kids and camp, and financial literacy ... the work skills they need to enter the workforce here locally and be productive," Riffle said.
Gray said, "We had a program called 'More Than Money' and that program was intended for after-school youths or for summer programs, and it's really the only elementary program that we don't use in the Brainerd School District."
Gray and Riffle saw the interest and capitalized on it. Youths at the YMCA helped out a girl last summer who was diagnosed with kidney cancer and was treated in the Twin Cities by hosting a fundraiser.
"They did a lemonade stand, and the money they took from the lemonade stand ended up being like $57, which was sent to the mother with a YMCA T-shirt they all signed ... and it was really meaningful to her," Riffle said.
High school students in the traditional JA Company Program put theory into practice by creating, marketing and operating their own company, from concept to business plan, financing, execution, and sales, according to the high school-based program's promotional materials.
"At the end, they're going to have to go in front of the board of BLAEDC (Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp.), present their business plan and ask for a loan," Riffle said of JA Junior Entrepreneurs at the Y. "They'll invest that money, develop their business and hopefully make some profit."
Through teamwork, students learn to understand and appreciate the responsibilities each person has in running a business, according to the JA Company Program's promotional materials.
"At the end, they'll liquidate their company and then donate their earnings from their business to a local nonprofit of their choosing," Riffle said of JA Junior Entrepreneurs at the Y.
During the 2016-17 school year, Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest served 6,580 K-12 Brainerd lakes area students in Crow Wing and Cass counties.
"We went through the JA Company Program curriculum to see where could we make some modifications to make the program more palatable for kids. Some of the videos in the program-the concepts, the language-are over their heads and not age-appropriate," Gray said.
Riffle said of JA Junior Entrepreneurs at the Y, "If you talk to a lot of the local business leaders, workforce development is really important. We lose so many kids who go off to college who don't come back to the area until maybe their 40s or 50s."
The Brainerd JA has partnered with almost 200 local volunteers who donated 35,364 hours of their time and energy to offer local students the knowledge and skills "to be successful in today's world," according to its website.
"I think it's never too early to teach kids the lesson that, 'This is something that I can do. I can be an entrepreneur,'" Gray said. "Think about the kids who may be starting a lawn-mowing business in the summer or even if they're babysitting-'How are you branding yourself? How are you marketing your business? ... How are you managing your money?'"
Junior Achievement is the world's largest organization dedicated to offering innovative financial literacy, college and career readiness, and entrepreneurship education.
"I think this is going to just be really powerful and good for the kids and grow into something pretty special," Riffle said.
Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest has been serving students in Minnesota, North Dakota and western Wisconsin since 1949. In 2019, the national organization celebrates its 100th anniversary while the Upper Midwest chapter celebrates 70 years in the region.