Volunteers Needed to Help Guide Students Through JA Finance Park

Students check to see how their stocks are performing before heading to the next stop in JA Finance Park.

You are the public relations director for a nonprofit theater company, a job that pays you just over $40,000 a year. You’re married, you have two children, you own your home and you have just a couple of payments to go before your car is paid off.

So how much can you spend on groceries this month? Can you buy the kids new shoes and still cover the cable bill? And what if your health-insurance premium goes up?

Adults face those kinds of questions every day, but the value of a dollar — and the idea of living within your means — isn’t even on the radar for most middle- and high-school students. Junior Achievement of Oregon & Southwest Washington is working to change that, and now the Northwest Credit Union Foundation is urging credit unions to join the effort by providing volunteers for JA Finance Park.

“Financial literacy for children is one of the key components of the foundation’s mission,” says NWCUF development associate Josalyn Alston. “As a partner with JA, we fund a multi-year grant and sponsor a credit union kiosk in JA Finance Park, where students can open savings accounts and choose between short-term options like buying an electronics package or long-term options like saving for college.”

Volunteers are needed to help staff the next JA Finance Park, which will be held Dec. 16-20 at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro, Ore. (Sign up here.) The park will move to southern Oregon in early 2014, with stops in Medford in February and Klamath Falls in May; volunteers are also needed in those locations.

Here’s how it works:

Students use iPads loaded with the JA Finance Park app to track their income and expenses.

Over the course of several weeks, teachers prepare students for JA Finance Park with lessons on how to choose a financial institution, the difference between debit and credit cards, the pros and cons of credit, the value of saving and investing, and how taxes affect their income and expenses. Students also learn how to create and live with a budget, including the myriad of choices often needed to make sure a budget works.

Students then travel to JA Finance Park, where they get to test what they’ve learned in a real-life simulation over the course of four and a half hours. First, they’re given fictional adult roles that include their age, occupation, household income and family situation; then, they have to figure out what they can afford in 16 household budget categories by visiting businesses to explore their options for products and services.

Each student is given an iPad — loaded with the JA Finance Park app — to use during the simulation. Once they’ve made their choices, they revisit each business to declare their final budget decisions. About 480 students from Stoller Middle School in Beaverton will visit JA Finance Park in December; over the course of the 2013-2014 school year, more than 3,500 students will participate.

Barbara Smith, vice president of programs for Junior Achievement of Oregon & Southwest Washington, says volunteers play a critical role in making JA Finance Park a success. Working with small groups, they assign and collect iPads, help students stay on task with personal budget planning, answer students’ questions and watch for “teachable moments.”

“And without a doubt,” Smith says, “volunteers have a great day!”

Volunteer training begins at 8 a.m. each day; students arrive around 10 a.m. and head back to school at 2:30 p.m. Volunteers are asked to bring their own sack lunch, but everything else they’ll need is provided.

For more information on JA Finance Park, go to jaorswwa.org/ja_finance_park. To volunteer for the Hillsboro location, visit the Northwest Credit Union Foundation’s online volunteer page.


Questions? Contact Josalyn Alston: 206.340.4814, jalston@nwcua.org.

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