Junior Achievement of Arkansas will honor its 2021 Legacy Award winners May 27 from Heifer International’s world headquarters in downtown Little Rock. The Legacy Awards Luncheon, the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser benefiting more than 8,400 students in Central Arkansas, will be held in person and also livestreamed from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Arkansas Money & Politics is an event sponsor.) For more information, email Tonya Villines at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JA’s Arkansas chapter was founded in 1987 to promote financial literacy in education. Its Legacy Award was established in 2008 to annually recognize those business leaders who display “exceptional leadership” in supporting academic excellence.
This year’s Legacy Award winners are Anne Marie Doramus, Arkansas Game & Fish commissioner and vice president of special projects for Arkansas Bolt Co.; Rush Harding, founding partner of Crews & Associates and co-owner of Cache restaurant; and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.
In addition, the 2021 Educator Award winner is Dr. Gary Arnold, president and head of school at Little Rock Christian. And Centennial Academy, and Centennial Bank is the winner of the 2021 Nelson Summit Award, recognizing a business or company that has shown a strong commitment to promoting education. The Nelson Summit Award is named for the founder of Junior Achievement in Arkansas, Sheffield Nelson.
AMP asked the award winners about their involvement with Junior Achievement and the importance of promoting financial literacy in local schools. Representing Centennial Bank was Gordon Silaski, division president for the Little Rock market.
Tell us about your involvement with Junior Achievement and promoting education in Arkansas?
Gary Arnold: My daughter is a fourth-generation teacher, so it must be in the blood! In high school, I dreamed of being a pediatrician. Now, as a school leader, one can say my dream was realized. Both pediatricians and educators seek the well-being of children; the best pediatricians and educators see child development as a partnership with parents. To do it well is all-consuming in a good way. Floundering in my mid-20’s, one of my former college professors said, “Whatever you do, stay in education.” I’m grateful I did.
Anne Marie Doramus: I did not become involved with Junior Achievement until this year. Due to the limitations of the pandemic, I have not been able to be as hands-on as I would like. I know that will change soon, and I am looking forward to it.
Rush Harding: I first got involved in Junior Achievement primarily through the efforts of Sheffield Nelson, a long-time mentor in my development as a young man. I believe he is a past honoree, and he has been instrumental in the implementation of JA’s programs since its beginning in Arkansas.
Frank Scott Jr.: The first time I became involved in the Junior Achievement mission of promoting education was probably sometime after graduating college and entering the world of work. I am a first-generation college student on both sides of my family, and I am one of those individuals who did not have an idea about going off to college.
Once that became a possibility that I hadn’t been aware of, and then after graduating college and understanding how my life has been transformed because of education, I became a huge proponent for it. So, when you think through the things that we have done in our administration, through our community-schools model, which is focusing on the most at-risk students within the most at-risk schools in the Little Rock School District, that is the reason why we align ourselves in promoting education, which is aligned with the Junior Achievement education model.
Gordon Silaski: Centennial’s partnership with JA sponsors 27 Arkansas schools in 27 counties through 2023. The sponsorship provides funding allowing school access to JA’s financial literacy programs, resources, mentors and programming in the core-content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. JA’s programs provide students with positive realizations and reinforcement of career aspirations, an understanding of money management, and exposure to the benefits of business ownership that help overcome negative, competing environmental factors.
Additionally, the sponsorship provides bank employees with volunteer opportunities such as teaching financial literacy courses at our sponsored schools, special event participation and local participation on boards of directors. JA provides the bank with volunteer recruitment tools, volunteer training and classroom materials.
How important is it to expose students at an early age to programs that foster financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship?
Gary Arnold: Education has always been about the future. I can’t think of three more relevant skills for the future than financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. Every adult — artists, engineers, counselors, social workers, physicians, coders, landscapers, athletes, the self-employed, etc. — must be able to understand how work builds money, money builds opportunity and opportunity builds one’s future.
Anne Marie Doramus: Very important. Junior Achievement facilitates community leaders, executives and influencers to share their career successes and experiences. This exposes children to the foundations of basic economics at a very young age.
Rush Harding: In a rural state like Arkansas, programs initiated by JA are essential to transforming our educational system. Young people often think that their culture and environment limit their ability to achieve academically and professionally. Junior Achievement can show them that they have access to a whole new world of opportunities.
Frank Scott Jr.: Well, when one understands that a child needs and has to be able to learn to read by the end of the third grade… They’re reading to learn and learning to read, but really reading to thrive, because if a child is not able to read by the end of the third grade, there is a downstream ripple effect that’s negative.
So, we have to focus on addressing issues that we have seen already very early on from an education standpoint, like reading. We have to do it more so for long-term investment in the potential of our personal and corporate incomes by ensuring that our children learn and are taught at an early age about financial literacy. That helps create long-term posterity and prosperity for communities.
Gordon Silaski: Many of our employees (or their family members) went through a JA program at some point. In addition, we frequently hear from our customers on how they were influenced by concepts and skills first introduced to them in a JA program. It is especially nice when they recall it was a Centennial employee who provided a spark or had a positive influence.
Are schools currently doing enough to help promote these concepts?
Gary Arnold: We can do more. That’s a polite way of saying we are not doing enough. Economics in too many schools has fallen out of favor. Like civics. (Now, there’s an old-school word.) Maybe because it’s tinged with politics; maybe because decision-makers think there are more important things or not enough time; maybe because we are not thinking about the future as much as we think we are.
Regardless of the reason, to send children out into the adult world without a financial compass is a recipe for unnecessary hardship — individual and societal hardship.
Anne Marie Doramus: Yes, I believe the education community is seeing the importance of learning by mentorship and experience.
Rush Harding: Our school systems do a great job with the resources they have. Junior Achievement can supplement their efforts, but we must do our part in getting Junior Achievement into more high schools around the state and seeing to it that the financial resources are available to make a difference in the lives of our young people.
Frank Scott Jr.: Schools are doing some things, and often it’s because of help from Junior Achievement. We need to do more. I think when you think about our community-schools model, we do incorporate financial literacy. There are a lot of corporate members that are aligned with Junior Achievement, but we need to continue to see this expanded.
Regardless of whether they attend a public, private or public-charter school, all students need to have this type of understanding as we move forward. We are grateful to have an organization such as Junior Achievement that has made it its mission to have this type of focus.
How is this commitment to education ingrained into the culture at Centennial?
Gordon Silaski: We are a bank founded by entrepreneurs with a deep and lasting commitment to bettering their communities. As a community-focused bank, we know that Centennial can only be as strong as the individual communities we serve. We focus on giving back with time, talent and financial resources. We seek associates who bring this mindset to the table and communicate our expectations early in the hiring process. Team members across our entire footprint are uniquely positioned to inspire, promote and support financial literacy including basic life and career skills, responsible credit management and home ownership.
Centennial is currently participating in JA’s Virtual Speaker Series, where employees from various companies holding various jobs submit videos explaining the specifics of their career. The videos will form a library, giving teachers a great resource to help students learn about various career pathways. Seven of our employees were selected to participate.
Since January 2019, Centennial Bank has volunteered more than 1,000 financial literacy hours (not just with JA); 215 service hours with JA; 25 employees have volunteered with JA; and team members Eric King and Tyler Choate (vice chair) both serve on JA’s board of directors.
In what ways have you seen first-hand how the JA mission is making a difference?
Gary Arnold: JA lights a fire in two ways. JA students begin to sense the personal empowerment that comes from financial wisdom, and JA teachers realize they are impacting the absolute future of the next generation. Everyone involved walks away bigger and better. Chances are high this stuff is not being talked about at home. Sadly, if it is being talked about at home, the children who need it the most are being left out of the conversation. JA brings critical life-skills to a diverse, ready-to-learn group of students we call America 2030. JA helps us help our students make better choices for a better future.
Anne Marie Doramus: Many students are impacted by JA. The story of a 17-year-old young woman stands out in my mind. With the help of her JA mentor, she created an embroidered clothing tag for people who are visually impaired that describes what clothing they are shopping for. She is visually impaired herself and saw a need for something that did not exist. Not only did she become an entrepreneur at 17, but she helped remove an obstacle that can change the lives of many.
Rush Harding: Over the last decade, we have seen the hard numbers show the progress we have made, but there is still a long way to go. We need to support Junior Achievement so it can continue to be a meaningful influence on the development of our young people around the state.
Frank Scott Jr.: Anytime you see the children of Junior Achievement in our schools, you can see the impact, not only in the larger youth community but particularly in those of us who are coming from a low income. It’s changing the generation right before his or her eyes.
Gordon Silaski: JA’s mission of inspiring and preparing young people to succeed should be adopted by all of us. It is not enough to help just one person or change one life. That’s good, but we collectively have the capacity to do so much more!
Stop and think — in Arkansas, one in four youth live in poverty, directly influencing their education, career outlook and financial means. Evidence shows that youth who are not exposed to soft-skills training and early work experience are more likely to be chronically unemployed. In Pulaski County, 17.8 percent of residents live below the poverty line, higher than the national average of 14 percent.
With the help of programs offered by JA, we believe Centennial Bank can foster self-belief and a sense of purpose necessary for young people to thrive and overcome challenging circumstances. Centennial’s partnership with JA helps ensure students will have access to the knowledge necessary for future success.