“I wouldn’t even be here without JA!”

Jess Stohlmann-Rainey
Jess Stohlmann-Rainey

Jess Stohlmann-Rainey has been volunteering with Junior Achievement since she first learned to talk.  “My parents actually met working for Junior Achievement,” explains Jess.  “So I wouldn’t even be here without JA!”

Jess’ mother got involved through the JA Company Program, and then stayed with JA after high school.  Her father worked for JA of Chicago and the national JA office in Colorado Springs for 21 years.   Many of Jess’ childhood memories were of attending JA conferences. She never learned to bowl when she was young because she was always volunteering at the JA Bowl-A-Thon fundraisers.  “When I was in elementary school, I asked my dad why I didn’t get to do Junior Achievement,” said Jess.  “We worked together to bring the program to my class, so I am also a JA Alumna.”

As the senior program director for the Carson J Spencer Foundation, she helps bring the JA Be Entrepreneurial program to high school students as part of the FIRE Within Program.  She started personally volunteering in elementary and high school classrooms for JA-Rocky Mountain, Inc. after she wrapped up her MA coursework in 2009.  “The last time I taught the 2nd grade program, I just had the best group of kids,” said Jess.  “We made a decision that every time we got 100% correct, perfect answers to tough questions, we would celebrate by dancing Gangnam style. Every time they got to celebrate their success it was so much fun! I made a collage of photos of them dancing and brought it to the last session; they were so excited to see five weeks of them being 100% correct.”

The Junior Achievement mission is important to Jess because it gives youth a chance at financial and social mobility.  Jess believes that without program like Junior Achievement’s, lower income youth, youth in rural areas, and other marginalized youth often do not have access to critical skills that increase the chance for success in the workforce. “I have grown up really believing that business skills change people’s lives,” said Jess.  “JA has certainly changed my life, and I want to stay connected to that.”