Witnessing opportunity and liberation emerge

When I was in my 20s, my Mom retired from teaching accounting at the University of Colorado and joined the Peace Corps.

As you might know, the Peace Corps assigns volunteers to work on two-year projects in countries around the world to promote peace and improve their citizens’ quality of life. What you might not know is that one-third of the projects focus on teaching individuals how to start their own businesses in order to support themselves and their families. To provide this type of practical entrepreneurship education, the Peace Corps partners with Junior Achievement (JA).

That is how my Mom found herself in the Czech Republic implementing JA programs. This was just a few short years after the Berlin Wall fell and the citizens of Eastern Bloc countries were only beginning to exercise and harness their newly found economic freedom. My Mom’s goal was to help citizens learn how to create and operate a business enterprise, as well as to help them understand free market economies.

As my Mom took on this challenge, I decided it would be a terrific opportunity to take a break from my job at an insurance company, stay with my Mom, and travel around Europe. Little did I know that this “break” would change my life forever. Helping my Mom implement JA programs made me realize how much I had taken our free enterprise system for granted.

I had always understood free enterprise as a concept, but I didn’t fully realize its power until I witnessed opportunity and liberation emerge among the citizens of the Czech Republic. For example, it was remarkable to see the sparkle in a father’s eyes and hear the excitement in his voice because he could ─ and would ─ create a better life for himself and his family. And, it was all because of his own ingenuity and hard work.

I came back to the U.S., quit my job, and started working for JA. That was 24 years ago and I am still just as passionate about what JA teaches students. It is a privilege to work with like-minded volunteers who believe in helping young people create their own success. It’s a privilege I will never take for granted.

Thank you for joining me, and other passionate members of the JA-Rocky Mountain staff, as we inspire students to see possibilities and achieve their American Dream.

Kristi Shaffer
Executive Vice President