Trip Home Sparks Passion for JA Volunteer

On a recent trip home to Wisconsin, Junior Achievement volunteer Tom Durkin asked his nieces, both in their late teens, about their future plans. To his surprise, both girls expressed wariness of big business as a career path.  Neither understood what a dynamic country this is and how this economy encourages entrepreneurs to create and expand opportunities for all.

After sharing his own positive experience working for a large multi-national he wondered how he could reach other students who might also benefit from a better understanding of the free enterprise system.  Enter Junior Achievement to the rescue!  Luckily, as a manager for First Data, one of JA’s long-time volunteer partners, Durkin was easily able to join the company’s volunteer team and has been sharing Junior Achievement’s lessons ever since.

While he has taught high school students, he prefers elementary classrooms.  “Get them while they are young,” Durkin says.  “You can make a great impact in the earlier grades, and hopefully some of it will stick.”

Durkin adds that it’s important to weave personal experiences into the lessons.  “In the grade school program, we talk about skills.  I assure students that we don’t all have the same skills, but we can develop the skills we need, or find people with other skills to help us,” he says.

Durkin also encourages creativity in his classroom. “Kids are very clever and constantly surprise me with their ideas.  Let them explore and innovate without being inhibited by the risk of failure or being judged. Creating this type of classroom environment is rewarding and exciting as each class is so different.”

Now a retiree, Durkin teaches four to five classes a semester which equates to 20 to 25 lessons. He has volunteered so much, in fact, that he is a member of the highest level of the Junior Achievement Apple Society, which recognizes volunteers who have inspired 1,500 or more students.

“It’s all about the kids for me,” Durkin says as his motivation for continuing to volunteer. “For me it is like working with a room full of ‘my’ grandchildren. It is truly a rewarding experience.”