One woman inspires 5,000 JA students (and counting)

Susan Zapata teaching financial literacy to St. Vrain kindergarten classroom

After decades of teaching and eight years of volunteering with Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain, Inc. (JA), Susan Zapata is an expert with kids. She’s volunteered in 220 JA classes, making a difference in the lives of more than 5,000 local students. Zapata’s commitment to young people has earned her a spot in the JA Apple Society, an exclusive recognition for JA’s most dedicated volunteers.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to give back,” Zapata says. “I taught for forty years and I felt that I was truly blessed with where I taught, so I’m happy to have a chance to give back to the community and give back to kids.”

Zapata enjoys seeing some of the same students year after year. “It’s fun for me to come back to second grade and ask, ‘What did we talk about in kindergarten? What did we talk about in first grade?’ And they remember. They get it. Even the little kids – they get it. It provides so much impact, and that to me is the goal,” she says.

Though her teaching experience is an advantage, Zapata reassures new JA volunteers that professionals from all backgrounds can be successful in the JA classroom. She says, “Sometimes businesspeople are highly intimidated at the thought of bringing financial literacy to kindergarten or first graders. They might not know that’s it’s possible, but it’s very possible. Many people who come in to volunteer are parents or grandparents, so I tell them to think about it like you’re talking to your own child.”

But the most important thing to remember, Zapata says, is to have fun with the kids.

“It’s fun! If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. When I am there, it should be something that is totally different from what they usually do. You know, the little kids, especially the kindergarten, first and second graders, they want to come up and give you a hug. Well, I can use hugs! And just being able to give back…it’s a blast.”

This JA volunteer recognition story is presented by TIAA