The CEO of Junior Achievement of San Diego County said this week that his organization has not seen any drop in funding or community support since the onset of the pandemic.
“We’ve actually had one of our best years,” said Siddhartha “Sidd” Vivek, CEO at JA of San Diego County.
More than 800 local volunteers from the business community have donated their time since the pandemic began, Vivek said. “We had 80 volunteers just from Qualcomm. We really appreciate all the support this community gives us. As a nonprofit, money and volunteers are what we need most.”
Pivot and Transform
During the most recent school year (2020-21), COVID did force JA to pivot and transform its traditional in-class lessons to virtual programs. The pandemic also spurred the 13-month closure of JA’s popular BizTown and Finance Park facilities, where a field trip has been a rite of passage for thousands of area students over the years.
But Vivek confirmed this week that operations at the nonprofit are returning more to normal – and that both BizTown and Finance Park are open again.
“The work we do has always been needed,” Vivek said. “But with COVID, it has become even more important as social inequity and career uncertainty have come into focus over the last few years.”
National Organization Started More than 100 Years Ago
Junior Achievement was founded in 1919 and now has more than 100 chapters nationwide. With its national headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, JA’s mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in life.
Since its founding in 1950, Junior Achievement of San Diego County has delivered life-changing, experiential lessons in financial literacy, entrepreneurship and career readiness to more than 1 million area young people.
After COVID restrictions were eased, the organization resumed its popular summer camp programs. “We empowered more than 1,000 area students (ages 9-18) over the summer,” Vivek said, adding that all participants were masked.
“Kids have always been interested in money,” Vivek said. “They want to know how does it work? How do I build it?”
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Vivek said JA’s lessons of financial self-empowerment are reaching every ethnic and economic demographic in the county.
“The continued uncertainty that our kids see around them with COVID makes them even more interested, and in many cases, more anxious, to understand money, how it works and where it fits into their lives,” Vivek said. “JA provides that connection, from classroom to career.”
Born and raised in Boston, Vivek has lived in San Diego for 14 years and has helmed JA of San Diego County for nearly three years. Before joining the organization, he spent 11 years working for YMCA of San Diego County.
“I’ve always believed that business has a tremendous role to play in uplifting communities and empowering youth, which is why JA is critical in providing students the connection between the two,” he said.
The list of San Diego-area businesses and partner companies supporting the nonprofit is lengthy and includes Jack in the Box, US Bank, SDG&E; and Cox.
Vivek said that during the 2019-20 school year, JA of San Diego County’s more than 3,000 volunteers reached 23,500 students in 265 schools and after-school programs throughout the county.
The organization’s hands-on learning campus, the Capdevilla Gillespie Center for Junior Achievement, has been “safely re-open” since May, Vivek also reported this week.
McGrath Family JA BizTown and Mission Fed JA Finance Park are once again humming with activity, although capacity at the simulated town remains limited — and all staff and students are required to be masked. (BizTown and Finance Park were closed from March 2020 to April 2021 because of COVID.)
Nonprofit’s Board a Who’s Who of Local Leaders
JA’s 40-member board of directors reflects a Who’s Who of leaders from local companies and academic institutions throughout San Diego County.
Debra Schwartz, CEO of Mission Federal Credit Union, is JA’s current board chair and Javed Bhaghani, owner of Biscayne Hospitality, is vice-chair.
“I have personally been involved in JA for more than 10 years, and Mission Fed has been a partner for more than 20 years,” Schwartz said. “Financial Literacy is such an important initiative, and a key to economic success. JA provides the foundation to help build that important base of knowledge, which is not always taught in schools.”
Schwartz recounted an uplifting encounter she recently had with one college-bound student from a local immigrant family. “The poise and confidence she gained from her JA Ambassador experience was truly inspiring,” she said.
Later this year (Oct. 26), the organization will host its Hall of Fame luncheon at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. This year’s event, which honors area business leaders, will recognize Dr. Constance Carroll and David and Lesley Cohn (Cohn Restaurant Group) for their outstanding workforce and community development efforts.
CEO: Siddhartha Vivek
Annual operating budget: $2.3 million
Contact (619) 682-5155
Notable: Theodore Vail, an early president of AT&T;, was one of JA’s founders