It was a tense day of preparation, fine tuning and practice for the ICMC Junior Achievement student team members and their ICMC coaches this past Sunday, as they set out to compete in the annual Junior Achievement of the Virgin Islands (JAVI) Company Program Competition, held at St. Thomas’ Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort.
With a clear mission to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy, JAVI offers volunteer-delivered, elementary through high school programs that foster work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. The engaging 14-week JA Company program, offered student participants from public and private schools across the Territory, the opportunity to create and run their very own businesses, with the weekly guidance and support of expert volunteers from various local corporations.
With two teams on St. Thomas and two on St. Croix, competition was fierce, but the ICMC team confidently offered a polished, professional and engaging presentation for the judges tasked to award top honors to the winning regional team who would go on to compete in the national competition in Brazil later this year.
While ultimate victory was unfortunately not on the horizon for our ICMC JA Company team members, a close second place finish certainly highlighted the group as a formidable force with their company TOTEally VI that encompassed an environmentally responsible theme with a selection of multi-purpose, re-useable tote bags and pouches, complete with a creative company logo, as well as other practical, decorative and cultural customizations. “It was a close race and unfortunately we came up just a bit short,” explains ICMC/JA coach Allison O’Boyle. “But I’m still proud of how the kids showed up for the presentation – they did a great job.”
The dynamic five-member ICMC coaching team, which included Amber Lewis, Allison O’Boyle, Carla Scott, Denelle Baptiste and Sean Liphard, worked diligently to prepare the students towards finalizing the many facets of their fully functioning business, complete with a final presentation, business plan and annual report and the coordination of a student-led executive board of VP’s in areas such as Human Resources, Marketing, Finance, Public Relations and Production.
The team’s commitment was evident, as they went above and beyond at every turn to assure the student’s success. “I had been wanting to volunteer my time to work with kids, so this was the perfect opportunity,” says Sean Liphard. “It was rewarding, exhausting, eye-opening, frustrating, overwhelming and refreshing all at the same time.”
Though getting to the finish line had its share of challenges for students and coaches alike, such as the sourcing of cost effective and timely vendors, access to local and cost efficient printing options and scheduling conflicts, the importance of the program ultimately resonated throughout. “It felt really good to give back to the local community and teach our students about business, entrepreneurship and financial literacy – especially because those topics are not typically covered in the high school curriculum here,” says O’Boyle.
While there was much to be gained by the students from this enterprising business challenge as volunteer consultants urged them to utilize innovative thinking and key business skills, there was also much to be gained for the coaches. “I’ll admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of presenting or speaking in public, so this experience pulled me out of my comfort zone on many levels and forced me to face some of those fears head on,” says Liphard.
O’Boyle agreed: “This was a great learning opportunity for me to really sharpen my presentation and coaching skills. Being comfortable speaking in front of a large audience is something I’ve been wanting to work on, so it was great to be able to practice those skills in front of the students every week. I definitely think I’ve improved, and it was nice to get that practice in a more casual, laid-back setting with less pressure.”
For Carla Scott, a reminder of business attributes and appreciation resonated. “I learned the importance of patience and time management and gained a new appreciation for school teachers,” explains Scott. “I also gained lots of perspective on all of the moving pieces associated with starting a business.”
While it was at times a challenge to resist the urge to do the tasks for the students, Scott, who often served as the mommy of the group, soon realized that she had to resist the impulse to take on tasks herself. “I had to remember it was their company and therefore had to back away and let them get things done,” she explains.
All in all, there were lessons learned on all fronts. The students learned how to manage and run their very own successful business, having sold out of their complete stock, ultimately making a profit for themselves and their shareholders, along with lessons such as time management, collaboration and conflict resolution. Coaches too gained much from the experience. “It was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I looked forward to teaching and learning from our students every Tuesday,” says Amber Lewis. “I think it’s interesting how much I was able to develop my own professional skills in a program that was really meant to develop the skills of our students,” she adds. “While they learned new business terms and concepts, I was able to refresh all of the things that I either forgot or had room to improve on—that’s cool. Even further, as coaches, we all brought different skills to the table. I got to learn from my colleagues as well.
Adds O’Boyle: “For me, the best part of JA was helping our students realize that the choices and decisions they make in life now will impact the type of lifestyle they live in the future. It was important to me to teach them that working hard when you’re young will help set you up for success and make life easier later on down the road – and seeing them make that connection was exciting to see.”
As part of a truly full circle moment, Lewis, who has been an ICMC stakeholder since August of 2016, herself participated in the JA program during her senior year of high school just five short years ago here on St. Thomas, where she served as her JA Company team’s president.
For Lewis the irony of this moment did not go unnoticed, as she imparted her unique perspective on her young charges: “I made sure to emphasize the importance of focusing on the skills that they were developing and the relationships that they were building,” explains Lewis. “I knew that they wanted to win, but as someone who reaped the benefits of the program years down the road—I made sure to tell them that the true reward was not in just winning the competition, the true reward is the self-development journey that the program provided to them.
“It was a truly rewarding experience and I am very happy that I decided to take on the challenge.” Adds Lewis: “The students kept asking me if I would miss them—and I already do.”