Junior Achievement of Arkansas will honor its 2022 Legacy Award winners at the 14th annual Legacy Award Luncheon on May 24 in Little Rock. The Legacy Awards Luncheon is the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser, benefiting more than 8,400 students in Central Arkansas.
Founded by Sheffield Nelson in 1987, Junior Achievement promotes economic and financial education in Central Arkansas schools and recognizes those who champion that mission. The Legacy Awards were established in 2008, and recipients are chosen for their exceptional leadership in supporting academic excellence in Arkansas.
This year’s Legacy Award winners are: Dr. Alonzo Williams, gastroenterologist and medical director for Arkansas Diagnostic Center and Kanis Endoscopy Center of Little Rock; and Troy Wells, president and CEO of Baptist Health. Steve Straessle, principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys, will receive the organization’s Education Award. And Seal Solar, which works to promote energy independence through solar and electric vehicle chargers, will receive the Nelson Summit Award for its commitment to education.
Arkansas Money & Politics asked award winners about their involvement with Junior Achievement and the importance of promoting financial literacy in local schools. Representing Seal Solar were co-founders Josh Davenport and Heather Nelson. (Williams was not able to participate.)
AMP: Tell us about your involvement with Junior Achievement and promoting education in Arkansas.
Wells: Baptist Health has been working with Junior Achievement for many years, in various ways, such as encouraging our leaders and employees to volunteer — to actually go into the schools and present to the students. We have sponsored JA from a financial standpoint, primarily through events like this, which is probably one of their main fundraisers. I’ve served on the fundraising committee for the event in the past and been on the other side of honoring someone in the community, like they are doing with me this year, so that’s pretty neat.
Straessle: Catholic High is new to Junior Achievement, and our business and economics teachers are enthusiastic about the curricular additions JA provides. As an Arkansas educator for more than 25 years, I can easily see the great value JA brings to an already flourishing school.
Seal Solar: Seal Solar has various team members who have been volunteers in the classroom, on the board, etc., over the years.
* * * * * * *
AMP: How important is it to expose students at an early age to programs that foster financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship?
Wells: I don’t think you can ever start too soon. I have children, and I know as a dad how important it is to try to teach those principles as they’re growing up, in an age-appropriate way, of course. It’s really important to integrate that into their overall learning throughout their lives. Obviously, it’s going to be different for a first grader than a senior in high school, but there is some element of life preparation that we can do with kids as they progress through the educational system.
Straessle: Financial literacy is a tool vital to the well-being of our youth. So many times, we’ve heard young adults lament the mistakes they’ve made, many due to simple, and correctable, ignorance of financial issues. Catholic High has always prided itself on our unique methods of work readiness. We’ve always been tuned to providing top-notch employees and employers imbued with skills necessary to thrive in the workforce, such as creativity, dependability, endurance and pride in a job well done. In an all-boys school, entrepreneurship is woven into our student body. Our kids are naturally curious, competitive and creative, and these qualities are the baseline for the birth of an entrepreneurial spirit. Truly, many of our graduates have been the spark plug necessary to getting good businesses off the ground.
Seal Solar: We consider it essential that students are exposed to these programs. We know the difference our own exposure has made in our lives and in the lives of our team members. We also love the excitement students have when they learn about careers and fields they previously did not know existed.
* * * * * * *
AMP: Are schools currently doing enough to help promote these concepts?
Wells: I don’t think you can ever do enough. I’m really not in a position to know for certain what every school is teaching at every age, but I know the more you can do for kids to prepare them, not just for college, but for life, the better. To be independent adults and prepare a way for them to successful and manage their own personal finances — things that JA focuses so much on — I think we could always do more of that. It’s important for people to know about the opportunities that are available to serve through Junior Achievement, to volunteer and be a part of that congregation of people that has an interest in helping young people develop and prepare them for life. I hope people will learn that there are opportunities for everyone to help. We can’t leave it just to the schools; we need to help them.
Straessle: I believe schools that have life lessons woven into their entire curriculum do the best job of preparing our state’s future business leaders. Show up on time; persevere through rough times; enjoy successes but regard them as stepping stones for bigger future successes, are all concepts every school can reflect.
Seal Solar: Schools are certainly trying, but they have a lot of competing priorities on their plate. That is what makes what JA does so invaluable, as it allows members of the community to come into the schools and not only contribute to the students’ education, but offer them a different perspective as well.
* * * * * * *
AMP: In what ways have you seen first-hand how the JA mission is making a difference?
Wells: One of the nicest things I’ve seen over the years is at JA’s annual Legacy Awards banquet. There is usually someone present who has benefitted from Junior Achievement, a student or former student who can share a testimony. That’s when we get to see the fruits of the labor — the result of the volunteer efforts and people coming to the banquet to help raise money for Junior Achievement — to see what it’s doing in the lives of the students. To me, that’s the coolest thing — to see those individuals, to hear their stories and know that the work we’re doing is making a difference.
Straessle: Junior Achievement has a stellar reputation for preparing youth for lives outside of the classroom. JA not only educates — it inspires. Educators will tell you that we’re constantly looking for flint, for those tools that can create a spark and breathe life into it. The curriculum and support of JA accomplish just that.
Seal Solar: Our team participated in a career presentation where members across all areas of our company shared about their roles and responsibilities. It was broadcast throughout area schools, and it was great for our team to hear the response from the schools afterward. The truth is, our team put a lot of work into the presentation, and due to COVID it was all on Zoom, so probably a little more cumbersome than anticipated. But, once the team saw and heard the impact they jobs, so it made a real difference for those students, but also for our team.
Since our founding in 2012, our firm has focused on educating Arkansans about energy efficiency, solar, battery storage and now EV charging. We often say that 50 percent of our job is educating. So, to be honored and recognized in this way means so much to our team — that the work they do every single day is recognized and appreciated. We are so grateful to JA for giving us opportunities to educate in our local schools and for honoring the way we incorporate education into all we do.