Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado has scrapped long-range plans to create two programs called JA BizTown and JA Finance Park at its West Colorado Avenue headquarters, citing a lack of funding, developing technology and the changing education landscape.
“We talk about financial literacy, so we needed to take a look at ourselves, for the betterment of the community,” said Lisanne McNew, who chairs JA of Southern Colorado’s 36-member board of directors.
The 65-year-old local affiliate of a national organization, which is headquartered in Colorado Springs and teaches K-12 students financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship, sold its office at 2320 W. Colorado Ave., in late November.
“It’s a massive building, and what we came to realize is when the capital campaign started eight years ago, the numbers were a lot different, education was a lot different, and brick-and-mortar was the thing,” McNew said.
But with maintenance and utility costs for the 26,000-square-foot building, it “became obvious” that continuing to try to develop an on-site campus to teach students about finances was “neither fiscally viable nor based on 21st-century technology, educational theory or broadly applicable delivery methods,” said Cheryl Potman, special events manager for JA of Southern Colorado.
“With education, there’s not a lot of funding, and it was hard to get backers,” McNew said. “Students were going to have to pay to come.”
The organization instead has “pivoted” and is developing a mobile JA Finance Park — essentially a miniature city with companies and entities that students run after studying the principles of business using JA’s classroom curriculum, McNew said.
“It teaches them money doesn’t grow on trees,” said McNew, chief operating officer of McNew & Associates, a financial consultant company in Colorado Springs.
The mobile setup, which will have kiosks depicting a bank, a restaurant, a chamber of commerce and other industries, is in the development stages and intended to debut in the fall.
JA will take the program into schools across southern Colorado, including El Paso, Teller and Pueblo counties, and into Glenwood Springs, Aspen and other areas.
“We can set it up and stay for a few days or a month,” McNew said, “and do it for less expense but reach more students.”
A few weeks ago, JA of Southern Colorado moved to a smaller leased office at 611 N. Weber St. Carrie McKee resigned as president and CEO in the fall. Aimee Liotino is interim president and CEO.
And the organization’s main office in Colorado Springs and its Pueblo office each laid off one employee, McNew said.
A search for a permanent CEO will get underway soon, she said.
Capital campaign donors were notified of the new direction the organization is taking, McNew said, and given the choice of having their donations refunded. She did not have the total amount of donations made.
The donations that are retained plus proceeds from the $1.45 million sale of the West Colorado Avenue building, will pay for the mobile JA Finance Park and operational expenses for three years, she said.
JA had bought the West Colorado Avenue property in 2013 for $600,000, according to El Paso County Assessor’s records.
In July 2017, the organization dedicated the building on West Colorado Avenue as the Karl & Mary Flemke Center for Free Enterprise, named for a former Junior Achievement USA president who helped bring the national headquarters to Colorado Springs, and his wife, both education supporters.
McNew said the family of the late couple were understanding of the situation and their daughter will join the board. The organization may name the new Finance Park for the family, she said, or do something else to recognize their contributions.
Last school year, JA of Southern Colorado reached 16,000 students in 120 schools in the region, Potman said.
In the 2014-15 school year, the organization served 28,385 students, according to an annual report.