Lauren Kunze is passionate about youth development.
From her first job as a babysitter to her current position as director of program strategy and partnerships for Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado, Kunze has dedicated her career to working with and helping to educate youth.
“I have a real appreciation and passion for enrichment,” she said.
Kunze, 29, grew up in Pittsburgh. While attending Arcadia University in Pennsylvania, Kunze had the opportunity to study abroad.
“Throughout that process, I developed an appreciation for meeting new people and learning about other cultures,” she said.
She worked with Urban Blazers, a Pennsylvania nonprofit that strives to provide youth with meaningful experiences in the outdoors. She also worked with the YMCA in Pittsburgh.
After graduating college, Kunze served in a few different jobs before landing at Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania, being promoted to senior education program manager. In that capacity, Kunze oversaw Junior Achievement’s educational programming for a five-county area.
After three and a half years, she decided to pursue other opportunities within Junior Achievement that would allow her to stay with the organization but also advance her career.
She was hired as the senior education manager for Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado, where she oversaw educational programming for the lower two-thirds of the state — from Monument and southward. Colorado Springs serves as the region’s central hub. In that position, Kunze oversaw education programs and managed volunteers, including training and supporting them.
She’s recently been promoted to director of program strategy and partnerships, and Kunze said she’s enjoying her life in Colorado Springs.
“I came to Colorado Springs and fell in love with the town, the growth happening here and the natural beauty here,” Kunze said.
She spoke with the Business Journal about Junior Achievement, volunteers and adaptations the program has made amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Talk about Junior Achievement.
We are a youth development agency that works with volunteers in the community to deliver evidence-based, hands-on curriculum in workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Our volunteers are trained to deliver those programs in-person, but this year we have been delivering our programs virtually to students. We strive to provide engagement in real-world scenarios with professionals from our community.
What is your role?
I oversee the development of organizational programming strategies to reflect the needs and values of our area of service, which is southern Colorado. I evaluate the needs of our students and community partners. We offer support and guidance to our satellite offices — those are our offices that are located outside of Colorado Springs. I also implement strategies of program outcomes to showcase our volunteer partnerships to really show what we’re doing. And then, also helping with development of innovative program initiatives. The benefit of being part of a national organization is that we have so many programs available, and we try to get to the root of what programs are the best fit for this community. We’re constantly evaluating and making sure we are delivering on our mission in the community.
How many children does JA serve?
This year, of course, our numbers are a little bit different but in the 2018-2019 school year, we served 707 individual classes. That’s 15,431 students served and 82,532 individual contact hours. We have a small but mighty team. We have north of 700 volunteers. We have volunteers in every classroom, and we have some volunteers that will double up in a classroom.
Who are your volunteers?
Volunteering happens in a lot of ways. I like to say that mere mortals can do this. You do not have to have a teaching degree to become a Junior Achievement volunteer. We provide the materials and support that you need to be successful. We have volunteers who come to us from all walks of life, but there are five main buckets that we see in terms of our volunteers.
The first is high school students. These students will typically volunteer in a classroom in groups of two or three. They’re usually in a special program in their school and we have a partnership with their high school.
The second is college students who volunteer. Sometimes they may also pair up and deliver programs.
Next, we have folks who are on their own. They may be working professionals, or they may have heard about us from another way. These are individuals who have made a decision to volunteer with Junior Achievement on their own.
Then, we have corporate partnerships. This is when a company will say they are interested in this effort and want to know how they can support the program and what program might be the best fit for them.
We try to make sure we find the best fit for them, and I like making those connections for companies and organizations to partner with us to help improve our overall community.
We also have retirees. These are folks who have finished their working careers and who want to give back to the community.
How has Junior Achievement adapted during the pandemic?
We were more fortunate than a lot of other nonprofits. It’s a really tough year to be in the nonprofit industry. We are so thankful for the support of our national office and our community partners. Our education team and our curriculum team constantly work to develop content, but they redeveloped that content to meet the needs of school districts and their changing environments this year. We made that content directly available to teachers when we had to pull our volunteers out of the classrooms in March when the schools shut down. We’re releasing some different programming in the fall. One type is prerecorded. The volunteers record themselves delivering programs from Junior Achievement. The other type is virtual live remote. In this type of learning, our volunteers will beam in for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, in short bursts. They will deliver our curriculum remotely, but it will be live, so they’ll be interacting with students via the school’s video-conferencing platform.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job, apart from the time when I actually do get to spend time in the classroom… There are a couple of programs that I get to deliver in the classroom. My job is primarily coordination, but I love to get in the classroom. I also love building partnerships that make sense for us and that will benefit all parties. For our partners that provide volunteers, I hope to provide a meaningful volunteer experience and match them with a school and with a program that is a good fit for them. So, I really enjoy making those connections and furthering our community relationships.
What do you wish you had been taught that JA is teaching today?
Oh gosh, there are so many things. I never considered a career as an entrepreneur, but I might have if I had known more about it. I also think all students should learn about financial literacy. A lot of students learn about financial literacy by making mistakes; I know I did. Learning from your mistakes can be powerful, but you don’t want to be in debt for years or be in a situation where you can’t provide for yourself or your family. I would love for all students to learn lessons about financial literacy in advance. I know I wish I’d had that. Also, career exploration and having more knowledge about growing industries, hybrid careers and what they look like. I’m very happy about where I ended up in life, but I think knowing more about all of your options is a great thing.
How do you see JA growing?
What I’m personally working toward doing is providing more mission driven opportunities for students to get involved whether that be in person with their teacher or through virtual events and our traditional programs with volunteers. We want to make sure students are receiving our programs, learning from them, making different choices, and having a better outook on what their futures look like. Really, our goal is always is to make a difference in the community.