By Mark Ramos
Last August, Miguel Perez returned to school like any teenager would with an eye on an opportunity to enhance his education. Perez, then 17, always had taken an interest in business and when he mentioned this to his advisory counselor at Philadelphia Virtual Academy after filling out some interest forms, she informed him that the Junior Achievement Company program may be a good fit. It set him on his path.
“I went to their website and filled out some forms with my interests,” Perez said. “That November I got an email saying that my first day was the following week at Accenture.”
At Accenture, a business on Market Street that partners with the program, Perez and a group of students from different schools and diverse backgrounds came together to create their very own product and business. Understandably, the nerves were present, as the program requires many after-school hours and can be quite intensive.
“A lot of us were super nervous, honestly,” Perez said. “For many of us, it was the first time we were going into this huge corporate building in this huge conference room, but we had the mentors to help open us up and learn how to work as a team.”
From there, Perez and his group mates wrote, published and sold their own book titled Help! I Can’t Cook! and won a competition showcasing their skills that May. The group even made a commercial for their product, which you can find on YouTube. Perez credits his mentors through the program and peers for learning so much in a relatively short amount of time.
“One mentor that really stuck out was Nick,” he said. “He was such a leader among the teams. He really taught me how to articulate myself in a way that comes off as knowledgeable. As far as learning from my peers, I think the biggest thing was learning different communication styles.”
There will be 40 students from Philly who will participate in the JA Company program this year. This program and others like it served 24,000 young people last year. More than 12,000 were in Philadelphia. Stephanie Gambone, president and CEO of Junior Achievement, knows firsthand what the program has done for some of the city’s youth; but not just from them, but from their parents as well.
“We’ve heard across the board that there’s interest in having an understanding of business and the roles within it,” Gambone said. “I’ve had a parent who said that the transformation in her daughter over the course of the year in her confidence through the skills she developed was very noticeable. These are high school students building real-world skills.”
Gambone truly believes in the work she does. After all, she’s a Southwest Philly native and a college graduate. She gets the areas and the students who participate in the programs.
“I know firsthand the value of access and opportunities,” she said. “I have been in education youth workforce development for 25 years and have been with junior achievement for a year and a half. I believe if young people have access to opportunity and the ability to get connected to resources, to think about what their future looks like, they can pretty much do anything.” ••