I thought opportunities would magically appear when I became serious. I would not have to learn to be an adult; it would just happen.
My memory of searching for the first rung on some ladder of success resurfaced as I spoke with Nomoya Tinch Malcolm, a program director at Junior Achievement of Greater Washington who matches mentors with schools and young people to prepare them for the real world.
She also helps young adults learn how to handle money, balance a checkbook and use a credit card responsibly. She helps them answer real-life questions, such as: What kind of car could they afford on a $40,000 annual salary? (Answer: not much of one.) What’s a mutual fund? How do you pay a utility bill? How much are your taxes? How do you become an entrepreneur? How much can you save, and where do you stash it?
Malcolm, 30, who’s married and has a young child, has come to appreciate the importance of money since leaving her teaching job at D.C. public charter schools five years ago to join Junior Achievement.
She understands compound interest and the value of owning assets — and that wealth creation starts by buying assets at a young age.
“Unfortunately, I learned a little too late that you spend your younger years working really hard so you can enjoy your later years,” said the Howard University graduate (English/
political science), who grew up in Northeast Washington in a family of artists, educators and government employees.
“What I’ve discovered with Junior Achievement is that education is no longer the great equalizer.” Instead, she said, the key to success in a free-market society “is a solid understanding of this country’s economic system. If I knew it in my 20s, I think I would have done more. I . . . was taught the cream will rise to the top. But honestly, you have to go after the things you really want. And a foundation in business and economics makes you more aggressive and gives you an ability to make things happen tomorrow.”
I wish Malcolm was around when I was 16.
“You have to go after the things you really want.”
That is the whole point of Junior Achievement. The nonprofit organization, started in 1919 by Theodore Vail, the chief executive of AT&T, and a couple of other philanthropists, exposes kids to business and money. It’s three-pronged goal is to teach financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship.
“Kids may be thinking about becoming a teacher, doctor, lawyer or sports star,” said Ed Grenier, president and chief executive of Junior Achievement of Greater Washington. “We want businessperson and entrepreneur to be in the mix as well.”
Junior Achievement runs a boot camp for students, Finance Park, at its Frost-Woodson campus in Fairfax County. Finance Park, which was built with a $2.5 million gift from McLean-based Capital One, looks like a school from the outside but is something closer to a mini-mall inside. It whets kids’ appetite for making money by teaching them something about it.