Using an iPad with a preassigned career and salary, students go off into Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana's Lincoln Finance Park to make a living, learning to balance their wants and needs at several sponsored replicas of stores and offices.
Sweetwater, Parkview Health and Vera Bradley are just some of the companies that have set up spaces in this microcosm, which has relocated from Clinton Street along with other offices and programs to JA's newly opened location. JA had a Casting the Vision campaign to raise $12.5 million for the new headquarters.
President Lena Yarian expected 600 educators and others to attend an open house Sept. 5 at the group's newly constructed 35,000-square-foot building at 550 E. Wallen Road off Coldwater Road. Inside are BizTown that allows students to explore careers in banking, manufacturing and more, Lincoln Finance Park and the Steel Dynamics Entrepreneur Center. Through interactive displays and activities, students learn not only about financial literacy but also about entrepreneurship and vocations.
Last year, JA worked with 141,000 students, 54,000 of them within Allen County and the rest in the 27 Indiana, one Ohio and two Michigan counties that JA serves.
Through the on-site programs, students learn about budgeting and go through a four-hour simulation in which they're assigned not only the career and salary but might find themselves married and with children, who need health care. They get "paid" twice and see how their salary rates in Fort Wayne's cost of living and even learn how to pay off student loan debt if they go to school past high school graduation.
"We just want them to live below their income level," said Tammy Joefreda, a team leader at Lincoln Finance Park.
Some students say, "We can't believe how much children cost," Joefreda said.
Many students say they now understand what their parents go through, Yarian said.
JA serves a majority of students through volunteers' visits to classrooms. It's those people who expose students to a variety of careers.
According to statistics from JA USA, one in five students will go into the career of their JA volunteer, Yarian said.
"If we do nothing but raise (students') aspirations," Yarian said, "then we've achieved our goal."