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Philanthropy Friday: Booming BizTown

 Margaret Robinson, The Columbus Foundation Philanthropy Friday: Booming BizTown
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Walking into Junior Achievement’s Biztown in the middle of a session has a similar feeling to the excitement and organized chaos of an evening of Gallery Hop on nearby High Street in the Short North.

Biztown, located in the former 2nd Avenue Elementary School, is Junior Achievement’s simulated town for students from 4th through 6th grades. Over the last five years, the program has taught more than 50,000 students a great deal about life skills, economics, citizen rights and responsibilities, and much more.

Fifth-graders from Sullivant Elementary broadcast a live interview throughout BizTown.

“They are actually running a town and it’s really amazing how it’s all woven together and flows. Sure, it’s a little crazy in the beginning of the day but it really works, and this wouldn’t happen without the volunteers. It’s the perfect learning environment because it’s not natural to have a kid sit in a chair for six hours. Here, they are applying what they are learning and moving about while they are doing it,” said Jodi Shafley, co-director of JA BizTown.

Huntington Bank is the busiest place in BizTown. Students get paid, take out and repay loans and much more during their time at BizTown.

Students, roughly 90% of them fifth-graders, work through 19 lesson plans with their teachers in advance of coming to BizTown for the big day. This preparation teaches many practical life skills and allows the students to swoop into action upon arrival at BizTown, where they take their positions at one of 14 shops, businesses, and institutions.

“They run a real town. They apply for jobs, elect a mayor, and a lot more before they even get here. They might be a CEO, CFO, an artist, or an ad executive. They come up with a business plan, take out a loan, all with the goal of paying off that loan, plus interest by the end of the day,” Shafley said.

BizTown is every bit a real town with voting booths, a mayor, and even a mail system.

This innovative learning environment is clearly successful in engaging and inspiring the students. They rush about from Huntington Bank, the post office, the Blue Jackets office, quickly broadcasting live television and radio announcements throughout Biztown, all with an air of excitement and seriousness that is rare in traditional classrooms.

The Columbus Foundation recently set-up a permanent “satellite office” in BizTown to inspire community building, teach the importance of philanthropy, while also supporting the mission of BizTown. On a recent afternoon The Columbus Foundation’s 11-year-old development director was busy taking donations, making grants, and teaching peers what philanthropy and the Foundation are all about.

Business moves fast, inside and outside of The Columbus Foundation.

“Help us, help others,” said Harmonie Thomas, a Sullivant Elementary fifth-grader.

“I’m learning how good philanthropy can be. It’s hard work though,” Thomas said.

Signage in front of The Columbus Foundation reads, “Help us, help others.”

Next door, the “supply center” CEO was also inspired and learning a great deal.

“BizTown means taking care of business, doing a job and having real responsibilities. Usually, I don’t like to work this much,” said Amanda Blazy, a Sullivant Elementary fifth-grader.

This excitement about learning and confidence building are a key part of Biztown’s success and why businesses and corporations are supporting its mission.

A live radio announcement is broadcast over the BizTown airwaves.

“Supporting Junior Achievement through a $45,000 grant last April has provided The Columbus Foundation an opportunity to introduce philanthropy to local students. While the grant supports our philanthropy center, we have also had the unique opportunity to have The Columbus Foundation staff members volunteer, which makes this all the more worthwhile,” said Diane Higginbotham, The Columbus Foundation’s scholarship manager.

The Columbus Foundation’s Robin Baker, left, and Diane Higginbotham, volunteer at BizTown.

The energy of BizTown is really something to witness and support. The students get paid twice during their day at BizTown, and use checkbooks, that are verified in real-time through computers at the 14 locations in Biztown. A lot of business is conducted with great urgency at BizTown, in part, because, well, your money is no good once you leave BizTown.

“Some kids who struggle with feeling good about themselves start to realize
their value and talent and that they can go out and do a job, get paid for it, and then reward themselves. It connects the dots for them. They just love it,” Shafley said.

Students work through balancing their checkbooks with volunteer Robin Baker.

Beyond confidence building, the life skills that BizTown builds are very important, especially, in our current economic climate.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to teach students financial literacy. In that respect, the whole Junior Achievement picture is so important. BizTown really makes finances real to the kids. It also teaches them that you can’t just swipe it, swipe it, swipe it, and it’s always there,” Shafley said.

More information about local nonprofits is available 24/7 through the Foundation’s online resource, PowerPhilanthropy, which is available to everyone who wants to be more informed about the nonprofits they care about. PowerPhilanthropy makes it easy to donate to the causes you care about at columbusfoundation.org/p2/.

Philanthropy Friday is a feature series produced by The Columbus Foundation that highlights Columbus area nonprofit organizations. For more nonprofit information, follow us on Twitter at @colsfoundation and like The Columbus Foundation on Facebook.

Learn more about Junior Achievement of Central Ohio through their PowerPhilanthropy portrait and also on their website.

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