Positive Outcomes: C to C, The Commitment to Community Podcast Series from Oswald
Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland exists to inspire and prepare young people to succeed. Joe Faulhaber, now in his sixth year as president of the organization, learned the true meaning of this mission when the global pandemic hit home for the 30,000+ students they serve. Built on the organization’s history and commitment to creating positive outcomes in career paths and the community, his team worked with partners, volunteers, and families, to transform and accelerate programming during this challenging time. The result: meeting students where they are today, and with what they’ll need tomorrow, to take their next step.
Check out the interview below to get to know Joe and dig deeper into the mission, works, and impact of JA of Greater Cleveland.
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SCHMITZ: Hi, it’s Christina and we’re back again with C to C the Commitment to Community podcast today. I’m here with Joe Faulhaber. Joe, great to be talking with you in a virtual way. I know it’s not how we used to communicate, but it’s a pleasure to have you on today.
FAULHABER: No, thanks so much, Christina. It’s great to reconnect and thanks for giving us an opportunity to speak about Junior Achievement’s work, especially as it relates to the pandemic. We really appreciate it.
SCHMITZ: So we’ve been partnering for many years. When did you join JA?
FAULHABER: I’m a Cleveland native and came aboard Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland in December of 2015. So I’m coming up on my six year anniversary, which is just crazy. I know I met you not long after starting, so it’s hard to believe that six years has gone by already.
SCHMITZ: We’ve had a chance to partner on such a diverse range of programs…what’s the core mission for JA of Greater Cleveland?
FAULHABER: Our core mission is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in the global economy. How we implement that and how we envision that work in Greater Cleveland, in particular, is really helping low- to moderate-income young people and those who come from economically disadvantaged school districts gain exposure to prepare for, and ultimately access, living wage jobs. So we know the unfortunate statistics around poverty in Greater Cleveland recently in the news, Cleveland is the least connected in terms of Internet connectivity in major Metropolitan cities in the country.
So when you think about young people’s exposure to different career paths, when you think about the outsized, negative impact of something like COVID-19 on those at-risk populations in our community, Junior Achievement really serves as a facilitator right between great corporate citizens like Oswald and kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms all across our region.
SCHMITZ: Well, a lot of our volunteer work in the past, I would say pre-pandemic, I think some of the most memorable experiences have been in the classroom and getting to really connect. When the pandemic hit, how did you have to shift, to not only recreate that same type of level of engagement, but overcome the challenges?
FAULHABER: No, it’s a great question. Candidly, we were already moving in the direction of virtual and hybrid programming, where we would have in person volunteer engagement, but then it would be augmented or enhanced by Internet-based connections. But as we’re seeing across all sectors of the economy, COVID is the great accelerator. We made a decision early on as an organization in what, mid-March of 2020, which is crazy to say, we’re shutting down in-person programming because the health and safety of our teachers, our students, and, of course, our volunteers is priority one.
We so look forward to the return to in-person programming, and we’re starting to see a little uptick for this school year. But what we really took the months of April, May, June, and throughout the summer of 2020 to do was transition all of our content and curriculum to be able to be delivered virtually.
We also taught ourselves as a staff how to become experts as it relates to volunteer training in a virtual environment. This really surveyed the landscape of our school partners to determine how they were going to be conducting their virtual classroom learning. Schools use different tools, whether it was Zoom like you and I are connecting on, MS teams or Google classrooms, there were no uniformed tools we’re using in our region. So, we really again took that time to pivot our programming to be able to be delivered virtually and then trained a generation of volunteers, many of whom have been with us for several years, how to actually connect and create positive, engaging experiences with students in what continues to be unfortunately, an extremely difficult time in the lives of so many young people we serve.
SCHMITZ: Earlier you had shared that this is the third school year, and as we were talking earlier, and it definitely hit home to think about that. There hasn’t been a full school year where this hasn’t been front and center.
FAULHABER: If you just think about a typical school year for so many students, it involves speakers coming into their classroom or field trips like really immersive and experiential opportunities that reinforce concepts kids learn in the classroom. That’s really the backbone of JA’s work is we’re coming in to provide real world experiences that reinforce what kids are learning in the classroom. In addition to just that not being possible for the last few school years, the unfortunate part really is that these kids just don’t have opportunities to develop their social emotional learning skills.
Those who come from particularly challenged households have now been stuck at home for years when in many cases, school was reprieve where they had a caring and concerned adult and their teacher who loved them and watched out for them. Many of our students, including city schools, received their primary meals of the day when they attend school. So while I think so many organizations were thinking, how do we pivot what we do to continue delivering our mission certainly did that. But in the early part of the pandemic, we really took that time to determine how do we move forward in a virtual environment, but also, how do we support these other really important things that kids receive in the course of the everyday school experience, like meals, like positive adult role models.
And we’re again proud to play our part in that throughout the pandemic.
SCHMITZ: I assume that members of the audience, or even members on our team, have experienced JA in different ways.
FAULHABER: Geographically, we serve Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga Counties Pre-pandemic. We were, on average, serving about 25 to 30,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students. We certainly love to hear from our alumni and do a good job of capturing our alumni data. Again, I always think of JA and we do so many different things because it’s age specific and the sector is complex and youth development can be complex. But really, we’re trying to expose, prepare, and ultimately help young people access careers; living wage careers. After high school, we’re trying to teach young people the skills to earn and manage their money. We’re trying to really infuse in kids the entrepreneurial spirit, recognizing that even if you don’t start your own business, those critical thinking, strategic planning skills are so valuable to any career they might end up in. So that’s really the crux of our work. And again, I hope, have done a nice job throughout COVID delivering on that mission just in a really different and unique way in terms of implementation.
SCHMITZ: Can you talk a little bit more about the Virtual Career Fair and how it came to life? That was such a cool opportunity.
FAULHABER: We were so thrilled with how JA Inspire Virtual ended up turning out it was just a wonderful experience. To give some background, we had planned a Career Exploration Fair for over 1,000 students, predominantly high school, but also some 8th graders. It was set to be an in-person conference. It was scheduled for the third week of April in 2020. And of course, the pandemic hit in mid-March. We as a staff, came together and just didn’t see a path to conducting that event successfully. We reached out to school partners and corporate partners.
Truly, it just wasn’t possible. It broke our hearts. It wasn’t possible to host that event in-person. And so we began…I’ll back up…specially for a lean nonprofit, we really try to focus on our sweet spot. We don’t want to drift away from our mission. So often times we continue trying to grow what’s working. We cut the programs that we don’t find impactful based on feedback from our teachers and our students and our value of efforts. But what COVID enabled us to do, and I’m an internal optimist, what it enabled us to do was try some things, not knowing whether or not they were going to be effective or impactful. So we canceled JA Inspire in person. We came together as a staff. We started evaluating tools in partnership with our national office to conduct or replicate that experience virtually. We came upon this really neat virtual exhibit hall. So if I could just paint a picture again, I know this is a podcast. Everybody can see what we’re talking about, but we use this tool called Vfairs, which really in practice, looks like the Huntington Convention Center recreated in a virtual environment where students would sit in the auditorium virtually and of course, hear a keynote speaker.
We featured local entrepreneurs representing both large and small businesses to talk about overcoming obstacles, their career and personal journey. And again, just model some of that positive adult role modeling that students were so lacking as it related to the pandemic. We had about 15 corporate partners participate. We were thrilled to have Oswald support that experience. From the students perspective, for five weeks leading up to that virtual career fair in their virtual classrooms, they had a volunteer and that volunteer talked about soft skills, the importance of networking, again, thinking about earning and managing money. I’ll say the things that are applicable to any career. Then subsequently, they attended this virtual career exploration fair where they were actually able to interact with our corporate partners who participated in the event. I thought it a really innovative thing. We opened up a live Q and A chat, and that way students really could ask questions and engage in the event instead of just sitting behind a screen for six hours and listening to presentations. While there’s certainly value in that, I think we can all appreciate it’s difficult to spend that much time being talked at as opposed to participating in a conversation.
Feedback was absolutely tremendous. We are planning to host another virtual exploration fair in March of 22. I can’t believe I’m saying 2022. We already have over 1,200 students registered for that event. We expected to get up to about 1,000. And we recently brought on Team NEO as a partner. So what we’re hoping for here is not only to speak about the world of work and to teach young people the skills again that apply to any career. But we’re really relying on the data that Team NEO has published around one of the growing careers in our local economy, and where’s the deficiency of talent in those career fields.
We’re seeing on the news every day. It’s in daily conversation. Talent, talent, talent, the shortage, the difficulties around attraction, development and retention. Yet we have 2,000 young people graduating from Cleveland City Schools every year that have no idea what they want to be when they grow up, which I think resonates with most of us to bridge the divide and make very intentional warm handoffs between these graduating, amazing graduating seniors and awesome corporate citizens like Oswald that are searching for talent right in the next gen.
SCHMITZ: That is so exciting to hear and taking that next step beyond education to complete that circle. I know you have so many success stories. You’re certainly finding that silver lining.
FAULHABER: We constantly think about the impact of our work. If we’re simply introducing these concepts, but it doesn’t ultimately lead to a young person being elevated out of poverty and finding a meaningful career path right here in Greater Cleveland, then it’s all for not really. Again, we do a lot of different things as an organization. We’re proud of that. It’s all done in service of a much larger vision of helping businesses recruit and identify their next generation workforce, but also helping young people develop a line of sight to a meaningful job after high school and certainly celebrate if they want to go off to college.
For the young people who don’t enter the workforce, we want to make sure that they’re aware of all the different career opportunities that exist in the community. We know it’s working. One in five JA alumni end up in the same career path as their JA volunteer. So if you think in an average year, if we serve 25,000 students, that’s 5,000 that are going to end up in the same career path as their JA volunteer; they start businesses at 134% higher rate than their non alumni peers.
They earn more money over their lifetime. They report higher job satisfaction and all-around live happier and at least financially more successful lives. So that’s really why we do what we do.
SCHMITZ: That’s great to hear. Securing this future that you shared for your graduates, the JA graduates. It takes all of us. It takes the entire community for corporate members or corporate supporters that may have interest in getting to know your organization more. We find it very exciting and enlightening of the different ways that we can get involved. And actually, through those fun and creative activities and volunteer and fundraising activities, they actually become team building exercises for our company to grow closer. So I just wanted to share that as a comment.
But what would you suggest for corporate potential partners to get involved?
FAULHABER: Yeah, it’s a great question. I’m so glad to hear that you and your colleagues find it like a positive team building exercise. We know that getting people out of their workplace coming together, building some camaraderie while participating in a good cause is a great employee retention tool. I would encourage those that are listening to go to our website, www.JACleveland.org. There’s an online interest form right there on the main page that you can fill out with your contact information and you’d be contacted by a member of the JA staff.
So that’s where you can find us. But more importantly, what does that mean? Like, what does it mean to get involved in JA? And we as a staff like to say, all the money in the world doesn’t buy you great volunteers, an organization whose staff size is ten and the only way we’re able to continue serving tens of thousands of young people and consider growing to serve more is through the amazing group of volunteers that have been with us like you, Christina, and your colleagues at Oswald, but certainly so many other people in the community that believe in investing in our young people, knowing that there’s a direct tie to the future success of our community and stepping back and putting my employer head on for a second, I think for so long employers thought about employee recruitment from state colleges. Before that, it was Ivy League. Now we’re seeing a concerted effort to talk about community colleges and recruit out of community colleges. But truly, if your goal is to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce, simply talking to college age students, many of our most at risk young people and diverse young people in this community. In particular, they’ve already self-selected out of those programs. By the time you’re seeing them in college, I would just encourage you that if that’s an important part of your talent recruitment or talent acquisition strategy, please reach out and connect with young people at a much younger age.
Otherwise, they’ll have no idea the amazing opportunities that exist at your company and Junior Achievement can really serve as the vehicle to help you do that.
SCHMITZ: Thanks, Joe, so much for joining us today. Sharing your time. Sharing this message of hope for the future for community. We’ll definitely share your website and hope that people will take that next step to get involved.
FAULHABER: Thank you, Christina, so much for having me today. Thanks to you and your colleagues at Oswald for your continued support for Junior Achievement. I wish you the best of luck on your new podcast. All right. Thanks so much care.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and web formatting.
Introducing the C to C podcast, an oscast by Oswald production
Commitment to Community is a core value of Oswald; it’s the foundation of who we are and the purpose behind all we do. The CtoC podcast provides a platform for nonprofit partners to share their stories and discuss the critical issues facing their clients. Our goal: create a halo effect of service and support, inspiring our audiences to align with causes that speak to them and take action in their companies and communities.
Hosted by Christina Capadona-Schmitz, VP and director of marketing communications and leader for community engagement, this podcast series features in-depth interviews and highlights the good works happening throughout our communities.