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Junior Achievement closing the doors

JACKSON — The recession has claimed one of Mississippi’s most respected charities. After nearly a half-century of bringing work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy programs to the state’s school children, Junior Achievement of Mississippi Inc. is shutting the doors.

“This decision is not one with which anyone associated with Junior Achievement of Mississippi was happy to make,” said David Barrentine, chairman of the board of directors, Junior Achievement of Mississippi. “This organization has a 40-year history of educating young people about economics and the marketplace. Accordingly, it is with sincere regret, but with a prudent view of its financial condition and prospects, that this decision was made.”

The local chapter cited the current economic climate combined with dramatic decreases in corporate and foundation contributions in recent years. Both the members and the directors of Junior Achievement of Mississippi approved the plan of liquidation and dissolution during a special joint meeting held Nov. 18.

Barrentine said Junior Achievement of Mississippi teaches financial responsibility in the classroom. He said the organization is simply heeding its own advise.

In a statement, Junior Achievement of Mississippi said it “takes its obligations under the plan of dissolution and liquidation seriously and is undertaking this process in a responsible and appropriate manner.”

The chapter’s closing comes just two years after the death of its founder, Jimmy Fowler. A simple-spoken, humble man, Fowler was a successful entrepreneur. He owned everything from automobile dealerships to hotels. However, he counted his role in founding the Mississippi chapter of JA as his highest achievement. Fowler was the organization’s loudest cheerleader.

He was also its most successful fundraiser. Fowler was known as a man who was hard to refuse. And over its history, Fowler pumped thousands of dollars into the organization from his own pocket. Thus, his passing left a significant void in the chapter.

Barrentine said Fowler’s death was a blow. However, he added that he is unsure that the chapter would be in any different situation if Fowler were still alive.

Junior Achievement of Mississippi will continue its fall semester schedule of classes. The board of directors is also in the process of communicating with volunteers, advisory boards, schools officials and the business community regarding closure plans and related requirements.

There is some hope that JA may be resurrected in Mississippi. Barrentine said current JA supporters on the Coast and in Tupelo have expressed interest in reforming.

Ironically, all of this comes on the heels of the Mississippi chapter topping the nation. Just last month, Junior Achievement USA announced Junior Achievement of Mississippi was number one in the percentage growth in number of students served and number of classes comparing 2007-08 figures to 2008-09 figures.

Scherry Gilliland, JA Mississippi president and CEO, said, “We increased the number of students we reached from 5,407 to 10,100 for an 86.8 percent change from 2007-08 to 2008-09. Classes had a 76.1 percent change — growth from 213 in 2007-08 to 375 in 2008-09 — and we are working to continue that growth trend this school year.”

JA of Mississippi also attained a 99 percent change in the hours volunteers spent in the classroom. In 2008-09, there were 146,757 instructional contact hours, up from 73,826 in 2007-08.

“On behalf of the Junior Achievement of Mississippi board of directors, I want to express sincere thanks to the dedicated supporters and volunteers who have shared their time, talents and experience to help students understand financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness,” said Barrentine. “Your hard work will always be appreciated.”


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