Gamble for Education

The art of being fiscally responsible takes education. Fortunately, for more than 20,000 students in the Valley, the keys to financial literacy are being taught in primary schools thanks to Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada.

Relying entirely on donations and grant funding, Junior Achievement operates numerous programs to help students learn everything from budget management to economic principles, and works with them to develop skills for the workplace.

Schools in at-risk areas of the community are chosen with an objective to create a feeder system, which follows students from elementary through high school. On average, 80 percent or more of students that participate are living at or below the poverty line. According to Katie Decker, principal of recipient schools Walter Bracken, Walter Long and Howard Hollingsworth elementary schools, the organization fills a critical need.

“The adults from our community come in and help kids understand finances and the role they play in the future,”  Decker explains. “They are exposed to different jobs and see that the community cares about them.”  Business partners in finance, gaming, hospitality and legal industries volunteer their time to teach the programs.


[These programs] teach students how to be smart with money, how to get ready for the workforce and how to think like entrepreneurs. Most importantly, it teaches them how to aspire to greater things.–Andrea Shepard, development events manager


One of the bigger avenues for funding is its annual Poker Tournament, which has attracted poker hotshots such as J.J. Liu and hotel exec Bobby Baldwin. The seventh annual event takes place at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on June 11.

Last year, the fundraiser netted $70,000. As for 2017, Junior Achievement hopes to bring in upwards of $100,000 and attract more than 200 players. The winner of the Texas Hold ‘Em tourney nets a precious seat at the World Series of Poker’s Main Event (or a $7,500 cash option). Proceeds from the event help the organization to provide programs such as Finance Park‘s 12-hour teacher- led curriculum that culminates with students simulating life scenarios in which they build a one-month budgetóand expand its current operations.

“These programs are important because both support our mission of empowering and impacting young people,”  explains Andrea Shepard, development events manager for the organization. “They teach students how to be smart with money, how to get ready for the workforce and how to think like entrepreneurs. Most importantly, it teaches them how to aspire to greater things.”

According to Za’Korey Christian, a ninth-grader at Southeast Career Technical Academy, his participation in Finance Park while an eighth-grader at Pinecrest Academy was vital in providing him with a glimpse of life after school.

“I learned how you [need] to put money into certain places as you get a job and pay your bills and to manage money between shopping, groceries and things like that,” says the 14-year-old. “It helped me to get where I am at now and know the basics of budgeting [as well as] learning the value of money. Now, I know the difference between needs and wants. Learning those basic skills now can help me in the future.”

Buy-ins for the Junior Achievementís poker tournament start at $250 for 5,000 chips. Registration is open now through the day of the event. Walk-ups welcome day of the event from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. To register, visit jalasvegas.org/2017-poker-tournament.

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