By: Pat Phalen
CEO Illinois National Bancorp
Executive Vice President
Chris Thoennes was surprised to discover how little financial literacy and education is taught to young people today.
It was when he became involved in Junior Achievement that he realized the importance of all children having the opportunity to learn financial skills, regardless of background, socioeconomic status or desired career path.
“Our educators do an amazing job, but because of all of the subjects they have to cover, financial literacy is often not covered until students reach high school - and even then, it’s often optional,” said Chris, VP, Commercial Lending for INB’s Bloomington branch. “Junior Achievement ensures students receive a progression of financial literacy education starting in kindergarten, and it’s done in a fun way that really engages students.”
Supplementing School Curriculum
With 109 local chapters, Junior Achievement is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving youth the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices. The mission of Junior Achievement is to “inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy.”
The organization focuses on core content areas of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Junior Achievement of Central Illinois is based in Peoria, and after volunteering several years for the McLean County arm of the program, Chris decided to join the McLean County Area Board of Directors.
“I initially volunteered to be a JA Classroom Consultant at two Unit 5 schools. Classroom Consultants are assigned to a specific K-12 class to teach the JA material via six, 1-hour sessions consisting of a short lesson followed by a fun, hands-on activity. The experience was very enjoyable and rewarding, especially when I saw how engaged the students were during my visits to their classes,” Chris said.
“After volunteering for a few semesters, I was approached about the opportunity to join the McLean County Regional Area Board, which had just been created to enhance the work already being done in McLean County by JA’s regional governing board in Peoria.”
JA Support Extends to Peoria
INB Peoria staff members have also been very involved in Junior Achievement of Central Illinois over the years, from serving on the board to volunteering in the classroom.
Pam Cain, Peoria branch manager said, “We had the opportunity to mentor a classroom of children for approximately six weeks; I enjoyed working with the kids of various ages, and they looked forward to our visits. Junior Achievement provided the materials, and most of them involved entrepreneurship and learning about the community. There were also sections that included banking, how to write a check, how a debit card and credit card work, and more.”
INB has jumped on board with Junior Achievement’s initiatives not only through volunteer hours but also financial support. INB sponsored JA’s Stock Market Challenge fundraiser in Bloomington, and this year, we hosted our first-ever student Stock Market Challenge that complements the adult’s event in the evening. INB has also collected donations for Junior Achievement at annual shred events.
Through his work at Junior Achievement, Chris, NMLS #: 1591984, said he has not only gained appreciation for the teaching profession (“How teachers do it, I don’t know, but my hat’s off to them!” he laughed.) but also fully recognizes the importance of enriching the financial literacy of today’s youth.
“Through my experience volunteering as a Classroom Consultant, I saw first-hand that the JA curriculum was designed to align with the school’s existing curriculum and enhance the financial literacy education received by students,” he noted. “Being financially educated is a necessity post-high school, and I believe JA makes sure all young people, regardless of their socioeconomic background, are given the chance to learn the fundamentals.”