Cargill-Harvest School Partnership

cargill-harvest-partnershipWhat happens when one of the world’s largest agribusiness giants teams up with Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest to support a group of schools that serve an at-risk population of students? Wonderful things!

The partnership between JAUM, Cargill and the north Minneapolis-based Harvest Network of Schools benefits everyone involved, from students to the schools to the generous volunteers who work tirelessly to prepare students to succeed in a global economy.

Marquita Butler thumbMarquita Butler, Harvest Network of Schools
Marquita Butler is the volunteer and community partnership manager for The Harvest Network of Schools. The Network consists of Best Academy, a K-8 school; Harvest Preparatory School, for grades K-4, and The Mastery School, also for K-4 students.

Approximately 1,200 students, primarily low-income African-American children from the north Minneapolis area, attend the schools. The Harvest Network is unique in that all enrolled students have an opportunity to participate in Junior Achievement through the support of corporations such as Cargill.

Butler manages the school’s interactions with about 12 community and corporate school partners, including Cargill and Junior Achievement. Cargill has supported the Harvest Network schools since the 1990s, and has directly supported JA programs there for the past two years.

“We have three different JA programs that we do throughout the school year,” Butler explains. “We have JA in a Day, and the scholars in K-8 get exposure to that. And there’s JA Job Shadow, where Cargill volunteers come in and talk with the scholars about careers. And in past years, we’ve done both JA BizTown and JA Finance Park. Cargill provided volunteers for JA in a Day and JA Job Shadow. Cargill has really been a huge champion for us by giving us financial contributions and volunteers.

“In addition, JA does a really good job of taking the brunt of the work off [the schools’] shoulders for the programs,” Butler adds. “It’s very organized and the teachers don’t have a lot extra to do, because teachers don’t have a lot of time. Whenever JA comes in, it’s collaborative and impactful. The JA staff is very dedicated and supportive of our network of schools, and whenever an opportunity comes up, they think of us. They’ve also really bridged the relationship that we have with Cargill.”

Justice Sikakane thumbJustice Sikakane, Cargill
For Justice Sikakane, his first exposure to Junior Achievement made such an impression that today he serves as the chair of Cargill’s JA Corporate Council, a group of employees passionate about the JA mission who collaborate to promote and advocate for JA within their company.

Sikakane, the Salesforce.com administrator/configuration developer at Cargill, also personally volunteers between 12 and 18 hours a month through various JA programs.

“About a year ago, a colleague reached out to say there was a JA Hall of Fame induction ceremony she wouldn’t be able to attend and asked if I would step in for her? I said absolutely,” Sikakane says. “The event was really my first exposure to JA. Our former CEO Greg Page was being inducted into the JA Hall of Fame, and one of the students from Best Academy, Michael Underwood, was introducing him. From there, I started volunteering with different events like JA Job Shadow, JA BizTown, and really got exposed to JA and Cargill’s footprint with it.”
Sikakane saw first-hand how the partnership between Cargill and JA brings opportunities to young scholars.

“JA is an opportunity to really empower students and Michael is a perfect example,” Sikakane says of Underwood. “He’s an aspiring student, very intelligent, very capable and with great potential. We want to empower students like him who aspire to that next level. And when we can share our experiences with those younger than us, it’s an opportunity to say, ‘Here’s what we learned and here’s what we’d like to provide you so you can do well and go beyond what we achieved.’ Having an opportunity to give back to students and see them evolve is a very rewarding feeling.”

In fact, according to a recent Cargill intranet article, JA has been “one of the more popular ways for Cargill employees to engage with communities.” Estimates say more than 200 Cargill employees a year in the Minneapolis metro-area volunteer with Junior Achievement.

“I am very passionate about the different opportunities we have with what we’re trying to achieve with JA and financial literacy, and by Cargill employees volunteering to help give students confidence and inspire them,” Sikakane says. “If we can get into the various communities now and educate them about us…the next future leader of Cargill may come from one of these schools.”

Michael Underwood thumbMichael Underwood, Best Academy
Over an early dinner at a local restaurant, 13-year-old Michael Underwood shares the fact that he’s both a history and political “geek,” which should prove helpful given that he wants to pursue a career in politics and public service.

As a recent eighth-grade graduate of Best Academy, Underwood will attend DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis next year, and plans to go to college on the East Coast and study law. He counts his interaction with Junior Achievement throughout school as an extremely positive experience for him.

“The first time I had JA, we were learning about checks and that kind of thing because we were about to go to JA BizTown,” Underwood says. “We also learned about different businesses. I got to be the CFO at the business supply store [at JA BizTown] and at that time, I had no idea about CFOs or what they did. I always thought it was just the CEO who ran a company. Instead, we learned there was much more to it than that. And we would never have learned that unless we’d gone through JA.”

Underwood also benefited from other JA programs, including JA Finance Park, where students assume life scenarios while working to balance a personal budget. “One thing I learned through JA Finance Park was how to take care of a family by myself,” Underwood says. “The way it was set up, I was a single dad with a couple of kids. And I remember the teacher telling me afterwards that I managed it really well, because I made it on my salary and I kept all my bills paid. And that’s something I’ve learned from my mom, too. You don’t always have to buy the fanciest thing because that’s not always the best. Get an apartment until you can save up enough money for a house. Make sure that you have a car that’s dependable, not necessarily luxury. Make sure you’ve got your essentials covered first. [Learning about finance] kind of lightens the burden of taking care of yourself, of knowing what relationship your monthly income has to your expenses.”

Michael’s mother, Finnitta, agrees, and says she’s personally witnessed the benefits Junior Achievement provided her son. “From my standpoint, I think JA really helped reinforce skills for him, things like budgeting and priorities and values and finances,” she says. “JA helped him really bring those concepts down to a personal level, because any type of business has to really start with you as an individual. It’s about making choices and setting priorities.”