Michael Underwood

Michael UnderwoodOver 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.”