Sam Ginnis vividly recalls the first time he made the connection between a business suit and financial prosperity. Back in the mid 1990s, when Sam was a youngster attending an inner-city elementary school in north Minneapolis, two suit-clad volunteers taught the JA program in his class.
“My first memory of JA was from 3rd grade,” Sam says. “I remember a group of volunteers from 3M who wore suits. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who owned a suit. I remember thinking, ‘These business people wear suits, which means they’re important.’ I wanted to be important, too, so I knew that following their lead was going to be my ticket to being like them.”
Today, 20-some years later, Sam has had a successful career at several Twin Cities companies. He has also continued to be a tireless volunteer and proponent of JA programs, knowing firsthand how valuable that early introduction to business concepts can be.
“For me as a child, I didn’t really have any idea about what business meant, except that it included making money,” Sam says. “While I don’t necessarily have this viewpoint today, as a kid who didn’t have a lot of money, it was the focal point of my desire. I focused on the idea of entrepreneurship and it propelled me into starting multiple companies in high school and college. It started as simply as mowing lawns.” That business, which Sam ran into his college years, eventually grew to a $100,000-plus enterprise with multiple employees.
Sam has always found ways to capitalize on opportunities. As a 7th grader, he and his classmates received top marks on a mandatory statewide mathematics test, which lead to both local news coverage and the offer of a scholarship at the International School in Eden Prairie.
“The International School offered all of us in the math competition full scholarships worth over $25,000 a year,” he says. “It was extremely rigorous; we had testing periods every day. Our grades were 100% based on the results of our tests. I saw it as a unique opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.”
Sam continued to study hard, and in 10th grade he transferred to DeLaSalle High School, where he graduated. He then enrolled at the University of St. Thomas, studying business. He also became actively involved with the JA program while in college.
“I was in Delta Sigma Pi, which is the business fraternity,” Sam says. “Early efforts to help JA grow at St. Thomas had floundered, but I brought a passion to it. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I’m a JA kid. This matters to me and I know the impact we can have.’ Six months later, we had over 100 JA volunteers campus-wide for that school year.”
Today Sam continues to be a cheerleader for JA, and he says his motivation for supporting the program is a simple one: He believes it altered the course of his life.
“JA certainly gave me the seed to aspire beyond what was right in front of me in my neighborhood,” he says. “It inspired me to find that there were great opportunities in the world, and my neighborhood was just a small microcosm of the larger opportunity. JA was very specific about communicating what tools a person needs to find success, especially when it comes to education. Those values were extremely important in helping me shape my view of the world around me.”