JA Alumni Story: Val Van Vianen

Posted in: Alumni Stories

“JA gives kids the understanding of the global world and how it’s run.” Val’s story paints the picture of the long-term impact of JA programs and how they can make a difference in the life of students in any decade. But where did it begin for Val?

Val Van Vianen lived with her family in Michigan in the 1970s. When she was in high school, representatives from Junior Achievement came to her classroom and promoted the JA Company Program – something her older brother had participated in. With her mother’s encouragement, she elected to participate.

Every Monday night, she would go to Downtown Grand Rapids and collaborate with students from all over the city, all with the help of a community business mentor, to create and sell a product. Together, they created products like ash tray terrariums and gold clothes hangers and would take them to multi-day expos to sell them. “I remember the instructors (volunteers) were very supportive and engaging,” Val recalled. “They made sure students were held accountable and, in turn, students received a paycheck each month for their work.”

Val held various roles throughout her high school JA experience, being elected Vice President of her “company” her junior year and then President her senior year. But her experience truly paid off when she received a JA scholarship for her college education.

“JA teaches kids real-life experiences, how to manage money, and find the good deals so they’re not getting taken advantage of in the world.” Val smiled as she reflected on her involvement nearly 50 years ago. “You get the inside scoop of how the mechanics of our country work. It prepares kids – I know it prepared me to go off to college.”

Among the many life experiences the JA Company Program provided for Val, she added that she learned how to work together with a team, time management, how to keep a savings and checking account, all without the use of computers at the time. Hers was a hands-on and immersive real-world experience.

“You’re not going to be able to function in the adult world unless you know a bit about business,” said Val. “It would be beneficial [for JA] to reach as many kids as possible.”

Val has had a successful career working as an occupational therapist for 40 years. Now, her grandchildren participate in JA and she is all the more thankful. We are gracious for her perspective and support of JA!