Bills, bills and more bills: JA Finance Park program lays out financial literacy for Houston youth

Junior Achievement celebrates 100 years of developing sound money management skills

Picture this: you’re an accountant, married, no children, making $60,000 a year, paying off student loans, and holding a credit score of 500.

How do you make ends meet?

This question has been posed to 74,000 students at Junior Achievement (JA) Finance Park in Houston since its inception in 2007. While students’ assigned life profiles vary, the middle and high schoolers are well on their way to financial literacy—just in time for adulthood.

“Students quickly learn the need to budget their finances,” says Monica Caudillo, philanthropy advisor for Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas.

“It’s not long before the students are asking: ‘Do I have to have kids? Do I have to buy a car?’ ”

From the moment these middle and high school students step off the bus at Houston’s JA Finance Park, they are immersed into simulated “real-life” scenarios. In small groups, students move from station to station, where they encounter services such as the “bank” where they can request loans for various expenses.

Imagine the reaction when students who can’t secure a car loan realize they’ll need to take the bus to work.

“I see a lot of ‘a-ha’ moments with students,” says Eric Munsayac, an Enbridge compliance advisor who began volunteering with Junior Achievement with the former Spectra Energy in 2007.

“After attending JA Finance Park, a lot of them can make the connection that their parents work to provide for them. They can see that the television doesn’t just turn on without paying for electricity.”

Munsayac describes JA Finance Park as like a mini city in a big room. He says the greatest shock students express is just how many bills there really are as an adult.

Enbridge supports JA chapters in various North American communities near our operations—and in 2017, Enbridge contributed over $100,000 to JA of Southeast Texas, continuing a legacy that began with the former Spectra Energy in 2007.

One day a year, 15 to 20 Enbridge employees volunteer at JA Finance Park to operate a station and educate youth on different roles available to them in the industry.

Finance Park will celebrate its 10-year milestone this school year, but Junior Achievement will be celebrating its centennial year in 2019. Caudillo says the organization’s success comes from constantly adapting to students’ needs.

Caudillo’s drive to push JA Finance Park towards continued progress is, not surprisingly, derived from the impact she sees in the students every day.

“I frequently meet JA alumni who share with me that if it wasn’t for JA Finance Park, they would never have known that they needed to start saving for the future,” she says.

With each student group, Munsayac gives the same parting words: “Go home, thank your mom, your dad, your caregiver. Tell them you appreciate what they do for you every day.”