Professionalism, business savvy, humor, drive, kindness. Junior Achievement-Rocky Mountain (JA) volunteers share all sorts of skills, personality traits and experiences when they enter JA classrooms to help young people envision their futures. Dean Belka and his wife Sue, long-time JA volunteers and part-time residents of Estes Park, CO, add vision and leadership to the mix.
In 2016, Dean Belka approached JA’s Northern Colorado District Director, Elizabeth Winn, with a simple question – how could he and Sue help bring JA curriculum to Estes Park students?
Inspired by Dean’s passion and enthusiasm, Elizabeth quickly partnered with Dean, the Estes Park School District, and local businesses to expand financial literacy, work-readiness and entrepreneurship education to kids in the growing mountain town at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
“We are thrilled to introduce Estes Park teachers to the JA model and to the impact that our programs – in partnership with educators and community volunteers – have on student learning,” said Elizabeth Winn. “Dean’s drive and leadership have made all the difference. We can’t offer JA programs to schools if we don’t have volunteers who are willing to learn and teach the curriculum.”
To recruit local volunteers, Dean helped JA rally local business leaders together for a “meet and greet” event on Dec. 1, 2016. Estes Park business owners Rob and Julie Pieper hosted the reception at their restaurant, Mama Rose’s. The objective – to introduce local business professionals and community members to JA and its staff and to Estes Park School District leaders, and to share how they can support JA at Estes Park Elementary.
“I volunteered for more than 25 years in classrooms in Lincoln, Nebraska,” said Dean. “Having recently retired from 30 years in sales and marketing, Sue and I have made Junior Achievement a major part of our community volunteer activities in Lincoln. Retirement has also allowed us to spend a lot more time at our cabin in Colorado, so while enjoying the beauty of the Rockies, we will also bring the benefits of JA to Estes Park students.
“Volunteering in a classroom involves as little as five 30-minute sessions, using classroom materials provided by JA. For us, volunteering with JA is a win/win. We give our time and talents to the students, and they give back to us in many fun and exciting ways,” Dean added.
As a volunteer for JA of Lincoln, Dean has taught elementary, middle and high school students and says that he especially enjoys the innocence of the youngest students.
“My favorite part of volunteering is the wide range of responses, many unexpected, that come from the kids. Example: talking needs and wants. One kindergarten girl said a cat is a need, although the JA materials label it as a want. Her reply, “but we NEED a cat because we have lots of mice!” A boy sitting next to her adamantly said it was neither because, “I am allergic to cats!”
Thanks to Dean’s efforts, JA will partner with every classroom teacher at Estes Park Elementary during the Spring 2017 semester!
To learn how you can volunteer to support JA, go to https://www.jacolorado.org/individual-volunteers/