Junior Achievement Free Enterprise Center breaks ground in GV


Celebrating the groundbreaking of Junior Achievement’s Free Enterprise Center were (left to right) NexGen’s Charlie McNeil and Judy McNeil, from AMG National Trust Bank, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board Earl Wright, Corporate Development Officer Tim Murray (in the background), and President and CEO Sheryl Bollinger; Colorado Bankers Association CEO Don Childears and Former JA Board Member and current Economic Literacy Board Member Linda Childears. Photo by Freda Miklin

A sunny winter afternoon on March 11 was the setting for over 75 business leaders and supporters of Junior Achievement (JA) Rocky Mountain to gather for the groundbreaking of the JA Free Enterprise Center at 6500 Greenwood Plaza Blvd. in Greenwood Village.

Robin Wise, president and CEO of Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain for three decades, welcomed over 75 people to the groundbreaking of Junior Achievement’s Free Enterprise Center on March 11. Photo by Freda Miklin

Junior Achievement is a worldwide non-profit educational organization whose purpose is “to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy,” by providing “in-school and off-site experiential programs to students from kindergarten through 12th grade, delivered by corporate and community volunteers, who provide a real-world perspective in the areas of career readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. There is no cost for schools to implement JA programming.” Founded in 1919 by Theodore Vail, president of AT&T, Horace Moses, president of Strathmore Paper Company, and Senator Murray Crane of Massachusetts, “Junior Achievement is committed to an inclusive culture that celebrates diversity (and) is dedicated to providing a positive, enriching learning experience free of bias that promotes greater economic opportunity.” JA “welcomes K– 12 students, volunteers, educators, staff, and other partners and stakeholders, regardless of race, religion, age, gender, gender identity, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or any other legally protected characteristic.”

Robin Wise, who has been president and CEO of JA Rocky Mountain for 30 years, welcomed the large crowd and thanked John Madden for making it possible for the organization to acquire the site. She also acknowledged the support of many others, including philanthropists Bob and Judi Newman, The Daniels Fund, Confluence Companies’ Tim and Lisa Walsh, The Anschutz Foundation, Cleve Wortham and FirstBank, homebuilder Buz and Sheri Koelbel, NexGen’s Charlie and Judy McNeil, Norm Franke and Alpine Bank, and Land Title’s John and Ginny Freyer for making the project possible. Wise also thanked retired Plante Moran Partner Bob and Sharla Hottman, the Fullenwider family, the Boettcher Foundation and G E Johnson, and, for their programmatic support, Charles Schwab, Toyota, and Oakwood Homes. 

AMG National Trust Bank co-founder and Chairman Earl Wright congratulated Robin Wise, president and CEO of JA Rocky Mountain at a reception hosted at the bank following the groundbreaking. Photo by Susan Lanam

Matt McConnell, JA Rocky Mountain board chair, quoted Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, who said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” He continued, “Junior Achievement is about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, work readiness and the value of free enterprise. Where we are standing is going to be the Free Enterprise Center, which will bring the embodiment of all the values and the teachings that JA brings to future leaders, future entrepreneurs up and down the front range.” He added, “JA worldwide, which covers 115 countries around the world, has been nominated for a 

Nobel Prize…so not only do we know that what we do is important, the world knows it’s important.” McConnell talked about the genesis of the Free Enterprise Center, which came from the JA board of directors as they sought to find a way to increase the impact of the organization’s work. From the inception of the project, the board provided immeasurable financial, legal and professional support to the process.

Enjoying the reception at AMG National Trust Bank were JA Board Member Rahul Magan, South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jeff Keener, and Charles Schwab Senior Vice President Kent Clark. Photo by Susan Lanam

Kevin Kelley of Husch Blackwell, immediate past chair of JA Rocky Mountain and recipient of the JA USA Gold Leadership Award, who McConnell described with the words, “The amount of work he and his firm did—we’re not standing here today if not for Kevin,” talked about the history of the project, which was conceived in 2019. He said, “There were needs more urgent than the Free Enterprise Center in 2020, so we put our fundraising efforts on hold (during the pandemic).” The board dug deep to get the effort going again by their own generous donations and by selling JA’s downtown property, which raised $5 million. Said Kelley about the Free Enterprise Center, “We’re not done yet. We’re not going to be done until we have kids walking through the doors of the Free Enterprise Center and walking out sharing the same sense of hope that we have for them… with tools and the confidence to say, I am not shackled by my current situation, I have the confidence to be what I want to be, do what I want to do with the life I want to live. And that’s all kids, not just some kids, in particular the kids who can’t get the tools that JA delivers anywhere else…For the kids, this is a pathway to a better life.”

Following the groundbreaking, Earl Wright and AMG National Trust Bank, just a short block away from the site of what will be the JA Free Enterprise Center, hosted a reception in its honor.  www.jacolorado.org