How a Junior Achievement Volunteer Changed My Life

For me, some of the most unforgettable days in elementary school were when guest speakers came to visit. Do you remember those days? From authors, magicians, puppets, and even local fire departments, many speakers visit elementary students. Growing up, I certainly sat with criss cross legs, on the floor, listening to my share of guest speakers.

[Cover Photo: Brandon Griffin’s 5th Grade School Picture in Year 2000]


The most unforgettable, and perhaps most impactful, guest speaker was a Junior Achievement volunteer who came to speak to my 5th grade class.  Our volunteer was Kenneth Allen, a local 16-year-old entrepreneur who started a candy business in his grandparent’s Gary, Indiana home.

Kenneth Allen (present day) standing outside of his grandparent’s garage where he started K.S. Candies at age 12.

During his visit, Kenneth presented the JA Our Nation curriculum. JA Our Nation provides practical information about the need for employees who can meet the demands of the 21st century job market, particularly high-growth, high-demand jobs. By the program’s end, students understand the skills, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math, that will make their futures brighter.

I could not wait to take the worksheets we received from the session home! I knew exactly where I was going to put them…Inside of my black, leather mini briefcase, that I was able to sneak into the shopping cart while “Saturday shopping” with my mom at Burlington. Yes, at 12 years old, the Junior Achievement worksheets became my “leisure” reading material at home. I would read and repeat the worksheets weeks, even, after Kenneth visited our class.

The worksheets were not the only things our Junior Achievement volunteer left behind. He also gave me his business card, and a desire that would fuel my motivation for years to come.

Kenneth started his candy store, K.S. Candies, at 12 years old, and after operating for more than 6 years, ranked 79 out of 100 youth businesses in the nation according to Young Biz, Inc. By 15, Kenneth was sharing his love for entrepreneurship with others. He was Young Biz’s youngest certified instructor in the country, and his business card featured that credential.

Kenneth Allen’s Certificate of Achievement for Entrepreneurship Instruction

When I read “Youngest Certified Entrepreneur Instructor in the Country” on Kenneth’s business card, while others in the class took a restroom break, I decided to stay behind and give him the best interrogation my 5th grade self could conduct.  A few questions I asked included, “How do you know you’re the youngest? How young is the youngest? What did you have to do?” Kenneth unselfishly described the training process to me.

Kenneth Allen’s K.S. Candies business card

At the end of our conversation, I reached into my pocket and gave him my business card. At that time, using my family’s new Gateway computer and my newfound Microsoft Word skills, I started a desktop publishing business, “Griffin Household Press.” As I handed Kenneth my business card I said, “you won’t be the youngest for long.” That statement was probably the best threat a 12-year-old could give to a 16-year-old and was a personal goal that pushed me to learn more about youth entrepreneurship and teaching it to others.

Junior Achievement and Young Biz, Inc. became two of several organizations I regularly turned to for knowledge and for a community of like-minded peers. Many of these like-minded peers, however, lived across the country. Having, especially, a local community of like-minded peers is very important to staying motivated as a young leader and entrepreneur. This was one of the reasons why I started entrepreneurship clubs while in high school and college.

Motivated to fulfill the promise I made to my 5th grade self, in high school, I received training to become a Junior Achievement volunteer. I became our Junior Achievement area’s youngest volunteer to teach the JA curriculum to elementary students in classrooms across Northwest Indiana. “Just a few years ago, I was in your seat. Now, I own a real money-making business,” I would share with the students. Their eyes opened wide, and even the loudest student gave me their undivided attention. By the end of each session students had an increased understanding of entrepreneurship and free enterprise.

The volunteering experience was so fulfilling, and I began to encourage members of my entrepreneurship club to volunteer. Together, we were a tribe of high school students walking into our old elementary classrooms with a mission to ignite the spark in other young people to experience and realize the opportunities and realities of work and life.

Now, in my adult life, the same desire the Junior Achievement volunteer, Kenneth Allen, helped to ignite, still burns within me. I’m still motivated to train and positively influence the next generation of young leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals. And I’m still encouraging other people within my network to do the same.

In 2019, as Chairperson of Next Gen Forward, an employee resource group at the USA TODAY NETWORK, I coordinated a partnership between USA TODAY and Junior Achievement. The “JA in a Day Challenge” encouraged employees across the country to take a few hours out of their day to teach the JA curriculum in a local classroom. More than 100 employees, across 55 cities, and 22 states welcomed the opportunity to volunteer. Collectively, participating USA TODAY employees helped give more than 1,000 young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan their future, and make smart academic and economic choices.

USA TODAY Recognizes Employees Who Recently Volunteered for Junior Achievement

I have added coordinating this nationwide volunteer initiative between USA TODAY and Junior Achievement to my list of the most rewarding opportunities I’ve had. I’ll never know all the names of the 1,000+ students we reached. The students will never know the number of hours and resources that were indirectly invested to help them have a successful future. We’ll never know everything they will do using the information learned, or with the spark that was ignited within them on that day.

One thing I do know for sure, however, is that my life was changed when a Junior Achievement volunteer came into my 5th grade classroom in 1999, and the spark ignited is illuminating across the country.

Thanks Kenneth.

Thanks Junior Achievement.

And thank you to every teacher that excused me from class to volunteer while I was #GrowingUpBoss.

About Brandon L. Griffin
Brandon L. Griffin is a digital native, Millennial, and success coach for Gen Z students. In Growing Up Boss – Lessons Learned as a Young Entrepreneur, Brandon recounts lessons from his 20 year entrepreneurial career path and offers steps young adults can take to get a head start on their career. To learn more visit:

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