Junior Achievement of the Heartland knows what’s possible and its newest dream needs $900,000 more to make it a reality.

One of the center renderings from Edwards Creative.

The Moline-based nonprofit group – which serves students in 24 counties in eastern Iowa and western Illinois – on Tuesday announced a new $3.25-million capital campaign for its groundbreaking new facility, the JA Inspiration Center at 6600 44th Ave., Moline.

This state-of-the-art learning center will be designed to empower and inspire young minds as they prepare to embark on their professional journeys. The JA Inspiration Center will provide a vital place of learning, discovery, and empowerment, housing its capstone programs JA BizTown and JA Finance Park and serving more than 8,000 4th – 9th grade students annually.

QC students taking part in JA World in downtown Davenport.

Together, these programs fuse the physical and digital worlds to deliver innovative, practical, and enriching learning experiences in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work and career readiness. JA learning experiences include classroom‐based curriculum for students from kindergarten through high school.

The elementary school learning experiences feature hands‐on activities that help students understand the basics of business and economics. Topics include entrepreneurship, financial literacy, community businesses, and the importance of saving money.

The JA Inspiration Center will be in the southwest corner of the Vibrant Credit Union Corporate Center at 6600 44th Ave., Moline (a former Sam’s Club), where JA held Tuesday’s press conference.

The new JA Inspiration Center will open in fall 2024 at the southwest corner of the Vibrant Credit Union Corporate Center, 6600 44th Ave., Moline, a former Sam’s Club (photo by Jonathan Turner).

It is planned to welcome students in October 2024. The 13,000-square-foot area will increase the space for capstone experiences by 30%, and allow JA to reach an additional 3,000 students each year.

The capital campaign will be a multi-faceted effort with a goal of $3.25 million, which includes the educational and programmatic elements of the building. To date, $2.3 million of that goal has been raised.

“Investments in the JA Inspiration Center are investments for our future workforce and future leaders, both of which are essential for our region to thrive,” said Brian Duffy, CEO of Per Mar Security Services, and Governing Board Chair, JA of the Heartland.

JA has raised 71% of its campaign goal over the past year, thanks to a lead gift from the Duffy family and grants from Regional Development Authority, Scott County Regional Authority, the Moline Foundation and Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, said JA of the Heartland president/CEO Dougal Nelson.

JA president/CEO Dougal Nelson speaks at the Tuesday morning press conference, Sept. 19, 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The 9,000-square-foot JA World in the Putnam Building on 2nd Street in downtown Davenport has operated since 1999 and the building owner is not renewing the lease after July 2024, he noted Tuesday

“It’s kind of a blessing. It gives us the chance to recreate and reimagine what we’re so good at,” Nelson said, noting the current facility is “tired and lacks efficiencies,” and needs high-tech updates.

“We need to prepare students for tomorrow,” he said. Vibrant’s facility will allow JA to run the Biz Town and Finance Park programs simultaneously, something they’ve never been able to do.

“The facility will be more robust and vibrant – see what I did there?” Nelson joked. The credit union is providing the building, utilities, maintenance and security to JA for just $1 a year.

“This is a very substantial investment they’ve made in Junior Achievement,” he said of Vibrant. The company also will be the financial institution represented in the Inspiration Center.

“We look for business sectors that are very regional,” Nelson said, noting the center will represent companies from Dubuque to Muscatine, including Arconic and Deere.

There are 14 JA classes that students are required to complete before they visit BizTown and Finance Park. Last year, JA had 3,000 volunteers in classes, but there is still a need for more volunteers, Nelson said.

Running a mini-city

Classroom instruction for grades 4‐6 culminates with a trip to JA BizTown – a daylong, applied experience during which students apply learned concepts in a life-like community at the JA Inspiration Center. For example, students take on the role of citizen, consumer, and employee while participating in the on‐site simulation.

QC students take on many roles in the mock city, including the mayor.

They assume community roles of mayor, newspaper owner, reporter, bank manager, bank tellers, store owners, restaurant owners and others, going about their day working, shopping, and earning and saving money.

They will operate banks, store fronts, and municipal agencies, manage a personal budget, and vote. Following participation in the simulation, students will be able to:

  • Discuss the roles they play as citizens, workers, and consumers in a community and relate those roles to the free enterprise system.
  • Discuss the importance of citizen rights and responsibilities within a community.
  • Build money management skills through a practical knowledge of economic concepts and banking practices.
  • Develop an understanding of basic business practices and responsibilities.
  • Display the soft skills necessary for successful participation in the world of work.

Many may know JA World, as the facility is referred to as today, or remember Exchange City as it was named when it first opened in 1999 in downtown Davenport as one of the first of its kind in the country.

After 24 years, JA now has the chance to continue this legacy, and reimagine its current capstone programming, collaborations, and capacity in a new, highly developed location at the Vibrant Credit Union Corporate Center in Moline.

Dougal Nelson has led fundraising over the past year, which has collected $2.3 million of the $3.2-million campaign goal (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The rebranded JA Inspiration Center will include expanded JA BizTown and Finance Park space and programming that will allow for:

  • Opportunities for students to explore more educational pathways and career opportunities, especially in the trades, health care, and STEM‐related careers.
  • Upgraded technology to end our distinction as the only Junior Achievement in the country that does not use tablets in their simulations.
  • A safe, convenient, and central location for students, partners, and volunteers.
  • Community meeting space.

The JA Inspiration Center will serve as a hub of innovation, creativity, and hands-on learning. Within the facility, JA will provide students with an immersive environment where they can refine their entrepreneurial ideas, hone critical thinking skills, and gain practical experience in problem-solving and collaboration.

This facility will be the culmination of JA’s dedication to preparing the next generation for success in a dynamic and competitive world.

A Vibrant view of world

At Vibrant, we love to think of what’s possible,” Vibrant Credit Union CEO Matt McCombs said at Tuesday’s press conference. “What’s possible in business, what’s possible in our lives and what’s possible in our communities.”

Vibrant CEO Matt McCombs talks at Tuesday’s press conference in the location of the future JA Inspiration Center (photo by Jonathan Turner).

We are facing challenges in business, our world and communities like never before, he said. “We’re seeing a struggling economy, lack of a skilled workforce and certainly an evolving business model.”

To combat that takes leadership like Junior Achievement is doing in financial literacy and career readiness.

“We couldn’t think of a better thing to invest in, in our community to help shape the future of what the Quad Cities looks like over the next couple decades than to be part of the JA Inspiration Center, McCombs said.

Many Vibrant employees are JA volunteers (the credit union provides eight paid hours a year to volunteer, which may grow), he noted. The headquarters employs 170 people, and neighboring Vibrant Coffeehouse employs about 30.

“JA is one of the most impactful organizations in our community,” McCombs said after the press conference. “When we found the challenges they were looking at for a new home, the amount of cost and energy it would take just to get the facility, takes away from the program.”

“The world is changing and banking as an industry is changing dramatically,” he said. “Technology is making its true impact on banking.”

JA helps kids think of what is possible and what they can create in their careers, he said. “We need creators, we need dreamers, to think about where this is going.”

Meeting school, public needs

Rachel Savage, superintendent of the Moline-Coal Valley School District, said JA helps schools prepare students for the world of work and offers career exploration at all grade levels, enabling students to make informed career decisions.

Moline-Coal Valley schools superintendent Rachel Savage (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Parents want students to develop communication skills, empathy, responsibility, financial literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, perseverance and career readiness – and JA helps with all that.

Employers seek new employees who have technical skills and soft skills, and JA helps that, Savage said, noting students want “hands-on, real world learning experiences that are applicable to their everyday lives.”

“Junior Achievement not only helps with that, but has become the true standard of quality when it comes to providing real-world applicable learning opportunities for students in the Quad Cities,” she said.

The location for the new center is a symbol of “the commitment of this community to positively affect the potential of our youth,” the superintendent said. “It will be a beacon for generations to come and I believe will inspire future businesses, economic growth and development and be in an incentive for youth in our community to call the Quad Cities their permanent home.”

Zoe Perez, a freshman at Moline High School, spoke about the benefits of JA (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Zoe Perez, a Moline High freshman, said JA classes were the favorite part of her school day.

“Junior Achievement always gave me the belief that I could do whatever I put my mind to in business,” she said. “They taught me how to save and manage money. JA just didn’t give me opportunities; they gave me a wonderful community.”

Zoe said she never got to go to Biz Town because of COVID, but is “beyond excited for all the young kids who get to experience the new JA Inspiration Center, coming next year.”

The Tuesday event showed a brief video about a similar JA Discovery Center in Atlanta. Inside the Georgia World Congress Center, that space serves over 30,000 middle school students a year, simulating a small Atlanta.

“That’s our vision – that’s what we hope to replicate in the Quad Cities for our youth,” Nelson said.

Dougal Nelson, President & CEO of Junior Achievement of the Heartland (left), accepts 2022 Karl Flemke Pioneer Achievement Award from Jack Kosakowski, President & CEO of Junior Achievement USA at the JA National Leadership Conference in Fort Worth, Tex. (contributed photo)

To learn more about the JA Inspiration Center, and to donate to the capital campaign, visit the JA website HERE.