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World's Largest Junior Financial Achievement Center Opens

Eighth-graders in the Junior Achievement program
Eighth-graders in the Junior Achievement program are assigned business identities.

This month, buses will arrive in Coconut Creek at the world’s largest Junior Achievement “world” center to deposit the first of an estimated 50,000 students who will visit annually for an education in hands-on financial decision-making.

JA World Huizenga Center at Broward College opens nearly 20 years after Marti Huizenga, wife of the Fort Lauderdale billionaire, visited a financial education program called Enterprise Village in Pinellas County at the behest of vacation home neighbor Gus Stavros, a philanthropist who funded the initial program in Pinellas. She resolved to bring something similar to the Fort Lauderdale area.

Junior Achievement of South Florida developed a plan for a giant facility, got Broward College to lease it land just off Florida’s Turnpike for $1 a year and convinced Broward schools to mandate that all fifth- and eighth-graders receive the equivalent of a week’s financial education in their schools and then spend a day at JA World, the largest of 33 such JA facilities in the U.S., Japan and Mexico.

$14.5-million JA World Huizenga Center

At the center, fifth-graders work as proprietors and civic leaders at businesses and offices in a mini-city, trying to satisfy customers, pay off loans and make a profit. Eighth-graders are assigned identities (annual income, education, job) and must prepare budgets and then pay for housing and necessities.

The Huizengas made the initial donation of $2 million. Wayne Huizenga lunched with supporters and lent his plane to fly people to other JA World sites. Local employers sponsor “storefront” space — all those companies and businesses where the children learn to work — to fund annual operations, though JA still needs donations to meet its budget.

Says, Melissa Aiello, JA’s president, of the opening, “it’s a dream come true after many, many years.”