NJM Insurance Group and Junior Achievement of New Jersey

NJM volunteers assemble at the Village Charter School in Trenton, NJ. At the far right are Pat Hartpence, NJM, and Catherine Milone, JA.

Interview with Catherine Milone, President, Junior Achievement of New Jersey, and Pat Hartpence, Corporate Giving Officer, NJM Insurance.

The Partners:

NJM Insurance Group and Junior Achievement of New Jersey

Partners since: 2009

How has the partnership evolved over time?

NJM’s partnership was initially led by top leadership.  Back in 2009, NJM’s then-President and CEO was invited to observe a Junior Achievement (JA) session in a Trenton, N.J. classroom.  Subsequent to that visit, he suggested that NJM connect with JA to pilot a JA Day experience at a Trenton school neighboring our headquarters office.

The format and degree of employee engagement of the beginning sessions has evolved into partnerships with elementary schools local to NJM’s three offices, with about 82 volunteers annually participating.  Besides the in-school experiences, employees and retirees also engage with middle and high school students at the JA Education Center in Edison, N.J., where they learn about financial empowerment through a real-life simulation.

In addition, NJM employees teach JA career readiness modules to a local school for pregnant and new mothers.  These experiences that ultimately engage more than 110 volunteers annually provide great team-building opportunities for employees as they hone their presentation skills in providing financial literacy and career readiness education to students in their communities.

What do you feel is an innovative feature of the partnership?

Our organizations are aligned in our quest for quality and have together built a foundation of trust and respect through regular transparent communication.  Junior Achievement of New Jersey relishes the positive feedback received from NJM, and also views the constructive suggestions offered by NJM as a powerful gift that can be replicated in volunteer engagement experiences with other partners as JA continuously strives to make its programs the best they can be.

Members of the NJM and JA Teams co-plan every event.  JA provides pre-event training to NJM volunteers to make certain the upcoming experience is explained thoroughly and questions from volunteers answered. School leadership is also on hand to provide a preview of the school and its students.  The JA/NJM relationship resembles a three-legged stool that is anchored by JA, NJM and the participating school.

To assess quality post-event from a 360-degree perspective, NJM not only surveys volunteers about the experience, but also surveys JA to make certain the volunteers met JA’s expectations.  Beyond this, JA/NJM teams also meet post-event to debrief about all aspects of the activity.

Through the more-than-a-decade-long JA/NJM partnership, the two organizations have become more than community colleagues; they have become friends.  This is evident as the JA Team participates as part of the NJM Team in NJM-sponsored charity walks.

Where do you see the partnership going in the future?

Pat Hartpence, NJM, assists students at Village Charter.

A year ago, JA made a strategic pivot to a virtual environment for all program initiatives, special events and operations, with an unwavering commitment to innovation in every facet of the organization. In this time of COVID, JA and NJM are exploring virtual volunteer opportunities that could supplement in-person experiences well into the future.  JA will encourage High School Hero Alumni, college-enrolled students who taught JA sessions in high school to apply for NJM internships.  JA/NJM will continue to brainstorm about new events – including Fireside-type virtual chats – exploring a “day in the life of NJM employees.”

This pivot to virtual has created tremendous opportunity, but it also poses new challenges and risks that are monitored carefully.  Protecting children, volunteers, corporate partners like NJM and the JA brand is critically important and something taken extremely seriously.  Risk management and mitigation is a must and is a requirement JA views as an absolute priority.

Once COVID is behind us, NJM would like to invite JA students to visit our offices for a tour and presentations on the basics of insurance and driver safety.  As NJM is expanding its footprint to other mid-Atlantic states, we’ll be looking to JA to help make connections with counterparts in other states.

Recent Success Story:

Pre-COVID, NJM participated in an inaugural JA-hosted career fair that every 8th grader from Trenton was invited to attend. This year, based on the overwhelming success of the event, the career fair will be held virtually and the audience will expand to include 100 New Jersey companies with an expected reach of more than 10,000 middle and high school students.