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Heidi Christopherson and Junior Achievement North

Securian Financial® in the Community

Giving back to the communities where we live and work is part of who Securian Financial is as a company. Our employees, retirees and board members are at the heart of our culture of giving, and they are empowered to support causes they care about.

Heidi Christopherson, 2nd VP, Affinity Solutions and Retirement Recordkeeping Technology, has been a board member of Junior Achievement (JA) North since 2016. She also volunteers for many of its programs and events to get the full experience of the organization whose goal is to help students build skills to succeed. She was recently honored with the Junior Achievement USA’s Silver Leadership Award, which recognizes board members for demonstrating strong leadership, engagement and commitment to JA’s mission.

We recently talked with Heidi, where she brought to life the significant ways she and Securian Financial have been involved in the community.

Tell us about Junior Achievement?

Junior Achievement prepares young people with the skillset and mindset to build thriving communities. Through experiential learning focused on financial literacy, career readiness and entrepreneurship, students build the skills required to succeed in today’s dynamic world.

In addition, their programs are designed to correlate with state academic standards and help educators meet classroom goals.

What led you to get involved with Junior Achievement?

Securian Financial has been a strong supporter of Junior Achievement for many years through helping with their programs and board support. When a board position opened, it was wonderful timing because they wanted and needed someone with technology expertise and resources. I’ve spent my entire 30-year career in technology roles at Securian Financial, so this was a perfect fit.

What do you find most appealing about what they do in our community?

I was drawn to JA from the educational aspect and the outreach they do to help all students get opportunities that will help prepare them for life. We have a huge achievement gap in Minnesota and our programs are helping reach kids who need help to succeed. I have children, so I know how important it is to get kids truly engaged in learning.

I love the JA programs. There are three core programs, and my favorite is the JA Company Program, designed to empower students in grades nine through 12 to understand the power of building a business. Students identify a need or problem in the community and work toward being part of the solution by launching and operating a business. This is so powerful; it’s truly hands-on learning.

JA Biz Town, for fifth and sixth graders, is an in-person experience that takes place in a simulated city at the JA St. Paul office. Weeks of classroom learning culminate in a day-long visit where students are paired with volunteers and work in one of the JA BizTown shops. They have a town, a mayor, companies with a CEO and CFO, and they come in and have those roles for the day. The students are actively participating in a simulated economy, and they love it.

JA Finance is for middle and high-school students where kids get to be adults for a day. They get family and income scenarios and visit businesses to gather information to make financial decisions. They have credit and debit cards to use and learn life skills on budgeting and how to build one that works.

The consistent feedback we get from the kids is: “Adulting is hard!”

What have you worked on with Junior Achievement about which you are most excited?

I’m most excited about 3DE, a national learning model that is rolling out in two St. Paul Public Schools in 2024 and will expand over time. It breaks from traditional classroom structure to bring real-world connections to the learning experience.

Students are presented with case challenges from representatives of businesses, government or nonprofits, and they have five weeks to work as small-business teams to create recommendations to present to the organizations.

Students build communication, collaboration, cultural agility and critical thinking skills that will serve them throughout life. The program was launched in Atlanta in 2015 and now serves 44 schools in 10 states. School districts have seen increased graduation and college enrollment rates and decreases in absenteeism.

I’m proud that Securian Financial is an anchor partner of JA North, committing $1 million to help launch and scale the 3DE program in the St. Paul Public Schools.

What skills or experience have you gained from your role with JA?

I’ve learned so much! I’ve expanded my DEI perspective through the diverse populations we serve and serving on the DEI sub-committee of the board. I’ve also gained a lot from a leadership viewpoint. Sara Dziuk became the president and CEO of JA shortly before the COVID pandemic.  We were challenged to move from an almost exclusively in-person model to fully digital in a very short period of time.  Sara’s strong leadership was one of the primary reasons the organization was so successful.

Additionally, we made the decision to return funds to a very large donor after determining that their approach to business and values did not align with who we are as an organization. This showed outstanding leadership and strong ethics.  JA has a well-run board with many female leaders, and I’m happy to be part of it.

What advice do you give others who are interested in getting active in a nonprofit?

Go for it! If you are even considering getting involved in a non-profit, check it out. See if it’s a good match. You’ll learn and grow so much. You have nothing to lose. It’s free!

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Junior Achievement North

Learn more about JA North and its programs.

DOFU 12-2023