By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — In 1985, as secretary and treasurer of Mechanical Systems Inc. in Greensboro, Jim Geiger was invited to contribute $400 to support a new program Junior Achievement of Central North Carolina was launching to place business executives in public-school classrooms — and to volunteer as a “classroom consultant” for the program in a ninth-grade class at Northeast Guilford High School.
“That first experience was so enlightening and positive for me,” says Geiger, who volunteered for Junior Achievement throughout the Guilford County schools for the next 20 years and served on the Junior Achievement board for 25 years, including two years as chair.
In 1986, Jeanne Geiger moved to Greensboro from Harnett County, where she had taught high-school English, and was looking for a teaching job when the executive director of Junior Achievement approached her about managing the new classroom-consultant program and training the volunteers.
She took the job. In 1988, she was named executive director, a position she held until 1999. During her tenure, Junior Achievement expanded beyond Greensboro to all of Guilford County and Rockingham, Alamance and Randolph counties, and also landed a gift of an historic home and land that now serve as its headquarters.
“Thousands and thousands of students have benefited from participating in Junior Achievement as a result of their collective efforts,” says Jaqueline McCracken Wall, president and CEO of the Central North Carolina chapter.
On January 26, at its Business Leaders Hall of Fame and 50th Anniversary Celebration, to be held at Grandover Resort and Conference Center in Greensboro, Junior Achievement will honor the Geigers — who met in 1985, were in 1990, and moved to Wilmington in 1998 — with its Lifetime of Service Award.
The year Jeanne Geiger joined the chapter to head its new classroom-consultants program, corporate volunteers from Junior Achievement served in about 50 classrooms in Greensboro.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, volunteers contributed over 58,000 hours of classroom time, serving nearly 11,000 students in six counties who completed 516 Junior Achievement programs.
Junior Achievement works to help students learn how the economy works by connecting them with business executives who can talk about their actual experience in the marketplace, the Geigers say.
“Jim always called it ‘seat-of-the-pants economics,'” Jeanne Geiger says. “It was the real stuff that experienced business people would bring and share with the kids. It’s this business experience you can’t put a price on that our business people in the community brought into the classroom and used to equip these students with life skills.”
Jim Geiger says that “nuts-and-bolts” perspective is indispensable to help students meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving world.
“If we do not address the educational needs of our young people, our future is in jeopardy,” he says. “Junior Achievement is unique in accomplishing this — taking people who have been there and putting them directly in the classroom as role models and as a resource and as examples for young people. If we don’t do it, this country is in trouble.”
On meeting him, students initially would “test me to see if I was sincere, and they were real good at that,” he says. “Then they started picking your brain for how could I make life better for them. It’s not just the nuts and bolts of economics but also a broader approach to how we treat and address the needs of our young people.”
Jeanne Geiger says the classroom-consultants program also helps students see “the importance of serving one’s community, and work, business and life ethics — a wonderful realm of experience that Junior Achievement is sharing with these kids.”