Amy Kuchenbecker honored by ECCL
Submitted by Jim Shields, ECCL Education Council
“You never spend more money than you make! You never spend more money than you make!”
This enthusiastic chant is performed often and quite loudly in every one of Amy Kuchenbecker’s Junior Achievement (JA) sessions at Three Oaks Middle School. Making eighth graders, a typically unexcited crowd, care about personal money management to the point of shouting and cheering is a formidable challenge. But if anyone can achieve it, Kuchenbecker can.
The Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL) has named her “Volunteer of the Year” for her work in facilitating the “2-5-8-Graduate” program, a collaborative effort of the ECCL, the Village of Estero and Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida. Initiated by lifetime Junior Achiever and ECCL volunteer Jim Shields, the program brings together community volunteers to team-teach JA financial lessons to kids from second through 12th grade.
Information on how to use credit cards, write a check, get health insurance, apply for a job or avoid bankruptcy is often veiled in the mysteries of the adult world. A longtime, multigenerational business owner and an Estero resident for the past 15 years, Kuchenbecker saw both her daughters going to school and then college with no formal training on how to handle their personal finances. That made her determined to volunteer as a facilitator for JA programs at Estero-area schools.
For the two school years the program has been active, 2,662 students have participated in these ECCL volunteer-led JA classes, constituting one-third of all Estero-area students. In a non-pandemic environment, by the time they graduate high school, the kids who were second-graders in 2018 will have been engaged with five JA programs totaling 31 classroom sessions. All JA programs are focused on three financial education pillars: financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship.
In addition to being chief program administrator of the “2-5-8- Graduate” program, Kuchenbecker serves as eighth-grade section leader in charge of recruitment and organizing class sessions with volunteers. Kuchenbecker also was lead volunteer in teaching 55 classroom sessions to students in all grades of the program.
“She has been such a pioneer with the 2-5-8-Graduate initiative in Estero. All her hard work and dedication is what helped make the program such a success,” JA Education Manager Vanessa Santiago said. “Amy is always there to assist when needed: in the classroom, recruitment, training, and our annual benefit gala. She is a JA Hero!”
Kuchenbecker has been instrumental in leading curriculum updates to increase student engagement, and she tirelessly manages communication with volunteers and the schools.
“Amy not only has the mettle to do this, but does it with remarkable flair. She can talk with everyone with ease, from school principals to volunteers of various ages and backgrounds,” said Shields.
Kuchenbecker’s passion is best witnessed when she leads eighth-grade classes. She has her pulse on what a 14 year-old wants to know about the world of adult financial independence.
“Some are surprised to learn that electricity doesn’t come free with the house or that they will change many jobs until they find a good fit, and that is OK,” Kuchenbecker said. We try to teach them self-awareness so they can find out which careers might be good for them.”
Angie Guillette, Kuchenbecker’s teaching partner, adds, “Amy does a great job of working in stories that are relatable to the kids, including examples from her own life and current events that the kids are aware of.”
Michael Wasson, second grade section leader, calls Kuchenbecker “the communication glue that makes our entirely volunteer-based program work.”
Jeremy Jasper, section leader for 11th and 12th grades and chair of the ECCL’s Education Council, adds, “Amy is a wonderful human being who understands the importance of providing worthwhile, real-world applicable skills to our area students. She is our den mother, our organizer, and the bright ball of energy that fuels us all to be our best.”