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Throughout Nevada during the pandemic, nonprofit organizations have risen to the occasion to meet the critical and unexpected needs of the community. In their ability to be nimble, they forged alliances with each other and reinvented the way they support the most fragile groups in our population. What the general public may not realize is that those of us who are career-long philanthropy workers are also experts in being flexible and managing the ebb and flow of changing priorities.

The pandemic put a spotlight on systemic problems that have existed in Southern Nevada for decades. When you consider that 327,198 students of the 500,860 enrolled in public schools in Nevada qualified for federal free and reduced lunch programs before the pandemic, it should not be surprising to our communities that there was an overwhelming response for basic needs created by COVID-19-related issues. As we look to our recovery plans, it is important that we identify what previously wasn’t addressed and how we can take strategic action to change what was broken. Nonprofits are the perfect conductor to make systemic changes because they are expected to be flexible, open to partnerships, and produce results with less than optimal resources.

In Southern Nevada, we have spent many years providing for the basic needs of our communities, but we haven't appropriately equipped them to become self-sufficient. Our youth should be the starting place for change. Through education and enhancement of the existing structures in our state that teach life skills that produce economic mobility, Nevada can shape its future, not just for the next legislative cycle but for generations.

Many Nevadans didn’t have savings accounts or reserves for 90 days, let alone for nine months. We embody and live out the message of excess to our own detriment. Nevada ranked sixth per capita in bankruptcies, as reported by the American Bankruptcy Institute's cumulative 2019 Bankruptcy Statistics of states and territories. By directing resources to educate the next generation on how to be ready to manage their financial health, we can make larger impacts in the future of Nevada’s economy.

Community partners such as Junior Achievement of Southern and Northern Nevada have led the way in teaching youth how to manage their finances and how to find their place in the job market. Junior Achievement programs like JA BizTown and JA Finance Park are robust tools that will play a key part in the long-term outcomes for Nevada’s economic sustainability. Both programs focus on educating students in personal finances and career exploration. Many of these students have no one else to teach them these skills, and schools traditionally have had limited curriculum in this area.

Nevada has worked to diversify our economy for years, but has had difficulty overcoming the issue of talent needed by the businesses we want to attract. JA BizTown is an incubator for upper elementary youth to be exposed to careers in Nevada that exist today and that will need employees in the future. JA Finance Park explores the connection of education and earning potential while giving 8th through 12th grade students the experience of what it’s like to be an adult with bills, family, credit, and a budget to balance for the month. 

The time to change Nevada’s economic future is now, and it can be accomplished by investing in the next generation through our education systems and nonprofit partners. We invite business and community leaders around the state to join us in this mission so that our youth are better prepared for the next pandemic or Great Recession.

Michelle Jackson is president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada.

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What Happened Here: A six-part series on COVID-19 in Nevada

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