When he was a student in Hilo in the early ‘90s, Jimmy Chan initially didn’t pay much attention to the lessons delivered by Junior Achievement volunteers.
Really, he and his friends were there to meet girls.
“But they didn’t want to talk to us,” he said, laughing as he spoke to about 50 Junior Achievement of Kauai supporters at Hotel Coral Reef in Kapaa Friday night.
But Chan began to heed those messages of money management to heart. He decided he better take advantage of his opportunity to understand what it takes to succeed in business.
So he listened. He learned. About budgeting, about profit margins, about developing products and about being innovative and pursuing ideas. He learned to work hard and work smart and he learned to believe in himself.
Those lessons paid off when he started the Hawaiian Chip Company 15 years ago from scratch, cooking right out of his kitchen. He started selling his product at swap meets, peddling bags of chips early in the morning, and talking to everyone who would listen to his pitch and give him a chance.
“I never lacked in confidence in putting myself out there, and that was key in helping save the Hawaiian Chip Company,” he said.
It wasn’t an instant success story. He faced rejection. He faced difficult financial times. He questioned if he could make it.
Make it, Chan did.
His company grew and today has annual sales in the $2 million range, employs about 25, offers multiple chip products and has a warehouse and store in Kalihi.
He credits Junior Achievement for his achievements.
“JA really helped me out a lot. Not just with my business, but in life,” he said. “JA really helped me get a good sense of what good work ethic is, how to deal with failure and adversity.”
Now in its second year on Kauai, Junior Achievement has a strong roster of volunteers — professionals in their field — who share their financial expertise with the island’s youth. This year, some 30 classes with about 700 K-12 students are hearing the ABCs of monetary matters. They are being taught about financial literacy and entrepreneurship on island.
Friday’s event was a chance for JA Kauai to update its progress, note its achievements and raise awareness of its activities as it continues to build the partnership between business and education. They spoke of how mentors of the community opened their arms and embraced and welcomed Junior Achievement to Kauai to benefit the island’s youth.
It’s important to continue that momentum, said Brian Alston, resident service manager, with Mutal Housing Association of Hawaii, a JA volunteer.
“We’re trying to capitalize on something that is important and valued to many people here on this island,” he said.
Kim Canepa, president of JA Hawaii on Oahu, said it was amazing to see such a great turnout.
“We are so excited to be part of this movement on Kauai,” she said. “It really is a grassroots effort.”
Dan Hamada, principal of Kapaa High School, said the district offers courses to prepare students for careers, college and citizenship. A goal is for students to not just be good employees, but be entrepreneurs, too — to have an innovative spirit.
Junior Achievement, he said, “has given us a road map of how to be successful.”
Chris Young with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management credited organizations like the Kapaa Rotary, Aloha Angels and the Kauai Chamber of Commerce for “really giving birth” to JA on Kauai.
When Young began looking into bringing JA to Kauai a few years ago, he was excited when he learned of its impact and staying power on the Big Island and Oahu. He was confident JA would have that same influence on Kauai, thanks to so many willing fiscal leaders willing to donate their time and talents.
“We will make a tremendous difference investing in our youth,” Young said.
A long-term goal is to have all students on Kauai, some 10,000, take JA classes. It teaches intangibles not found elsewhere. It helps students develop and believe in their unique skill sets and find their own path, Young said.
“I love the entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “That’s what all employers and businesses want.”
Ivory Kealani Lloyd, district manager of JA Kauai, was thrilled with Friday’s show of support for the nonprofit program. More volunteers, resources and donations are welcome.
“I hope you will all join us in the ride to grow JA Kauai because it really is going to take everyone,” she said, smiling. “That’s why you all are here.”