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May 22, 2019
Community involvement

Guests entering The Grand Event Center ballroom in Columbus, Ohio on May 9, might have felt like they walked on to a set for the next James Bond film. In this world-class casino scene, however, gambling was ancillary, and the roulette, blackjack and other featured games promoted a more altruistic kind of chance. The attendees – more than 300 – were gathered for the 10th annual Casino Night presented by Pepper Construction to benefit Junior Achievement (JA) of Central Ohio.

The donations from the event will give more than 5,800 central Ohio students the chance to engage in JA’s leading-edge interactive experiential learning program. The program is designed to immerse K-12 students in real-world experiences that teach financial literacy, ignite entrepreneurial thinking, and build skills for professional and personal success.

It’s a cause that Paul Francois, President, Pepper Ohio, recognizes as vital to the community.

“Every organization is short on talent today,” he explains. The widening work readiness and skills gap in Ohio suggests the stakes are high for developing a strong workforce. Only 54 percent of the population meet the educational requirements to fill the state’s estimated 1.9 million job vacancies.

Taking dice in hand, Paul and his team are creating a golden-arm impact on the community they serve. They have trailblazed a record-breaking path with each consecutive Casino Night. Since raising enough to send nearly 230 students through Junior Achievement at the inaugural event, Paul says, “There hasn’t been a year that we’ve been down. Together with our trade partners we’ve sustained momentum and exceeded expectations.”

Joining forces to help central Ohio students gain the career and life skills they need to reach their full potential in and beyond the workplace, the construction industry has broadened horizons for more than 21,500 students, contributing more than $1 Million of program funding in one decade.

“Pepper and their trade partners are the strongest force in our work to help shape connections, among adults and youth, that bridge the gap between young people and the future they create,” says Mike Davis, President, JA Central Ohio. “There is a consistent, glowing sense around the great work Pepper does and the passion the team brings to helping young people. Pepper is viewed as moving young lives and the community forward.”

The Pepper Shop in JA BizTown is one such catalyst for growth. Here, fifth graders take on the roles of CEO, CFO, Business Developer, Tradesperson, and Builder in a day-long simulation that provides hands-on exposure to real-world application of what it takes to create and run a business, as well as earn and manage money. The students tackle every responsibility, from building signs to calculating return on investments for construction contracts to submitting proposals for approval, with the goal of paying back their business loan by the end of the day.

Momentum is building. With a 13 percent average annual growth in the number of students served during the last eight years, JA Central Ohio aims to expand their reach. It’s a point of pride for Paul and his team to know that “as the organization has grown, we’ve been a part of fueling that growth.”

The belief in turning commitment into impact doesn’t stop there. Over the past four years alone, the team has dedicated over 1,500 in-kind hours.

“Pepper is a brilliant example of accountability and dedication to a larger objective beyond individual goals,” says Mike. “We are incredibly grateful to Paul and the entire Pepper team for the quality, humanity and joy they bring to JA and the work they do every day.” Mike and JA Development Director Beth Tyburski surprised the team recently with a plaque recognizing this commitment, along with thank you letters from third grade JA students.

The most rewarding aspect, Paul says, “are the stories I hear about children struggling with school who go through the program and how it changes who they become.”

A glance at JA alumni data shows participants do have an edge in defying the odds:

  • They are 67% more likely to have an advanced degree.
  • They are 143% more likely to be involved in entrepreneurship.
  • They earn 20% more than the general public.
  • 90% are confident in their ability to manage money.
  • 88% are satisfied with their career.

How to keep the winning streak going? Not surprisingly, the ambition for Casino Night aims to break new ground, including raising the bar for sponsorships, a collaborative team approach to fundraising, and the unique wide draw of attendees – while remaining true to its Pepper core: a tireless passion for going beyond in serving the communities in which we live and work.