On May 3, 2011, R.J. Hall is cuttin' a rug to a rap at Brookfield Elementary School.
In 1789, between the premieres of two of Mozart's operas, Benjamin Franklin added a codicil to his will that provided some of the funds for R.J. and his fellow second-graders to enjoy a rhythmic tale of traveling currency.
Franklin left a trust fund of 1,000 pounds (about $4,000 at the time) to the city of Philadelphia to be used for 200 years to assist "young married artificers" in establishing businesses. When that period ended, the money could be distributed to areas beyond Philadelphia.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Michelle Robbins
Second-grader R.J. Hall passes a quarter around a circle while enjoying some rap music. To his left is Morgan Cassidy.
Kris Abraham of Brookfield received flowers Tuesday from Jean Ziegler’s class for her participation in the Junior Achievement program.
That money in Philadelphia, which grew to about $2 million, has helped bring the Junior Achievement program to Trumbull County students.
"We always tell that story because it shows what perennial giving can do," said Larry Haynes, executive director of the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, which administers the fund.
In Brookfield, the program is offered to students in kindergarten through third grade. According to coordinator Dave Ziegler, the local J.A. program covers four counties - Mahoning, Ashtabula, Trumbull and Columbiana.
About the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio:
In 1981, a memorial endowment was established by Paul and Tina O'Brien of Brookfield for their children Jill, Paul Jr. and Stephanie, who died in an accident. Today, there are more than 370 funds in addition to the O'Brien children's legacy.
How it works:
How a community foundation works:
Community Foundations are tax-exempt public charities serving individuals who share the goal of improving the quality of life for all citizens in their region. Individuals, families, businesses and organizations establish permanent endowment funds, which the foundation invests and administers. Community foundations focus on specific geographic areas.
"I work in J.A. in Mercer County. Historically, Brookfield has been included with Mercer County just because that's how the Shenango Valley works," Ziegler said.
So these Trumbull County students, despite being about 380 miles from Philadelphia, are receiving the beginnings of a business education courtesy of Ben Franklin's money.
Although not currently offered in Brookfield, Ziegler said J.A. programs run up to high-school level economics.
For the younger children, it's a sequential, "storybook kind of a program - very light on business or free enterprise,'' Ziegler said.
"By the time they get up to second and third, they're expanding their horizons in the community," he said.
Then, the volunteers talk about production and other aspects of the economy. He said the lessons are activity-based and more than just a lecture.
Kris Abraham of Brookfield has been volunteering to present the program at the school since her oldest son, who is 9, was in kindergarten. At the time, she was a risk manager for the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission.
"It's a great program," Abraham said. In this second-grade class taught by Jean Ziegler is Abraham's other son, Grant.
On Tuesday, during her fifth and final lesson for this school year, she asked the students why people go to the bank - they know it's to get money (sometimes through the plastic tube), to pay bills and to borrow money (for big things like a car or a golden castle).
She distributed a colorful worksheet for students to follow and led a circle activity to trace the quarter's path as it went from the mint to the bank to the businesses in town.
Ben Franklin did not believe that officers of the public should make a profit. In his original will, he designated 2,000 pounds sterling from his income as "President of the State of Massachusetts" to be used toward making the river Schuylkill navigable.
Upon realizing this was a huge undertaking that may not be completed or even begun for several years, he adjusted his wishes the next year to leave the money to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia.
Haynes said the original amount the local foundation received was $31,500. Each year, 5 percent of the market value for the fund is distributed - grants of about $3,000. Even with the giving, the fund also has grown since the 1990s to $40,000.
"What we've been doing with the money is giving it to Junior Achievement," Haynes said.
The philosophy fits - according to its website, J.A. strives to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy, an idea that promotes the same kind of entrepreneurship that Franklin espoused.
"The legislation was really smart in giving it to the community foundations," Haynes said. "We see ourselves as the stewards of the community."
This past week, the last thing Abraham distributed to the second-graders was brownies. That has to be good business.