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All educators have tough jobs these days, since there are a lot of students out there to teach, often with limited resources. But Michael Gaffney has a special challenge: He’s charged with reaching the students not in one class or even one school, but at all schools across much of the region.

As president of Junior Achievement of North Central Ohio, Gaffney works from the organization’s offices on Firestone Parkway, near the intersection of South Main Street and Archwood Avenue in Akron. He has been on the job since 2013 and had a long history of working with area nonprofits before that, including more than a decade at United Way of Summit County. But he says working with students and teachers in his current jobs means he still learns something new almost every day.

He’s often on the road, visiting teachers, principals, superintendents and students at hundreds of schools. And if he’s not doing that, there’s a good chance he’s at a company in the region, drumming up volunteers to teach classes and to share their experience with students, or raising money for JA’s annual budget of about $650,000.

I spent 14 years as a marketing and communications guy for United Way of Summit County. Before that, the first half of my career was in public relations, advertising and copywriting and all that. Then I got a chance to work at a small nonprofit hospital up in Cleveland. It’s now part of the Cleveland Clinic. I liked the nonprofit thing, and so then I worked at United Way and thought maybe someday it would be fun to run a nonprofit. This opportunity came along, and here I am. … My predecessor had been here for 30 years before I got the job.

We cover 12 counties out of our office here, and we continue to work to find more volunteers and more funding to reach more students. Our goal is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in the global economy, so it’s a pretty cool mission. Our three pillars are entrepreneurship, workforce readiness and financial literacy.

I don’t think there’s anyone I sit across the table from who doesn’t find something in that that they care about. … I was at Diebold today, they want financial literacy, because they want more banks. … All employers have concerns. Go to any manufacturing place and they have jobs open because they can’t find people to fill them.

In our 12-county area, we did about 1,100 programs last year with about 24,000 students. We reach about 11% of the student population in our territory, but it always needs to grow. There were approximately 13,000 students and about 625 programs in Summit County last year.

For one thing, it’s not all about college. You can make a good living as an electrician, a carpenter or a welder today. So we’re working a lot more with the trades and bringing them in to talk to students. … That’s one of the things I like about what the college and career academies at Akron Public Schools are doing. If you can get kids into an area of interest, that’s when they want to learn.

There are three main parts. Getting the superintendent or principal or the teacher to say "Oh, JA, that’s cool, let’s do it." That’s the easy part, because we teach financial literacy and bring community people into the classroom, and they see the value in that. … Finding volunteers is a little bit harder, but it’s not terrible. We have good relationships with the banks, Goodyear and others. The hardest part always is raising the money.

One of the things I like about JA is that these kids want to know more about what their future is going to look like. They’re asking questions about that all the time. Helping them learn about career clusters or how to research government websites and see what’s growing and what’s not — that’s all interesting and rewarding stuff.

Absolutely. They’re kids, they have their moments, sure, but when you see that light bulb go off, it’s all worth it. … I’m very encouraged by them. I think with today’s kids the sky is the limit, and they’re very excited about the opportunities ahead of them. … You talk to kids now and they’re excited about the future, and they tell you, "I want to make a difference."