Joyce Stoner proves that volunteering can ‘Make a Difference’

Make a Difference WI Kids

Students in Milwaukee and surrounding schools are learning the ABC’s of money, thanks to local business leaders and A. O. Smith employee, Joyce Stoner, a volunteer for the non-profit organization Make a Difference-Wisconsin (MAD-WI). 

Make a Difference-Wisconsin is a non-profit organization which started in 2006 by a local business man who saw there was a need for personal finance education in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system. With that, he created a six-session financial literacy class taught by local business leaders like Joyce. The six classes are broken up into three modules that focus on:

  1. Budgeting and saving; 
  2. Understanding checking accounts;
  3. Understanding credit cards and credit history/scores.

Joining the organization in 2006, Joyce has been sharing her personal finance experiences with 250-300 different high school juniors and seniors from charter schools like the Ronald Reagan College Prep High School, technology-based schools, and Second Chance Partners alternative program for non-traditional students. 

“I have two kids of my own, and I know how important it is to manage money, so this program allowed me to share some of my own experiences,” Joyce said.

The program works to educate students by bringing the information down to a high school level of understanding. The program incorporates presentations, activities, and videos with high school students, giving real-life examples and situations of how to manage money. 

“It’s a well-organized program that the students really enjoy, and get a lot out of,” Joyce continued. 

With the success of the program, there are still challenges Joyce and other volunteers face. “I’ve had large classes of about 40 students, but with only 30 showing up, with different students each session. The schools have a problem with high absences,” Joyce said. 

And with high absenteeism, or unfocused students, “sometimes you just need to let those students be, and focus on the ones who are actually interested,” Joyce explained.

But through the challenges, good always comes about. “Getting to the end of class evaluations has been the most rewarding because even if it isn’t shown outwardly (from students), it’s great to actually know that these students did walk away with some nugget of new knowledge.” 

Make a Difference-Wisconsin has recruited almost 1,000 local business volunteers and last year alone educated 5,422 students about the importance of managing personal finances. The program is now expanding into some of the suburban school districts. “I hope the students come away from the program with some confidence that they can control their future and their money and know that there is opportunity for them,” Joyce observed.

Joyce joined A. O. Smith in 2009. In her role as Senior Legal Specialist, Joyce provides support in the areas of asbestos, product liability and commercial litigation, bankruptcy, legal holds and the department’s technology needs. She previously worked at Foley & Lardner LLP. Joyce graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and received a paralegal certificate from the Milwaukee Business Technical Institute.