Radhames Nova: Contributing to the future leadership of America
Story By: Jason Ogden
Radhames Nova, the president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Northern New England, has been working to help students pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become successful, much like he did as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic.
Nova, who rose to his current position in 2016, believes JA — an organization that promotes financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness in students — could be the key to help today’s youth, especially minorities, become future leaders in business.
According to Nova, his story is similar to many immigrants who come to the United States. He began school in the Dominican Republic, but after eighth grade went to school in the U.S. after immigrating there with his family in 1989.
After coming to the U.S. and settling in the community of Lawrence, Mass., Nova assimilated into the culture. “I did not speak any English at all,” he said, “and when I came to the United States I had to learn a new language and a new culture and a new way of life.” “I was started off at a bilingual school. I was studying in Spanish and English, but within a year I was a member of the Boys and Girls Club,” he said.
Nova was able to transfer to Central Catholic High School, through the help of the club, and after graduation he managed to get into Middlebury College in Vermont.
During his time at Middlebury, Nova studied foreign languages and was looking at an international career. By the time he graduated in 1997, he could speak English, French, Italian and his native Spanish.
After college, Nova joined the Peace Corps and spent time in South Africa helping bring education reform to that part of the world, before coming back to Lawrence and the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrence in 2000.
“I became the first director of development of the same Boys and Girls club in Lawrence, including leading the capital campaign to build a new Boys and Girls Club,” he said. From there, he went to work for Fidelity Investments, but decided to shift gears after his first foray into the private sector.
“I was 35 years old and I started to think about what I really wanted to do long-term,” he said. “I came to the realization that my purpose in life was to help other young people from the inner city with diverse backgrounds.”
Nova became involved in the Boston chapter of ALPFA and worked to bring more Latinos on the boards of JA chapters and get professionals to volunteer with JA in the classroom. He said throughout his career he has learned that his Latino heritage could be an advantage in his goal to help better educate children.
“We identify ourselves by the country we come from, but then you realize you’re part of a much bigger family,” he said. “Where there are many of us from different countries, we share a similar culture; you do realize that you have a bigger family of people across the country.”
After coming to the U.S., Nova said he learned that reaching across to other cultures was a valuable experience.
“Early on I made a decision to assimilate to the local community,” he said. “When I went to high school my first year, I was part of the bilingual program. I could speak Spanish and I could talk to people who were like me. At the age of 14, I made a decision to go to a private Catholic school that was all English. I was the only Latino in my class.”
Nova said he attended the school not because he wanted to break from Latinos, but because he wanted to do the best academically he could. The school was an awakening for him, he said.
“I learned not only to be proud of my culture, but how to interact with people of different cultures,” he said. “I continued to be proud of my heritage, but I learned to be successful in this country, you have to learn to speak the language and interact with all the people.”
Nova said he believes that JA is an important organization not only for Latino youth, but for all youth. “Our mission is critical. It is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy,” he said. “We’re a global organization that serves 10 million children across the world. Here in the U.S., we serve 4.8 million children and 25 percent are Latino.”
Nova said with those statistics, there are few Latino representatives at the top of JA though the organization is working to change that.
“We have very few who are serving on the board and we are struggling to recruit volunteers who can share their story,” he said.
One of the advantages of joining JA is having experts in the financial field teach in the classrooms on a volunteer basis.
“We want people to take leadership roles at the head of organizations,” he said. Nova believes JA can ultimately help Latinos thrive in the coming decades. He said it is a tradition in the Latino culture to be business starters. “But we’re not learning the skills on how to start and grow a business in any formal way,” he said. “Imagine how many more children, including Latino children, who would be starting businesses if they had more training.” Nova said many people are not financially literate, and as a result do not participate in the economy.
JA programs are available to all students, but a special emphasis has been placed on reaching young people with the greatest need. This includes those in immigrant and minority communities.
“We are focusing on areas where it is needed the most,” he said. Nova said the unique part is this education is not being provided by teachers, but by corporate and community volunteers.
“The whole model of JA is to put these role models in front of students, which goes a long way,” he said.
A lot of groups in Massachusetts have assisted with JA, Nova said.
“JA of Northern New England is fortunate to count on the support of some of the world’s best companies for both volunteer and financial resources,” Nova said. “For example, Santander Bank has been among our largest financial contributors and, perhaps more importantly, over 100 of their employees have volunteered to deliver JA programs to over 750 students during this school year alone.”
The group has been able to make lasting partnerships as well.
“We also value our third year of partnership with MassMutual on a program called FutureSmart, which serves over 1,500 middle school students in the classroom and brings them to the TD Garden for a day of financial literacy education and inspirational speakers,” Nova said. “These corporations and others that support JA understand that investing in our youth now is critical to the success of our youth, our communities and our country.”
Nova said he sees a great future in the Latino community.
“I am very optimistic about the future of the Latino community; I see a huge opportunity to make an impact worldwide,” he said. “It’s a matter of all us working together to prepare our young people.”
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