Advisor SpotlightsSubmitted by JBirney Financial, Inc. on November 15th, 2014
Congratulations to John Birney! In the last issue of the newsletter, due to the timing of the award, we were unable to share the story of John Birney and the reason he won Honorable Mention for the “Catalyst Award in the 2014 Invest in Others Community Leadership Awards.” We would like to share his story with you now.
John “JB” Birney wasn’t always a financial advisor. He studied liberal arts in college and majored in special education. He loved teaching and loved the class of exceptional children he taught when he did his practicum. Ultimately his career goals took him on another path, but what he’d learned about brain development and the importance of early childhood education has stayed with him. In fact, he’s passionate about the topic. JB knows that the proper “springboard” in early learning will eventually lead to a stronger workforce and a more robust economic environment. He has served on the board of his church’s preschool and every Monday, for years, he’s participated in Reading Pals, reading to four year olds.
In a nutshell, JB’s position is this: “Ninety percent of a human’s brain development occurs during the first five years of life. This represents the single biggest window of opportunity to positively influence a child’s adult life outcomes. The connection between a community’s healthy and vibrant economy and its investment in kids from birth to five must not be missed, or even understated. Any outlay from the community chest for that age group returns an incredible $17 for every $1 invested. Wow!”
In 2006, JB chaired the St. Johns County (Florida) Chamber of Commerce’s “Business Partners in Education” Action Team. It was there that he saw a powerful presentation by representatives from Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Foundation. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a program that delivers free books to the mailboxes of children from birth to five years old. Growing up poor in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, and having members of her own family who couldn’t read, Dolly Parton sponsored and funded the original program for her hometown of Sevierville in 1996. The program went nationwide (even worldwide) in the early 2000’s. The program only has two qualifications: where you live AND when you were born. Dolly recently delivered her program’s twenty-five millionth book (in person) to a boy in Alabama.
JB immediately thought about how his community could participate in the program. Many potential partners were already friends and he knew that they cared deeply about literacy, education, and early learning. He brought together the St. Johns and Putnam County Community Champions which included: The Early Learning Coalition of Putnam and St. Johns County (to which JB held a gubernatorial appointment and served as the Board’s Vice Chair), The St. Johns County Public Library, The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce (of which he’s a past Chair ’05-’06), The St. Johns County Education Foundation, The US Post Office, Flagler Hospital, Head Start, Healthy Start, The St. Johns County School District, Putnam Community Medical Center, and many, many more individuals and businesses. As JB says, “Now the game has been changed forever in parts of Northeast Florida!”
From its inception in Putnam and St Johns Counties on May 1, 2008 the effort has been a big success. After just over two years, almost 2,200 kids had enrolled and were receiving a free book in the mail each month. The local hospitals were immersed to the point that Moms were filling out Dolly Parton Imagination Library enrollment forms with their new baby’s birth certificate. Unfortunately, the program had to be discontinued after losing its main funding source in 2011.
In March 2010, JB attended the first session of a leadership program he’d been invited to join, run by the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. He’d lived in Flagler County for over thirteen years and his new United Planners office is located in Flagler Beach. The only agenda items for that first night were an “ice breaker” dinner and deciding on a “class project” that the group members could work on during their brief time together that would benefit the county.
JB enthusiastically shared the Imagination Library success story from St. Johns and Putnam Counties and his new friends from the Leadership Flagler Class XVIII decided to spearhead the effort to bring the program to every child in Flagler County. Once again, JB’s group was blessed with great community partners: The United Way of Flagler and Volusia, The Flagler County Education Foundation, The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, The Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia, The Flagler County Public Library, and many more individuals and businesses. Community funding came in and the program was launched for any child born on or after September 1st, 2010 who resides in Flagler County. With over 700 children registered, the program is still going on, and JB continues to actively support it.
JB’s community knows him well. People respect him, and appreciate his commitment and dedication to educating the community about the importance of the initiatives he supports. It’s often said, “JB just has to talk and people write checks.” The local cable company matches individual donations; some people donate anonymously; the Women of the Hammock Community Church hold an annual tea/luncheon that raised almost $4,000 over the last three years. In March of this year, JB chaired a meeting to initiate the effort in Volusia County, home to Bethune Cookman College and Daytona International Speedway and another local area that will benefit greatly from the Imagination Library program.
The Flagler County program will soon have “graduates” – children who age out of the monthly books as they head off to school. The plan is to track these graduates to see the impact that this early reading will have on their performance – and their lives.
In the financial advisory industry, much has been said and written about how being involved in charitable organizations can help advisors expand their network and build their business. For JB Birney, this was NEVER part of his mindset on community service. And when asked if or how his activities helped him to grow his successful advisory practice, he’s hard-pressed to come up with an answer. Because it simply doesn’t matter to him. What does matter is simply acting on his passion and doing what’s right and what’s possible.
The annual budget for the Flagler County Imagination Library initiative is very modest. Yet the impact is enormous. JB’s dream is to be able to set up an endowment that can help support the effort going forward, yet he will continue to be the head cheerleader because… well because that’s what he does.