When I Grow Up, I Want to Make a Difference

October is a month chalked full of special occasions, gatherings, sporting events and fall festivities. But there is one very special day that we, at Blue Compass, encourage you to observe: National Make a Difference Day, Oct. 22, 2016.

What is National Make a Difference Day?

Each year, on the fourth Saturday in October, National Make a Difference Day brings together millions of volunteers from around the world to improve the lives of others. It is essentially a collaborative, one-day community service event which is right up our ally.

Throughout the year, our team at Blue Compass commits to providing quality products and services — not only for our clients, but for the community of Des Moines and beyond. From fixing up homes with Rebuilding Together of Greater Des Moines, to hosting the office’s annual Be Merry, Choose a Charity contest, we take great pride in helping others. Several team members also volunteer outside the office for various causes, independently making a difference by donating time to their church, children’s sports leagues, schools, and charities such as Meals on Wheels and local homeless shelters.

Last spring, I was fortunate to volunteer with my daughter’s 5th-grade class as they experienced the “real world” at JA BizTown; a fully interactive, simulated town facility created by Junior Achievement of Central Iowa. I hope that sharing my story of volunteerism will encourage others to get involved in their community. Not only on National Make a Difference Day, but for years to come.

A Dose of Reality

At JA Biztown, kids “go to work” for a day in their chosen profession, connecting the dots between what they learn in school and life in the real world. There are bankers, CEOs, insurance agents, construction workers, advertising executives, CFOs, non-profit directors — even a town Mayor. The students work hard, earn paychecks and learn a thing or two about entrepreneurship and financial responsibility.

That day, I volunteered to help at JA BizTown and was assigned to supervise a group of six students in the local restaurant. I guided them through tasks related to supply and demand, pricing and marketing goods, and customer service. I wasn’t there to direct them; rather, my role was to provoke independent thinking, teamwork and responsibility.

As the students applied their classroom learning to the workplace, I watched with great pride. They spent the day collaborating, compromising, brainstorming and implementing ideas and strategies to sell their products and run a successful business. There was a buzz of excitement, and everyone played a part. We were a team, working together to achieve a common goal and make a difference. It felt great!

While volunteering at JA BizTown, I thought of my team at Blue Compass, and I smiled. I’m one of the lucky employees who work at Blue Compass, a web design, development and digital marketing firm in West Des Moines, Iowa. I love what I do, and I’m blessed to be surrounded with amazing coworkers and friends. Each one of us has a unique personality and a different skillset, and we thrive on collaboration and teamwork. Together, we “do digital” and we do it really well.

After the day spent at JA BizTown, I returned to my office with an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I couldn’t stop thinking about my childhood and what I had wanted to be when I grew up, which was a physician. I may not be a medical doctor, but I do spend most of my day helping people — whether it’s clients, coworkers or others — thanks to our company-wide service days. I thought about those students, wondering if their interests today will translate into their future career or maybe pique their interest enough to launch them into a volunteer role. Who will actually become the local banker, mayor, teacher or artist? Who may donate their time outside of a career to help make a difference in the lives of others?

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be …

As we all know, being an adult is hard work. There are bills to pay, paychecks to earn and countless responsibilities to juggle. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, if you find yourself stuck in a job that you don’t enjoy; the day-to-day grind can be downright miserable.
Now, rewind and think back to when you were a child. Were you prepared for the reality of adulthood? If you had known then what you know now, would your life be any different?

I asked my coworkers what they had wanted to be when they grew up. Had their childhood hobbies and interests influenced their career path or volunteer choices? Did they utilize them in their career today? I hope you find the following responses to be as interesting (and sometimes humorous) as I did. Here’s what a handful of them had to say:

Cary Coppola, CEO


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Blue Angel pilot.
  • I’ve always been interested in the inner-workings of electronics. I would take computers, fax machines, speakers and stereos apart. I would usually put them back together or combine them into a completely different product. I absolutely use those interests in nearly everything I do at Blue Compass. From coding to leadership, I am constantly trying to engineer a new way to have elements work together.

Drew Harden, President


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be an elephant trainer.
  • My skills mostly revolved around artistic talents like drawing. I received the Super Nintendo game Mario Paint in 1992, where I started using these skills to draw and animate. This experience translated well into my first internship at age 19, where I learned Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, and After Effects. I still use these programs today - minus Flash.

Kayla Davison, Web Designer


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I loved everything to do with the ocean.
  • Though I still love the ocean, art became an interest I discovered my senior year of high school - I took an elective art class that I needed to graduate. I found myself enjoying every minute of the class, and the first drawing I completed was selected to be displayed in an art gallery in Minneapolis!

Melissa Sporrer, Account Executive


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher.
  • As a child, I liked to play school a lot and “present” things, which I do today in my current role!

Nathan Phillips, Account Executive


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be a professional football player or a writer.
  • After receiving my BA in English and spending time in the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I do get to use my English skills both writing and editing as a part of my career.

Sara Johnson, Digital Marketing Associate


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. The thought of helping not only animals but their owners as well seemed like a wonderful thing.
  • Though I obviously didn’t end up becoming a veterinarian, I am still helping others. By working with companies to accomplish their digital marketing goals, I am fulfilling their needs in a unique and creative way.

Stephanie Grangaard, Digital Marketing Strategist


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be a bunny who helped the Easter Bunny during the busy season.
  • I used to love playing the "commercial game" where my sister and I would mute the TV, and we had to guess the brand/product the commercial was for before it was displayed on the screen. Guess you could say I loved advertising from an early age!

Stephen Crane, Front End Developer


  • When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lot of things. Other than the typical doctor, lawyer, or firefighter response, hockey was a big part of my childhood so naturally, I wanted to be the next Wayne Gretzky. I never imagined I'd be a developer/code junky.
  • I've always been pretty imaginative. Growing up, my group of friends and I were always making up some story, usually centered around the plot of a recent movie or video game one of us had been playing. I think imagination is key in any industry, but especially in the realm of problem solving and code. Seeking out how to do something better or make a process easier for you, your team, your clients, and your end users is very rewarding.

Get Involved!

Young or old, we can all make a difference in the world, both in the time we commit to our education and/or careers and in the time we volunteer to others outside of our day-to-day life.

At Blue Compass, we’ve all come a long way since the 5th-grade (despite some of the shenanigans you might observe in our office), but the lessons my daughter and her friends learned at JA BizTown still apply. Hard work pays off and there’s no “I” in “TEAM:” everyone’s role is equally important, and we can all make a difference.

I’ve shared my volunteer experience with several people, encouraging them to get involved with JA BizTown and other educational programs out there. I highly recommend it to anyone reading this blog as well. After all, these students are our future.

For more information on National Make a Difference Day and how you can get involved October 22, 2016 and in the years that follow, visit makeadifferenceday.com.  

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Junior Achievement of Central Iowa empowers young people to own their economic success. The volunteer-delivered, K-12 programs foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills. JA’s experiential learning sparks students to develop competitive skills and confidence, inspiring them to dream big and reach their potential.