By Jayanthi Ragubathi, 2017 Get It Back Campaign Intern
Children aren’t the usual focus for financial education. Although reading, writing, and math are fundamental skills taught in the public education system, lessons in finance are often left to parents.
Unfortunately, this gap in education becomes obvious when children and youth begin interacting with money. Brenda Brame, program manager of the Kent County Tax Credit Coalition at the Heart of West Michigan United Way, noticed that many young parishioners at her local church encountered common problems related to being unbanked, like paying to cash checks.
Brenda worked with a local school in Grand Rapids that partnered with a bank to integrate financial education into its curriculum. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which encourages banks to meet the needs of their communities, especially those of low- and moderate-income residents, made the partnership possible. The program, however, was only offered in select schools located near the bank.
To expand the program to youth in West Michigan, Brenda worked with Gertrude Croom a member of the her local church host the Brown-Hutcherson Ministries Youth Savings Program. As valued and trusted pillars of the community, churches provide an ideal setting for financial education classes. After meeting with the bank’s CRA vice president, the church’s pastor, and church members, Brenda and Gertrude easily convinced parishioners to enroll their children in the program.
There are two components to the program: financial education workshops and practice with money management. The program uses lesson plans from VISA’s Practical Money Skills to teach financial workshops catered to youth age 8 to 18. For the youngest children ages 5 to 7, Brenda uses the For You, For Me, For Later toolkit from Sesame Street and PNC.
Children practice money management by opening real savings accounts in the church’s mock bank. Chemical Bank staff and church bank staff teach banking basics where participants learn to fill out deposit slips and balance checkbooks. Children are encouraged to initially deposit five dollars, which Chemical Bank provides a $15 match. Once the accounts are established, children can easily deposit money at the church monthly, which Brenda transfers to the bank.
To keep youth engaged, Brenda learns about the latest trends and popular celebrities to create a relatable and fun program. Youth are required to set savings goals, and a matching investment provides additional motivation for children to continue participation.
As a reward for the children’s commitment to developing healthy money habits, the church held a tailgate event featuring retired football players who spoke about the importance of financial responsibility. Kevin Clemens from the Seahawks, Aaron Bailey from the Colts, and Rueben Riley from the Panthers hung out with the children and talked about their personal experiences with finances. Even the Grand Rapids Drives’ mascot, Bucket, made it to the event.
During a bank field trip, children learned how to take deposits and cash checks. The kids also got the chance to stand behind the teller counter to demonstrate their new skills.
Armed with the building blocks of financial education, Brenda hopes to help children make informed financial decisions for life.