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Program teaches financial literacy to children

March 31, 2016
By Amanda Dedie ( , Westfield Republican

BROCTON - Fiscal responsibility is no longer for those who found themselves bankrupt and learned their lesson after taking a "Finances 101" course (mandated by their bankruptcy officer). According to the Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union, if young children are taught financial literacy, they can grow up with $10,000 in the bank and hopefully never be at risk of filing for bankruptcy (because not everyone is fortunate to start off with a small loan of a million dollars).

At a recent Brocton board of education meeting, John Felton, CEO and Charlene Austin, director of financial education at the SCFCU, presented the Kids Credit Union, a program they're hoping to introduce to the Brocton Central School District.

"The biggest complaint we've gotten at the federal credit union is, 'No one teaches finances anymore. No one taught me that.' So I decided that it's time someone does something about that," Felton said. "We decided to do something about that, and started the Kids Credit Union."

The non-profit organization starts and maintains this school-based program at no cost to any school district that decides to participate. The program has two components to it: The learning and the saving.

The learning: Once a week, Austin will go in to pick up deposits and to also give a little lesson in finances, which varies based on age and class time. They cover topics like savings, interest, investments and more.

"Some school districts have seen the value of the program and have seen that the students have responded well to the program, so they've allowed us 45-50 minutes, which is amazing," said Austin. "Pretty much the ultimate goal of the Kid's Credit Union is just to help Chautauqua County students save for their future. That's what I try to instill in them, is the value and the importance of saving ... I want them to know that so when they're older, and they're living their own, independent adult lives, they'll have that financial stability and their own financial independence to be able to run with it when they graduate."

The saving: Each school gets a locked box that comes with deposit envelopes on the side. A child writes their name and school on the envelope, seals their money inside, and drops it into a very thin opening, making it virtually impossible for anyone to get inside, unless someone from SCFCU comes by to open it themselves with the key.

The program has been in the works for 12 years, and has gone through many changes to try to maximize the earning and saving potential for students.

"The first year, it was somewhat of a success. We had one girl ... throughout the school year she saved up about $53. She went to one of our branches and took that $53 out, and her parents promised they'd match whatever she saved," Felton explained. "They went to Wal-Mart and bought a bike. She brought the back and showed our people what she bought. But that was bittersweet - we don't want to change somebody's summer. We need to change somebody's life. We need to teach people the joy of savings. So we pulled the program back. We redesigned it."

The program is now goal-oriented, giving students something to work toward every school year up until they graduate from high school with $10,000 in the bank. For example, second graders work toward saving $200. Third graders, $300. Fourth graders, $400, and so on.

SCFCU then pays 10 percent on some of the deposit - not all of them, but most. "Because we don't want grandma and grandpa to come in and just give us $10,000," Felton laughed.

"The cool thing about the program is ... we don't tell them they have to use this money for college. So, if you don't go to college right out of high school, that's OK. If you want to get a job right after high school, and you want to get a car to go back and forth to work, that's a great investment. If you start this kids-based program in second grade, and you meet all of those academic goals every single year, then you'll graduate with $10,000," Austin explained.



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