Among the community leaders working to improve financial literacy in Wisconsin, a few volunteers and supporters stand out for the way they pay it forward.

Make A Difference – Wisconsin honored two of those leaders – volunteer Tabatha De Leon and supporting organization Associated Bank – with our top annual award for enhancing financial education in the state on Thursday at an event at MillerCoors. The event also served as a “thank you” for the hundreds of classroom volunteers who give their time and financial expertise to teenagers. A keynote speech was delivered by vastly successful New York City hedge fund manager Jamie Dinan, who recently joined the ownership group of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

“As we’ve learned from nearly a decade of delivering financial education programs, teenagers show the greatest improvement and interest when they are engaged by powerful speakers and supportive organizations,” said Brenda Campbell, President and CEO, Make A Difference – Wisconsin. “Volunteers like Tabatha and supporters like Associated Bank have not only made financial literacy a priority, but they’ve brought it to life with their expertise and enthusiasm.”

Tabatha De Leon Honored for Volunteer Work She Deems “Priceless”
Tabatha De Leon (at right in picture) learned about the basics of money from her parents’ pharmacy work in Venezuela and found out a few lessons on her own through odd jobs on her way to a financial career in Milwaukee. Now, as a successful mortgage banker with BMO Harris, Tabatha says some of her most valuable financial lessons come from insight by students in her Make A Difference – Wisconsin financial education lessons.

“The feeling you get when you present the program is priceless,” she said.

With her enthusiastic and compassionate engagement of teens in our community, Tabatha De Leon made for a natural choice as the 2015 Lloyd Levin Difference Maker, an annual award chosen by the board of directors and staff to recognize one volunteer’s exceptional commitment to the Make A Difference – Wisconsin mission.

Over the last five years, Tabatha has led well over 125 students through the Money Sense program at high schools that include Bay View, South Division and St. Anthony. She’s also been a pioneer in the in-depth Money Coach program with members of PEARLS for Teen Girls. Going above and beyond, Tabatha has been a resource for Make A Difference promotional videos as well as training examples which are used by hundreds of volunteers.

As someone who worked her way through college – from teaching Spanish lessons and repairing lead glass to selling gyros and dancing in a flamenco group – Tabatha said she shares with students the importance of early budgeting and saving.

“If I would have known all of this, I would have made very different decisions and I would be in a much better financial position now,” she said. “For instance, I would have not bought a brand new car when I was 19 … I would have thought more about saving and less about spending.”

There is no missing the excitement Tabatha infuses in her classroom lessons, said Make A Difference’s Brenda Campbell.

“Tabatha is enthusiastic and she really cares about these students. When Tabatha volunteers with teens, it’s clear that she wants to help transform their lives.”

Associated Bank Makes Improving Financial Literacy a Community Priority
Associated Bank has made an active priority of building stronger, smarter financial behaviors throughout Wisconsin. Over the last nine years, Associated Bank has contributed more than $100,000 to Make A Difference – Wisconsin programs and events, in addition to connecting 54 current employees to classroom financial literacy volunteer opportunities.

The Make A Difference – Wisconsin board of directors and staff are proud to honor Associated Bank as the 2015 Lloyd Levin Difference Maker Organization of the year, the annual recognition of one organization’s outstanding contribution toward improving financial education in Wisconsin.

“Teaching financial literacy truly does ‘share the wealth’ because the students we influence through Make A Difference-Wisconsin are then empowered to teach others,” said Sara J. Walker (at left in picture), CFA, Associated Bank Senior Vice President and Investment Officer. “Additionally, through Make A Difference-Wisconsin, Associated Bank is able to enhance the confidence of an important and vital segment of our community – our young people. That confidence has far-reaching implications including a strengthened connection to the Milwaukee community as a whole.”

Associated has been instrumental in supporting the Make A Difference mission of improving financial literacy and awareness throughout Wisconsin since our organization’s inception in 2006. Along with Walker and a steady stream of classroom volunteers, Associated Bank leaders have proudly shared our mission, including John Utz, Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Banking/Specialized Financial Services; Tom Peterson, Commercial Banking Business Segment Leader; and Dennis Krakau, Senior Market Leader – Private Client and Institutional Services.

Associated provided crucial support in the organization’s early years, Brenda said. The ongoing mutual relationship is testament to a program that makes verifiable impacts from Milwaukee to Green Bay, and from Kenosha to Madison.

“In name alone, Associated Bank provides incredible clout with their sponsorship,” she said. “Associated and its executives really lead by example, with active involvement in our classrooms and principal roles at events like our annual Investment Conference.”

Past honorees of the Lloyd Levin Difference Maker of the year award include James Neubauer, Cecil Jackson, Karyn Conklin, Stacy Leuty, Tom Parks, and the CFA Society Milwaukee.

-by Justin Kern, Marketing and Communications Manager, Make A Difference – Wisconsin

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