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Teamwork makes the financial literacy dream work.

Hundreds of teenagers, educators and volunteers took the stage Thursday to celebrate the team spirit behind the Money Coach financial literacy program. The only financial mentorship program of its kind in the U.S., Money Coach completed its third and largest year yet. Students from Money Coach “teams” at numerous sites in Milwaukee and Waukesha told success stories that supported the realities behind the program’s financial behavioral improvements.

Lorena Trujillo, a senior at Carmen High School of Science & Technology South, said the money lessons and mentorship made for a deeper change at home – and for her future.

“What Money Coach means to me is a new life,” explained Trujillo. “I come from a family of six and we have always struggled with money. Every time we have a little money left, we usually spoil ourselves instead of saving it. Through Money Coach I learned how important it is to save that little extra money, so that we can have something to sit back on if there’s ever an emergency.”

Hmong American Peace Academy student Cha Chang – “or if you say it really fast, it’s cha-ching, like money” – said he’s taken some of the money saved during his months in Money Coach to invest in a friend’s business project “so that I can have more income sources.”

Nia Gray, a Pius XI High School senior, has dreams of becoming an entrepreneur in the world of salons. The 17-year old (pictured at podium) participated in Money Coach through the Urban Underground program, where she said she learned essential behaviors for creating a budget and sticking to it.

“Money Coach taught me how to stack and save. Because every little penny counts. Trust me, every little penny,” Gray said. “I want to be somebody, I want to be a business owner and Money Coach gave me that stepping stool to achieve my goals.”

Money Coach brings financial literacy mentors into schools or community-based organizations to lead financial literacy sessions with high school seniors and juniors in small groups or one-on-one. Facilitated by Make A Difference – Wisconsin, the program specifically works with at-risk teenagers and provides an apprenticeship-style learning atmosphere plus a scholarship upon completion.

In the spirit of Thursday’s celebration event theme of “Teamwork,” the students were joined by volunteers, educators and other supporters throughout the evening at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Tyler Saxton, administrator at St. Anthony High School, (pictured at left) shared the importance of having Money Coach at the school for a third-straight year. Saxton gave a snapshot of St. Anthony H.S., on the southside of Milwaukee with a student population of 98% Hispanic or Latino, and some of those teens coming into adulthood as undocumented residents. Saxton said Money Coach volunteers give students at his school a money mentor they don’t typically have in their lives.

“These (Money Coach) volunteers email students, letting them know about the opportunities where they live for things like jobs, resources to save money, explaining what a 401k program looks like. This program is continuing to grow at St. Anthony … and they’re constantly asking how it can improve, how they can support our kids in financial literacy,” Saxton said. “They care about kids, especially urban kids who don’t have access to that financial literacy stuff at home.”

Catherine Carter, a Money Coach volunteer at James Madison Academic Campus, detailed the process in which students gain and build on financial knowledge during the year. Carter noted the qualitative impacts that also play a big part. In one session on the values of opening a bank account, she said a student called his dad and encouraged his father to stop wasting money at the check cashing store.

“This student was able to take that information from the lessons and share it with his family,” Carter said.

In the weeks to come, we’ll share more from these inspiring teens, including testimonials on the power of money smarts and a brilliant spoken word piece from graduating senior Taleavia Cole. To find out more about bringing this one-of-a-kind financial mentor program to your teens, visit here.

– written by Justin Kern, marketing and communications manager, Make A Difference – Wisconsin