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Forming healthy financial habits at Young Americans Center

Banking services, classes and Young AmeriTowne give kids hands-on experience


Every great financial empire had to start with just a few dollars going into a bank account somewhere. Which means 14-year-old Katelyn Osborne, who lives in Denver, is ahead of the curve when it comes to finances, thanks to the Young Americans Center for Financial Education.

“I entered the world of finance at age 8 with $20 my parents supplied me with,” Osborne, who was around 8 years old at the time, said. “My parents knew about the bank from living in Denver, and they had taken my two brothers to get an account before me.”

Founded by Bill Daniels in 1987, the nonprofit has not only provided banking services exclusively to children, 21 years old and younger, but teaching financial literacy and management through seminars and classes, as well as the Young AmeriTowne program.

“Young AmeriTowne is probably we’re most known for — the program which allows fifth graders the opportunity to get a hands-on taste of business and economics,” said Rich Martinez, president and CEO of Young Americans. “About 63 percent of metro area fifth graders have gone through the program and about 49 percent of the state’s fifth graders take part.”

Young AmeriTown is located in Lakewood’s Belmar area, and has worked closely with the Alameda Gateway and the Alameda Corridor Business Improvement District over the years.

“The Young Americans program helps build life skills, work skills, and financial self-sufficiency in elementary school students,” said Tom Quinn, executive director of the community association and business improvement district. “We know about the importance of building financial literacy at an early age. Skills learned in the safe experiential environment at Young Americans help to build the business and community leaders of tomorrow.”

But while Young AmeriTowne is a single opportunity to learn about financial responsibility, it’s the classes and banking services — savings and checking accounts, loans, debit and credit cards and CDs — that provide the best learning for children.

“The first and most consistent service I use is the savings account, and in elementary school, I participated in two summer camps, including Running Your Own Biz,” Osborne said. “In the coming weeks of 2018, I plan to get a debit card and go through whatever processes that it will require.”

The bank has three FDIC-insured, state insured locations — two in Denver, and one in Lakewood, which function just like any other bank. But the staff there cater to children, and treat them like intelligent adults, Osborne said.

“By having the location within Lakewood it brings exposure to Lakewood and Belmar area since schools from Colorado have the opportunity to visit the Center,” said Nanette Neelan, Lakewood’s deputy city manager. “As these kids and teachers reflect back on the learning experience either immediately or in future years, Lakewood will be associated with Young AmeriTowne.”

People often wonder what kinds of things young adults could possibly need a loan for, Martinez said, but it’s almost always for practical, entrepreneurial purposes.

“A lot of our loans help our customers pay for used cars, school supplies, and computers,” he explained. “But we also loan money for customers who want to start their own small businesses.”

The center partnered with YouthBiz, an organization that offers the chance for more than 5,600 students to receive entrepreneurial skills, make money and have real-life learning experiences, in 2014 to provide top of the line entrepreneurial resources to members. And it’s not the only way children can get involved.

“I’m a part of the 2018-2019 Youth Advisory Board, which means that I have had the opportunity this year to learn about the financial world and to offer my youth perspective to both the bank and the programs,” Osborne said. “My favorite thing about the experience is that I am always treated like I matter, and like I can handle `adult’ concepts.”

It’s important to teach children important concepts like budgeting, saving money, and developing credit at a young age, Martinez explained, because that’s when their habits are being developed.

“It’s so important to be diligent, and keep track of what you’re doing with your money, and what you’re spending it on,” he said. “We want to provide a basis for our customers’ future financial stability.”

As a long time customer with the center, Osborne is well-aware of the skills she’s learning at such a young age.

“I have learned so much about finances that I am often told most adults still do not know,” she said. “I think that it is important for people to understand that Young Americans is not just a bank that only cares about money, but a combination of a bank and so many programs that care about the kids. Kids like me.”


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