Nonprofit and business sectors partner to strengthen financial literacy in Sonoma County


In 2009, the credit union introduced a four-day “academy” that was held every two years during spring and summer break for five years, but the scope was limited due to competition from family vacations. and other scheduling issues. Since 2013, Redwood Credit Union has offered high school and college students ‘Bite of Reality’ financial workshops, where more than 16,000 young people have spent up to 2.5 hours managing their money as if they were an adult, Senior Vice President Matt Martin said.

Students get a fictitious identity, with a job, a salary, a family, credit cards and a checking account. They visit tables run by volunteers where they buy the necessities of life, such as housing, transportation and childcare, and try to resist temptations. Woe to those who suddenly experience an unexpected tragedy, such as a car accident or illness. If they uncover their checkbook, “financial wellness advice” is available.

In October 2019, the “Bite of Reality” event was the largest ever. The credit union has closed its offices so all of its 700 employees can volunteer at 15 high schools in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties and show 3,100 students what it takes to navigate the financial side of life .

In another effort, Redwood Credit Union and 100 Black Men of Sonoma County teamed up in February to provide online financial literacy training to up to 25 Napa and Sonoma County youth aged 12 to 20 on on a first come, first served basis.

“It’s about giving people the important tools they need to achieve their goals and dreams,” said Martin.

The Foundation is the spearhead of training

The local nonprofit Career Technical Education foundation, which provides grants to secondary schools to improve vocational training courses, began in 2013 and, at the request of the Redwood Credit Union, teachers at CTE are to include courses in financial literacy. Redwood donated $ 70,000 to the effort, and more than 4,000 students have benefited, said Kathy Goodacre, CEO of the foundation.

The program includes six subjects: money management, borrowing, earning power, investing, financial services and insurance. The loan is “really big,” Goodacre said. The foundation requires teachers to cover at least four topics, or two topics and a “Bite of Reality,” unless their school already requires personal finance training, like Healdsburg High School does, for example. Healdsburg High School requires units of financial literacy in grades 11 and 12, including the development of post-secondary personal financial plans.

The CTE Financial Literacy Program is available online, making it accessible to teachers and students during distance learning, and also aligns with academic English, math and social science courses, said Goodacre.

“It is at the heart of what we do that students leave high school with some understanding of how life works in the real world and how to apply what they have learned to be successful in the community.” , Goodacre said.

After teaching two of the money management modules, a high school math teacher asked students to create a personal budget that included researching options for buying a car. One student said, “I can’t afford the car I really want, so I’m going to buy a small car that uses a lot of gasoline and has less than 100,000 miles. This way I can actually save enough money. This student shared that after graduating, he not only had enough for the car, but had some surplus that he could invest for the future.

Another high school teacher said in a report to the foundation: “I think the program should be taught in a one-semester course which is required for graduation. I know if students signed up to take this course, they would love it and learn a lot.

Finance workers head to classrooms

Community First Credit Union: When teachers invite them, Community First sends employees to high schools in person or through Zoom with financial literacy presentations. For example, earlier this year head coach Rebecca Nystrom presented four consecutive 70-minute sessions to the junior class at Healdsburg High School and the senior class at Anderson Valley High in Boonville.

“We want this generation of students NOT to repeat the financial mistakes made by adults, elected officials and captains of industry over the past decades,” the website says. The classroom curriculum includes the ease of saving money, smart spending and budgeting, an introduction to credit scores and why they are so important and what it all means for college and employment.

“We were founded by teachers in 1959 and we continue to teach,” said David Williams, director of marketing and human resources for Community First Credit Union in Santa Rosa.

Campus relaunches financial education courses

Santa Rosa Junior College has brought back two free, bilingual financial literacy courses that it introduced into adult education in 2017, but did not offer in 2019 due to lack of student interest.

The 2020-2021 school year was different. The fall and spring courses were full and the course will be offered again in the next fall semester starting August 16. Classes are currently online due to COVID-19.

“We hope everyone in Sonoma County can benefit from it,” said Nancy Miller, who recently retired as the school’s regional adult education program director. To register, email [email protected] or call 707-521-7962.

The first course deals with managing personal money. The second concerns investing and planning for retirement. This is an opportunity to teach a concept favorite with financial experts: compound interest and the big payoffs that can come from reinvesting profits on top of profits over time.

“The most important thing every child should learn is that the sooner you start saving, the more you can benefit from funding,” said David Lawrence, investment advisor at Willow Creek Wealth Management at Sebastopol. “Let the markets do the work for you over time. It’s wholesale free money. I like to talk to children about it, to get them to think more about the longer term. “

“When my kids, nieces and nephews graduated from college and took their first job, I literally sat down and told them about savings, especially 401 (k), pre-tax contributions and capitalization value. “It can be over a million dollars a day,” I tell them, ”said Michael Sullivan, chief credit officer at Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa.

Planning for your financial future is crucial, admits retirement educator Miller. “My twin children are 33 years old. I started talking to them about it when they were 16. They rolled their eyes. Now they thank me.


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