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New Program Helps Littles (And Bigs) Balance The Books

Big Brothers/Big Sisters Northwest Florida

A new program is teaching young people the basics of how to run their financial lives.

“(It is) definitely something that has been on our radar for a long time,” said Paula Shell, president and CEO of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. She talking about a collaboration with Navy Federal Credit Union that teaches financial literacy lessons that the littles might not be getting at home or in school. “Being able to provide our littles with this kind if input and training and just opening their eyes to different things, our course with the help and support of their big brother or big sister was just a perfect match, honestly.”

Offered as quarterly, hour-long virtual training sessions, middle school and high school-aged students are participating in interactive workshops and given access to financial education tools and resources.

“We’ve been partnering with Big Brothers/Big Sisters for in a variety of different ways” said Jennifer McFarren, manager of community and education outreach at Navy Federal Credit Union, and is also a big sister. “When my little, Keyona, who is now 22, we’ve been together for almost 12 years, I think about those pivotal points in our relationship. Owning her first car, graduating from high school and thinking about pursuing her secondary education, now living on her own, renting her own apartment, I think of all those critical life milestones and certainly would have appreciated a formal avenue of training for her and I to sit (through) together."

"But I also think that as our bigs continue navigating the littles through those milestones, not only does this training provide concrete tools to be able to navigate those, it really opens up the door to build trust and weave that into their relationship so that it’s a foundational part of how they grow and learn together.”

The first session was held in February. McFarren says the sessions were designed so that people who missed an earlier class would not be lost.

“We started the first session with the foundational basics of earning and managing your money. How do you earn money? What are the options in terms of spending, saving, investing, what do you do with your money? And from there the next session is on saving and growing your money, really the mechanics of how you do that. Savings accounts, understanding interest, the basics of investing. And then from there we move on to spending your money. What are the wise choices? What is the difference between credit and debit cards? Loan basics, things of that nature. Then finally closing out with protecting your money, that final but really important element, with other components like identity theft, prevention of identity theft and things of that nature.”

And while the little brothers and sisters are the target audience for the sessions, Paula Shell says the bigs are putting their time in too.

“I’ve been participating with my little, so I’m sitting here at home, she’s at home and we’ve got our cell phones going back and forth" said Shell. "And I’ll go ‘did you catch that?’ So we’re communicating back and forth as we’re listening. Our bigs have also emailed us and said ‘thank you for doing that. I’ve learned a lot and it really has helped me in working with my little’. As adults if we hear these things over and over again it kind of helps us as well so it’s a win-win.”

The next session will be in June, and that will also be held online. After that the location is a bit up in the air.

“It’s our hope that the last two (sessions) can be in person at our office. So we’re excited about that,” said Shell.

This is not the first time Navy Federal Credit Union has partnered with Big Brother/Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. Jennifer McFarren says about five years ago they started the Beyond School Walls Program.

“We worked in collaboration again with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the school district to take a cohort of about 30 littles who were in their junior year of high-school, and we paired them up with a big here at Navy Federal that they spent the next two years with. And the goal is really to ensure that they are successful in their post-high-school plans, regardless of what that may look like. Going on to pursue post-secondary education, a career in technical education, going into the military or coming to work, hopefully with us here at Navy Federal it that’s of interest to them. I consider this (new program) kind of an extra element of our collaboration with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. We certainly do thread in a few components around financial education to that program but I think this is powerful in that it’s stand-alone for our community-based bigs and littles.”

To learn more about this program or just to get involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters go to bbbsnwfl.org.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.