Engaging Students Early: LEAF Plans Creative Youth CSA Programming 

When it comes to promoting Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs, buy-in from parents and guardians is priceless. That said, if the topic of saving and planning for the future isn’t communicated in a way that’s comprehensible for the children that will be doing the saving, it’s challenging to yield long-term results. That’s why, since its inception, the Lapeer County Education Attainment Fund (LEAF) has been dedicated to finding creative solutions to make the sometimes-complicated topic of saving for the future more engaging to young audiences. 

Earlier this year, LEAF was awarded grant support for new student engagement initiatives through an Innovative Project Grant from CEDAM. In partnership with the Michigan Poverty Task Force, CEDAM awarded four CSA programs within the Michigan Children’s Savings Account (CSA) Network a $50,000 grant to implement projects that will enhance program impact and advance the state’s CSA field. To receive an Innovative Project Grant, all proposals were required to relate to at least one of the following five areas of emphasis: increasing student and family participation in CSA programs, promoting sustainable fundraising, reducing administrative burden, prioritizing marginalized communities, or expanding wraparound programming. Aiming to increase program participation, particularly among those in historically marginalized communities, LEAF will use this funding to expand wraparound programming in conjunction with the program’s five-year anniversary. 

First, LEAF is utilizing the grant funds to conduct their “Bank Bound” initiative, with educational field trips for the nearly 1,000 students in the Class of 2032 cohort. To increase deposits among this cohort of students, LEAF developed a plan to work with local financial institutions to host interactive, engaging field trips to kick off the 2023 school year. These field trips will be used to prepare students for their first in-school deposit day of the school year, and reignite their interest and excitement in saving for their future.

“Our biggest goal with the Bank Bound initiative is to demystify the process of saving money for our LEAF students,” said Amanda Gardy, Lapeer branch manager at ELGA Credit Union, LEAF’s partner financial institution. “Topics surrounding money can be difficult for people, which may cause them to avoid saving altogether. We hope our Bank Bound Initiative will help students become more comfortable with the idea of saving by learning how it all works.”

Hayley Decker, marketing education coordinator at ELGA Credit Union, agrees. “We want our students to truly understand the value of a dollar and how saving money can be fun!” she said. “Students visiting our ELGA Credit Union have an opportunity to visit the vault, view how an ATM/ITM functions, and speak with a Member Service Representative about how they can make more money for themselves by opening a savings account. It is important to ELGA Credit Union that these students feel comfortable asking questions about money from a young age to help set them up for financial success in their future.”

Second in their list of new initiatives, LEAF plans to use the grant to develop a children’s “LEAFlet” handout entitled “BeLEAF in Your Future.” In support of the county’s early literacy initiative, this leaflet will be mailed to all pre-kindergarten through 4th grade homes across Lapeer County, inspiring parents and their children to read together, and to begin discussing postsecondary education and future careers goals. The program plans to include a multicultural children’s story describing the importance of building savings habits as a way to appeal to young audiences. LEAF plans to work with a local illustrator to incorporate unique countywide locations and historical landmarks found in the Lapeer area to help children connect the story to their own community. 

In addition to the Bank Bound initiative and the leaflet, LEAF plans to use this grant support to host a live event celebrating the program’s five year anniversary: “LEAF LIVE.” Held in collaboration with community partners to support students and parents, the event will aim to raise Lapeer families’ awareness of the CSA program’s wrap-around services, and foster inspiration in and around Lapeer County youth. Using strategic connections with local businesses, philanthropic organizations, government entities, and school districts, the event is geared to further increase the recognition of LEAF, build trust, and inspire a sustainable funding source by inspiring contributions to the LEAF endowment fund. 

LEAF is a CSA program created through a partnership between the Lapeer County Community Foundation (LCCF), ELGA Credit Union, and the Lapeer County Intermediate School District. The program provides kindergartners with a savings account seeded with $25, and is designed to help students start saving for college or career training expenses. LEAF also provides financial education to both students and parents or guardians.

Together, these three initiatives aim to inspire students and provide a window into the process of saving. “Imagine if we adults had had the opportunity to understand how banks work and the positive impacts of life-long savings when we were kids,” said Bill Kraly, director of The Chatfield School in Lapeer County, one of LEAF’s school partners. “Our students are learning lessons most adults take a lifetime to learn. The LEAF program and the Bank Bound initiative are providing our youth with the opportunity to think about and plan for their future. I’m confident it will motivate and inspire students to think about their future career options and to continue saving for future career training or higher education.”

Anyone who has any experience with young children can confirm: Maintaining a child’s interest — even if only for the length of time it takes to flip through a LEAFlet or attend an event like LEAF LIVE — can be a Herculean task. That’s why it’s important to get creative when it comes to inventing opportunities for student engagement in CSAs. With new initiatives like a children’s LEAFlet and events like LEAF LIVE!, LEAF will spark the conversation of saving and dreaming big with the community’s youngest members, making a lasting impact for decades to come.