Commitment to Community Service: Red Hawk NEST EGG CSA Program Achieves 100% Participation Rate for 2022-23 School Year
A young girl giving a high five to an adult who is squatting. They are in a grass field.

For many Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs, one major goal is reciprocal community investment. Local organizations come together to help the young people in their community fund their post-high school educations, with the hope that they will eventually return to the community with their new knowledge, skills, and talent to uplift the local economy. By implementing community service programs, the Red Hawk NEST EGG program has figured out a way to speed up the reciprocal benefit of its CSA program, while also achieving an impressive 100% student participation rate during the 2022-23 school year.

Created in partnership with the Cass City PROMISE, Cass City Public Schools, Sanilac County Community Foundation, and Thumb Bank & Trust, the Red Hawk NEST EGG program was established in 2021 and supplies all K-12 students with a $50 initial “nest egg” deposit. But the program’s high participation is primarily thanks to a creative initiative blending saving with community service; at the start of the 2022 school year, the program implemented a twice-yearly, schoolwide community service day. When students participate in each service day, they receive a $10 deposit from the Cass City Promise to their individual savings account. This innovative solution, paired with auto-enrollment, led to 100% program participation.

To auto-enroll all students in the Cass City Promise and establish a CSA in their name, Cass City Public Schools sends out an informational letter each year that describes the Red Hawk NEST EGG program. Included in the letter is a form for parents to complete if they do not want their student to participate. Knowing some parents are skeptical of the program’s promises, superintendent Allison Zimba calls each parent who submits the opt-out form. “Sometimes a personal connection is needed for those parents who aren’t sure about the program’s benefits,” she says. “We’ve found that after I chat with them about the details, most parents want their child to opt into the program.”

While making sure all students have the opportunity to enroll in the Red Hawk NEST EGG program is impressive, program leader Benjamin Varney says the program’s 100% participation rate is largely driven by deposits from the required service days. The community service projects are organized by the school, and carefully planned so all students can participate in age-appropriate service projects during the school day, at times throughout the school year where committing an hour or two of their time won’t interfere with core instruction.

For elementary students, community service projects ranged from cleaning up playgrounds and parks to making holiday cards for senior citizens. “One major project of the 2022-23 school year was repackaging cereal to donate to families in need for use during the summer months,” Benjamin says. “Our students collected hundreds of boxes, which we repurposed to create a building-wide domino chain that snaked through the school. Simple projects like this introduce our students to the concept of the Red Hawk NEST EGG program, and get them excited about community service. We’re really proud of how that project turned out.”

Paired with lessons on goal setting and financial skills, older students completed service projects like volunteering at community events and fundraisers, caroling at assisted care facilities, and raking yards for community members who are unable to complete fall preparations on their own. For these students, it’s easy to make the connection between giving back to the community and the investment the Cass City community is making in their future.

By using community service as a means to add to their students’ savings accounts, the Red Hawk NEST EGG Program engineered a system that led to 100% student participation in their CSA. By rewarding students for serving their community, the Red Hawk NEST EGG program teaches students the value of acts of service, while ingraining in them the idea that their community is proud of them and invested in their future. In the 2023-24 school year, CEDAM is looking forward to seeing how the Red Hawk NEST EGG program builds on the success of last year’s efforts.