Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Unique Program Teaches Financial Skills to Auburn Children

How do you show children the value of money? Denise Farrington, Executive Director of the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn, has an answer: Have them earn it.

Denise Farrington

Denise Farrington

“One of the things I really like to teach kids is how to make and manage their money,” Denise says. “It’s easy for us to go and give them five bucks, but if they actually earn it, they have a different philosophy about how to spend it.”

Under her guidance, the Community Center is partnering with Electus Global Education, the creators of Life Hub. The online platform focuses on lifelong positive behaviors about earning and managing money, building a work ethic, and productivity.

Twenty students in the center’s after-school program select tasks that include learning about financial literacy and the environment or performing jobs at home and in the community like cleaning the yard or helping a neighbor. For each completed job, the student earns a certificate, and three to five dollars are put on a debit card. Each child can earn up to $100 as part of the program.

“It has been a real joy to watch the kids. You can imagine a child getting a debit card with their name on it. That just makes all the difference for them. The biggest thing is seeing the kids have to make money before they can spend it. If they have to earn it, they might not spend all five dollars,” Denise explains.

Adding to a Vibrant Center

The addition of Life Hub to the Center is part of the growth the organization has experienced since Denise started 15 years ago as an assistant in its after-school program. Now with six sites as well as programs at several schools, Booker T. Washington Community Center has vibrant activities for students in all grades as well as senior citizens. While many participants come from at-risk, underserved communities, the center welcomes people from all walks of life.

Denise actively incorporates new ideas into the center’s programming. When she was approached about Life Hub she jumped at the chance to bring it to Auburn.

“I have the philosophy of wanting to give a child an opportunity that they would not normally have. Try it once and sometimes you find their passion, or it comes so naturally to them.”

Denise had already secured new computers through a grant during COVID, so she knew the center had the technical capacity to run the platform. After receiving a free license from Life Hub, she raised $2,000 through donors for the children’s debit cards. Darnell Murphy, her site coordinator for the center’s Elementary After School Program, was instrumental in getting kids and their families involved.

Teaching Important Skills

The program is open to third through fifth graders. Every Tuesday, the children log onto their computers to complete tasks and have money loaded onto their cards. “Sometimes, the kids say they don’t want to do it because it’s just like going to work. As adults, we sometimes don’t want to go to work, but it is our responsibility. This means not only teaching the kids about financial literacy but also about taking responsibility. They are learning that nothing comes for free. You can’t sit home, and someone’s going to throw money at you. You have to go out and perform a service to get it.”

The kids also learn responsibility by signing a pledge when they receive the card. They can spend the money in any way they want, but their families are involved. Additionally, the children bring back financial literacy skills to their families by helping their younger siblings understand that you have to make money in order to buy things.

Helping Economic Development

Denise says programs like Life Hub help economic development in the Finger Lakes Region, a shared goal of LOCATE Finger Lakes. “It all comes down to teaching young people about the need to perform a service to earn money. We want them to learn the value of the dollar, how to make that money, the commitment it takes, and provide them with opportunities.”

Some of the children involved in the program are budding entrepreneurs. “I think it gets their creative juices flowing about how they can make money. We have some very, very talented youth. That’s a win-win for our whole area.”

Planning for the Future

Denise plans to run the program each year now that they have had a positive pilot. “The people at Electus have been amazing. They have made themselves available to us for any questions and walked us through this. It’s a lovely experience to see the amount of caring and a genuine ‘I want to help’ attitude.”

Whether or not Booker T. Washington Community Center adds other kinds of computer activities is also a question she takes very seriously. Because they want to teach children both people and communication skills, the center limits computer access unless they are doing their homework or on an approved program.

But when it comes to Life Hub, Denise is a fan as are the children, “I love when people think of things to help kids in the future because you can’t go wrong with teaching them a life skill. When we run into trouble is when we don’t teach our kids life skills. So, this is a win for everybody.

LOCATE Finger Lakes is a Finger Lakes economic development initiative designed to assist and foster collaboration among the established Finger Lakes economic development efforts with targeted, proactive, marketing communications and networking. LOCATE Finger Lakes is focused on directing local, national and international business leaders to Finger Lakes information and inspire them to look closely at the region’s assets enabling their businesses, their families and their employees’ families to thrive.

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She is founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio, a creative agency for food, beverage and agriculture brands. Ballatori also owns Port 100 Cowork and Metro Collective which helps Upstate NY shared space operators activate their workspaces.

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