NONPROFIT SPOTLIGHT: YouthEntity cooks up experiential learning for financial literacy
Everyone agrees that kids of all ages need to learn financial literacy, how to be responsible team members and to understand their own personalities so they can ultimately choose career and life paths that reward them and their communities. YouthEntity helps kids reach those goals with a wide variety of real-world learning experiences throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.
The organization’s roots are in the Computers for Kids Foundation, but it adopted the YouthEntity name in 2009 to reflect its broad mission. Today, its experiential learning programs reach kids in grades 3-12 and teach them to dream big and to develop the responsibility and entrepreneurship that turn dreams into plans.
Before joining YouthEntity as associate director in July, Heather Hicks worked 10 years with the youth mentoring organization, The Buddy Program. One of her projects there was helping bring the national Lemonade Day program to the Roaring Fork Valley. Kids who participate learn entrepreneurial skills by planning, marketing and running their own lemonade stand. In a move that helps both organizations focus on their primary missions, YouthEntity recently adopted Lemonade Day from The Buddy Program and will offer it to more area kids in 2016.
Another YouthEntity core offering is I Am Financial Knowledge, which teaches personal financial literacy to students attending elementary through high school. Hicks said an “inclusive delivery service” that presents its curriculum to an entire grade level rather than a single class is one of its key features. Participating teachers and volunteers from Alpine Bank and the community are essential to the program, which also teaches kids to teach other kids.
The organization employs healthy competition to deliver its financial lessons. Glenwood Springs Middle School’s eighth grade won 2015’s I Am Financial Knowledge competition by achieving the highest scores on the program’s post test.
The high school level program “Banking On Your Future” rewards students by paying them up to $15 for correct answers on a post test. Students receive their earnings by check, which encourages them to add to or start a youth savings account. Hicks said that in the last few years, Banking On Your Future has paid out over $30,000 to help high school kids jump-start their savings.
Youth Entity has partnered with the Colorado Restaurant Association’s ProStart in another cornerstone program that provides culinary arts training for high school students. Participants have to commit to long days and high standards for the entire school year to join the class, which meets Wednesday and Thursday from 4-7 p.m. at Bridges High School in Carbondale.
Earlier this month, the students were enthusiastically working on the day’s project, preparing a strawberry mousseline layer cake.
Culinary student Esteban Santoyo, a senior at Basalt High School, described the class as “pretty awesome.” He talked about developing an interest in cooking at home and was grateful to be learning from professional chefs.
Chef Matt Maier, one of the culinary arts instructors, was equally enthusiastic and happy to provide more details. He said talking with YouthEntity’s executive director, Kirsten Petre McDaniel, quickly sold him on the program because of the tremendous opportunities it provides high school students.
The ProStart students learn hands-on kitchen skills and “the ins and outs of marketing, human resources, menu and labor costing, menu design, nutrition …, “ Maier explained by email. They also do professional catering and even cooked for the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup last year in Vail, where they prepared five days’ meals for one of the competing teams. Maier said, “That’s not the sort of thing your average high school junior or senior is doing.”
The program’s high standards paid off when last year’s class placed first at a statewide competition in March, earning more than $50,000 in scholarship packages.
Maier described the team’s dedication by saying, “We focused. We trained. We commiserated. We cried.” His dedication earned him Colorado ProStart’s Mentor of the Year award, an honor that “deeply moved and humbled” him.
YouthEntity is growing more opportunities for kids as it expands its offerings. Last year, the organization added Summit County to its I Am Financial Knowledge program.
This year, YouthEntity started “My Career. My Life.,” which offers short internships at area businesses. Students at Glenwood Springs Middle School began participating in the program this fall. After taking a personality test to determine a career code, they attended an expo to learn about and choose one of 10 different six-week internships.
Cory House, co-owner of Defiance Strength and Conditioning and manager of its New Castle location, will be leading one group of young interns in his “Heartbeat” program. Participants will try out the world of fitness coaching by learning — and teaching each other — a new exercise each week, paying attention to proper posture and breathing, just like professional trainers. Adding to the real world experience, they will also learn about gym ownership and working with clients.
House taught elementary school physical education before moving into the fitness industry and is excited about working with kids again. He described the My Career. My Life. internships as a great opportunity for kids “to see some things that are out there at a fairly young age.”
YouthEntity’s experiential learning programs help kids develop intrinsic motivation, learn entrepreneurial skills and fully participate in their communities. Hicks summarized the organization’s mission by saying, “When we set our expectations high for kids, they tend to exceed what they thought was possible.”
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