By Lauren Estes
The Cullman Times
Students can get a jump-start on budgeting their money while they are still in high school with the Wise-Up program, put on by The Link of Cullman County.
Vinemont, Hanceville, and West Point high schools are participating in the semester-long course involving 9th and 12th graders, who learn how to control their spending now, to avoid debt later. The Link founder, Dawn Owens, said her vision for this program was to encourage debt-free decision making with encouragement and guidance put on through the classes.
“Wise-Up teaches teens how to be wise with their money, but also how being resourceful can help them become powerful,” Owens said. “Knowledge and education are key in those resources and if they have both of those, they can make better decisions. Most of the curriculum was created for teens growing up in low-income areas, but the program is really for anyone.”
The program utilizes volunteers that Owens calls “facilitators” who are community members that are willing to donate an hour of their time a week, to teach a prepared lesson to students at one of the three schools listed.
“This year, we have 12 facilitators going into our local schools,” Owens said.
“What we look for is facilitators in that community to work with that particular school. We want to see that those volunteers will be investing in the kids, so they can feel a genuine interest from the facilitators, not just coming in to spend some time and then move on. They are given a binder with the curriculum in it, as well as a box of supplies to be used in the classroom.”
Owens said their lead sponsor on the program is People’s Bank of Cullman.
“Most of this has been possible through their sponsorship and specifically, the bank president, Chris Sawyer, who was willing to believe in this dream last summer,” Owens said. “The Link didn’t really exist completely, we were a very small group at the time. I gave him a proposal for a program in the housing authority last summer and came to him with this meager budget and told him, ‘This is what I’d like to do, what do you think?’ He, at the same time, was praying about what financial literacy would look like, and said he thought it was great, but wanted to see what it will look like long-term, and if we can make it sustainable. So I talked with a board member, people at Child Haven, and the principal at Vinemont and came back with a budget that was about seven sizes bigger than my original budget. He did his research, and he gave us seven times the budget. It was amazing to walk out of the bank that day, knowing there will be so many teens who would have their life changed through this.”
The evaluation process shows 90 percent of the teens involved with Wise-Up said they experienced a behavioral change after the program and would refer it to one of their peers, Owens said.
The program kicks off on Tuesday, Sept. 3. For more information, or to be a sponsor or volunteer, contact Dawn Owens at The Link at 256-775-0028, or visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheLinkofCullmanCounty.
* Lauren Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 137.