teaching kids the fiscally smart way to love money

by rebecca on April 15, 2010

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      There was a time when the love of money meant soaring stock prices and rampant consumerism. Karen Troester is teaching her community that money can make people giddy instead of greedy. She’s organizing a bank of over 130 volunteers to offer financial classes to the public schools of Grand Junction, Colorado.

      As a vice president at US Bank and a winner of the National Emerging Lender Award, Karen knows plenty about money. But it hasn’t always been that way. She grew up in a self-described dysfunctional family.

      Abandoned by her parents and living on her own at 14, she was working in a small town restaurant on the west coast. Luckily her regular customers included Willard and Betty Deardorff, wealthy independent land owners. “The tips the two of them left me felt large,” remembers Karen.

      One day, after a shift, she came home to find a set of four tires outside her apartment door tied up with a big red bow. “My tires were bald. It was very dangerous. When you’re a kid you don’t think about those things. You simply think ‘they’re not flat. Here I go.’” There was no note with the tires. She had no idea who they were from.

      But she had no money to put them on her car either. “Are you ever going to put those tires on your car?” asked Deardorff in the restaurant over a meal. When Karen explained that she had to wait for pay day to have the money to put them on, he asked for her keys. He came back with the tires mounted.

       The couple had a profound impact on Karen. It wasn’t just how they treated her, but how they conducted their lives. “The thing that most struck me about the two of them was how they paid their debts.” She recalls that they had to claim bankruptcy but repaid people once they got back on their feet. “That made a lasting impression on me,” said Karen.

       It was their integrity that helped to shape her life and inspired her to look for ways to give back to her community. Ms. Troester founded the financial literacy course called Money Month that is making its debut the last three weeks of April in the schools.

       Volunteers vary from business owners to banking officials. Each volunteer will spend two hours in a classroom speaking about this year’s focus: “Back to the Basics.” Classes are offered to all ages from kindergarten through high school seniors.

       Craig Ginter, a commercial real estate broker, is volunteering his time because he’s motivated by what happened to his son. “He’s a smart kid and he graduated from college with $20,000 of debt that amounted to big screen TVs and couches. None of it was education related.” Ginter knew his son had been raised in a fiscally responsible home and figured that financial awareness would rub off by osmosis.

       It didn’t.

      “I don’t know anyone,” says Karen Troester, “who doesn’t have a financial disaster story to tell.” She believes everyone has at least one skeleton in their closet, and, being a mortgage broker she knows plenty about people’s financial histories. She wants to make it OK to talk about it. “Talking is the only way we can learn and move forward.”

      The tanking economy has united the volunteers. “The fact that we weren’t in it together just got highlighted by (the economic meltdown),” says another volunteer. “It’s no longer enough to be watchful of your own bank account. We need to be mindful of our greater community. We need to educate the next generation.”

      Karen has been excited by the enthusiasm of the volunteers. “In all my years of volunteering, this is the first time I’ve had people calling me the next day begging to know how the meeting had gone.” She has worked on a variety of projects through the years, but this one has an energy that is unique.

      Karen’s passion for financial literacy was too large to be contained by her community, however. She met up with Vince Shorb, founder of The National Youth Financial Educators Council. Together they are hosting Money XLive, a national day of money. Celebrities from all over the nation will descend on Grand Junction, April 17.

      The city has donated Suplizio Field for the event, the same baseball stadium that hosts the junior college playoff event each summer. Along with rocking entertainment, kids will be treated to a host of celebrities including Wilmer Valderrama, from That’s 70’s Show and Super Bowl champion, Seth Joyner.

      Some say money is the root of all evil. Karen Troester has turned that inside out and, instead, created an altared space. She has galvanized volunteers, excited kids and united a team. People are aching to be generous. By harnessing compassion she has invited hundreds of others to join her. All for the love of money.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8kqwlEt4NU

Tickets for the MoneyXLive event on April 17 may be purchased here.

Pictured in the top photo is Karen Troester. The second photo shows volunteers Tiffany Novelo and Randall Cupp of US Bank, and Kris Kish of State Farm Insurance.

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Juanita Trujillo, RTF Executive Director April 15, 2010 at 7:12 pm

“When Karen Troester became a Riverside Task Force Board member, she believed in the cause…the cause to promote the Riverside Multicultural Center as a resource for the entire community, and as a hub for programs and services that foster equity, cultural exchange, literacy across the lifespan in both English and Spanish, and the arts. Karen brought her family and her colleagues from US Bank to the forefront…During RTF’s annual Fun In The Summer youth camp in August, Karen and Team US Bank take charge of the BBQ Celebration on the last day of camp…they also have taken on the task of organizing the backpack and school supplies station, which is demanding as each youth gets to choose his/her backpack. As collegue Randall will tell everyone, I just do what she tells me to do. Karen likes a smooth operation and the RTF Board is happy to have her on our team!!!”

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