Young ‘Financial Literacy Ambassadors’ Ready to ‘Bootstrap’ East LA

Learning how to manage money should start when your young, says Pan American Bank CEO.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

East Los Angeles second grader David De Santiago no longer begs his mother for candy and toys during trips to the store.

It’s because “I’m saving for college,” he says very seriously.

The training he received as part of the Financial Literacy Ambassador Program has changed him, and he can now distinguish between “needs” and “wants” and exercises self-control, says his mother, Estela De Santiago.

“I really like the program because it taught him not to misspend money, to know that he needs to save money, and to know what purchases are really ‘needs,’” his mother told EGP while holding numerous certificates of recognition presented to her son and other children at the program’s culmination ceremony last Friday.

Pan American Bank launched the financial literacy task force last year in response to a 2009-2010 report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) that indicated that nationwide, minorities, and Latino families in particular, did not use mainstream banks.

Nearly 50 percent of Latino families are “unbanked” and use costly check-cashing services and rent-to-own offers that don’t allow them to build credit, according to Pan American Bank CEO and President Jesse Torres.

U.S. Representative Grace Napolitano, left, congratulates Pan American Bank CEO/President Jesse Torres for pioneering financial literacy programs.

Since January, Pan American has taken 21 children from local schools under it wings in order to help them, and their families, become financially literate. Torres says he hopes the Financial Literacy Ambassador Program will expand to more schools in the future, adding it costs $75,000 to $100,000 a year to operate. Participants in the program are instructed to share their knowledge with others, thus the “ambassador” designation.

Torres says while the program might not be a threat to Southern California’s consumer culture, the innovative program does have the potential to create a revolution of financial empowerment that could elevate East LA residents into the middle class.

“We haven’t been very good at providing our children with the necessary skills to enable them to succeed in the future both as consumers, as small business owners and as members of corporate America,” Torres told parents during the Friday’s ceremony. “These are skills that other communities are providing to their kids.”

The value of a dollar, the importance of saving, and knowledge about investments are things individuals born with a silver spoon in their mouth are taught, said Torres. Now this program will help level the playing field so future generations can benefit from college savings, and make the right financial choices so they will have the same opportunities as other Americans, he said.

The Financial Ambassadors include 10 second-graders at KIPP Raíces Academy, five Esteban Torres High School students, five Garfield students and one student from Wilson High School. The students were selected from a pool of applicants based on their desire to make a difference and to educate their peers, said Hector Perez Pacheco of Pan American Bank.

The ambassadors include Garfield’s recently elected Student Body President, Rudy Torres, who says he now feels more confident about making spending decisions and speaking in public. Personally, he plans to use his new knowledge to save for college and be more mindful of his senior prom expenses. He says he is eager to use his new platform to empower other Bulldogs.

Financial literacy seems like common sense; “Save money and don’t spend it like loco,” said Rocio Ortega, a high school-aged Financial Ambassador, who said high schools don’t offers courses to prepare students for their financial futures.

“If it’s common sense than why are people in the financial mess that they are in right now? Save money, we hear about it all the time but why don’t we actually do it?” she asked showcasing her skill at getting other young people’s attention.

The participants have created energetic presentations for their peers. The high school students created a jeopardy type game that helps reveal a person’s financial personality and values that could lead to financial problems. It also demystifies ways to save money.

The students spent the last three months sharing their knowledge with their peers and are now ready to reach out to the community, all they need now are venues, said Perez Pacheco.

As a bonus for their participation, each received a $300 deposit into their Pan American Bank savings account.

Pan American Bank is offering to open 14,000 new savings accounts for minors — about half the school-aged population in East LA — and the bank will deposit the first $5 in each account.
Numerous elected officials support the program, including US Rep. Grace Napolitano, who said the program has the potential to create a new economy in East Los Angeles.

She said the program is a step toward making East Los Angeles, as “an incorporated city,” financially “viable.”

“We’re already known worldwide, there are songs and movies already that talk about East LA. We need to prove that the Latino community is just as strong as any other community. Because you are,” Napolitano told parents and students.

State Senator Ed Hernandez said Latinos have made great strides in electing political representatives and earning advanced degrees, but the missing piece is financial empowerment. He said Pan American Bank is helping to “plant the seed.”

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Torres says the program, a private-public partnership, is part of a long-term strategy. “It’s generational, we won’t see the results of this until the kids involved in the program grow-up, graduate and go to college. But the idea is that we plant the seeds today so that we have it flourishing as they grow up,” he told parents, thanking them for their support.

He says he’s hoping to see the unbanked Latino community drop to 5 percent when the FDIC conducts its study a decade from now.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys do, what you produced, and to help us bootstrap [up] East LA into the middle class,” Torres told the program participants.

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June 23, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


2 Responses to “Young ‘Financial Literacy Ambassadors’ Ready to ‘Bootstrap’ East LA”

  1. Maricela Covarrubias on June 24th, 2011 12:00 pm

    Congratulations for the awesome work Pan American Bank is doing. Financial Literacy is greatly needed in our Latino community. Working with youth ages 14 to 21 MAOF has incorporated basic principles of Financial Literacy workshops. One of our youth quoted, “Life success is much harder to assess for some of us.”

  2. Maria J De La Torre on June 26th, 2011 6:55 pm

    Awesome job Jesse. Congratulations on the hard work your doing. !

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